Tent Camping With Lightning Nearby? (What You Need To Know)


So I was caught in a small lightning storm the other day when I was camping and I thought to myself “are tent’s dangerous in lightning?” What should I be doing when I am camping and there is lightning nearby I thought to myself. Of course, I had to do my research on this to find out what I should have done, If you are having similar thoughts then stick around to find out exactly what you need to know about lightning and tent camping

Are tents dangerous in lightning? Tents can be dangerous if set up in the wrong places, but they definitely will not keep you safe from lightning. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to stay safe if you are caught in lightning while camping.

You need to know what you can do beforehand to prepare for a storm that will have lightning present. Setting up your tent in the right place is a big part of lightning safety, but don’t count on it to keep you safe if you have better options available. Getting away from being outside is the best thing you can do if lightning is present while camping. The odds of being struck by lightning are very slim, but still, you want to minimize the risk as much as possible.

By the way, If you are in the market for a new tent, then you should click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.

How to prepare for a possible storm while camping

The first and the best thing you can do to prepare for a possible lightning storm while camping is not to go camping in the first place. Always check the local weather before you go camping. If a lightning storm is imminent then it is best to change plans. Unfortunately, weather can be unpredictable and you could still find yourself in a lightning storm anyway. I hope that I can help you be prepared for such a predicament so that you can safely make your way through it and continue to enjoy camping.

The next thing you can do besides not camping during bad weather is to prepare and evaluate your campsite and campground to figure out the best course of action to take in the event of a lightning storm. This includes where you set up your tent and getting familiar with the nearby terrain. Remember that a tent is not a safe shelter to be in if you have some other options which we will discuss later. Knowing where to go and where to avoid is essential for lighting safety not just while camping but whenever you are caught outside with lightning.

According to Weather.gov Lightning kills an average of 49 people each year in the United States and hundreds more are injured. They also state that Only about 10% of people who are struck by lightning are killed. So your odds are pretty good that it won’t be you considering how many people reside in the United States. In fact, they put the odds of being struck in any given year at  1/1,222,000.

So while it may not be a serious threat statistically, you still want to make sure that you are prepared and know what to do. It’s kind of like how your odds of being eaten by a shark are low, but you still shouldn’t jump into the ocean while you are bleeding. Here’s a graphic depicting recent lighting deaths in the United States from 2008 to 2018:

What to do if lightning is present while you are camping

You should already have a plan in place before the storm occurs. The best thing to do is get indoors if at all possible. The indoors should be built with modern plumbing and electrical wiring since these can “ground” the lightning. If those are unavailable then the next best thing to do is to enter a vehicle with a solid metal body, this means no convertible tops. You will want to stay in your safe shelter for at least 30 minutes after the last lightning strike or sound of thunder.

Remember the common phrase “if thunder roars, go indoors” to keep you safe. When you go inside a building the plumbing and wiring will conduct the electricity more efficiently than a human body. Lightning is an electric current, and all electricity wants to go through the path of least resistance in order to get to a ground. The ground is really just earth.

Electric current wants to connect with earth to complete its circuit. What you don’t want to happen is for your body to be that path of least resistance to the ground. That is why going indoors is your best bet. If the buildings do not have modern plumbing and wiring like a basic outhouse then it is not safe to go inside of it. The wiring and plumbing are essential to transfer electricity to the ground. In that case, you should choose to go inside of a vehicle.

Going inside a car is the next best thing to going inside of a building. This is because the metal outside of the car directs lightning flow around it and straight into the ground. It is not because the tires on the car are made of rubber, that is a myth. Keep the car completely closed including the windows and do not use anything connected to the outside of the car like the radio. Using something that leads to the outside of the vehicle presents a conductive path straight to your body for electricity to flow.

Where to set up your tent to best avoid lightning

If you happen to have no other means of protection, the next best thing to do is make sure that your tent is set up in the best place possible to minimize likely contact with lightning. Please note that there is nowhere that is completely safe outdoors in the event of lightning strikes. Tent’s themselves are not safe from lightning, but you can possibly reduce the likeliness of a lightning strike on your tent by setting up camp in certain areas.

Avoid putting your tent next to the tallest objects like poles or the tallest trees. Do not place your tent in the highest areas like peaks and ridges. Avoid wide-open areas where your tent would be the tallest object. Try to place your tent in a lower area while following the previous conditions if possible, Still, it is better to locate yourself inside of a building or car. High areas and tall objects are more likely to be struck by lightning. In a wide-open space, you might be the tallest object and therefore the easiest path to the ground for a lighting strike.

If you are car camping then the location of your tent shouldn’t be a big deal since you won’t want to stay in it anyway. You will want to go to the nearest building or inside of your vehicle instead. Don’t stay inside of your tent for convenience’s sake. It is a different story if you are backpacking and not near any buildings or vehicles. In that case, there is no real safe place for you to go. Just avoid wide-open spaces, high places, and being near tall objects.

Conclusion

Tents are not safe when lightning is present. Try to get indoors of a building with modern plumbing and electrical wiring if possible, or inside of a completely closed vehicle. There is no place outside that is completely safe from lightning. If you are stuck outside then try to keep as little contact with the floor as possible. Avoid high areas and being near the tallest objects like trees or poles. Tent’s won’t keep you safe from lightning, but they are not any more dangerous than being outside during a lightning storm in the first place.

Related Questions:

Do tents attract lightning?

Tents do not attract lightning any more than most other objects. If the tent is the tallest structure nearby then it might. It is more likely for tall objects like trees and poles to attract lightning than it is for your tent.

Will sleeping pads/air mattresses insulate you from a strike?

Even though foam and rubber are good conductors of electricity they do not stand a chance against lightning strikes so you are not completely safe even if you are on top of them. Be sure not to be laying down when lightning is nearby as you want as little contact with the ground as possible.

My Favorite Camping Gear

  • Air Mattress: click here to check out my favorite on Amazon.
  • Tent: click here to see my favorite tent available on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Pad: click here to check out the one I love on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Bag: click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.
  • Camping Stove: click here to see the best camping stove on Amazon.

Zachary Smith

Zach is an avid outdoorsman that loves going camping with his Prius every chance he gets. He also regularly enjoys hiking and fishing. When he's not outside you can probably find him writing about it on this website. See his full bio here

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