Correct breathing technique for hiking: mountaineer reveals trick

mountaineer hiking breathing technique
Photo: Christin Klose/dpa-tmn

The climb is steep, the backpack is heavy – and the longed-for hut is still nowhere in sight. In moments like these, hiking becomes torture. The right breathing technique can help. An experienced mountaineer explains how it works.

Take a breath and start running: When hiking and mountaineering, correct breathing plays a very important role. “Our performance on the mountain also depends on correct breathing,” explains high-altitude mountaineer Alix von Melle.

Her tip: When hiking, you should breathe through your nose and not through your mouth. “It has been proven that breathing through the nose is more effective,” says the athlete. “This way, our organs are better supplied with oxygen and we have more energy.” This is because breathing in and out through the nose results in a 10 to 15 percent higher oxygen saturation of the blood.

However, when you are exerting yourself very intensely, this breathing technique is not so easy – and should be practiced consciously. You can try it out while walking, jogging or doing yoga. “And then you can continue practicing on hikes,” says the athlete.

Practice proper breathing technique: Pay attention to your step rhythm when hiking

A certain step rhythm can help you to use the right breathing technique: you breathe in through your nose on one step and out through your nose on the next two steps. It is important that your own breath dictates your step – and not the other way around.

“Your breath shouldn’t lag behind your steps,” says the mountaineer. As soon as your breathing gets faster again, you should slow down and take smaller steps. If you’re already feeling fitter, you can adjust your step rhythm. “Then you can breathe in on one step and breathe out on one step.”

Up to an altitude of around 5,000 meters, breathing with the mouth closed is possible in easy terrain. At extreme altitudes or on difficult passages, however, it is best to switch back to mouth breathing, recommends von Melle. She should know: the high-altitude mountaineer has already climbed seven eight-thousanders.

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(This article first appeared on May 17, 2023, 8:17 a.m. It has been updated by our editorial team.)

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