If you do it right, yes, altitude tents do work. Although the effect of using altitude tents will depend a lot on different factors (your genetics, for example), if used correctly, they improve & prepare your body. However, the key part is “doing it right” – which is why we wrote this article; to make sure that you have a guide you can follow to make sure you’re doing things right.
Understanding Altitude Tents
Have you ever heard of the “principle of simulated altitude”?
Altitude tents are designed to work around that principle by creating an environment where the oxygen available is similar to the levels of oxygen found in high altitudes.
When you’re at an elevated location, you’ll find that the air is thinner and that oxygen levels are lower compared to the levels at sea level. By replicating these conditions, altitude tents forces our body to adapt, much like it would at natural elevation points.
How Does an Altitude Tent Work?
The way most altitude tents work is by encasing the sleeping area, reducing the oxygen concentration around you.
This simulated altitude environment forces your body to adapt physiologically, improving the efficiency of the your body’s oxygen usage, increasing the red blood cell count and even your aerobic metabolism. These changes happen as they would also happen naturally when someone spends time at high altitudes.
But Do They Really Work?
There isn’t a simple “yes” or “no” answer, and research in fact shows mixed results.
Some studies suggest that living in a simulated high-altitude environment can trigger physiological changes that improve your athletic performance. However, other studies indicate that these benefits might be minimal compared to training at natural elevation sites.
Finally, the effectiveness of altitude tents probably varies significantly among different people due to genetic differences, making it difficult to predict if an altitude tent will be beneficial without trying it.
Impact on Sleep Quality
One last thing you need to consider when thinking about altitude tents is sleep quality.
Some campers have said that they experienced disrupted sleep patterns because of the lower oxygen levels, at least in their first times sleeping in these tents.
But don’t be scared! A great part of these same campers also said that they adapted quickly, and that their sleep quality returned to normal or even improved due to the body’s increased efficiency in utilizing oxygen.
So How Long Does It Take for an Altitude Tent to Work?
Altitude tents, also known as hypoxic tents, are normally used by athletes and adventurers to slowly acclimate their bodies to higher altitude conditions while they are still at lower altitudes.
This process involves sleeping in an altitude tent, which simulates the oxygen levels found in higher altitudes, and consists in causing several physiological adaptations in the body. Think of this as a “warm-up” for the bodies of athletes before they go on adventures in high altitudes.
The time it takes for an altitude tent to work — as in when a person starts to benefit from simulated high-altitude conditions — can vary a lot depending on several factors like the physical condition, the specific altitude being simulated, and the duration and consistency of use. However, here’s a general overview that you can use as a good approximation:
Initial Adaptation: People will normally start to experience the first physiological changes within a few hours to a couple of days of sleeping in an altitude tent. These initial body responses can include increased breathing rate and depth, changes in heart rate, and altered blood pH levels
Noticeable Benefits: For athletes, improvements in performance and increased red blood cell count — crucial because our red blood cells carry oxygen throughout our body — tend to be noticed within a few weeks (typically from 3 to 4 weeks). However, always remember that these benefits might not reach their peak until after several weeks or even months of consistent use of the altitude tent
Full Acclimatization: Getting your body to a level where it is fully adapted to the higher altitude conditions being simulated takes much longer: anywhere from a month to several months of consistent use is normal
Remember: each body is different and there is no fixed timeline that everyone can follow. Things like the simulated altitude, the duration of the daily exposure and the differences in each person’s body will influence the changes your body undergoes.
Is Sleeping in an Altitude Tent Safe?
Sleeping in an altitude tent can be safe for many people, especially when it’s used for pre-acclimatization in the months leading up to an athletic event or expedition at higher elevations.
Pre-acclimatization helps the body gradually adapt to lower levels of oxygen, similar to those experienced at high altitudes, which can be beneficial for athletes planning to travel to or compete at high elevations.
However, not everything is perfect. There are some things you should remember to ensure that you’re safe and can enjoy maximum comfort:
Monitoring Oxygen Levels
The air inside an altitude tent has reduced oxygen levels to simulate the conditions of air found in higher altitudes, so please follow any manufacturer guidelines and, if possible, talk to a professional to determine the appropriate oxygen levels for your body.
Overdoing it can lead to hypoxia, which is dangerous. Some people use pulse oximeters to monitor their oxygen saturation levels during sleep and if you’re serious about this, we recommend you do the same. Don’t play with your health.
Just like when climbing mountains and reaching higher altitudes, you should gradually increase the altitude setting on your tent over the months leading up to your high-altitude event (don’t rush this process!). Doing so lets your body slowly & steadily adapt to less oxygen, reducing the risk of altitude sickness, and fully preparing you for the big event.
Individual Health Considerations
Not everyone responds to hypoxic conditions in the same way, and for people with certain health conditions (like heart or lung disease), sleeping in an environment with less oxygen can be dangerous. It’s really important to talk to a healthcare provider before using an altitude tent (and naturally before going on a high altitude event!).
Like many things in life, you need to have a plan in case you feel discomfort or symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS). This is simply non-negotiable.
It doesn’t have to be anything too fancy but it should exist. it can include having supplemental oxygen ready to be used if needed or being prepared to lower the simulated altitude on the tent.
We recommend you get professional guidance, especially if you’re an athlete without previous experience in high-altitude conditions. A coach, trainer, or medical professional with solid experience in altitude acclimatization can give you valuable advice and oversight. Why take any chance?
Do Altitude Tents Increase Red Blood Cells?
Yes. Altitude tents are designed to simulate the environmental conditions found in higher elevation spots, which can lead to your body producing more red blood cells. Here’s how it works in more detail:
Hypoxia: When you’re in an altitude tent, the oxygen concentration is reduced, mimicking the lower oxygen availability found at higher altitudes. This state of lower oxygen in the bloodstream is known as “hypoxia”
Body’s Response to Hypoxia: When your body detects hypoxia, it tries to increase the efficiency of oxygen transport to tissues and organs. One of the primary ways it does this is by producing more of a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO), mostly released by the kidneys
Increase in Red Blood Cells: EPO then stimulates the production of red blood cells (erythrocytes) from the bone marrow, since red blood cells are crucial for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. By increasing your red blood cell count, your body can transport more oxygen with each heartbeat, trying to compensate for the lower availability of oxygen in the hypoxic environment (aka your altitude tent)
Time Frame for Adaptation: This increase in red blood cells doesn’t happen immediately; the body takes time to respond to the increased EPO levels. Normally, a noticeable increase in red blood cells might take weeks or even months of consistent exposure to the simulated high-altitude conditions in the tent (that’s why we’ll tell you again: don’t rush the process!)
Enhanced Athletic Performance: For athletes, this physiological adaptation is valuable because having more red blood cells can improve endurance performance at both high and sea levels. That’s one of the reasons altitude training (including the use of altitude tents) is a popular method among endurance athletes preparing for competitions
While altitude tents may not fully replicate the natural conditions of high altitudes, they do offer a controlled environment for simulated altitude training and allow athletes to start preparing for their event weeks & months in advance. The impact of using an altitude tent in your body cannot be predicted as it will ultimately depends on your own responses.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Speed Up Acclimatization by Spending More Time in the Altitude Tent?
Like we said above, acclimatization is a gradual process that you should not be trying to rush. Spending more time inside it can help, but if you push it too far, you may experience altitude sickness. You should be focusing on consistent, controlled & measured exposure, gradually increasing the simulated altitude over time.
Does the Ventilation System in my Altitude Tent Affect the Acclimatization Process?
Yes. You need proper ventilation to ensure that you’re breathing the air with the adjusted oxygen-nitrogen ratio and not merely rebreathing CO2.
Can I Use the Altitude Tent Only at Night and Still Gain Benefits?
Yes – most people use altitude tents during sleep as it’s an easy way to accrue many hours in the hypoxic environment. 7-9 hours per night for several weeks or months can do wonders.
What Happens If I Stop Using the Altitude Tent After Acclimatizing?
Your body will eventually revert to its normal state at your home altitude if the stimulus (low-oxygen environment) is removed. It’s the same as exercise: if you stop working out for months, your biceps won’t be the same.
Does the Simulated Altitude Need to Match my Target Altitude for an Upcoming Trip or Event?
Not necessarily. Your goal is to induce physiological changes that improve your body’s response to lower oxygen levels. However, training at or near your target altitude can provide a more specific acclimation.
Can I Continue my Regular Training While Sleeping in an Altitude Tent?
Yes, you can continue your regular training, but you should be paying attention to your body. The initial acclimatization might cause temporary fatigue, and your regular training might need to be adjusted accordingly. Ensure that you’re leaving some time for recovery and don’t just abuse your muscles.