9 Tips How To Prevent Altitude Sickness When Hiking

How To Prevent Altitude Sickness When Hiking

In our backyard of Colorado, for both visitors and locals alike, altitude sickness can be a real drag on your hiking experience. If you're planning on a high elevation hike, we'll share with you nine tips how to prevent altitude sickness when hiking (with one tip you won't find anywhere else!).

Hiking Altitude Sickness Symptoms: What To Look Out For

If you are planning to take a hike and have never been to high altitudes before, it is important that you know what is altitude sickness and what symptoms to look out for.

Altitude sickness occurs when you go to higher altitudes due to lower oxygen levels. Your body needs time to adapt to the decreased oxygen in the air, and can be severely slowed down or even impaired.

These symptoms such as headache and nausea can really slow you down or even stop your hike. Altitude symptoms to look out for when hiking include:

  • headache
  • dizziness or light-headedness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • shortness of breath (dyspnea) with exertion
  • fatigue or weakness

Good preparation before your hike is your best bet how to prevent altitude sickness when hiking, we'll cover those tips below.

How Much Elevation Gain Is A Lot For Hiking?

Variables such as living in high altitudes can have an effect, but generally altitude sickness can happen when hiking at altitudes of 8,000 feet and higher. Although lower places such as Denver at 5280 feet, you can still run risk of altitude symptoms.

What can play a bigger factor is how much elevations gain you make during your hike. Michael Lanza, former editor at Backpacker magazine, gives a hiking difficulty rating score based on the elevation gain.

See the chart below for the hiking difficulty, where anything between 3,000 and 6,000 (or more) in elevation gain can become extremely hard.

Hiking Difficulty Rating

500 feet or less
More than 1,500 feet
Hard More than 3,000 feet
Very Hard
More than 4,500 feet
Extremely Hard
More than 6,000 feet

SOURCE: How to know how hard a hike will be.⁵

Keep reading to learn our 9 tips how to prevent altitude sickness when hiking.

9 Tips How To Prevent Altitude Sickness When Hiking

If you're going to hike, you're going to want to know how to prevent altitude sickness. People suffer from altitude sickness when hiking in Colorado all the time, both visitors and locals.

While it's not a death sentence, it can be a miserable experience that lasts for days.

From getting proper hydration to taking an altitude supplement, we'll cover it all in nine tips.

Here's 9 tips how to prevent altitude sickness when hiking:

1. Drink Extra Water

Drinking extra water helps combat dehydration, which causes many of the symptoms of altitude sickness. The higher you go, the more water your body loses because of decreased air pressure and increased breathing rate.

Proper hydration is one of the most important ways how to prevent altitude sickness when hiking. While there are many different factors that contribute to altitude sickness, drinking enough liquids is one of the easiest ways to prevent it from happening in the first place. So don't forget to pack a water bottle when you're heading out on an adventure!

Also, make sure you're getting extra hydration the day and night before your hike. Typical recommendation minimum half a gallon of water or half your body weight in ounces. And make sure the day of your hike you're getting extra water to make up for the physical exertion, especially if it's a long and difficult one.

2. Acclimate Slowly

Remember that it can take days for your body to acclimate to higher elevations. If you're traveling to a destination with higher altitudes than you live, your risk of altitude sickness will go up significantly.

If planning a big trek or hike at a high altitude destination like the Rocky Mountains, plan to stay minimum 1-2 nights somewhere to help you slowly adjust. For example, visitors to Colorado will often stay in Denver at 5280 feet the first few nights before exploring the mountains where elevations range from 7000 to 14000 feet high.

Giving your body some time, and plenty of rest, will help you acclimate better.

3. Replenish Glutathione

One study out of India found Glutathione to deplete up to 45% from high altitude.²

Glutathione is a key antioxidant found in virtually every cell in your body. It helps protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are produced as a result of exercise like hiking and high altitudes.²

Glutathione can also help regenerate or recycle other antioxidants including vitamin C, helping to boost your body.

Taking a glutathione supplement like Zaca is a helpful way to replenish your glutathione levels while hiking at high altitudes.

4. Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes you urinate more often. And as mentioned, dehydration is a common cause of altitude sickness. 

Depending on the intensity of your hike or trek, you should eliminate alcohol at least the night before, and for most intense adventures you should eliminate alcohol up to a week before.

5. Pace Yourself

Don’t try to do too much too fast — this can lead to altitude sickness symptoms from the additional physiological stress on the body.

If you find yourself with shortness of breath, dizziness or subtle feeling of a headache, these could be early signs of altitude sickness. Take a break if you do feel any of these signs.

Don't rush up the mountain; take it slow and stop every 30 minutes or so to rest before continuing your trek upwards. This will allow your body time to adjust to the new elevation.

6. Use Hydration Tablets

Water is one of keys to dealing with high altitudes, so any way to maximize your hydration will give your body the replenishment it needs.

Hydration tablets are one of the best ways to stay hydrated while hiking. They are lightweight, easy to use, and can be used  as needed throughout your hike.

While some hydration tablets require you to mix it with water, Zaca's chewables can be easily eaten at any time. Pop Zaca to increase water absorption and electrolyte intake.

7. Get Plenty Of Sleep

Getting enough sleep is important when traveling to high altitudes because lack of sleep can further increase the risk of developing altitude sickness. Proper sleep can increase acclimatization and recovery speed.

First, it's important to sleep well before a long or strenuous hike. Second, It's vital though to get ample sleep every night if on a multi-day trek or hike.

7-9 hours of sleep is recommended by most National Sleep Foundation guidelines for healthy adults.³

8. Take An Altitude Supplement

Fueling your body with the right foods and nutrients in altitude adjustment supplements is a quick way to prep your body for high altitudes.

For example, this one nutrient is shown to help in high altitudes:

  • Dihydromyricetin (DHM) - DHM was shown in a 2014 study to improve physical performance during high altitude.⁴
DHM, along with other proven nutrients such as Glutathione, are good to take in altitude supplements to thrive through your altitude hike.

9. Know When To Stop 

If altitude sickness starts to kick in, including symptoms such as headache or nausea, it's best to stop hiking and turn around.

It will be very difficult to fight off altitude sickness once it starts, especially during an intense hike. The key at that point is to descend to lower altitudes which can help the body re-acclimate better.

If your condition worsens, you should always seek medical attention.

In summary, follow these tips to prevent altitude sickness when hiking — including drinking extra water, acclimating slowly, replenishing glutathione, avoiding alcohol, pacing yourself, using hydration tablets, getting plenty of sleep, taking an altitude supplement, and knowing when to stop.


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Altitude Supplement Hiking
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1. High Altitude and Free Radicals
2. Effect of high altitude (7,620 m) exposure on glutathione
3. How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?
4. Dihydromyricetin Improves Physical Performance under Simulated High Altitude
5. How To Know How Hard A Hike Will Be
6. How To Prevent Altitude Sickness While Hiking