Medical issues and altitude sickness

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Medical issues and altitude sickness

When undertaking any outdoor activity, you need to expect the unexpected. During your hike, accidents can happen either big or small. An accident can range from a sprained ankle to blisters or from altitude sickness to heat stroke. Luckily, with some useful tips and information, you can prepare yourself for these situations and prevent them from happening!

The most common medical issues are:

  • Sprained ankle
  • Knee injuries
  • Blisters
  • Heat stroke
  • Hypothermia


Physical problems are annoying and can have a profound effect on your hike. They may be the reason you have to pause your hike or stop it completely. By wearing good shoes, a lightweight backpack, and doing the correct physical training beforehand, you can minimize the risk of injuries. Blisters will be part of the deal and it is essential to disinfect and tape them to prevent infection. Prevent a heat stroke by bringing a hat (with neck protection), applying sunscreen several times per day, and using a packable beach umbrella when there are extremely high temperatures. On the other hand, it’s also important not to underestimate the risk of hypothermia. If your body temperature drops too much, for instance, due to wind, rain, cold temperatures, or wet clothes, the risk of hypothermia is real. Anticipate this by checking the weather conditions and eating and drinking enough.


Altitude sickness

High in the mountains there is a risk for altitude sickness. This happens when your body hasn’t adapted to the altitude and the lack of oxygen. Altitude sickness can occur anywhere above approx. 2500 meters. The air pressure decreases with increasing altitudes. At 3000 meters, the air pressure is only two-thirds of what it is at sea level, whereas at 5000 meters the air pressure is halved. At higher altitudes, it is not possible to live and you can only stay there for short periods. Luckily, altitude sickness can be prevented by proper acclimatization. The key is to not ascend too fast. The height at which you will sleep also plays a role here. Try not to sleep more than 500 meters higher than the previous night. Take it easy and drink lots of water. It is always advisable to get advice from a doctor for the right medication if this is needed in your situation.


First aid kit

It’s important to travel with a (small) first-aid kit. Most outdoor stores have standardized kits that contain basic things you might need. Make sure to carry an aluminum rescue blanket, emergency whistle, headlamp or matches, band-aids, disinfectant, small scissors, tweezers, needle and medication against headaches and diarrhea. Additionally, you can add things depending on your personal experience, medical history or type of trail.

First aid


Emergency numbers

In the case of an emergency, you need to call the emergency number of the country you are in. In Europe this is always 112. When calling this number, you will get into immediate contact with the emergency services. Make sure to know the emergency numbers of the country you are in, so that you can reach them fast when needed. Also, don’t forget to note the contact details of your travel and health insurance. This will save you a lot of time and effort when you are in a situation you need them.
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