Altitude’s effects on RV camping can be as minimal as an exploding bag of chips or as major as a cerebral edema. When you take your RV to the mountains, you can expect to deal with altitude’s effect on anything from RV appliances to electronics, food, people and even pets.
Although there is some disagreement over how badly altitude’s effects on RV trips can be, in general this is what many people experience.
Altitude’s effects on RV camping may include:
Health problems in people and pets
Your most precious cargo could suffer from altitude’s effects on RV camping. Altitude sickness is a common problem for flat-landers who go RVing in the mountains.
Also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (or AMS), this potentially serious health issue generally occurs at elevations more than 8,000-feet, but sometimes lower.
Anyone with heart and lung problems are more prone, but those who’ve had it once are more likely to get it again. If it`s left untreated it can lead to hospitalization. This RV Life article has helpful tips to ward off symptoms and staying healthy at high altitude camping locations. As for pets, they can show altitude sickness symptoms that include tiredness, panting, and even vomiting.
Damage to certain electronics
Did you know that your laptop can fail above 10,000-feet altitude? It’s true. Whether it’s a PC or Mac, laptop hard drives can potentially freeze, shut down and die when taken to high altitude destinations.
Other than Leadville, Colorado (located at 10,152-feet elevation), you won’t have this problem in the U.S. If you’re one of those overlanders traveling to South America, consider ditching your laptop. Here’s what Dell Computer says:
“Most hard drives are not designed to operate at those altitudes, and as a result, those type of failures are not covered under a typical Dell Hardware Service Contract for the system, which excludes covering equipment damaged by using it in an unsuitable physical or operating environment.”
If you take your printer on the road, that’s another electronic that can be affected by altitude. The ink cartridges inside your printer are the problem if you try to save money by purchasing remanufactured ink cartridges. These inexpensive generic substitutes are cheap for a reason as they are known to leak at high altitudes. The pricer name-brand competitors usually do not.
Problems with propane appliances
Join any RVing community and you’ll find a lively debate among RVers who argue over this issue. One camp says that altitude’s effects on RV camping include a sporadic operation of propane-powered refrigerators, water heaters, and other appliances. The other says that their own propane appliances have never experienced altitude issues.
As for Appliance manufacturers’ user manuals have a disclaimer that looks something like Norcold’s:
When you operate the refrigerator on propane gas at altitudes higher than 5,500 feet above sea level:
- You may experience reduced cooling performance of the refrigerator.
- You may experience burner outages.
To avoid these possible problems, Norcold recommends that you operate the refrigerator on AC when at altitudes higher than 5500 feet above sea level.
You’ll know if your RV appliances are suffering if the flame keeps blowing out when trying to ignite. Unfortunately, if you’re one of the unlucky few with appliances suffering from altitude’s effects on RV camping, there’s not much you can do except plug into shore power or get off the mountain.
Altitude’s effects on RV generators
Generators may also experience altitude sickness, which manifests as power loss. Again, many RVers will debate altitude’s effects on RV generators, but the issue is real for many. In fact, the Onan Generator User Manual says:
Power decreases 3.5 percent for each 1,000 feet above an altitude of 500 feet. For example, to operate at 4,500 feet (4,000 feet above rated generator altitude) multiply 3.5% x 4 (4,000 ft) = 14% power loss. Then multiply .14 x your generator’s power rating. Example, 4,000 watts x .14 = a loss of 560 watts at that altitude.
Diesel-powered generators can handle higher altitude better than gas-powered ones. However, Onan makes generators with carburetors that can be adjusted for higher altitude. You just have to remember to reset it when you descend, or you can cause serious damage to your generator.
In general, most people get along great when they head to the mountains with their RV but a few unlucky ones just don’t. However, as long as you’re aware of the potential issues that can happen when you go RVing at high altitudes, you’ll be well-prepared to deal with any that could arise.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.