A Gamow bag (pronounced Gam-Off) is an inflatable pressure bag large enough to accommodate a person inside.
The Gamow bag, as named after Dr. Igor Gamow, is often a feature of aid stations high in the mountains. It is an inflatable pressure bag big enough to fit a person inside. It simulates the conditions at a lower altitude in order to help alleviate the symptoms of AMS, HACE and HAPE. Essentially, it is a cylindrical inflatable portable hyperbaric chamber with an attached foot pump to pressurise it. It can simulate a descent of over 1500m, depending on the starting altitude.
Strangely enough the bag was never intended to be used for mountain rescue. The bag was developed after the idea in the 1980’s that athletes should ‘train low, sleep high’ in order to produce more red blood cells to transport more oxygen to the muscles, which in theory makes an athlete faster and stronger. Gamow invented ‘The Bubble,’ a pressurised chamber where athletes living at high altitude could go to train at the oxygen-enriched sea level of their competitors. But despite much coverage and its brilliant reviews The Bubble never took off. This was primarily due to the bulky equipment and the problem of overheating, but more importantly, there was no market for such an invention – few athletes tend to live at high altitude.
But Gamow refused to give up, and, fuelled by his failure he marketed a human-sized ‘bag chamber’ to a new consumer – climbers. The climbing community seized it as the answer to all their problems. Without altitude sickness then they could climb higher, and faster…
The American Alpine Club invited Gamow to give a talk on his idea, and this authoritative publicity gave Gamow the support he needed. The business he set up initially consisted of only Gamow selling his product over the phone, until in the late 1980’s when he sold everything to DuPont. He now lives off a fraction of the profit without having to lift a finger.