Don't Overlook Altitude Sickness

Finally, after months maybe even years preparing for this special trip into the high country. Maybe you’ve been waiting for points to build up and you finally get your tag. You spend an absurd amount of hours reading everything about all the new gear, and scouting every map that has ever existed. Thousands of dollars are put into gear and preparation for the hunt that you’ve been dreaming of. It’s finally here.

You land at the closest airport, hop into the rental and off to the mountain! You climb up to your glassing spot at 9500 feet when you’re amazed at the beauty of the world around you. Then all the sudden you have a headache. You start to feel irritable and the headache gets worse, and then fatigue and dizziness sets in. Oh, I’ll just sleep it off and be better tomorrow. Except, that’s not what happens. How could this be.? How could I get sick now, during the hunt that I’ve been waiting so long for?

Altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is something that hunters and hikers and even backcountry fisherman know of, yet we tend to just throw the idea of it aside like that flannel that we used to wear hunting that now we don’t believe is adequate. Altitude sickness is real, and it effects nearly 200,000 people in the United States every single year. It is often non-life-threatening or very serious but takes a couple days to go away or even a couple weeks. Rifle bull elk hunts in some western states are only five days long. That hunt you’ve been waiting all year for may be over before you can go back up onto the mountain.

Outdoorsman are simply a different breed of athlete, and we need to train and prepare our bodies differently than if we were competing in some traditional sport. Altitude sickness is something that we need to take into consideration and there are a number of factors that will decide on whether or not you need to be preparing for it.

First off, you need to understand under what conditions you might be affected by altitude sickness.

  • Typically altitude sickness only effects people in elevations 8,000 feet and above
  • Symptoms and onset of AS begin 8 to 96 hours after reaching those elevations
  • People who live at elevations less than 3,000 ft
  • Rapid ascent to high altitude

What is Altitude Sickness?

Altitude Sickness is a condition where the body struggles to bring in the oxygen it needs to perform in a normal state and this leads to a feeling similar to a rough hangover. The higher in elevation you go, the air becomes less dense with oxygen levels. Hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body, may become unable to carry the proper amounts of oxygen to your muscles. This can generate a number of problems within the body and there are several symptoms to look for:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances

What to do if you come down with Altitude Sickness?

If you begin to have symptoms of Altitude Sickness you need to stop climbing and descend to a lower elevation immediately. Take this slow however. Going from 10,000 ft to 6,000 ft in a few hours will complicate things. If you choose to ignore the symptoms, you put yourself at risk of developing a more severe version of AMS. Those are HAPE and HACE and both can be fatal within hours.

  • HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) - is excess fluid on the lungs, and causes breathlessness.
  • HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) - is fluid on the brain. It causes confusion, clumsiness, and stumbling.

What can you do to prevent Altitude Sickness?

  • Stay Hydrated
  • Eat foods high in carbohydrates – this is extremely important because our bodies use up our carbohydrate storages faster when there is less oxygen in our blood. Carbs are actually more important than even protein at these higher elevations because our metabolism requires less energy and oxygen to digest them and will provide the energy you need to fend off AMS. If you are a KETO Diet person, that is great but you need to start tapering in the carbs several weeks prior to your hunt to ensure that your body doesn’t completely deplete your carb storages and leave you in an emergency situation on the mountain.
  • Understand your body and ascend at a rate around 1,000 ft per 24 hours to acclimate your body to the decreasing oxygen levels
  • Get proper amounts of sleep. Your body recovers and builds more when you are sleeping than when awake and moving. Not giving yourself enough sleep can reduce the rate you build red blood cells, and they are the vehicle that carries oxygen to your muscles.
  • Lastly and maybe the most important is to start Iron Supplementation or increasing your intake of Iron rich foods a few weeks before your trip, especially women. Iron is a key component to your body’s ability to build red blood cells. You can actually increase your red blood cell count above your average by increasing your iron intake. From a fitness and recovery standpoint, more red blood cells, means more oxygen to your muscles, increased recovery and so on. When at high elevations, your ability to increase the use of the oxygen you take in will greatly reduce the risk of AMS. Add Vitamin C to your iron intake to increase absorption.

Iron rich supplements and food sources?

There are a number of whole foods that are very iron rich. From dark leafy greens to red meat (venison!), whole grains, eggs, fish, etc.. Click here for a table of high iron foods and their Iron Content.

The best options has available for iron supplements starts with the GREENS options. These are great options for fiber, digestion, absorption, and more in general, but they are also rich with their Iron amounts. Many of us, especially men, are terrible about getting enough greens and vegetables in their diets. These options will help increase energy, nutrient absorption, and so much more.



No matter if your dreams are to chase the giants of the High Backcountry or just going on a week backpacking trip to remote peaks and lakes to enjoy the world at its purest form, Altitude Sickness should be something you are familiar with and prepare for. We work hard to make the money required to take these trips that rejuvenate our mind and souls. Failing to prepare for an element that could ruin this trip that may have been years in the making is playing with fire. Use your mapping systems, understand your body and nutrition, train, and use resources like to make sure that trek into the high country is a success.


1. Outdoor Herbivore (2018, December 5). Preventing Altitude Sickness [Web Log Post]. Retrieved from