Elevation Acclimation and 7 Steps To Acclimate Better

Elevation Acclimation

Elevation acclimation is a crucial aspect of preparing for any high-altitude adventure. In this guide, we'll go into everything you need to know about elevation acclimation and provide you with five steps to better acclimate to higher altitudes.

Elevation Acclimation

What Is Elevation Acclimation?

Elevation acclimation, also known as altitude acclimatization, is the process of the body adjusting to lower oxygen levels found at higher altitudes.

As you ascend to higher elevations the air becomes thinner and oxygen levels decrease, causing physiological stress on the body that can lead to altitude sickness.

Whether you're planning a trek in the Himalayas, a journey to Machu Picchu, or simply a visit to a city at a higher elevation like Denver, elevation acclimation can make or break your experience.

Altitude Sickness From High Elevations

Proper acclimation is essential to avoid altitude sickness, which can range from mild discomfort to severe conditions.

Altitude sickness can usually develop within 6-24 hours upon arrival at high elevations. With physiological stress including oxidative stress and dehydration from the lower oxygen levels, symptoms of altitude sickness can kick in such as headaches and nausea.

Symptoms of altitude sickness can include:

  • headache
  • nausea (or vomiting)
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • dizziness (or confusion)
  • loss of appetite
  • breathing trouble
  • increased respiration
  • feeling ill

Look out for these type of symptoms, which are signs of your body not acclimatizing to elevation fast enough. To help your body with elevation acclimation, read our steps to take below.

How Long Does It Take To Acclimate To Higher Elevation?

The CDC indicates that elevation acclimatization takes 3-5 days.¹

While it can take weeks or months to fully acclimate, the most intense elevation acclimatization happens in those first few days. Altitude sickness can develop during the acclimatization process in those early days, but risk varies person to person and also due to speed of ascent.

What Is Considered High Elevation?

The definition of high altitude by Cornell is 4,000 feet.

Altitude sickness can also start as low as 4,000 feet according to Travel Medicine Consultants.³ The risk can increase as you ascend higher in elevation, such as at 10,000 feet it's noted 50% people can get altitude sickness.⁴

7 Steps To Acclimate Better

Altitude sickness can wreck your experience, which is why elevation acclimation is going to be key when you're traveling to high-altitude regions.

With over a decade of high elevation experience out of Colorado, we'll share our top steps to help you acclimate better.

Here's 7 Steps To Acclimate Better:

1. Don't Go Too High Too Fast

One of the best ways to improve elevation acclimation is to avoid going too high too fast. The CDC points this step out, emphasizing that gradual ascent will give your body the time to adjust.¹ Furthermore, they recommend an extra night for every 3,300 feet climb in elevation.¹

In Colorado for example, visitors are high recommended to stay in Denver when flying in at 5,280 feet for at least a night or two before ascending to the mountain towns that reach 7,000 to 10,000 feet.

2. Get Plenty Of Sleep

Your body does most of its adaptations while you sleep, including recovery.⁵ Quality sleep will help you.

Make sure to get plenty of sleep each night, 7-9 hours. Also by getting natural sunlight during the day, you can help melatonin production in your body at night.

3. Avoid Demanding Activities

High altitudes can make physical exertion more challenging due to reduced oxygen and stress on the body. In the initial days at higher elevations, it's advisable to avoid demanding and strenuous activities such as hiking and skiing.

Take it easy during the first 48 hours. Allow your body to adjust without pushing its limits until you feel fully acclimated.

4. Hydrate Well

The lower oxygen levels can lead to an increased respiratory rate and, consequently, increased water loss through respiration. So much that the Wilderness Medical Society states you can lose fluid twice as fast in high elevations.⁶

Hydrate well by drinking plenty of water before and throughout your high elevation stay. Drinking half your weight in ounces of water per day is often recommended by experts.

TIP: To help enhance your hydration, add sea salt (natural electrolytes) to your food/water and use Zaca's chewable supplement to aid in water absorption.

5. Take Breaks Often

In the midst of high elevation acclimation, you may experience signs such as trouble breathing or increased respiration. This is your body's natural functions being disrupted.

Taking short breaks often can allow you to catch your breath and recover, reducing the strain on your body.

6. Limit Alcohol

Alcohol can exacerbate effects, and shows similar symptoms such as headaches and nausea. It also can make quality sleep hard, and overall more stress on the body to adjust.

It's best to limit alcohol consumption or avoid it altogether until you feel fully acclimated.

7. Take Antioxidants

High elevations have been found to increase oxidative stress on the body.⁷ So much that one study showed glutathione, the body's master antioxidant, to deplete nearly by half in high altitudes.⁸

Antioxidants can help your body to naturally support the effects of oxidative stress.⁹ Take antioxidants, such as glutathione, to fortify your body and replenish to healthy levels.

By following these seven steps, you can improve your elevation acclimation to enhance your overall experience at elevated destinations. The steps include not going too high too fast, getting plenty of sleep, avoiding demanding activities, hydrating well, taking breaks often, limiting alcohol, and taking antioxidants.

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1. High Elevation Travel & Altitude Illness (Acclimatization)
2. Cornell High Altitude Definition
3. High Altitude Illness
4. Patient education: High-altitude illness (including mountain sickness)
5. Sleep: The Secret Ingredient of Injury Recovery
6. Why Do You Need to Drink a Lot of Water at a High Altitude?
7. High altitude and oxidative stress
8. Effect of high altitude (7,620 m) exposure on glutathione
9. Oxidative Stress and Diseases Associated with High-Altitude Exposure
10. The 3 Stages Of Elevation Acclimation: How To Acclimate To Altitude Properly