High Altitude Hiking or Camping: What You Need to Know

High Altitude Hiking or Camping:  What You Need to Know

Spending time in the mountains or wilderness areas at higher elevations presents some unique challenges.  While it can be easy to adapt and accommodate to enjoy nature in thinner air, it's important to be mindful of some of the things your body will go through as it adapts.  Here are a few things to consider as you plan your next trip.


You Burn More Energy

As we get higher above sea level, oxygen in the air decreases.  This forces the body to work harder to extract the same amount that we get on the surface.  The heart may beat faster and harder while we need to breathe more-deeply and at a higher rate.  We may feel winded or short of breath.  We may feel more fatigued than normal, and our level of endurance may decrease.  These are all signs of how the body is conserving energy in order to channel it toward providing our cells with enough oxygen. 


As the body works harder, it also generates more internal heat, even if you don't seem to be sweating more.  This extra heat requires energy that the body normally gets from carbohydrates.  Consequently, you will burn more calories at higher altitudes, and this requires more food than you would normally eat.  The body will also use more water than normal as well. 


Sunlight Can be More Intense

The effect that the sun has on the body can also increase with altitude, and this may involve anything from developing dry skin, sunburns or dehydration.  Make sure that you bring along some sunscreen as well as long-sleeve shirts in order to protect your body.  The sun may also feel brighter and place some extra strain on your eyes as well.


Fires Burn Faster

Due to lower levels of oxygen, fires become less-efficient at higher elevations.  This usually translates into needing more fuel to keep a fire going, but you may find yourself using more matches or lighter fluid than usual to get one started as well.  Additionally, food can take longer to cook and require more heat to prepare.


You May Need Time to Adapt

Whether you end up suffering from altitude sickness or just feel a little winded and tired, your body will adapt over time.  The trick is to allow yourself some extra time to ease into your surroundings.  For some people, they can adapt in just a few hours whereas others need a day or two.  Pacing yourself can make a tremendous difference in how you feel as the trip progresses.


Getting up into the mountains is a wonderful experience, but it's important to appreciate the influence that altitude has on our physiology.  The more you learn now will help you to prepare accordingly so you can spend more time enjoying your trip instead of suffering through it.