Essential Tips for High-Altitude Trekking

by | Nov 16, 2023 | Inca Trail, Peru Travel Blogs | 0 comments

6 day ancascocha Trek

High-altitude Trekking is an exciting test of your physical and mental strength. Therefore, preparation for this extreme adventure is important. To put things in perspective quickly, high-altitude hiking is considered 4,900- 11,500 ft above sea level, while very high altitude is 11,500-18,000 ft, and any hike above 18,000 ft above sea level is considered extreme altitude.  Now that you have an idea of what these high elevations can be, let’s dive into planning a trek.

This comprehensive guide will delve into the various aspects of preparing for such an adventure. We’ll discuss the importance of cardiovascular fitness and High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) in conditioning your body for higher altitudes and how slow acclimatization can help avoid altitude sickness.  

Related: Inca Trail To Machu Picchu

We’ll also cover nutritional requirements during high-altitude trekking, hydration needs at high altitudes, and why avoiding alcohol & caffeine can be beneficial. Moreover, we’ll shed light on choosing appropriate clothing for UV protection and wet weather conditions. 

Last, but certainly not least, we’ll touch upon mental fortification in mountaineering along with tools that aid balance stability in varied terrains and equipment like proper hiking backpacks.  So strap on those hiking boots because this guide aims to make your next high-altitude backpacking experience truly amazing!

IS The Inca Trail a Dangerous Hike For Altitude sickness?

Physical Preparation for High-Altitude Trekking

Embarking on a high-altitude Hiking adventure requires mental fortitude and a body that’s ready to take on the challenge.

You need to condition yourself to handle the thin air and the extra effort that comes with hiking at higher elevations.  A better physical shape can help you prevent altitude sickness.

Importance of Cardiovascular Fitness in High-Altitude Hiking

When it comes to high-altitude hiking, a strong cardiovascular system is key. Your heart and lungs need to work harder because of the decreased oxygen levels at high elevations. 

So, get your heart pumping with regular cardio exercises including hiking, running, cycling, or swimming.  Your body will be better equipped to handle low oxygen.

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Weight Training 

Another tool for preparing for hiking trips at higher elevations is weight training.  Your goal in the gym, besides improving aerobic fitness, should be to strengthen your legs, core, and arms. 

Even incorporate weight training and cardio training by hiking uphill with weights for a training session.  Since most backpacking trips you will carry a lot of supplies, prepare your legs for days of hauling gear.

The Role of HIIT in Conditioning Your Body for Higher Elevations

Attempt to reach new fitness goals? Try incorporating bursts of intense activity followed by recovery periods, known as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), into your routine. It’s like a rollercoaster for your body, with intense bursts of activity followed by recovery periods.

This will help increase your VO2 max, which measures how much oxygen you can use during intense exercise – perfect for high-altitude treks. 

And don’t forget about strength training. Focus on your core and leg muscles to keep yourself stable while navigating those uneven terrains.

Inca Trail Elevation
Inca Trail Elevation Dead Woman Pass 13,000f

Top 5 Tips to Prepare for High-Altitude Environments

High-altitude environments require a lot of physical prep. Here is a quick list to get started.  Avoid altitude illness, be prepared for changing atmospheric pressure and weather, and have a hydration and nutrition plan.

  1.  Trim toenails for comfort and bring hygiene supplies.
  2.  Gather proper equipment for your environment.  Research the conditions and be prepared with clothes that can fend off the hot, cold, or wet environment.
  3.  Get used to drinking lots of water and perfect your nutrition plan.  Hydration is so vital.
  4.  Improve aerobic fitness with HIIT and aerobic training.
  5.  Understand the equipment. Trekking poles, boots, backpacks, and barometer.  Understand how to check atmospheric pressure.

RELATED: Hike The Classic Inca trail to Machu picchu for 4 days

Acclimatization: Embrace the High Altitude Environments

The Acclimatization Process is important. Don’t rush it. Avoiding altitude sickness is Slowly adapting to high altitude is key for a successful backpacking trip. Your body needs time to adjust to the thin air, low pressure, and chilly temps that come with being up high. 

Altitude sickness typically manifests at 8,000 ft and above. Avoiding altitude sickness is a numbers game.  Stick to your plan and follow simple guidelines.

  • Avoid intense exercise or climbing for 2 days after arriving at altitude 
  • Set a slower hiking pace and take more breaks.
  • Climb high, sleep low.  This phrase in the hiking world refers to the concept that if you hike to high elevations, “sleep low”.  (ex. If you climb to 16,000 ft, sleep at 13,000)
  • Check your fitness trackers, oxygen levels, and elevation as you go.

This gradual acclimatization helps fend off nasty altitude-induced illnesses like acute mountain sickness, high-altitude cerebral edema, or pulmonary edema.  High-altitude environments can be rough, but with proper aerobic fitness and preparation, you can prevent altitude sickness.  

Hiking Kilimanjaro vs. The Inca Trai
which is harder Inca trail or Kilimanjaro?

Why Take It Slow? Prevent Altitude Illness

Altitude illness is your body in distress when adjusting to lower oxygen pressure. Your body needs to catch its breath as you climb. By taking it easy, you give your body the chance to naturally adapt to the oxygen and pressure changes. This reduces stress on your system and lowers the chances of serious health issues from a rapid ascent.  

You can keep track of your oxygen levels with some fitness trackers.  A barometer can read air pressure levels, which makes it a good investment for high-altitude trips.

Even with high aerobic fitness, avoid climbing too high too fast. The acclimation process takes time, especially once you reach higher elevations.  You can have an amazing experience if you keep track of the acclimatization process.

Spotting the Symptoms of Altitude Illnesses

Know the signs. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of altitude-related illnesses before your high-altitude backpacking trip. Early indicators often include headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, and the urge to hug the porcelain throne – all signs of acute mountain sickness (AMS). 

More severe symptoms like stumbling around or struggling to breathe even at rest could mean you’re dealing with (HACE) or high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Recognizing these red flags allows for a timely descent and if needed, medical attention. Stay safe and keep an eye on your oxygen levels and air pressure.

As you’re hiking, you may notice it feels like you have low oxygen. 

RELATED: Can a Beginner Hike Machu Picchu

Nutritional Requirements for High Altitude Backpacking

When on a high-altitude hiking trip, feed your body with the right nutrients. As you climb, your metabolism goes into overdrive, so you need to fuel up properly. Good nutrition is key to conquering those lofty peaks.

Essential Macronutrients for High-Elevation Hikes

Load up on carbs, protein, and fats – the three musketeers of sustained energy during intense hikes. Carbs are your body’s quick energy fix, protein repairs those hardworking muscles, and fats keep you going when carbs run low.

Why Balanced Meals Matter on a Mountain Trek

Equilibrium is key. A meal with all the essential elements is key to having the right amount of nourishment without overdoing it. Plus, it keeps your digestion in check, which can get a bit wonky at high altitudes. Don’t forget to pack in fruits and veggies for their vitamin and mineral goodness – they’ll keep you healthy and strong in those extreme conditions.

And hey, don’t forget about snacks. Energy bars, nuts, and dried fruit are your trailside buddies, ready to give you a boost whenever you need it.

Hydration Needs During High Altitude Hiking

When embarking on high-altitude backpacking, hydration is key. As you ascend to greater heights, your body will be begging for fluids like a dry dromedary in the wilderness. Don’t risk dehydration, drink up.

Avoid Alcohol & Caffeine on a Mountain Expedition

Alcohol and caffeine are like the villains of hydration. They’re diuretics that leave you parched and dehydrated. Stick to water or sports drinks to quench your thirst and keep those electrolytes in check.

Tips to Stay Properly Hydrated at Great Heights

  • Maintain regular fluid intake: Prepare 4-6 liters of water a day, depending on how much you sweat and how hot it is up there. 1 liter of water intake every 2 hours of hiking.
  • Eat hydrating foods: Chow down on juicy fruits like oranges and watermelon to keep your hydration levels on point.
  • Avoid over-hydration: Don’t drown yourself in water, or you might end up with low sodium levels. Nobody wants to be a soggy mess. That’s why sodium and electrolyte drinks are so important to combine with regular water.

Dress Code for Safe and Comfortable Mountaineering

When it comes to high-altitude backpacking, the proper attire can be critical for both comfort and safety. It’s not just about feeling good – wearing the right attire also protects you from potential hazards.  Understanding the weather conditions is essential for packing the correct layers, jackets, pants, and gear.  Hiking boots need to be a high priority as well.

Choosing the Right Clothing for UV Ray Protection

The higher you climb, the stronger the sun’s rays get. So, it’s crucial to protect yourself from harmful UV rays during mountaineering expeditions. Opt for clothes with UPF 50+ ratings and don’t forget your polarized sunglasses and sunscreen. 

Waterproof Gaiters – Essential Gear for Wet Weather

Rainy weather can be unpredictable at great heights. Waterproof gaiters are a must-have gear that provides added protection against wet elements on mountain trails. They keep your lower legs dry by preventing water from seeping into your boots, ensuring you stay comfortable throughout your journey. 

In addition to these essentials, layer up appropriately based on the expected weather conditions for optimal comfort while trekking through varied terrains.

Mental Fortification in High-Altitude Hiking

Mountaineering is not just a physical challenge, but also a mental one. It’s like a game of determination and patience, where slow and steady wins the race to the top.  Going on plenty of hikes as preparation before a big backpacking trip can help get your mind ready.  It can help you understand your limits with different terrain and challenges.

Overcoming Challenges with Grit and Perseverance

Beneath the summit lies a path filled with numerous impediments and tribulations. From treacherous terrains to unpredictable weather, it’s a rollercoaster ride. But with unwavering determination and a dash of patience, you can conquer them all.  Bring an experienced hiker or guide with you when you first attempt a difficult trek.

The Perils of Rushing Upwards

Speeding up the mountain may sound thrilling, but it’s a recipe for disaster. Altitude sickness and other health issues can strike if you don’t give your body time to adjust. Go up the mountain gradually, allowing your body to adjust to the altitude.

Tools That Aid Balance Stability In Varied Terrains

When you’re hiking on a high-altitude hiking trip, having the proper tools can be essential to success. One such tool is trekking poles. These nifty aids keep you balanced and stable.

Advantages Of Using Trekking Poles

Trekking poles are like magical extensions of your legs. They help take the load off when you’re hiking uphill or downhill. By distributing weight across four points instead of two, they reduce fatigue and boost your speed. Plus, they’re your trusty companions on uneven ground, preventing embarrassing falls and potential injuries.

Alertness As Key To Minimize Injury Occurrences

Utilizing trekking poles is only a small part of the overall safety equation; remaining vigilant is equally essential to ensure injury prevention during high-altitude expeditions. Staying alert is the other crucial aspect to minimize injuries during high-altitude backpacking. Avoid making poor decisions about rock stability or navigating tricky snowfields and icy slopes. Stay aware of these potential hazards and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking landscapes from the world’s highest points.

FAQs concerning High-Altitude Backpacking

How much elevation gain is a lot of backpacking?

An elevation gain between 1,000 and 2,000 feet per mile is considered significant in backpacking. This varies based on fitness level and trail difficulty. For more details, check out this beginner’s guide to backpacking.  The atmospheric pressure changes as you’re hiking from a lower elevation to a higher elevation, so bring a barometer to measure these changes.

How do you prepare for high-altitude backpacking?

Preparation involves cardio workouts, acclimatization to higher altitudes, proper nutrition, hydration strategies, and mental fortitude. 

What is considered high-altitude hiking?

Hikes above 8,000 feet are generally classified as “high altitude”. The body starts experiencing physiological changes at these elevations. Learn more about it from the Altitude Research Center.

What can high-altitude hiking lead to?

Hiking at great heights can potentially cause altitude illnesses such as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). Refer to this article by the American Alpine Club for further information.

Top Three Altitude Hiking Trips

1.  Rocky Mountain National Park (14,259 ft Colorado, USA

2. Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341 ft) Tanzania, East Africa

3. Machu Picchu (13,828 ft) Cuzco, Peru 

RELATED: Salkantay Trek Pros and Cons 15,000f Elevation


In high-altitude backpacking, you gotta be fit, acclimatized, well-fed, well-hydrated, dressed right, mentally tough, and equipped with balance tools.

Get your heart pumping for those uphill hikes, and take it slow to avoid altitude sickness.

Don’t forget to fuel up with good food and stay hydrated to keep your energy levels up.

Protect yourself from the sun with the right clothing, and be prepared for wet weather with waterproof gaiters.

Stay strong mentally, and don’t rush your way up the mountain, it’s not a race.

Trekking poles are your best friends for stability and staying alert to avoid injuries.

Follow these tips, and you’ll have a safe and amazing experience with high-altitude Trekking.


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Cesar Conde

I’m Cesar Conde, owner of Tour Leaders Peru & Travel Advisor and my other side job is Nomadic Digital. I share my own amazing Tour Experiences, travel stories, guides, and itineraries for travelers like you and me!


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