What to Expect When Moving to a Higher Elevation

What will change at higher elevation?

Have you ever noticed a note on a box of pancake mix to adjust the recipe at high altitudes? Have you ever experienced altitude sickness? In places more than 5,000 feet above sea level, the lower air pressure can impact everything from cooking to your health. If you’re moving to a city with a higher elevation, it’s important to prepare for life in the mountains.

Fun Fact: Towns with high altitudes can be found all across the U.S. Wyoming, Montana, North Carolina and Arizona all have several locations at moderately high altitudes (5,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level).  And Colorado, Utah and New Mexico have several locations at high altitudes (8,000 to 14,000 feet above sea level).

View of Colorado mountains, seen after moving to a higher elevation.


How to adjust to high altitude

At high altitudes, there’s less oxygen and pressure, so your body has to breathe more to get the same amount of oxygen, and for some it can cause problems. As you’re traveling from a lower to higher elevation, it’s important to be aware of the changes.  You may also experience a difference in climate and humidity due to changing terrain.

Here’s what to expect and how to prepare for the changes:

Talk to your doctors

Before your move, schedule a visit with your physician to discuss the upcoming changes. The lower air pressure can have an impact on some pre-existing conditions, like COPD, pregnancy and high blood pressure. Even if you don’t have these types of health concerns, your doctor may want to prescribe medication to help alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness. The initial adjustment period may also cause sleep disturbances for some people, so if you’re prone to insomnia, consider discussing it with your doctor. 

Don’t forget to talk with your vet, too. While it’s not common for altitude to impact pets, some breeds (those with breathing issues, like boxers) or elderly pets may be sensitive to the changes.

Slowly make the climb

Whether you’re visiting some of these mountain towns as you figure out where to live or making a  permanent move, make the elevation change slowly if you can. Rather than going directly from low elevation to high elevation, stop and stay a day or two at moderate elevation to help you acclimate.

Take precautions for the first few days

Altitude sickness happens when the body doesn’t have time to adapt to the lower air pressure and oxygen levels. Watch for symptoms like fatigue, nausea, headache and shortness of breath, and consult a physician if you have any concerns.  It’s important to stay hydrated — drink  plenty of water, limit alcohol and avoid overexerting yourself.

Hydrate your body and skin

Above 5,000 feet, your body loses water through respiration faster than at sea level. Because of this, you’ll want to prioritize water consumption. You may also feel the effects of dehydration in your skin and nasal passages, so invest in a good moisturizer and humidifier to help.

Start wearing sunscreen

You can sunburn faster at higher elevations — not because you’re closer to the sun but because UV rays go through the thinner air more easily. The American Academy of Dermatology found that UV-B levels were 60% higher at 8,500 feet than at sea level. If you’re not already in the habit of applying daily sunscreen, now’s the time!

Unpack with care

It’s important to use caution when unboxing sealed bottles or containers. Changes to air pressure can make things inflate and even explode. You may find that sealed food bags are puffed up, or toiletry containers may expand or even burst.

Learn how to adapt your cooking

Things cook differently in higher altitudes, so you’ll need to adjust recipes with different times, temperatures and moisture levels. For example, water boils at a lower temperature (198 degrees at 7,500 feet), so anything cooking in water requires a longer cooking time. However, liquids evaporate faster, so more moisture needs to be added to batters. Doughs can rise faster, and meat can dry out because of the longer cook time. And strangely enough, microwaves can take less cook time. Pressure cookers and canning processes also need to be adjusted. If your recipe or appliance manual has instructions for higher altitudes, follow those recommendations. Otherwise, use these basics for high-altitude cooking and this guide for baking.

Prepare for vehicle changes

The air pressure differences can impact acceleration and tire inflation. Thin air means less compression, so the engine pulls less oxygen, resulting in power loss. Things like clean air filters and properly inflated tires are even more important when living in the mountains. Take your vehicle for a tune-up shortly after moving so a mechanic can make sure it’s operating well in the new environment.

Getting your belongings to a higher elevation

If you’re considering renting a moving truck and driving it to a higher elevation, expect fuel efficiency to decrease when driving through mountainous areas. Not only can the impact cost you, simply driving a big truck through the higher elevations can be difficult. Instead of moving yourself, let U-Pack handle your move. With a vast network of service centers, we can move you just about anywhere in the U.S. We’ll deliver your belongings right to your door, so you can take your time adjusting to the high altitude. Get a free online quote or call 844-362-5303844-594-3077 to learn more.