Determining distance from a fixed point can be quite simple when measuring physical bodies and objects.

Once you’re trying to measure the space in a gap, such as distance from the ground, both the measuring and the terminology becomes more of a challenge.

Fundamentally, height is the distance from a fixed point or of a single object or person. Altitude is the measurement of the distance from sea level.

What Is The Difference Between Height And Altitude?

How Height Impacts Your Life

If you need to climb a ladder to paint a ceiling or clean your gutters, height is a concern. At the core of the language and “what to worry about” sort of thinking, height measures the physical distance from the floor, the sidewalk, or the ground.

The height of your roof will help you determine how long or tall your ladder needs to be.

The height of the branches of your apple tree will determine how high you have to climb. Height is a more tactile measurement and varies depending on what you need to scale and how.

For example, the altitude of your child’s proposed tree house may be interesting, but you need to know the height of that big branch from the ground so you can use the right ladder.

It should be noted that English words that measure length can create a lot of confusion.

For example, an 8-foot fence post on the ground is 8 feet long. If you stand it up and bury 3 feet of it, it’s 5 feet high.

A person who is 72 inches from foot to crown is 6 feet tall, but should never be referred to as long or high.

Height can be an indicator of the distance from a fixed point and measure empty air, or it can measure the overall length, from bottom to top, of a single item or unit.

ladders leaning against a house

When to Consider Altitude

Climbing

As noted above, altitude is the distance above sea level. For humans and other oxygen-breathing mammals, the altitude of an object really comes into play when it becomes extreme, because altitude impacts air pressure.

At high altitudes, the air is thinner. This means that gravity is not having as big an impact on the air density. Oxygen molecules are harder to come by and your body has to work much harder to gain the benefit of the oxygen available.

Those climbing Everest carry oxygen to supplement the existing air on the mountain.

Functioning at extremely high altitudes can be quite dangerous; anything about 8,000 feet is considered to be the death zone for hikers, campers, and climbers. The top of Everest is almost 30,000 feet.

man climbing a mountain

Flying

If you’ve ever flown in a commercial aircraft, you’ve probably heard of a cruising altitude.

Cruising altitudes are generally high altitude flying patterns, in no small part because the air density is lower.

At a cruising altitude of 30,000 to 38,000 feet above sea level, the lower air density allows the plane to fly further on less fuel.

Within that 8,000-foot window, the ability of pilots and air traffic controllers to find safe traffic patterns make commercial aircraft one of the safest ways to travel.

tree height vs airplane altitude

It may be tempting to think that 30,000 feet is high enough to get you over just about any weather pattern that may crop up.

However, a severe summer storm that includes a lot of dense, warm air loaded with atmospheric moisture can climb up to 60,000 feet.

If you’re traveling in the summer or headed to a tropical climate and your plane is diverted because of storms, understand that there is no flying above them.

Avoiding or working around them is safest for all concerned.

airplane flying around clouds

How to Plan for Different Altitudes

As noted previously, functioning at a different height is often about finding the right staircase or buying the right ladder.

Functioning at a different altitude can take days of adjustment and a large gear investment.

Whether you’re hiking a mountain trail or riding a hot air balloon, you’ll want to take a jacket. While hot air balloons generally don’t climb to more than 3,000 feet, it will still be cool at that height.

hot air baloon

It’s also critically important that you stay hydrated. Avoid dehydrating products, such as alcohol, and give your body time to adjust.

If you live at or near sea level and want to climb to 5,000 feet on a camping trip, allow yourself at least two rest days and never climb more than 1,000 feet per day.

Altitude sickness can run the gamut from miserable to fatal. By the time you register that you have a headache or start vomiting, you may be headed for more dangerous symptoms and be unable to get back down the mountain under your own power.

hypoxia graphic

In terms of how it impacts your life and safety, height is a measure of the distance between you and the floor or ground.

A tall tree is considered so because it’s a long way from the ground to the top. Altitude is the measure of your distance from sea level.

Both are important to your safety and well-being.

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