Have you ever been out camping and had a storm roll in unexpectedly? I have. It makes you think about just how safe your tent really is!
Is it safe to be in a tent during a thunderstorm? A tent is not safe during a lightning storm. If it is the highest thing in the area it’s at risk of being struck directly. If your tent is under a tree or other object, you could get struck by sideflash or ground current.
Unfortunately, tents don’t provide any protection from lightning and could even make it more likely that you’ll get struck by lightning in certain circumstances.
Lightning will usually strike the highest point in an area. This can cause some problems if you’re out camping in a tent.
If you’re in an area that doesn’t have a lot of trees or other types of cover, you could very well be the highest point out there. This means that you’re in danger of getting struck by lightning.
In the case of a direct lightning strike, it would most likely strike the tent poles or other supporting structures inside the tent. If you’re in contact with the poles when they’re hit you’ll also act as a conductor and channel the electricity into the ground.
If your tent is set up under trees (or another type of cover) then you’re at risk of being struck by sideflash or ground current.
The types of lighting strikes that you’re likely to experience while inside a tent are:
Contact – A contact strike happens when you’re touching something that gets hit by lightning. The current moves down the object that’s struck, and then travels into your body.
Sideflash – Sideflash is when lightning strikes a taller object and starts to travel down it. Then, the lightning jumps to another object and continues into the ground.
Ground Current – Ground current happens when lightning strikes an object and travels into the ground. This current can then travel into your body and cause damage.
If you happen to be camping during when a thunderstorm rolls in, there are a few things you can do to make yourself safer.
If you have access to a vehicle, it’s best to get inside and wait out the storm. Your vehicle will be safer than the tent but it isn’t completely safe.
Some people believe that the rubber tires protect you from getting hit by lightning, but that’s just an old wives tale. Cars can still get struck by lightning and damage the vehicle and the people inside. It’s just much less dangerous than being inside a tent when it gets hit.
Even better than a vehicle is moving into a nearby building! A lightning strike on a building will most likely not do anything to you so you safely stay inside and wait out the storm.
Sometimes things happen and your situation won’t let you just jump into a nearby vehicle or seek shelter in a house. In those cases, there are a few things you can do to make yourself safer inside of a tent.
Start by making sure that you’re not touching any of the poles of other supporting structures inside the tent. If the tent happens to get hit by lightning, it’s probably going to travel down these poles and into the ground. If you’re touching them, then you’re going to get hit too!
Next, you want to try to make a little contact with the ground as possible. Ideally, you would take a standing or squatting position with just the balls of your feet touching the ground, but I don’t know anyone that can do this for the entire length of a thunderstorm.
The next best thing is to stand as much as you can to minimize and ground current damage that may occur if lightning does strike. Definitely don’t lay down! Putting more of your body in contact with the ground puts more of your body at risk and really increases the chances of a lightning strike being fatal.
With no other shelter around, staying inside your tent is still the best option. If the tent gets hit there is at least a chance that the lightning will be directed around you by the tent poles or skin of the tent and not strike you at all. If you’re just out in a field, then you’re the most likely target of the lightning.
The best way to protect yourself is by choosing a campsite that isn’t likely to attract lightning at all!
First, schedule camping trips when thunderstorms aren’t likely or aren’t predicted. I know this isn’t always possible, but I still had to say it since it really is the best way to keep yourself safe from lightning.
Besides just avoiding lightning all together, there are several other things you can do to stay safe.
- Try to set up camp in a ravine or low-lying area. These areas tend to not get struck by lightning since they’re lower than the surrounding areas.
- Don’t set up camp in the middle of an open field. If you set up a tent in the middle of a field, then you’re making yourself the most likely target in the area.
- Stay away from lone trees. Setting up camp in a wooded area is fine, setting up next to a single tree isn’t. This just makes you even more likely to get struck by lightning.
- You also want to avoid areas that have a lot of conductors. Don’t set up next to a metal fence or right next to a lake. It’s a myth that water and metal attract lightning, but they do conduct it very well and this could result in an increased ground current threat.
Interestingly enough, there are some people working on creating “lightning proof” tents. I don’t know of any that are available for sale but a few have been shown off in articles. One of them is this Bolt Tent.
The video is cool, but I won’t be looking for “lightning proof” tents any time soon.
Do tents attract lightning? Tents don’t attract lightning, but they aren’t safe in a thunderstorm and they can make it more likely that you’ll get hit is they’re set up in an open field or under a lone tree.
Can you get struck by lightning in a tent? Lighting shouldn’t hit you directly if you’re inside a tent, but it can hit the tent or the area around the tent. It isn’t considered safe to be inside a tent during a lightning storm. You’re better off taking shelter inside a car or building until the storm passes.