6 tips for high-altitude trekking

High-altitude hiking can be a daunting prospect for first-timers. These expert tips offer some practical advice

8 mins

1. Acclimatise appropriately

Acclimatising gradually is imperative for high-altitude trekking. Head up a trail too fast and you’ll be struck down with sickness and not be in any fit state to complete a full trek. If you’re not sure about how to acclimate effectively, hike with an experienced guide – it’s their job to make sure guests carry out their expeditions safely.

One top tip for acclimatisation: make sure that you never stay somewhere more than 1,000m higher than you were the previous night. Keeping below this level will increase the chances of you getting a good night’s rest and being in tip-top condition for continuing the next day.

2. Pack layers

The weather up in the mountains can be unpredictable, so it’s important to make sure you have the appropriate layers to keep you warm. However, some days may be hotter than others so you might find yourself taking layers on and off as you go.

Think through the pieces of clothing you need and assess how easily they are to put on and remove. The last thing you want it to be scrambling around with fiddly clothing on top of a mountain, so pack pieces that will create as little fuss as possible.

3. Travel light

Don’t make the trek any harder on yourself by filling your backpack to the brim. Be ruthless and save weight in your pack wherever possible, thinking rationally about the things you absolutely need and the things you don’t. Channel your inner climber – some experienced trekkers even cut their toothbrushes in half to save on weight. That might sound ludicrous but you’ll thank yourself for it later.

If you’re not sure how to reduce the items in your packs, start going through your things and look for those ‘just in case’ items – those should be the first to go. If there’s a good chance you might not end up using it, these are the bits and bots that don’t need to be in your backpack.

4. Don’t wear cotton

Cotton is rubbish at keeping your warm and it takes ages to dry – two things you absolutely don’t want when high-altitude trekking. Ditch all the cotton clothing out of your pack and replace with items made of pure merino wool (or a merino/synthetic mix). These fabrics wick sweat away, keep you warm, dry quickly, and are breathable.

5. Use mountain huts and wardens

Alpine huts are dotted through the mountains in top hiking regions across Europe. Many of these offer accommodation to hikers in the area, and range from basic shelter up to private rooms and washing facilities. Some of these are huts are privately-owned, but others are run by alpine clubs – join one for discounts in the club’s huts. One of Austria’s best is the Austrian Alpine Club.

High altitude trekking in Kitzbühel Alpen
High altitude trekking in the Kitzbühel Alpen

The wardens at these huts are a mine of useful information about their area and route safety. Never hesitate to ask their advice, whether in person or by emailing ahead (many of the huts have websites with contact details). You can also reserve your space in the most huts via the internet, and it’s recommended that you book well ahead of time.

6. Back up your route with a GPS

If you’re tech-savvy, create a GPS trace of your route on a computer, then load it on to a GPS device. You may not end up using this to navigate your trek most of the time, but if you lose your path during a white-out at altitude, this precaution may well save your life. A good website for creating the track is GPS Visualizer, which is relatively intuitive and easy to use.

Don’t use your phone to navigate! On a mountain, you need to separate the functions of a mobile phone and GPS device: the latter should be used to direct your route, the former should be used for communication in an emergency. Using your phone to track your route will gobble up battery power and could leave you stranded in an emergency.

Thankyou to high-altitude expert Michael Hatch at Ramblers Worldwide Holidays for these tips.

Main image: View of the Stanzertal©TVB St. Anton am Arlberg_Foto Sepp Mallaun

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