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Effects of High Altitudes: Personal and Mechanical

When compared to land sitting at sea level, areas of high altitude have fewer molecules of oxygen in the air, and this lowered air pressure can have some undesirable side effects on both you and your RV. If you’re planning on traveling to an area of high elevation, possibly through the hills of South Dakota to see the Sturgis Bike Rally, it’s important that you become aware of the effects of high altitudes, both personal and mechanical, so that you can acclimate accordingly and easily to the changes.

Effects on the Body

While everyone’s body experiences changes as elevation increases, the body’s reaction to those changes can vary. Remember that the unavoidable effects of high altitudes on the body can affect more than just two-legged travelers, they can affect your four-legged companions as well. Review some of these effects so you can be more prepared for what to anticipate as you head into the mountains!

  • Increase in heart rate, respiratory rate, and red blood cell production

  • Increased dehydration and perspiration

  • Headaches, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite are commonly experienced as a result of blood shifting from digestive organs to the brain, heart, and lungs.

  • Vision impairment and loss of acuity

  • Decrease in energy

  • Alterations in mood, personality, or judgment

  • Sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea or insomnia

Unfortunately there is no sure-fire way to avoid any of the undesirable effects of high altitudes, and it is estimated that around 20% of people who travel to high-altitude areas are affected by these changes. If you know you are prone to altitude sickness, talk with your doctor before hitting the road. Acetazolamide (Diamox) is a commonly prescribed medication that works to alleviate the effects. You can also give your body some time to adjust and the effects should eventually subside.

Effects on your RV

High altitudes affect more than just travelers, they can also disturb the mechanics of your RV and the operation of some of the gear you brought along as well. As a heavily debated topic in the RV community, some will claim that their rig experienced no effects while others claim to have encountered issues due to the level of elevation. Some of the more common problems are highlighted below.

  • Tech gear like computers and printers can be damaged if taken to too high of an elevation. Although it shouldn’t be a problem with most destinations in the United States, there are areas outside of the border where the elevation can put your electronic hardware at risk.

  • The most common complaint in high altitudes is the sporadic operation of propane appliances within the RV. If you notice your flame blowing out when you try to ignite it, there might not be enough oxygen supplied to support proper combustion. If you’re one of the unlucky RVers who encounters these issues, switch from your LP system to shore power.

  • Generators aren’t immune to the effects of high altitudes either. In areas of high elevation, your generator can experience power loss. Typically, diesel generators perform better at high levels of elevation than their gas-powered counterparts which may play a factor in deciding which generator is right for you.

Now that we know the effects of high altitudes, both personal and mechanical, flat-landers can take to the hills knowing what changes to expect and anticipate! Don't let the fear of altitude sickness or RV malfunction keep you from seeing the beauty of America, much of which lies in our beautiful mountain regions. Have you experienced any of these effects when traveling to higher elevations? Share your story in the comments!

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