How to Train for High Altitude Hiking: Ultimate Guide for Mastering Your Hiking Skills

If you have been searching for information on how to train for high-altitude hiking, you have got to the right place! As a world traveler, athlete, and avid hiker, I’ve experienced some of the most breathtaking sights and challenging terrain on the planet. , from the peaks of the Himalayas to the rugged trails in Alaska, I’ve tackled some of the world’s most iconic hiking destinations.

Training for high-altitude hiking is not something that can be taken lightly. Even experienced hikers can struggle with the challenges that come with high-altitude environments. However, with the right training techniques and a solid plan in place, anyone can conquer even the highest peaks with confidence and ease.

In this blog post, I’ll be sharing my own personal experiences and insights on how to train for high-altitude hiking, along with expert tips and advice. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting out, this guide will provide you with the knowledge and tools you need to prepare for your next high-altitude adventure and tackle it with confidence. So let’s get started!

How to train for high altitude
Hiking the high-altitude peaks in the Himalayas, Nepal

How to Train for High-Altitude Hiking Overview

If you are short on time to read this article on how to train for high-altitude hiking, you can have a quick scan of this table. This answers all the main questions to get you ready to safely hike at a high altitude.

How to prepare for high-altitude hiking?Start with cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and gradually increasing your altitude exposure.
What exercises should I do to improve my endurance and performance at high altitudes?Cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and hiking at lower altitudes.
How can I acclimate to a high altitude before my trip?Gradually increase your altitude exposure over several days or weeks, hydrate properly, and avoid alcohol and sleeping pills.
What should I eat and drink to fuel my body during high-altitude hiking?Focus on a balanced diet with plenty of water and electrolytes, and bring high-energy snacks on your hike.
How can I prevent altitude sickness?Gradual acclimatization, hydration, avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills, and descending if symptoms occur.
What gear should I use for high-altitude hiking?Proper hiking boots, layers for changing weather conditions, and a well-fitting backpack.
What training techniques can I use to increase my endurance?Interval training, hill repeats, and tempo runs can help increase endurance.
How do I monitor my progress and adjust my training?Use heart rate monitors, track workout times and distances, and adjust workouts based on your progress.

What is Considered High Altitude for Hiking?

Let’s start by answering the most important question we all have: What is considered high altitude for hiking?

If you have ever suffered from altitude sickness before, you know what I am talking about. My first experience was during a trip to Peru where I had prepared to hike Montana Macchu Pichu, on my first night at the hotel in Cuzco (11,152 feet/3,399 meters). I woke up in the middle of the night, alone in my hotel room, with terrible symptoms of altitude sickness: headache, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath and it took several hours for me to feel like myself again.

After that episode, I learned my lesson that the effects of high altitude are VERY HARD IN OUR BODIES! This is the reason I want to start covering this before we jump on how to train for high-altitude hiking.

When it comes to high-altitude hiking, it is important to understand what exactly is considered high altitude. Generally, high altitude is defined as elevations between 8,000 to 12,000 feet (2,438 to 3,658 meters) above sea level. At these elevations, the air pressure and oxygen levels are lower, which can make it harder for your body to function.

However, for serious high-altitude hiking expeditions, you may be looking at elevations well above 12,000 feet. For example, the base camp for Mount Everest is located at an elevation of 17,600 feet (5,364 meters). This extreme altitude presents a whole new set of challenges and requires even more extensive training and preparation.

It is important to note that altitude affects everyone differently and symptoms of altitude sickness can occur at any elevation above 8,000 feet. Therefore, it is crucial to listen to your body and take the necessary precautions, no matter the elevation of your hiking destination.

How to train for a hike
Hiking the Tongariro in New Zealand

What are the symptoms of altitude sickness and how can I prevent it?

Also known as “mountain sickness”, altitude sickness is a collection of symptoms that can strike if you walk or climb to a higher elevation, or altitude, too quickly. Altitude sickness is a serious condition caused by the lack of oxygen at high altitudes.

There are 3 types of altitude sickness:

  • Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is the mildest form and it’s very common. The symptoms can feel like a hangover – dizziness, headache, muscle aches, and nausea.
  • High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is a buildup of fluid in the lungs that can be very dangerous and even life-threatening.
  • High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is the most severe form of altitude sickness and happens when there’s fluid in the brain. It’s life-threatening and you need to seek medical attention right away.
WHY IT HAPPENS: The pressure of the air that surrounds you is called barometric pressure. When you go to higher altitudes, this pressure drops and there is less oxygen available. Any time you go above 8,000 feet, you can be at risk for altitude sickness.
WHEN IT HAPPENS: Symptoms usually come on within 12 to 24 hours of reaching a higher elevation and then get better within a day or two as your body adjusts to the change in altitude.
WHO IS AFFECTED: You can never predict altitude sickness; you may not even get it. Physical fitness, age, and gender have no bearing on whether you will get altitude sickness. However, people at higher risk for feeling its effects are those with heart problems or lung problems.

What should you do:

  • Take it easy and take deep breaths
  • Avoid Alcohol and Tobacco
  • Keep hydrated, drink plenty of water
  • Acclimate at a lower altitude, and ascend slowly
  • Take Diamox and/or Tylenol

Expert Tip:

If symptoms persist or worsen, descend to a lower elevation immediately. It’s also a good idea to carry medication like Diamox, which can help prevent and treat altitude sickness. Proper preparation and cautious behavior are the keys to preventing altitude sickness.

4 Tips Before Start Training for Hike on High Altitude

1. How Does High Altitude Affect the Body During a Hike?

High altitude can significantly affect the body during a hike due to decreased oxygen levels. At higher elevations, the air pressure is lower, which means there is less oxygen available for your body to use. This can cause a range of symptoms, including headaches, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, and fatigue.

Your heart rate may also increase as your body tries to compensate for the lack of oxygen. In extreme cases, altitude sickness can occur, which can be life-threatening.

2. What should I do to prepare for hiking at high altitudes?

Training for hiking at high altitudes requires a combination of physical training and proper nutrition. Start training at least three months before your trip by focusing on building your cardiovascular endurance, increasing your lung capacity, and adding strength training to your routine.

Simulate the altitude environment using an altitude training mask or sleeping in an altitude tent. Pay attention to your diet and increase your intake of iron-rich foods, stay hydrated, and consume foods high in carbohydrates for energy. Once you arrive at a high altitude, give yourself time to acclimate, and don’t overexert yourself. Remember to take it slow, listen to your body, and have fun!

How to train for a hike
Hiking in extreme conditions in the Himalayas – Annapurna Mt.

3. What are the Acclimatization strategies for high altitude?

Acclimatization is the process of adjusting to high-altitude environments and is crucial for a safe and enjoyable hiking experience. One of the most effective acclimatization strategies is to gradually increase your elevation over several days. This allows your body to adjust to the decreased oxygen levels. Another strategy is to take rest days to allow your body to recover and acclimatize. Hydration is also important, as it helps your body cope with the effects of altitude.

4. Can anyone hike in high altitudes or are there certain medical conditions that may make it unsafe?

While hiking at high altitudes can be a rewarding experience, it is not suitable for everyone. Certain medical conditions, such as heart and lung diseases, may make it unsafe to hike in high-altitude environments. If you have a medical condition or are unsure whether hiking at a high altitude is safe for you, it is recommended to consult with your doctor before embarking on a high-altitude hike.

Additionally, certain medications can exacerbate altitude sickness symptoms, so it’s important to discuss any medication you are taking with your doctor before hiking at high altitudes. Remember to prioritize your safety and health above all else.

How to train for a hike
Hiking in high elevation in Machu Picchu in Peru

Physical conditioning and training programs for high-altitude hiking

I know many people may say that there is no way for training for high altitudes, that being fit doesn’t mean you won’t get altitude sickness, the only training for high altitudes is to train in high altitudes, etc, etc.… It is important to keep in mind that altitude sickness is pathologic and it can affect anyone.

But if you are physically healthy and have trained your body effectively for the conditions, it will be beneficial and your performance will be better than someone who didn’t have any preparation. I am extremely happy with my training as I didn’t have any symptoms of altitude sickness during my hike.

Understanding the effects of altitude on the body during exercise

When exercising at high altitudes, the body undergoes significant changes due to the decrease in oxygen levels. The air at high altitudes is less dense, causing the body to work harder to deliver oxygen to the muscles.

As a result, the heart rate and respiratory rate increase, and the body produce more red blood cells to carry oxygen. However, these changes can also lead to altitude sickness, a condition that can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue. To avoid altitude sickness, it’s important to acclimate slowly to high altitudes and engage in proper hydration and nutrition. By understanding the effects of altitude on the body during exercise, hikers and athletes can prepare effectively for high-altitude activities.

Expert Tip:

When we talk about strength workouts, the first thing that comes to mind is a sign for a membership at the gym. But if you are so busy, like I am, I have some great options for you. For a cheap and easy alternative, you can buy sissy squats equipment to strengthen your whole body, especially your legs. Another alternative is to invest in a compact home gym, as you will get the same benefits as going to the gym.

Importance of cardiovascular and respiratory fitness for high altitude hiking

I normally work out at the gym, lifting weights twice a day for a total of around 2 hours per day, 6 to 7 days a week. But when I train for high-altitude hiking, I change my training and also take my workout outdoors. I still keep one session in the gym, and one session outdoors per day, for 2 months.

To prepare for high-altitude hiking, it’s important to engage in regular cardiovascular and respiratory exercises, such as running, cycling, swimming, and deep breathing exercises. By doing so, hikers can increase their lung capacity and endurance, and enjoy a safer and more rewarding hiking experience.

I focus on developing a breathing rhythm and deep breathing. Your ability to control and conserve your breath and expand your breathing capacity will come in handy when the oxygen supply is reduced. I would also recommend practicing deep breathing on training hikes. Whenever you begin to feel breathless, concentrate on taking deep breaths and smaller steps until a more normal breathing pattern returns.

Expert Tip:

Doesn’t matter what endurance/ cardio exercise you choose to do, make sure you target your progress. During each session, I try to train at a pace that keeps my heart rate at 70% to 85% of my maximum heart rate. To make your training more fun and easier to adapt to the routine, I recommend mixing and matching or picking at least 2 from this list of exercises below, as you will need some variations to stick with the plan. 

Importance of practicing and training on similar terrain to the target destination

Practicing and training on similar terrain to the target destination is essential for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who want to prepare effectively for their upcoming adventure. By doing so, you can familiarize yourself with the challenges of the terrain, such as steep inclines, uneven surfaces, and rocky terrain.

This helps to improve their balance, coordination, and endurance, which are critical for a successful and enjoyable outdoor experience. Additionally, training on similar terrain can help to reduce the risk of injury and prepare the body for the physical demands of the trip. Whether it’s hiking, backpacking, or mountaineering, training on similar terrain is an important aspect of any outdoor activity.

fitness plan for my next vacation
Running on the sand is very effective in preparation for hiking

Example of training programs for high-altitude hiking

This is just an example and may vary depending on individual fitness levels and goals, as well as the specific demands of the target destination. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional and/or a qualified trainer to design a personalized training program. For more workout ideas, follow my YouTube Channel.

I like to mix and match my workout so I don’t get tired of the same exercises and routine, keeping 6 workout days per week, at least 60 minutes a day, for 2-3 months before my hiking trip. Below are my favorite exercises, and you can see them all in detail in this article on how to train like a pro for a hike!

Running/ Cycling/ Swimming30-60 minutes, 3-4 times per week, gradually increasing distance and elevation gain
Weightlifting 2-3 times per week, focusing on lower body strength and core stability
Bodyweight exercises (e.g. squats, lunges, push-ups)2-3 times per week, targeting lower body and core strength
Hiking on similar terrain1-2 times per week, gradually increasing distance and elevation gain, incorporating a weighted backpack for added resistance
Deep breathing exercises
5-10 minutes per day, practicing slow, controlled breathing to improve respiratory fitness
HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)1-2 times per week, incorporating short bursts of intense activity (e.g. sprints, hill repeats) to improve cardiovascular fitness and endurance
Plyometrics (e.g. box jumps, jump squats)1-2 times per week, focusing on explosive movements to improve power and agility
Mobility exercises (e.g. yoga, foam rolling)2-3 times per week, incorporating stretching and myofascial release techniques to improve range of motion and reduce the risk of injury

Proper nutrition and hydration for high-altitude hiking

Proper nutrition and hydration are essential for a successful high-altitude hiking experience. When hiking at high altitudes, the body faces unique challenges due to lower oxygen levels, which can lead to fatigue, altitude sickness, and dehydration. Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to your diet and hydration levels to ensure that your body has the energy and nutrients it needs to perform at its best.

If you are planning to increase your workout, it is very important to also have proper nutrition. Make sure that you eat the correct amount of calories, and have a balanced meal with the macronutrients: Lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and good fats, such as these 16 easy ideas for energy food for hiking.

Expert Tip:

Changing diet habits is the most challenging part, and it can be very intimidating to commit, but if you plan accordingly and stick with the plan, you will slowly build up the discipline and the results will be all beneficial for your physique and most importantly, health result

DRINK PLENTY OF WATER: The lower air pressure and drier air can quickly dehydrate the body, so it’s important to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Water is the best choice, but other fluids like sports drinks or electrolyte-enhanced water can be beneficial. It’s important to avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they can dehydrate the body.
WHAT AVOID EATING: Processed and fried food, dairy, wheat, sugary food, and drinks – yes, it means I don’t eat cakes, sweets, chocolate, or soda during any preparation of a fitness goal
EAT A BALANCED DIET: Eating a healthy diet rich in complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats will provide the body with the necessary nutrients to perform optimally. Carbohydrates are particularly important as they provide the body with the energy it needs to perform. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are all excellent sources of complex carbohydrates. Lean protein is important for muscle recovery and repair, so include plenty of lean meats, fish, eggs, and beans in your diet. Healthy fats from sources like nuts, seeds, and olive oil can provide sustained energy as well as support for heart health.
How to train for a hike

How to Train for High-Altitude Hiking Conclusion

High altitude for hiking is generally considered to be elevations between 8,000 to 12,000 feet above sea level. However, for more extreme high-altitude hikes, such as those found on the world’s highest peaks, you may be looking at elevations well above 12,000 feet. Regardless of your destination, it is important to be aware of the effects of altitude and to properly prepare yourself for the challenges ahead.

In conclusion, training for high-altitude hiking requires a combination of physical training and proper nutrition. By following these tips, you can increase your chances of having a successful and enjoyable trip. Remember to take it slow and listen to your body, and most importantly, have fun and enjoy the breathtaking views!

I would love to hear from you. Have you ever gotten to prepare for a big physical adventure during your vacation? What was your biggest challenge and what would be the most important advice to share?

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