We randomly assigned 32 healthy backpackers to receive placebo, acetazolamide (250 mg twice a day), dexamethasone acetate (4 mg four times a day), or both drugs in combination to determine the drug efficacy in preventing acute mountain sickness (AMS) at altitudes of 3,650 to 4,050m (12,000 to 13,300 ft). The incidence of AMS was high but symptoms were generally mild. Combined drug therapy was superior to both placebo and single drug therapy in risk reduction. Using acetazolamide alone was moderately beneficial in preventing the occurrence of AMS, although minor side effects were frequent. The use of dexamethasone alone did not significantly reduce the AMS incidence, and discontinuing its use resulted in symptoms suggestive of adrenal insufficiency. For recreational backpackers, routine drug prophylaxis is not recommended, in view of the mild nature of this illness and the adverse effects of medications. The efficacy of combined acetazolamide-dexamethasone therapy warrants further investigation at higher altitudes, where AMS is more severe, and the dexamethasone should be withdrawn gradually to avoid a possible adrenal crisis.