Suppose I'm caught in a heavy thunderstorm while lying in my tent, on my foam sleeping bad, in my nice waterproof tent. Suppose I have a good campsite so I don't need to worry about flash floods. However, suppose that I happen to be in a rather exposed place, far away from any forests. What is the safest thing to do, to minimise the risk of injury (or worse) as a result of a lightning strike?

Should I stay where I am, cuddle up in my sleeping bag remaining on my sleeping pad? Or should I get out and crouch on top of my sleeping pad, while minimising the surface area of my contact with the ground? Am I safer inside my tent or outside?

See also: Is my tent pole a lightning rod?

  • 5
    by definition, a campsite in the middle of a flat treeless plain is not a good campsite in thunderstorm season. That said, just don't touch the tent poles, and don't go outside. – Kate Gregory Jun 8 '14 at 20:30
  • Above treeline or in an open field? – ppl Jun 9 '14 at 2:28
  • 4
    @KateGregory, well, in some parts of the world the nearest tree might be hundreds of kilometres away... – gerrit Jun 9 '14 at 2:30
up vote 19 down vote accepted

The first thing to do is to not pitch your tent in the middle of a flat area when there is a chance of thunderstorms. Sometimes that's not so easy, but that doesn't make it any less a good thing to do.

For a properly sited tent, the best thing to do during a thunderstorm is to stay put. Lightning shouldn't hit the tent directly, but it could hit something else nearby. That can cause large ground currents, which causes voltage over a distance accross the ground. Inside your sleeping bag on a insulated pad on top of the tent floor should be fairly safe from voltages caused by large ground currents.

If you are in badly sited tent, like in the middle of a flat area with the tent being the tallest thing around, then staying put inside your sleepping bag is still the best thing to do in a bad circumstance. If lightning does strike your tent, then there is at least some chance the current will be conducted by the wet skin of the tent or the tent poles (if metal). This will make the current go around you instead of thru you to the ground. It will be very unpleasant nonetheless, but still a whole lot better than getting zapped directly.

Again, the right answer is to not get yourself into this circumstance in the first place.

  • 5
    I think this answer sums it up very well. Still, I would like to add that in the case of lightning hitting the tent it would be very probable that the tent catches fire, so one should prepare for that possibility. – Paul Paulsen Jun 9 '14 at 21:46
  • Also sitting up, or better, squatting on your feet, to reduce the size of you foot print on the ground is important. Lying flat is the worse thing you can do, even if you are on foam sleeping mats. – user5330 Oct 15 '17 at 5:17

I agree with being sure to properly site the camp but I disagree with laying on the ground during thunderstorms. Crouching on the balls of your feet is the safest course of action. Do not lay on the ground ... the infinitesimally small insulation from your mat isn't going to do much when it comes to current that first made it through the air and then through the ground.

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