Do you want to push the physical limits of how high drones can fly? Do you want video of what the world looks like to a bird? Maybe. But you might live at a high altitude and just want to fly a drone like anyone else (yes, Coloradans, I’m talking about you).
But you can’t.
And this is why.
Why you would want a high altitude drone
Capturing your own beautiful aerial video and taking incredible photos is what most drone owners imagine doing when they get a drone. Panoramas high up in the mountains are simply some of the best photos you can hope to take.
But without the right drone, you’ll never have that chance.
Why do you need a high altitude drone?
Drones have a maximum height they can fly up to, but they also have a maximum height they can take off from.
Drones push themselves up in the air around them. At high altitudes, the air is thin so they struggle to find enough of it to push against to generate the lift to fly.
Each drone has a ‘maximum service ceiling above sea level’ you shouldn’t fly it above. The manufacturer can’t stand by their drones’ performance if you fly above this altitude.
Sometimes the manufacturer will give you the ‘maximum takeoff altitude above sea level’ instead, as though to say ‘don’t launch your drone above this altitude’, although the terms tend to be used interchangeably.
It is possible to have a great time at a high altitude but it takes the right drone and the right habits.
Best high altitude drone comparison chart
|DJI Mavic 3||DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0||Parrot Anafi||AUTEL evo II||DJI FPV|
|Maximum altitude above sea level||19,685 ft(6000 m)||19,685 ft(6000 m)||14765 ft(4500 m)||19,685 ft(6000 m)||19,685 ft(6000 m)|
|Flight time||46 mins||30 mins||25 mins||40 mins||20 mins|
|Maximum wind resistance||26 mph(43 kph)||22 mph(36 kph)||Winds 31 mph(50 kph)|
Wind gusts50 mph(80 kph)
|39 mph(62 kph)||25-31 mph(39-49 kph)|
|Operating temperature range||14° to 104° F(-10° to 40° C)||32° to 104°F (0° to 40°C)||14° to 104° F (humid heat)/ 112° F (dry heat)|
(-10° to +40°C (humid heat)/+50°C (dry heat))
|14° to 104° F(-10° to 40° C)||14° to 104° F(-10° to 40° C)|
|Video||5.1K 50FPS4K/120fps||4K: @60 fps||4K Cinema 4096×2160 24fps||8K 25FPS||4K 60fps|
|Photo||20 MP||20 MP||21 MP||48 MP||12 MP photos|
|Max Video Bitrate||200 Mbps||100 Mbps||100 Mbps||120Mbps||120 Mbps|
Our Top Pick: DJI Mavic 3 – Best high Altitude Drone 2022
The Mavic 3 performs highly on the attributes that matter the most.
It can be flown 19,685 ft (6000 m) above sea level and offers the best flight time, easily.
It’s quite pricey, but luckily the alternatives are also excellent.
- You can view the DJI Mavic 3 here.
Best high altitude drones
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DJI Mavic 3 – Best overall drone for high altitudes
Now, this is a high-quality, high-altitude drone. As with all of DJI’s drones on this list, you can fly up to around the 19,685 ft above sea level (6000 m) mark. Even most mountains fit under 19,685 ft.
Mavic 3 produces beautiful footage to take advantage of being in the clouds. DJI combined everything it learned from the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom and Mavic 2 Pro in the Mavic 3, in particular, the second camera with a zoom lens with 7x optical and 28x digital zoom. This saves an immense amount of precious battery life when approaching far-off scenes for a good shot, or allows scoping out where to go.
Its Hasselblad camera captures 5.1K at 50fps or 4K at 120fps and takes stills at 20 MP. This is more than the average drone pilot will need, but if you need a higher resolution, the Autel Evo II goes up to 8K. Do keep in mind that the Mavic 3 has double the maximum bitrate though at 200 Mbps, so it will be absorbing more data (and creating larger files) if you’re thinking about video editing.
The Mavic 3 goes beyond in offering long flight times (officially 46 mins). Bring two or three fully charged batteries and you can spend an impressive amount of time in the air.
Unfortunately, it resists winds of only 26 mph (43 kph), which is average at best, so you’ll want to bear that in mind if you live in a particularly windy place. It has a good operating temperature range though at 14° to 104° F (-10° to 40° C).
- Brilliant 46 minute flight time
- 4K at 120FPS video
- Low wind speed resistance of 26 mph (43 kph)
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 – Cheaper but still high-end alternative to Mavic 3
The Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 was relaunched in January 2020 and is an improvement of previous versions, but many Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 owners prefer it to the newer, more advanced Mavic 3.
It flies as high as the best DJI drones at 19,685 ft (6000 m) and packs a very respectable 4K camera for 30FPS footage for your aerial video. You can even connect your Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 to DJI Goggles for a first-person view when flying, either for fun or to use the goggles to frame your video and photos (DJI Goggles have just been phased out but you can still find them easily).
You’ll have loads of time in the air with 30 mins of flight time. Wind resistance is relatively low, however, at 22 mph (36 kph) so you’ll want to be familiar with the average wind speeds where you are. Its operating temperature range is also narrower than newer drones on the bottom end where it matters at 32° to 104°F (0° to 40°C), so again check your local average conditions, including across seasons.
Its obstacle sensing and avoidance system are very good and the OcuSync 2.0 system keeps your connection to your drone stable.
The DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 has the advantage of being cheaper than the Mavic 3. The amount you save is not huge but it can go towards buying an accessory (like Goggles).
- A good all-around drone
- Ability to connect to first-person view goggles
- Low wind speed resistance of 22 mph (36 kph)
- Lower boundary of operating temperature range is quite high at 32° (0°)
Parrot Anafi – Best cheap high altitude drone
The Parrot Anafi is a great drone for a low price. You won’t be able to fly at the highest altitudes with it, but at 14765 ft (4500 m) it flies higher than every high altitude city in the world with over 75,000 inhabitants. The highest in the US, Flagstaff, has an average height of only 6,909 ft and Santa Fe only 7,198 ft. The highest in the world, El Alto in Bolivia, sits at 13,615 ft.
If the tallest mountain peaks are what you’re interested in, the Parrot Anafi is not for you. But for living in and traveling to high altitude urban locations and lower mountain tops, the Parrot Anafi will deliver. It resists 31 mph (50 kph) winds and 50 mph (80 kph) gusts of wind, a large step up from the DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0.
Its operating temperature range from 14° to 112° F (-10° to +50°C) is the widest on this list, although at the cold end where it matters it does just as well as the best performers. If you see yourself traveling to deserts you’ll be glad you bought it though.
You’ll get a decent 25 mins flight time (official flight time, so expect less) and you’ll capture 4K video at 24FPS, which is not the smoothest on offer but is comfortably good enough for recreational use. Stills come in at 21MP, slightly better than most of the competition.
This is a light 320g drone. You’ll still need to register it in the US, but you’ll have a much easier time carrying it around.
- Very good value for money
- Light drone but strong wind resistance at 31 mph (50 kph)
- Lowest operational altitude at 14765 ft (4500 m)
Autel II 8K – Best high altitude camera drone
8K has as many pixels as 4K, and 16 times as many as HD. You could zoom in on a quarter of an 8K video and the quality would drop to 4K, which is as good as other drones do at their best.
Autel Evo II records 8K at 25FPS. Its stills excel at 48 MP. The visual quality on offer here is really attractive for anyone who is primarily looking to produce images.
It matches the altitude of the best DJI high altitude drones at 19,685 ft (6000 m) while shooting above-average photos and videos. Capture long video clips full of data at its 120 MPS bitrate during its impressive flight time of 40 mins, just shy of the Mavic 3.
Its operating temperature is also a perfect match with most of the competition at 14° to 104° F
(-10° to 40° C), so its battery can perform from quite a cold start.
Evo II truly excels in wind resistance, making it great in the mountains. You’ll struggle to find another high-altitude consumer drone that can resist more than 39 mph (62 kph) winds. Don’t be carefree about wind speeds when you’re flying an Evo II, but you almost could be.
Evo II conveniently folds. Its omnidirectional object avoidance system uses 12 sensors to keep the drone safe. Its Dynamic Track 2.0 system tracks a target intelligently, even through a forest.
- 8K camera
- Phenomenal wind resistance at 39 mph (62 kph
- Good flight time but shy of being the longest
DJI FPV drone – Best first-person view high altitude drone
Want to fly like a bird? First-person view (FPV) drones are built to have fun, unlike camera drones, built mainly to take photos. You’ll be using goggles to get the ‘drone’s eye view’.
This is another DJI drone that can handle 19,685 ft (6000 m) which is amazing to witness with goggles on.
FPV drones are generally faster. The DJI FPV does 0 – 62 mph (100 kph) in only 2.0 seconds with a 150° wide field of view for a thrilling, immersive experience. Video is transmitted at a silky smooth 120 FPS so you’ll really feel the speed.
There are three flight modes for different levels of expertise, each giving more control than the last. If you like motion controls, up the fun factor with the separately sold motion-controlled joystick.
You’ll always have access to the emergency brake and hover command with a single button click if you need to get back into control as well as the DJI FPV’s excellent obstacle sensing features.
You’ll receive the position of other aircraft in the goggles of other aircraft that broadcast Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast signals to keep each other safe.
The DJI FPV has great video capabilities with 4K 60FPS quality and features tailored to speedy flight: RockSteady EIS tech to make sure your videos are smooth and 4x slow-motion with distortion correction.
A feature that I love is the DJI Virtual Flight App. It allows you to practice with just the goggles and controller.
- Video features designed for fast drone
- Excellent safety features
- Short flight time at 20 mins
What to look out for when flying at high altitude
Thin air drains your battery faster
Regardless of how good your drone is, flying in thin air forces its propellers to spin faster to find the same amount of air so you’ll drain your battery faster.
You’ll need greater wind resistance
Other factors like air turbulence affect your drone’s battery. Your drone has to work harder to stabilize itself in turbulence. This is why all maximum flight times are given for conditions with no wind. Bear in mind, the turbulence you feel can be different to what your drone is experiencing.
Remember this: always fly with your best friend. Who is your best friend if you’re flying at a high altitude? The weather report, that’s who. Pay close attention to weather reports before setting out and the environment around you while you’re flying, especially if you’re in the mountains because the weather can change quickly.
The cold will affect your decrease your battery life
The air also gets colder as you go up and this is bad for your drone. Each drone has a range of operating temperatures. The average temperature at the Earth’s surface is 59° F (15° C) but decreases to around minus 82° F (minus 63° C) from at 8 mi (13 km) mark. For every 1000 ft, the temperature drops by 3.6° F (6.5° C per km). The cold slows the rate of chemical reactions that happen in lithium batteries so a cold battery has less charge.
Learn the law about where you can fly
As always, know the law on how high you can fly legally. In the US a recreational drone pilot cannot fly higher than 400 ft (120 m) above ground level (where the operator is standing) under any circumstances. There are no exceptions, not even over a man-made structure. Pilots with a 14 CFR Part 107 certificate have exceptions but no one else does.
9 Quick Tips for Flying Drones in High Altitudes
- Hover for one minute to heat the drone up
- Keep your batteries warm
- Carry your batteries in your pocket or wrapped bear a heat source
- Bring spare charged batteries
- Check the weather forecast
- Get propellers designed for high altitude
- Make sure you know the legal limits of how high you can fly
- Return to base at the first sign of precipitation
- Do not land your drone anywhere but where you are.