Are you thinking about your first trip to altitude, and deciding whether or not to go for it? Or have you got one booked, and you’re now wondering how on earth you’re supposed to prepare?

Perhaps you’ve also been reading up on the side effects of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS or altitude sickness for short) or heard from friends how scary it was, and how much it impacted them. You just aren’t sure that a challenge at altitude is a challenge that is right for you?

Well let me tell you, you’ve made a good start in reading this article!

At The Altitude Centre, we specialise in altitude training to prepare people both physiologically and mentally for high-altitude. Read on to find out exactly how this could benefit you and your altitude adventure.

So why is altitude such a challenge?

The higher we go, the thinner the air. As you reach new heights on mountains such as Kilimanjaro, or trekking to Machu Picchu and Everest Base Camp and beyond, you will experience the thinner air that comes with altitude. This means that with every breath you take, you are breathing in fewer molecules of oxygen than you would at sea-level. You have probably seen documentaries or video clips of climbers on Everest struggling to put one foot in front of the other? Well altitude is a major factor in this, and this is exactly why pre-acclimatisation is such an important part of the process when it comes to travelling to altitude.

The Altitude Centre – Comic Relief Kilimanjaro 2019 from The Altitude Centre on Vimeo.

It is important to note that AMS is often the main cause of climbers not making it to the summit, with symptoms such as vomiting, exhaustion and dizziness causing a major problem. In order to give yourself the best chance of avoiding that, the process of acclimatisation is key.

Altitude training involves breathing reduced oxygen air in order to simulate the conditions of higher altitude.

How can I train for altitude, and what does it involve?

If you’re new to altitude training, it can be a daunting prospect; but don’t worry, it’s a relatively simple concept. Altitude training involves breathing reduced oxygen air in order to simulate the conditions of higher altitude. Whether that’s in our exercise chamber at 2700m, or using a mask, where we can simulate an altitude of up to 6300m – well above the summit of Kilimanjaro or Everest Base Camp! This can be done passively (during IHE sessions), or actively, during moderate or high-intensity exercise (through our exercise sessions, or Personal Training). We even offer rental equipment which allows you to bring the mountains to you and complete altitude training in the comfort of your own home.

What are the benefits of altitude training for my trip to altitude?


Firstly, and most importantly, it is the benefit of altitude pre-acclimatisation. When you reduce the amount of oxygen available to you, your spO2 (blood-oxygen saturation) wil drop. Put simply, your spO2 is the percentage of your red blood cells which are fully saturated with oxygen; at sea level, a healthy number is anywhere between 95-100%.

This pre-acclimatisation process ultimately means that you will improve your body’s response to low oxygen environments, meaning that you cope better with the altitude.

However, during travel to altitude, this is likely to fall. How far it falls can be dependent on a number of factors, including training. During your training we want to replicate this so that your body can adapt, so we aim for an SpO2 of around 80-85% during your training.


This is the perfect range to maximise the adaptations to your cells, as they learn how to become more efficient at using the lower amount of oxygen available. As with real altitude, exposure is key. The more you train, the higher your SpO2 will be for any given altitude – the process of pre-acclimatisation!

This pre-acclimatisation process ultimately means that you will improve your body’s response to low oxygen environments, meaning that you cope better with the altitude. When you go to altitude, you are reducing your chances of getting AMS. Research suggests that the higher your saturation stays, the less chance you have of feeling the ill-effects of altitude on the mountain. Since you have already pre-acclimatised, the first couple of days are a lot more enjoyable, and you are feeling a lot stronger when it comes to tackling the all important summit night.

Mind over Mountain…

The importance of knowing that you have been to the heights of your chosen adventure beforehand, and thus experienced how your body responds to that altitude cannot be overstated. Knowing that you can cope at altitude is a great confidence boost before you head off – and studies show that a positive and relaxed mind-set actually improves your oxygen efficiency!


So where do I start?!

So now you are probably wondering where exactly to start. It’s important to get an understanding of how you respond to altitude as an individual, and our Mountaineering Consultation is the perfect place to begin for those looking to head off to altitude for the first time.

During this, we take you through a series of health checks relating to altitude. Each of these can impact your performance at altitude, or your ability to cope with altitude. We will follow this up with two tests, at altitudes of between 3800m and 5100m to gauge where you are right now, based on the research. It’s important to stress that we can all acclimatise. Some of us will just take a little longer than others – but that’s no different to any other type of training!


The results from your testing are compiled into a comprehensive report, which we use to suggest the best form of training for you, based on the different options we touched on at the start, as well as some important tips and tricks to help get you mountain ready, as well as managing your body on the mountain in order to help you bag yourself that summit success!

What about some top tips?

As a little preview, here are some of the top tips our Performance Specialists have from their own experience of high altitude, including Kilimanjaro.

Caitlin: “Fill up a bottle or two with the hot water many companies will provide before bed – shove it in your sleeping bag an hour or so before you go to bed to make it nice and toasty – especially if you suffer from the cold!”

Santi: “Easy access to your water bottle – the temperature near the top is often freezing, and you’re not going to want to have to take your pack off to grab it every couple of minutes! A water bladder with an easy-to-access straw is an essential on my trekking pack list.”

Rosa: “As it turns out, one custard cream does NOT suffice for summit night! Make sure you’re fuelled up and ready to go.”

Sam: “It’s not a race! Chances are, you aren’t going to be the first person to reach the summit that day, let alone, that week, month or year. So what is the rush? Take it slowly, and enjoy the journey!”

James: “Pack smart. The last thing you want to be doing is rummaging around at the bottom of your bag for your waterproofs when that storm comes. Make sure you have them handy.”

Click here to book in for a Mountaineering Consultation to kick-start your training!

Georgia & Sam Kili Summit