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Three Things to Know When Buying Recreational Oxygen for High-Altitude Recovery

Breathe easy.
Breathe easy. (Unsplash/Kristjan Kotar/)

In recent years, the consumer oxygen market has expanded to include anyone. It’s no longer just for pilots or professional athletes—individual oxygen canisters now offer the same benefits in a portable package for anyone after a long hike. Here’s what to look for in a cylinder of supplemental O~2~.

To use these canisters, simply press the button backwards and breathe.
To use these canisters, simply press the button backwards and breathe. (Oxygen Plus/)

Supplemental oxygen comes in various grades, with over-the-counter (OTC) brands designated as “recreational” oxygen. Commercial products are distinct from medical oxygen, which requires a prescription and is for clinical use only. Because some amount of ambient air inevitably mixes with the oxygen from OTC dispensers, it is impossible to know how much oxygen any given consumer product delivers. Suffice to say that those with 95 to 99 percent pure oxygen will supply the most O~2~ per inhalation.

This choice is 95% pure and includes a half-dozen bottles.
This choice is 95% pure and includes a half-dozen bottles. (Boost Oxygen/)

Some O~2~ products are labeled Aviators Breathing Oxygen (ABO), which is used by pilots to ward off oxygen loss at altitude. Most recreational oxygen is the same technology, albeit with more consumer-friendly delivery systems, size options, and even flavors.

Each of these pocket-sized containers holds up to 30 one-second inhalations.
Each of these pocket-sized containers holds up to 30 one-second inhalations. (Boost Oxygen/)

Although perfectly legal and considered safe and non-habit forming, recreational oxygen is intended only for occasional use. Limit intake to those times when you need a boost to achieve peak physical performance or to focus and stay sharp. Supplemental oxygen also purports to relieve stress and aid restful sleep.

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