Master the Mountains: Tips for High Elevation Camping

Key Points

  • Learn the essentials for all types of camping, including tips for camping in the mountains.

  • Remember the five W's of a safe campsite.

  • Follow the tips for camping in the mountains to ensure a successful and fun trip.

Camping is cake on flat ground. Go up into this planet's misty and mysterious peaks and things get a bit more complicated. As you ascend mountains, the slope steepens right along with you and new difficulties arise. If you want a challenging and fun outdoor experience, head to the mountains on your next camping trip. Before you do, though, take some time to learn some key tips for camping in the mountains

Not sure where to start? Before studying the tips for camping in the mountains, be sure you understand the basic rules and needs of any type of camping.

Camping Tips for Beginners

Whether adventuring in the Everglades or rucking it in the Rockies, these tips apply to both Bear Grylls and the city slicker whose idea of camping is walking through Central Park.

Camping in the mountains

Plan Your Meals

Nothing beats breakfast in the woods. Plan for how much food you and your camping companions need on the trip. Always overestimate your appetite; camping and hiking burn a lot of calories. An energy bar is not enough. Bring non-perishable foods — things like granola, trail mix, and canned goods.

If you bring pasta carbonara, milk, and yogurt, prepare to say sayonara to your backpack — by the end of the trip, it might violate the Geneva Conventions prohibition on chemical warfare.

Don't forget utensils, cooking gear, and a camping stove. These culinary items allow you to heat up tasty camping meals and eat without making a mess.

Bring enough food and water to last the entire trip, plus extra in case of an emergency. This is especially important when camping on a mountain or other area where water sources may be scarce.

Pack the Right Gear

Research the area where you're going to ensure you have the right gear for the conditions, such as a sturdy tent to withstand strong winds or crampons, ice axes, and ropes if mountaineering is on the agenda. Bring warm clothing such as thick hiking socks and hiking gloves. Pack a winter sleeping bag, even if camping during the summer, because it's cold in them there hills. Snow flurries in July are not uncommon.

Include a map, compass, GPS device, and whistle to signal for help. Tell someone your route, camping location, and expected return time.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you've never set up a tent, the forest is not the right place for on-the-job training. If you're unfamiliar with a camp stove, don't cook your first meal when you're 16 miles in with an angry, rumbling stomach.

In short, practice using your gear before camping so everything is quick and efficient when you're out in the boonies. 

Leave No Trace

Follow Leave No Trace principles: pack out all your trash, minimize campfire impact, and respect wildlife and vegetation. Nature is not a dumpsite or a playground. Love it and leave it be. It exists for the betterment of everyone and for all the critters that call it home.

Stay Safe

Familiarize yourself with the camping area. Be aware of potential hazards, including wildlife, weather, and poisonous plants.

Always keep a first aid kit handy and know what to do in an emergency.

Going camping at high elevation

Choose the Right Campsite

Look for a campsite that suits your needs and preferences. Consider the type of camping you want to do. If you're rocking a tent, don't sleep on a pile of rocks. If you're car camping, don't pull off onto some random dirt road — Farmer John may come out with his pump shotgun and demand you "get the heck off'n my property."

Ask yourself what amenities are non-negotiable. If you need running water, stay at a KOA. If you're okay with nothing but what you bring, head off to the wilderness.

Camp near something gorgeous. Nature sure is neat. There are all sorts of cool locations to spike out, such as by a waterfall, in a cave, or atop a peak.

The Five W's of a Safe Campsite

It's time to put on your survival cap. The 5 W's are a solid means to determine the right campsite.

Camping is a prime time to channel your ancient ancestors and consider life from their perspective. After a long day stalking mammoths, they needed to find a safe place to bed down for the night. A good resting spot meant they lived another day instead of becoming saber-tooth tiger food.

The Five W's of a safe campsite kept them alive. Even though saber-tooth tigers are gonzo, the potential dangers of camping are not.


Campfires are fun when things are good and a lifesaver in an emergency. Always camp near suitable wood and know how to start and sustain a fire.

For ignition, look for small, dry pieces of wood ranging from the size of a toothpick to a pencil. This serves as the kindling. Bring along an ax or hatchet to cut wood and a fire starter such as flint and steel or Pyro Putty.

Once the fire is off and running, use larger pieces of wood about the size of your wrist to maintain it. Locating downed dead trees around your campsite provides a consistent fuel source for the campfire. 

Don't use live wood when making a fire. The moisture in it makes the wood hard to burn and produces a lot of smoke.

Campsite fire


Water is the source of life. Humans survive just over a week without water, but this timeline drastically decreases with physical exertion. Finding clean drinking water is critical when in the great outdoors. Always bring your own but have additional plans in case you run out.

Don't drink straight from any water source (hello, giardia). Purify it first.

Water is your best friend and your worst enemy. Too much of a good thing is bad.

When setting up camp, stay within walking distance of water. Don't choose a spot where water collects near the shelter or runs through the area. Explore the campsite for signs of erosion, such as leaves and dirt pushed by water runoff. Camp away from where the water flows. 


When camping, be aware of the weather conditions. Storms or extreme temperatures demand immediate attention and preparation. In windy and wet climates, lack of a proper shelter leaves you soaked and increases the risk of hypothermia. Getting caught in a snowstorm without the proper gear is equally disastrous.

The wind is a fiend, making it difficult to set up shelter. Great gusts also make starting and containing fires a hassle.

To mitigate the negative impact of the Wild Wind Wizard, find some natural windbreaks, like a line of trees or a large rock, to protect your campsite.

The wind is also your friend. A cool breeze on a hot day provides much-needed relief.

Always know the forecast.


A widowmaker is anything in nature that might kill you.

The wind often sends a broken branch crashing down, and riverbanks frequently flood during a downpour. Don't take it personally. That's just Mother Nature doing her thing. She doesn't want to hurt you, but she also doesn't care if you're a casualty in her escapades.

Examine your campsite for any potential widowmakers. Look up, look down, and look around. It's called situational awareness; practice it diligently.

Campsite in the mountains

Wild Things

Nature is where the wild things are. Be aware of them. Pitching your tent 10 to 15 feet above a stream or lake helps avoid insects that swarm near the water's surface. Be on the lookout for harmful plants like poison ivy and poison oak.

Store food properly to protect it from raccoon raiding parties and other wildlife — like bears. If they live where you're camping, know what to do.

Do your research and know what wild things are in your area to avoid any surprises.

These rules also apply to mountain camping, with some additional things to consider.

Camping on a Mountain Is Doable With Planning

It's possible to camp on a mountain, but it brings unique challenges and safety concerns requiring specialized knowledge, skills, and equipment.

Mountain camping is physically demanding. You need to acclimate to the altitude. Extreme weather conditions happen without warning at higher elevations.

Some mountains require permits and impose special regulations for camping. Research the specific mountain and area where you plan to camp.

Proper preparation prevents poor performance. To properly prepare and avoid performing poorly, there are a few tips to ensure an outstanding camping trip in the mountains.

Tips for Camping in the Mountains

Some tried and true tips to master the art of mountain camping make the difference between a safe and enjoyable trip and a disastrous one.

Stay Hydrated

The dry air and higher elevation increase the risk of dehydration. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which worsens dehydration.

Bring Sunscreen and Sunglasses

The sun's rays are stronger up there on the top of the world, causing sunburn and eye damage. Wear sunscreen and bring sunglasses to protect your eyes.

High elevation camping

Things Take Longer in the Mountains

Perched atop a peak is perhaps the greatest time to stop and soak in the scenery. Go ahead. You've got plenty of time because darn near everything takes longer on a mountain. Food cooks and water boils slower. Getting around takes more time and energy. Carve out extra time to cook, bring extra fuel for your stove, and prepare your body for a workout by eating healthy and staying in shape.

Be Strategic About Where You Set up Camp

Abide by the "climb high, sleep low" rule. This simply means setting up camp at a lower elevation and then climbing to a higher height.

For example, set your campsite at 12,000 feet, climb to 15,000 feet, then return. The next day, move your campsite to 15,000 feet and repeat. This reduces the risk of altitude sickness by allowing you to gradually adapt to higher altitudes.

Know the Signs of Altitude Sickness

Rapid exposure to low oxygen at high elevations causes altitude sickness. Symptoms include dizziness, headache, nausea, and shortness of breath.

Don't take the tough guy approach and try to get through it. Left alone, altitude sickness may kill you. Descend to lower elevations, rest, hydrate, and get to a hospital if serious symptoms such as fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath occur — even when you're resting.


Acclimating is a necessity when going to high altitudes. This means allowing your body to adjust to higher altitudes.

Make it a priority before mountain camping. Drink double the water you normally drink, spend a few days at lower elevations before ascending more, and avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Preparing Your Body for High-Altitude Camping

No one climbs Mount Everest without training. That is bold but insane.

Everyone needs to acclimate. Whether you're from Denver or New Orleans, altitude sickness strikes indiscriminately. If you're going up in elevation, take the time to adjust.

Go Gradually

Ascend to high altitudes gradually, allowing your body to adjust to the changes higher elevations bring. Spend a day or two at a lower altitude before ascending further.


It's a marathon, not a sprint. Take plenty of rest breaks and avoid overexertion. These are great opportunities to enjoy the stunning scenery around you.

Camping at high altitude


Consult a doctor to determine if you need medication for altitude sickness. Even if you don't, having some medication on hand doesn't hurt.

Acetazolamide is a prescription medication that prevents or reduces the symptoms of altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness is preventable and treatable. Don't take it lightly. Take this condition seriously because it may quickly become a life-threatening condition, like cerebral edema — your brain swelling to dangerous levels.

The Mountains Are Calling

Open up your favorite search engine and look for a mountain near you. Once you've found one, get going!

As Craig Lounsbrough, a personal life coach based in Colorado, says, "Without mountains, we might find ourselves relieved that we can avoid the pain of the ascent, but we will forever miss the thrill of the summit. And in such a terribly scandalous trade-off, it is the absence of pain that becomes the thief of life."

Mountains bring trials and tribulations. Daring to climb and camp among these giants is an act of courage. To actually pull it off is a feat of great success.

The ascent might be painful, but if you're prepared for the challenges ahead, the thrill of that summit is going to be all the sweeter.

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