10 Tips For RVing In the Mountains At High Altitudes- Avoid Costly Mistakes!

We’re taking an RV trip across the country this year and are getting tips from fellow RV’ers about RVing in the mountains. We’ll share those tips and tricks as we travel. This article is about RVing in the mountains at high altitudes.

RVing in the Mountains with an RV Sleep Number Mattresses- Important Tip!

Does your RV have a Sleep Number Mattress? Our does and we occasionally need to reset the mattress due to air loss. We were surprised when a fellow RVer told us that elevation changes can actually damage mattresses.

RVing In the Mountains

I contacted Sleep Number and asked them if elevation changes can damage mattresses. I was surprised that they confirmed that elevation changes can actually damage your RV mattress! They recommended setting your Sleep Number settings to the 20 range.

Tip: We normally keep our mattress in the 50 range and haven’t had any issues.

How To Adjust Your RV’s Sleep Number Mattress

If you don’t know how to change your Sleep Number settings, get your mattress model and search the Sleep Number support website.

Adding To Our RV Checklist

This is one we would have not thought of, especially since we’re from Florida! We’ve added this to our RV Departure Checklist when we head to the mountains.

RV Propane Appliance Pilot Lights Go Out?

On RV forums, there is a lot of debate on whether elevation changes affect propane appliances. We checked with some RV appliance manufacturers to get the truth. Assuming that your propane appliances are in proper working order at lower elevations, they can be affected by the high altitudes.

At higher altitudes, the air contains less oxygen. For a pilot light flame to burn, it needs the right mixture of propane fuel and oxygen (air).

If you have too much or too little of either, the flame will go out.

How To Fix High-Altitude Pilot Light Failures?

  1. Get out your appliance owner’s manual. Many manufacturers offer instructions for high-altitude adjustments.
  2. Get a high-altitude conversion kit. Check your specific owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer to see if they have a kit available.
  3. Use AC power. High altitude pilot light issues can also affect RV refrigerators. Many manufacturers recommend that you operate your RV refrigerators on AC power when in high altitudes.
RVing in the Mountains

RVing in the Mountains? Plan Your Fuel Stops- Fuel Mileage Differs Based on Elevation

We noticed our RV fuel consumption changed while traveling in the mountains. Common sense says that if you are doing a lot of climbing steep grades, it’s going to take more power (and fuel). Likewise, if you are traveling down to lower elevations, you will see better fuel mileage.

We actually experienced a difference of up to 2.5 mpg! Be sure to calculate your estimated fuel burn based on the elevation of your destination when planning your fuel stops.

RVing in the Mountains will cause RV Engine and Generator Power Loss

The air is thinner in higher altitudes and this keeps your RV engine and generator from operating at their maximum rated power. The rule of thumb from RV experts is that you will typically lose 10% of the rated output for every 3,000 feet of increased elevation.

The Onan Generator User Manual says that air density decreases as altitude increases, causing Genset engine power to decrease. Power decreases approximately 3.5 percent of rated power every 1000 feet of increase in elevation above an altitude of 500 feet.  It may be necessary to run fewer appliances at higher altitudes. Onan does make generators with carburetors that can be adjusted for higher altitudes. But you do have to remember to reset it when you descend, or you can cause serious damage to your generator.

RVing in the Mountains- RV Cooking In High Altitudes Is Different- 5 Tips

Higher altitudes have lower atmospheric pressure and, a lower boiling point. At elevations of 2,000 feet, the temperature of boiling water changes from 212°F at sea level to 208°F. Therefore, cooking times increase as you gain elevation.

We found these 5 great tips to keep in mind when cooking at higher elevations.

  1. Increase Moist Heat Cooking Times By 25%
    Boiling, simmering or braising heating methods for meat and poultry will take up to 25% more cooking time. For example, if you are simmering a roast at 325°F that would usually take two hours to cook at sea level, that same roast cooked at high altitudes at 325°F would require 2½ hours of cook time.
  2. Increase Your Cooking Time, Not Heat
    Hiking up the temperature while boiling foods will not cook food faster. The liquid will simply boil away more quickly and food will dry out. The temperature of a boiling liquid cannot exceed its own boiling point, except when using a pressure cooker. Instead, increase the cook time.
  3. Roasting Meat Cooking is Unaffected by Altitude
    Increasing cook time does not apply to oven-roasted meat or poultry; oven temperatures remain unaffected in high altitudes. Use sea-level cooking instructions for oven baking.
  4. Cover Your Food
    Keep meat, poultry or boiled foods moist by covering them during and after cooking.
  5. Use a Food Thermometer
    Keep from overcooking food in high altitude locations, make sure to use a food thermometer to check internal temperatures.

Want to know more about high altitude cooking in your RV?

Check out this great website from Betty Crocker

RVing in the Mountains- High Altitude Changes Your RV Tire Pressure

In cold, elevated climates, your RV tire pressure will decrease. Improperly inflated tires can cause lower fuel economy, reduced steering precision, uneven tire tread wear, and can be unsafe. Make sure to check your tire pressures before you travel and when you arrive at your destination.

We always use a tire pressure monitoring system with our RV and tow vehicle.

Does Elevation Affect Laptop Computers and Printers When RVing in the Mountains?

We were surprised to learn from computer manufacturers that altitudes can in fact affect laptops! According to the Dell Support website “If computers with hard drives are used at elevations above 10,000 ft (3,048 meters), they may experience a high rate of hard drive failures. Most hard drives are not designed to operate at those altitudes.”

I also checked Apple’s specs and learned that their laptops are tested up to a maximum of 10,000 feet altitude.

Now most of us are not taking our RVs this high, but you might be carrying your laptop in your tow vehicle while you are exploring locations that are that high.

Also note, that if your laptop fails and the manufacturer determines that high altitude was the factor (don’t ask me how they know!), it’s not covered under warranty.

4 Tips To Avoid Laptop Failure At High Altitudes

  1. Make sure you have backed up your data
  2. Shut down your computer completely, don’t just put it in sleep mode
  3. Don’t have too many programs open at once and don’t use programs that keep refreshing automatically
  4. Keep your laptop warm to extend the battery life

Tip: Why Can You Take Your Laptop on an airplane and not have altitude issues? Because airplane cabins are pressurized above 10,000 feet, so they are safe!

Printers Are Altitude Sensitive Too!

Ink cartridges in printers can also be affected by high altitudes. According to the major printer manufacturers, it pays to buy the name-brand ink cartridges made for your specific printer. The inexpensive generic substitutes are known to leak at high altitudes. The more expensive name-brand competitors usually do not.

RVing in the Mountains Avoid Altitude Sickness

Keep in mind that it’s not just your RV and electronics that can be affected, you can experience altitude sickness too anytime you travel above 8,000 feet. The most common is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) which mimics the symptoms of a hangover. If you start having headaches, nausea, dizziness, or muscle fatigue you may be experiencing AMS.

The simplest way to avoid altitude sickness is to ascend slower to allow your body to adjust to the higher altitudes. If you are planning on an RV trip to elevations higher than 8,000 feet try building in overnight stops to allow your body to acclimate.

If you have any existing medical conditions or concerns, you should check with your doctor before making the trip.

Want more information? Check out these expert tips and detailed information at APEX

APEX (experts in altitude expeditions) offers these Golden Rules:
1. If you feel unwell, you have altitude sickness until proven otherwise.
2. Do not ascend further if you have symptoms of altitude sickness.
3. If you are getting worse then descend immediately.

Can Pets Get Altitude Sickness?

Yes, pets can get altitude sickness too! Some of the symptoms are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting/nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased heart rate
  • Pale gums
  • Swelling of face, limbs
  • Excessive panting or drooling
  • Bleeding from the nose
  • Collapse

What Should You Do If Your Pet Experiences Altitude Sickness while RVing in the Mountains?

If your pet begins showing any of the above signs, immediately decrease activity, offer water, and get your pet to an elevation of below 8,000 feet as soon as possible.

If you don’t see immediate improvement, get your pet to a veterinarian immediately. Not treating altitude sickness in pets as soon as possible, symptoms can become life-threatening. 

Final Tips on Altitude Sickness

  • Going over a mountain pass doesn’t generally cause mountain sickness, staying in high altitudes for longer periods of time without allowing your body to gradually adjust does.
  • Drink lots of water, and then drink more!
  • Running a humidifier while you sleep can help.

Want more tips about RVing? Read 15 Strange Things You Should Be Carrying in your RV

Carol Ivey

Carol is a long-time adventurer who loves traveling in her 44 foot Newmar Mountain Aire Class A RV with her husband Mike, and their Black Standard Schnauzer aptly named "Rider". Carol has been sharing travel stories and advice for years and their newest adventure chronicles what luxury RV living and travel is all about. Tips, tricks, and lessons learned about Glamping- seeing the country in style and comfort while cruising behind the wheel of a luxury RV. They definitely know how to RV-N-Style.

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