15 Essential Tips For Camping in a Lightning Storm

I know how unpredictable the weather could be, especially when you go on camping. When you are close to home, you are familiar with the climates’ behavior, although that is usually not the case when you are in the wild. Fortunately, I’ve never had to deal with a lightning strike; however, I did face some storms during my adventures. For that, I decided to bring you some essential tips for camping in a lightning storm.

When you caught in a lightning storm while camping, you should first keep away from tall and isolated trees. You must also minimize the contact with the ground beneath you and spread out if you are with a group of people. Make sure you stay away from metal items and, if you have the chance, get inside a nearby cave – preferably a large one.

If you caught in a lightning storm while being inside your tent, you should keep on walking to limit the level of soil contact and reduce the chances of getting hit by ground currents. If the shelter is too small for walking, try sitting on your backpack or standing upon your sleeping pad. Avoid touching any metal objects, such as the poles, for them being a great electricity conductors.

1. Keep Away From Tall & Isolated Trees

Avoid pitching your tent under tall or isolated trees in an open area. Do the same for areas close to metal fences or hilltops. Although these might look like the idea spots to camp, they actually aren’t.

This is because lighting strikes the highest points and being near tall or isolated trees exposes you to the risk of being struck.

2. Walk if Inside a Tent

If the storm begins and ends up trapping you inside the tent, it would be wise for you to walk around the tent if it is big and spacious enough to allow this.

Walking around limits the level of contact between your feet and the ground and this reduces the risk of exposure to ground currents.

Also, it would be wise to hang up a tarp as a shield. If you find it hard to hang one, you may find my article on 15 essential camping knots useful – some of them are absolutely great for hanging up a tarp.

3. Minimize Contact With The Ground

If you can’t find space to walk around inside your tent, find a backpack or foam mattress to stand on. Make sure your feet are close together then squat or crouch.

This helps to reduce your overall height while keeping you insulated against the cold and hard ground. Remember to keep your boots on for additional warmth but never attempt to lie under the tent during a lightning storm; it’s a sure recipe for disaster.

4. Make Good Use of Caves Around You

You can use caves to your advantage, especially if they are large. This is because they’ll shelter you from the cold rain, strong winds, and even lightning strikes.

You will be warmer in a cave than out in the open. It will also lower the chances of suffering hypothermia or a direct hit from lightning.

Although lighting may still travel through the top of the cave to the ground and find you, there is a possibility the current may cut out before getting to where you are.

5. Spread Out if You Are Camping as a Group

It wouldn’t be a good idea to be squeezed together when lightning hits because the currents travel through the ground and may end up getting to you all at the same time.

Remember the aim is to keep the damage at a minimum in the unfortunate event that someone actually gets struck; somebody has to perform CPR and save the casualties.

A good thing to do would be to move at least 20 feet away from one another, possibly if everyone has his or her own tent.

6. Stay Away From Metal Items

If you are lucky to find a temporary shelter from the lightning storm, be sure to stay far away from any metallic equipment you may have carried along.

If possible, remove them entirely from your place of refuge. Metals are good conductors of electricity so being close to any is like asking for trouble. This means if your tent is made of steel and non-iodized poles; you’ll be wise to stay away from it at all costs.

7. Find Low Ground to Camp

If you suspect there’s going to be a lightning storm when you are on a camping trip, make sure you find low ground to pitch your tent.

As earlier mentioned, lightning mostly strikes high points so a mountain or hilltop may not be the safest place to be. Get as low as you can but be wary of grounds where rainwater can accumulate and form a pool.

8. Get inside your RV or camp trailer

Lightning tends to travel around the exterior surface of a vehicle that is metal-framed. What this does, necessarily, is to shield the people inside the vehicle against the electric shock.

This phenomenon is referred to as the Faraday Cage Effect. Provided the passengers inside don’t come into contact with the metal shell outside-touching parts such as the vehicle’s steering wheel, doorknob, or radio knob-, they will be okay.

When you are facing harsh weather conditions – it is better and definitely warmer to sleep inside a car rather than a tent.

9. Bring Along a Weather Radio

If you are camping out in areas where lightning storms are frequent, it won’t hurt to carry with you a weather radio before you set out for your camping outing.

This will keep you updated on the location of the storm. You’ll also be able to appropriate the distance you are from the lightning strike zone by counting the seconds between a flash of lightning and boom of the thunder.

Normally, five seconds represent a mile.

10. Small Caves Aren’t The Safest Option

Human instinct pushes most campers to seek shelter in a cave since it looks like a well-protected region. However, not all caves are safe!

If the lightning has enough momentum, it can quickly jump back and forth between the top of the cave and the bottom. If you are trapped inside a cave when this is happening, you may not be so lucky.

This is especially true if the cave is small and cramped up. Broader and more spacious caves are a much better choice.

11. Avoid Camping Near Rock Faces

When it is raining hard during a storm, the large amount of water flowing downstream makes it extremely hazardous to be near a rock face.

This is because the strength of water can easily push individual rocks off the cliff face, causing a chain of stones to start falling.

This can end up in a debris avalanche or landslide. In a nutshell, it is good to establish where the water will come from and flow to before pitching a tent.

12. Research The Climate of The Area in Advance

If you are going to camp in an area you are not very familiar with, understanding the region’s climate will allow you to make an informed decision when choosing between synthetic or down sleeping bags.

It also prepares you for the possible lightning storm so that you make wise decisions on where to camp and reduce the chances of being adversely affected by the storm.

13. Wait For The Storm to Subside Fully

If you happen to find a safe refuge away from your tent when the lightning storm begins, don’t be quick to get out! Wait at least 30 minutes after hearing the last boom of thunder before you choose to step out.

Unfortunately, almost 1/3 of lightning casualties happen after the storm because people leave the shelters and get outdoors too soon.

14. Crouch if You Are on High Ground

A lightning storm can catch you when you least expect it to. If the storm starts when you are on high ground and can’t find any viable shelter around, get down and crouch as low as you can but be sure to stay on your feet.

Also, don’t try to stabilize yourself by planting your hands on the ground.

15. Avoid Areas Where Water Can Collect

When looking for a campsite, finding a low area to pitch a tent is a good idea if you suspect there is going to be a lightning storm. However, not all low-lying places are safe.

Regions such are depressions should be avoided because this is where rainwater accumulates to form a pool of water.

Being in contact with water, when lightning strikes, puts you in direct danger because water is a good conductor of electricity. There is also the risk of flooding!

Any Helpful Forecast Websites?

When you suspect the weather won’t be on your favor, you should take some means to avoid camping in a lightning storm. With today’s technology, you may anticipate climate conditions quite easily.

My favorite website for that matter would be accuweather.com – I’ve used it countless times before. What I like about this site is that it gets very specific and goes down to hourly resolution. 

Let’s say you plan on camping somewhere along the West Highland Way in Scotland. It’s a quite long trail which would probably take you a few days to accomplish.

Hence, you should estimate where you are going to be each day and find the forecast accordingly. That specific trail starts at Milngavie, Scotland – merely type it in the searching bar and click search:

You will then see the current weather in the particular area, hourly described. If you wish to see a further forecast, click on the orange arrow on the right:

You will then be able to see the anticipated weather for the next five days in your chosen area, although you can also see the forecast for the next 90 days by clicking on ‘All 90 days’:

Note that the data may change as the days are passing by – keep yourself updated as much as you can, especially when your journey is approaching.

If you see some hard weather conditions after you’ve already ordered your flight – try changing it via your airline company, a small fee is most certainly worth it when it comes to your safety.

How Many People Die a Year From a Lightning Strike?

I understand the need to know how bad a lightning strike could be. Sometimes when people see the numbers, they get a better perspective and realize how careful they should be.

Well, apparently 240,000 people get hit by a lightning strike a year, and 6,000 of those actually lose their lives. Let’s face it – these numbers are worrying. 

However, when you take a more in-depth look, you will see that less than 3% of those who get hit actually die.

Of course, lives shouldn’t be underestimated, and even one percent of casualties is terrible. Still, it seems that once a bolt of lightning hit you – most chances you will survive.

What Happens When Lightning Hits You?

So you’ve done everything you could to avoid getting caught in a lightning storm while enjoying your camping adventure.

Still, things escalated, and you got hit by a lightning bolt. Apparently, you don’t get injured due to hyperthermia – the strike duration is too short to absorb heat.

A lightning injury is actually dangerous because of the high voltage itself, which could affect your muscle (your heart included) and your nervous system.

What to do if I Get Injured by a Flash of Lightning?

I hope you will never need to answer that question, although when you get hit by lightning, you surely have to bail out.

If that happens, there is a good chance you will be unconscious and your companion will have to take care of you (never go camping by yourself when you anticipate storms).

The first thing your partner has to do is reaching for help – whether by phone or by a rescue device. If you are camping next to other people – shout for help as loud as you can until someone else comes. 

After you reached for assistance, there is a good chance you will have to do some CPR on the injured. This could be anxious and quite terrifying, although CPR may be the only way to survive a severe lightning strike.

Take a look at the video below – I hope you will never get to use it, although it is better to be safe than sorry.

Conclusions

Camping could be dangerous when camping in a lightning storm. When you are out there, in the wild, professional assistance is many times out of reach, and you have to take care of yourself.

The first thing you should do is trying to avoid camping in such conditions – make use of forecast websites, smart-phone applications, and Youtube videos.

Knowing your surrounding is the best way to avoid troubles. If you still got caught in a lightning storm, make sure that you reduce the contact with the ground as much as possible – keep on walking, stand on a sleeping pad or sit on your hiking backpack.

Make sure you avoid damp areas with water sources and keep away from other people – spread your group as fast as you can.

Getting hit by lightning is dangerous, with approximately 6,000 annual casualties – do not underestimate that.

I hope my article gave you a better perspective and helped you maintaining safe during your next advantage. Let me know about your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment below!

Sources

  1. 5 Tips To Help You Survive A Thunderstorm When Camping – doomsdaymoose
  2. Tips for Camping in a Thunderstorm – trails
  3. 5 Things You Must do When Camping in a Thunderstorm – campingmastery
  4. 10 Tips to camping in thunderstorms – gocampingaustralia

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