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I have used the Mega Mid tent almost exclusively for hundreds of nights out over the last many years. It's versatile, well ventilated, light... but has this pole sticking straight up the middle.

Is this configuration more likely to attract lightning than, say, poles in a dome-type tent? How good are tent-poles in general for attract lightning?

I've had a few nights when I have jettisoned the pole -- tossing it far away (and huddled under the sopping fabric) in a attempt to try and distract the lightning gods -- is this futile?

Assuming I leave the tent pole in, is it better to insulate either end (say with a rubber sandal)?

Or am I over-thinking it all, and what will be will be, so sweet dreams.

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I think you're over-thinking it. If you're tent is the tallest thing around, then picking a better campsite is the bigger issue to ponder. The Mega Mid is nice piece of gear by the way. –  manoftheson Jan 19 '13 at 4:04

2 Answers 2

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Any pole will have a fractionally greater chance of attracting lightning than a piece of flat ground or a dome tent - but this doesn't mean the increased chance is that high. If you are in the middle of an entirely flat field and your tent pole is the highest object for miles, then it will be a slight risk, but some points to consider:

  • If you are anywhere near trees, they are more likely to attract lightning. But don't get too close, in case a tree gets hit and falls on you, burns you etc.
  • If you do have an aluminium walking pole or similar you can stand it in the ground 30 feet away and it will be a much better route to earth for lightning.
  • Don't pitch your tent on top of a peak. This is generally good planning anyway, as you'd want to aim for a more sheltered spot if possible.
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The main danger of being near a tree when it's struck is that they explode showering the area in very hot, very hard shrapnel. –  RichardAtHome Sep 25 '12 at 15:22
    
+1 for the walking pole –  HorusKol Oct 4 '12 at 8:38

To answer your other questions: No, don't insulate the pole at the bottom with a sandal, and yes, you are overthinking this.

In the relatively unlikely (but possible) event that lightning does stike your tent pole, you want the current to be conducted to ground as easily as possible. If not, it might find other routes, like thru you. At best a sandal is only going to create arcing around the sandal to the ground. I don't see any advantage to that. At worst it will cause the current to jump from the insulated pole thru you on its way to the ground.

If you are in a lightning storm and lightning is likely to strike near you, there is nothing you can do to stop it. What you can do is to give it alternate paths to ground that don't include going thru you. A metal pole nearby will help, but only if it's not so near that it can conduct into your body or arc to your body in preference to conducting straight into the ground. A tall point that is well connected to ground provides roughly a 45° cone of safety. Put another way, you want to be closer to it than its height, assuming you're not adding significant height yourself. For example, being 20-50 feet from a 100 foot tree is about right. Further than 100 feet or so, the tree isn't giving you much protection. A 4 foot metal pole planted 30 feet away, for example, is useless as lightning protection.

The other thing to worry about regarding lightning are ground currents caused by a nearby lightning strike. The current doesn't just stop when it hits the ground, it fans out. Unfortunately, the ground isn't uniformly conductive, so it doesn't fan out evenly. There could still be subtantial currents running thru the ground 20 feet from a tree that got hit, for example. The ground isn't a perfect conductor, in fact it's rather a poor conductor most of the time. The large currents times the resistance between two points causes a voltage, which in turn can be large enough to zap you.

To minimize ground current danger, try to insulate yourself from the ground and minimize your footprint. The insulation make going thru you a higher resistance path than the ground, and the smaller footprint causes a smaller voltage accross the footprint for the same ground current.

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