The degradation of beech wood during a thermal modification process in a high-pressure reactor system using steam as medium was investigated. The wood was modified at different peak temperatures (150–180 °C), peak durations (1–6 h) and maximum water vapor pressures (0.14–0.79 MPa), while wood mass loss and wood moisture content as well as soluble degradation products were analyzed. Wood degradation was found to be predominantly determined by the maximum pressure, rather than the peak temperature applied. However, accumulation of degradation products, i.e., carbohydrates and furfural, in wood modified at elevated pressure had to be considered when using mass loss as a marker for wood degradation. Mass loss and mass loss rate increased with the maximum pressure until reaching saturation at mass losses above 20 %, due to the limited amount of amorphous carbohydrates within the wood. Several factors have been discussed with regard to their impact on accelerated degradation reactions at elevated water vapor pressure, such as a better heat transfer in a compressed gas atmosphere, reduced evaporative cooling, the accumulation of organic acids as well as the presence of water in the wood during the process. However, none of these individual factors were completely consistent with the observed mass loss progression, which leads to the conclusion that the impact of elevated water vapor pressure, rather, is a combination of several factors that apply simultaneously. The application of elevated pressure might enable an effective process technique to generate sufficient wood degradation to upgrade dimensional stability and biological durability of wood at a low temperature range.