Hiking in the mountains can be an incredible experience, but it is not without its risks. There is always a chance that you may physically injure yourself, but there's also another risk to consider: that of altitude sickness. The lower oxygen levels at higher altitudes can cause you to become ill if you don't take certain precautions and give yourself lots of time to adjust. So, what are the key things to know about altitude sickness before you go hiking in the mountains?
It normally only happens above 8,000 feet
Whether or not you really need to worry about altitude sickness depends on how high you plan on hiking. While an occasional person may suffer symptoms at a slightly lower elevation, you usually don't need to worry until you climb higher than 8,000 feet above sea level. So, if you don't have a reason to be hiking higher than that, sticking to lower elevations is an easy way to reduce your risk.
Symptoms take a while to develop
If you hike up to 8,000 feet or so, spend a little time walking around, and then start descending right away, you are unlikely to have an issue. It takes a while — often up to a half-day or even a full day — for the oxygen deprivation to catch up to you and cause altitude sickness. So, this is a problem more often faced by backpackers and those who stay overnight in the mountains than by day hikers. If you're backpacking and planning to climb over 8,000 feet, try to pick a lower spot to pitch your tent and spend the night.
Supplemental oxygen can help
If you do want to hike over 8,000 feet and spend more than a few minutes up there, you can always bring supplemental oxygen with you. Start breathing it once you reach 8,000 feet, and stick with it until you drop down below that altitude again.
Symptoms are pretty standard
The symptoms of altitude sickness don't vary much from person to person, making this condition easy to recognize. You'll feel faint, tired, nauseous, and you'll have a headache. If you do start experiencing these symptoms, either start breathing supplemental oxygen if you have it on hand, or climb back down to a lower elevation as soon as possible.
Altitude sickness is one risk associated with climbing higher in the mountains, but it is a risk you can mitigate with a few simple precautions. Contact an altitude sickness oxygen supplier near you to learn more.