Tips to Keep in Mind While Traveling to High Elevation Areas

If your travels are taking you to new and exciting heights, keep these Pro Tips in mind to help you stay comfortable.

From Denver to Mexico City and Santa Fe to Nepal, you may find yourself traveling to altitudes well above sea level. So, in order to get adjusted to your new surroundings, here are a few tips you can use to help you make a smoother transition.

Higher elevations can leave travelers feeling a little down. If you are prepared, however, your trip can be an amazing experience, whether you are hitting the slopes, hiking through nature or enjoying the sites of a local city.

WHEN DOES IT START?

What exactly is considered a high elevation? High elevation starts at 5,000 feet above sea level. Very high elevation ranges from 11,500 to 18,000 feet and extreme elevation is anything above 18,000 feet.

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THE WEATHER UP THERE

One of the changes you may notice with higher elevation is temperature. For every 1,000 feet you travel up, the temperature can drop an average of 3.5 degrees. For example, if you are start at 1,000 feet above sea level and it is 60 degrees, by the time you hit 8,000 feet it could be 35 degrees. Areas with higher elevation can be warm during the day, but can become chilly and drop in temperature once the sun goes down.

Elevation-temperatures

Weather is another factor to be aware of, because conditions can change rapidly. Wind can also be a concern at higher elevations, as they tend to be slowed near the ground due to frictional drag.

ACCLIMATIZATION

When traveling to areas that are 5,000 feet above sea level, you may run the risk of suffering from altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS). This can occur in high altitudes because your body has a hard time adjusting to lower oxygen pressure.

As a result, your body will need to adapt to the higher altitudes — a process known as acclimatization.

“[You should] be knowledgeable about altitude sickness, learn the early symptoms, know what are red flags and when to descend,” said Dr. Peter Hackett of the Institute for Altitude Medicine in Telluride, Colorado.

According to the Institute for Altitude Medicine website, common altitude sickness symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, loss of appetite, nausea, weakness, fatigue and difficulty sleeping.

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to help acclimatize to the higher elevations.

Slowly ascending to higher altitudes can help your body adjust to its surroundings. Any effects of exercise will be greater at higher elevations. If you begin feeling sore, fatigued or short of breath, take a minute to relax. Some travelers will spend a day or two at an intermediate elevation to prepare for the higher altitudes they will encounter.

It can also be beneficial to sleep at a lower altitude than where you were most active during the day. For example, if you climb at 8,500 feet then consider sleeping at 8,000 feet.

“Poor sleep is the number one problem when sleeping above 9,000’” Hackett said. “Most folks can count on poor sleep for a few nights. [It is] best to avoid caffeine in the afternoons or evenings, go to bed tired.”

It’s also suggested to avoid alcohol and drink a little extra water.

“Hydration doesn’t make much difference, contrary to popular opinion,” Hackett said. “But [it is] good to stay hydrated, since dehydration symptoms are similar to AMS. Foods don’t matter much, [but] in general, it’s best to avoid heavy, greasy meals.”

MIND THE SUN

When you are traveling to higher elevations, keep in mind that you will be at greater risk of getting sunburned. The farther up you go, the less the atmosphere will do to protect you from harmful UV rays, so have the sunscreen ready.

Try going with a SPF 30 or 50. Sunscreen with a lower SPF could be too weak to keep you fully protected. Keep your face and head covered with a pair of sunglasses and hat as well.

You can also wear apparel with SPF protection built in. Clothing designed for hiking and fishing will often have this convenient feature.

LAYERS

Another way to be prepared is to bundle up with layers. By doing so, you can stay warm or peel off a layer if you begin getting too hot on your way back down.

As you begin to layer, keep an eye on the conditions you may encounter. Remember, it is better to be safe than sorry.

  • Two-layer system: This is the best option for a day trip in warmer temperatures. It includes a base (a performance shirt or short-sleeve tee) and an outer layer (a lightweight wind jacket or windproof fleece).
  • Three-layer system: If you are planning on spending extended time outdoors, you may want to consider this method. A three-layer system includes the base of a long-sleeve or performance shirt, a mid layer with a light insulated or fleece jacket, and an outer shell of a jacket that is preferably waterproof.
  • Four-layer system: This layering combination is best for those going out for a winter day full of skiing, snowboarding, ice climbing or hiking. Four layers could be more helpful in protecting you from extreme cold. This will include a base (long underwear, shirt, bottoms), mid (a fleece jacket), insulating (synthetic insulated jacket, sweat style jacket) and an outer shell (a jacket that will help keep you dry). A 3-in-1 style jacket will provide the insulating and outer shell layer in one versatile garment.

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Find out more about layering for cold conditions here.

OTHER CLOTHING

In addition to layering, it is important to make sure you have proper clothing for every part of your body. Match the clothing to what conditions you expect to see — hats, mitts, socks and the right footwear are all essential to staying comfortable. A light backpack can be a great accessory to help carry extra items as you layer up and down through the day, as well as your water bottle and other personal gear. And don’t forget snow goggles, too.

By being prepared in advance, you can enjoy your trip to the top of the world.