Summer is thunderstorm time: Thunderstorms are usually accompanied by strong gusts of wind and heavy rain. In this situation, anyone who is outdoors is at risk. Every year people die from lightning strikes. Even campers are affected unfortunately.
People are more often harmed by storms and water. If the tent cannot withstand the wind, buckling tent poles can injure you. Water inside the tent can easily render all luggage unusable.
Therefore, you should set up your tent in a good place that is safe from lightning strikes and offers plenty of protection from wind and rainwater.
Proven behavior and the right equipment will help you survive the storm unscathed. In our detailed guide, we reveal what to look out for when camping in a thunderstorm.
We will also introduce you to good behavior and recommended equipment so that you can get through every thunderstorm.
- With these nine basic tips, you’ll be safer camping in thunderstorms!
- This equipment will help you safely through the thunderstorm
- How dangerous is camping in a thunderstorm?
- Danger from direct lightning hits
- How do I protect myself from direct lightning hits when camping during a thunderstorm?
- This is how you can tell if a thunderstorm is coming your way
- Danger from lightning strikes close by
- How do I protect myself from nearby affects when camping during a thunderstorm?
- Another danger: the wind
- How do I protect myself from wind when camping during a thunderstorm?
- Don’t underestimate: water & cold
- How do I protect myself from water and cold when camping during thunderstorms?
- Avoid dangerous places
- A groundsheet protects the tent from below
- Practical: lighting with a long service life
- Find paths close by
- Take good care of your tent wall
- For the most important equipment: waterproof backpack
- The right rainwear
- An extra blanket for cold nights
- Do you know the wind chill effect?
- Wear a hat when you sleep
- Warm-up from within
- Conclusion: You can effectively minimize the risk
With these nine basic tips, you’ll be safer camping in thunderstorms!
1. Recognize the danger in good time
Apps such as the warning weather app let you know when a storm is approaching your campsite. If the distance between lightning and thunder is less than 10 seconds, the risk of a lightning strike in your area is very high. The danger is over only 30 minutes after the last thunder.
2. Go to shelters
When the thunderstorm approaches, it is best to go to a building on the campsite (with a lightning rod!) Or a closed car. Because you are safe here. Vehicles with a metallic body form a Faraday cage that protects the occupants.
3. Raised areas attract lightning
That is why the proximity of building walls, high-voltage lines, large festival tents, metal flagpoles and rock walls offer you protection from being caught by lightning yourself. However, keep a distance of at least three feet to avoid jumping over the lightning bolt.
4. Individual trees are dangerous
Trees can literally explode when lightning strikes! So keep a distance of 10 meters from them. Otherwise, you will be endangered by falling branches and flying bark.
Isolated trees are often hit by lightning strikes. Staying in a forest with trees of the same height promises protection.
5. Minimize contact with the ground
Because electricity spreads through the ground after a lightning strike: During a thunderstorm, minimize contact with the ground by keeping your feet close together. Do not touch any bystanders either!
6. The tent only protects against wind and rain
For example, a dry air mattress or sit on a backpack and keep your feet close together here too.
7. Bring the right equipment
With sturdy pegs that are suitable for the ground under your tent, you can tension the tent so that it is windproof. Secure your pavilion from the thunderstorm with storm lines.
Don’t hold him by lightning and thunder! After a thunderstorm, you can quickly repair damage to your tent with a repair kit.
8. Choose a good location for your tent
Do not pitch your tent on a hill or near solitary, tall trees. Small sinks are not good either: They quickly fill up with water in heavy rain. A slight slope is better, on the side facing away from the wind. The tent entrance points away from the wind.
9. Don’t be a lightning magnet
If lightning-protected rooms and your tent are not within reach: Do not be at the highest point in the area yourself. Avoid hills, get off your bike, and get off your umbrella! The best thing to do is to crouch in a depression with your feet together and pull your head in.
Now you know basic and proven behavior that increases your safety when camping in a thunderstorm. Next, you should look at some important pieces of equipment that will help you get through the storm.
This equipment will help you safely through the thunderstorm
We have put together the most important equipment for camping in thunderstorms. Basically, it is important to protect you and your tent from wind and water. Protection against the effects of a lightning strike is also possible to a limited extent.
Eurmax Galvanized Tent Stakes are made of solid steel and withstand the tensile forces in strong winds without bending or even breaking. And because of the T-shaped handle, the storm line holds even if the peg turns in the ground.
The round cross-section makes it easier to hammer into hard and stony soils. If the ground is softened by rain, the screw thread improves the hold.
An additional groundsheet protects your tent floor from sharp objects such as branches and small stones. This prevents water from entering the tent from below. groundsheet also improves the insulation against ground currents in the event of lightning strikes. Because the tent is not in the mud, cleaning up after the storm is made easier.
We recommend the fabric Hiker Camping Tarpaulin from Terra, which is one of the more stable tarpaulins and reinforced edges.
The app from the weather service warns you of impending storms and natural hazards such as floods, storm surges.
The app is available free of charge from Google Play and the Apple App Store.
If the seams of your tent have become leaky after a violent storm, you can easily seal them with a seam sealer. Small cracks and holes in the tarpaulin, the tent floor, air mattresses and shoes can also be repaired in this way.
For PU tents we recommend the proven GEAR AID Seam Grip TF Tent Fabric Sealer, which is simply applied to the inside of the damaged area.
Standing outside during a thunderstorm and holding the iron bar of the pavilion in your hand with your arms stretched out – that’s pretty much the most dangerous thing you can do during a thunderstorm. It is better to secure your pavilion in good time before the storm.
Hikeman Guy Lines Tent Cords Rope consists of 6 guy ropes, each 4 meters long. It comes with pre-assembled three-hole tensioners and peg loops. That makes tensioning quick and easy.
Now you know the most important pieces of equipment that will help you stay dry and warm in storms and rain. With the right equipment and the basic rules of conduct in your luggage, you are already well prepared.
However, the more you know about thunderstorms, the better you can take care of yourself and others. So next take a look at what dangers there are for you and your tent in a thunderstorm and how you can optimally counter these dangers.
How dangerous is camping in a thunderstorm?
In a nutshell: Thunderstorms are a danger to anyone who is outdoors.
The tent does not block lightning but offers good protection from rain and wind. So take good care of yourself and your tent!
Next, we systematically analyze the sources of danger that exist during a thunderstorm. And give specific tips on how to protect yourself against it.
Danger from direct lightning hits
Dangerous beauty: lightning is hotter than the sun
Most of the time, lightning strikes a person on the head. This leads to serious injury or death. A normal tent is usually irreparably destroyed.
The temperature of lightning is up to 30,000 degrees Celsius – five times as much as the surface of the sun. The result is severe burns.
Lightning strikes extremely high currents of up to 400,000 amperes. If such a high flow of current flows through a person, it leads to unconsciousness, coma and fatal cardiac and respiratory arrests.
The voltage of lightning is up to 50 million volts Therefore, a normal tent offers no protection. A lightning bolt that struck several kilometers of air easily penetrates the tent shell and the groundsheet.
How do I protect myself from direct lightning hits when camping during a thunderstorm?
You have exactly two options: Be in a place that is protected from lightning. Or stay in a place where lightning doesn’t strike.
Don’t pitch your tent in these places!
Lightning strikes in raised areas. Therefore, avoid ridges, hills and banks. Also, do not tent on flat surfaces, where the tent is the only raised point in the wide area.
What is a good place for my tent in a thunderstorm?
Good places for your tent are valleys, flat slopes and wide valleys. Make sure that water can drain from your campsite. A forest with trees of about the same height also promises protection.
Nearby objects that clearly protrude beyond your tent also protect you from direct lightning hits. However, this exposes you to the dangers of a close hit.
These objects promise protection
Building walls, high-voltage lines, large festival tents, metal flagpoles and rock walls, as well as ledges, offer you protection from being struck directly by lightning. However, the proximity of exposed trees is dangerous.
The highest possible security: buildings
If you somehow have the option: Find a building with a lightning protection system. On campsites, these are the reception and sanitary buildings.
Sometimes there are refuges on sports facilities and in nature. You are safe here. Even massive buildings without lightning rods offer some protection.
- Warning: high seats are usually neither lightning-proof nor massive!
Perfect protection: cars
Closed vehicles with a metallic body form a Faraday cage that directs lightning around the occupants into the earth. You are also safe in caravans with a metallic outer shell and in the driver’s cab of mobile homes.
Convertibles and caravans with plastic walls, however, do not offer sufficient protection.
That Faraday thing is great! I still have a roll of wire mesh that matches my tent in color …
We have already heard several stories from campers who have turned their tent into a Faraday cage with an attached lightning catcher using aluminum poles, wire mesh and meter-long telescopic flagpoles. It had nothing to do with serious lightning protection. If you don’t have an earth rod with you that you can drive nine meters deep into the ground: don’t do it. Really.
Make yourself small!
If you are traveling by bike or horse: get off. Put away items like umbrellas or golf clubs.
In the United States, one in five deaths from a lightning bolt was caught by lightning while swinging a golf club. It is best to crouch in the middle of your tent or a hollow with your feet together.
This is how you can tell if a thunderstorm is coming your way
Count the number of seconds that pass between lightning and thunder. If the time gets shorter, the thunderstorm draws towards you. There is already a danger if 30 seconds pass between lightning and thunder. At 10 seconds, the probability of a lightning strike is greatly increased. 30 minutes after the last thunder, the danger is over.
- Tip: If you divide the time in seconds between lightning and thunder by three, you get the distance of the lightning strike in kilometers.
Safe tents & pavilions BEFORE the thunderstorm
Lightning likes raised areas. And lightning like metal. So holding a metal pole high in the air during a thunderstorm is not a good idea! But many people do just that. During a thunderstorm, they hold the metal bars of their pavilion so that it is not blown away by the wind. Do not do that. Secure the pavilion from the thunderstorm with sturdy pegs and guy lines of suitable length.
Danger from lightning strikes close by
Even if the lightning does not hit you directly: The current spreads at the point of impact.
If the lightning strikes a tent and you are touching the tent at that moment, you are hit by a contact voltage. If you are too close to a mast struck by lightning, the lightning can strike you from there.
The lightning spreads in a cone shape on the ground. It can do this particularly well when the ground is soaked with water after the rain. If you stand with both feet on the ground, you are affected by the so-called step tension.
All of this is better than being hit directly by lightning. Nevertheless, serious or fatal injuries can also occur here.
Other dangers are the great heat and the pressure wave that the lightning generates. Lightning can set a tent on fire. And the pressure wave of lightning has an explosive force of up to 30 kilograms of TNT. This can lead to tears in the eardrum or even dangerous tears in the lungs.
How do I protect myself from nearby affects when camping during a thunderstorm?
Do not touch anything that is live. However, objects that are far away from the lightning can also be electrified!
Avoid metal objects
Lightning creates strong magnetic fields. Therefore, they create a flow of electricity in metal objects around them. That can happen even at a distance of 50 meters. Therefore: It is best to bring hiking sticks out of the tent before the thunderstorm and store them under a tree, protected from the rain.
Also, remove the power cables from the tent! Stay away from construction fences at festivals and away from pasture fences in nature.
Minimize contact with the ground
Because electricity spreads through the ground after a lightning strike: During a thunderstorm, minimize contact with the ground by keeping your feet close together and only touching the ground with your feet.
Do not lie on the floor! Then a lot of electricity can flow through your body. Leave shoes on. Do not touch any bystanders either! Ground currents occur up to a distance of 30 meters around the lightning strike.
No lightning protection system on the tent? Stay in the middle!
When staying in buildings without a lightning protection system and in your tent: Stay in the middle of the room if possible. Do not touch walls or tent poles!
Find insulating ground
To minimize the risk from ground currents, get on a well-insulating surface. In your tent, this can be a sleeping mat or your sleeping bag. Outside, asphalt, dry wood, and granite work well.
Meadows and damp earth conduct electricity well and should therefore be avoided. Make sure to keep the inside of your tent dry! If you have water in your tent, try to build an island out of air mattresses and sleeping bags.
Individual trees are dangerous
Trees can literally explode when lightning strikes! Therefore, keep a distance of 10 meters from individual trees. Do not expose yourself to the danger of falling branches and flying bark.
Individual trees, small groups of trees and trees on the edge of the forest are often hit by lightning strikes. Trees in a closed forest are much safer.
Immediately back on land
Get out of the water as soon as possible. Lightning spreads over a great distance in the water and even a brief loss of consciousness can lead to drowning.
If you are traveling by boat, anchor as quickly as possible when the thunderstorm approaches. On the water, the boat is at the highest point in the area!
First aid for victims of lightning strike
Move the victim out of the greatest danger area, for example away from a tree that has been hit. As with all electrical injuries, even if there are no external signs, the injury can be very serious. Therefore: alert the emergency services immediately!
Check the vital functions and initiate resuscitation measures in the event of respiratory or cardiac arrest. Keep the victim warm and dry until emergency services arrive.
Don’t run … jump!
It’s dangerous to run in a thunderstorm. If your feet touch the ground in two places far apart, more current will flow through your body when lightning strikes nearby.
The best way to get around during a thunderstorm is therefore to hop with your legs together!
Another danger: the wind
The strong gusts of wind that often accompany a thunderstorm can also be a hazard for you and your equipment. Sometimes trees fall over. Branches fall much more often. Objects flying around can injure you. If it’s your gear that’s flying around, it’s likely damaged or gone after the storm.
The storm can also break tent poles and tear holes in the tent.
How do I protect myself from wind when camping during a thunderstorm?
It is important to secure your tent and equipment from the storm. However, this is very difficult in strong winds.
Choose a sheltered place
Good, sheltered places for your tent are the leeward side of hills, rock walls and buildings or other, large tents. Forests and valleys also offer protection from the wind.
- Tip: In Central Europe, there is usually a westerly wind!
Anchor the tent well on the ground
The bottom should be firm and dry so that the pegs hold well.
Use the appropriate pegs: pegs with a narrow profile are suitable for hard and stony soils. Wide-profile pegs provide hold on soft surfaces.
Hit the pegs at a 45-degree angle with a hammer or other hard object. The tip of the herring points towards the tent.
The pegs can also be secured with large, heavy stones.
Avoid dangerous places
The wind is very strong on hilltops and other elevations. Be careful under trees: Avoid damaged trees and trees with dead wood in the crown. The wind can tear off branches, which then fall on your tent.
In extreme cases, a tree can topple over. This happens particularly often in small groups of trees and at the edges of the forest. You can also catch bricks falling from the roofs of buildings at campsites.
Offer small attack surfaces
Set up the tent in such a way that it offers the least possible surface for the wind. So with the narrow side into the wind. The tent entrance points in the leeward direction so that the wind cannot catch itself in the tent.
This also has the advantage that the sun is not on your sleeping cabin in the morning and wakes you up with bright light and heat.
Stretch the tent tight
Tightly tensioned guy ropes prevent the tent from loosening or tearing. Draw the connecting strap between the tent and poles firmly. Pavilions should be made windproof with additional storm lines.
If possible, use the full length of the ropes. Then the tent has less room to move in the wind.
Use all possible attachment points of the tent and tighten the lines again after a few hours.
Think about the equipment outside of the tent
Also secure objects outside the tent (e.g. chairs, tables). Otherwise, they could be lost, damaged, or even injure other people when they fly around.
Don’t underestimate: water & cold
Water in the tent can render your equipment unusable or even destroy it. This is especially a problem when it is cold. Even in summer, temperatures sometimes drop sharply during a thunderstorm.
Depending on the outside temperature and the wind, wet clothes are about 10 times less warm than dry clothes. A wet sleeping bag almost completely loses its insulating effect. That can mean some very cold nights. At low temperatures in the single digits, this is even life-threatening.
How do I protect myself from water and cold when camping during thunderstorms?
Basically, it’s very simple: don’t let water get on your equipment.
The following tips will help you!
Avoid dangerous places
The most important thing is a good location. Depressions at the campsite can turn into a small lake within minutes.
In the mountains, there is a risk of torrents in gullies and dried-up streams.
Rivers can swell and overflow. Landslides and debris avalanches are possible on steep slopes and rock faces. Better keep your distance.
- Caution: paths through rain or hail are slippery. The danger of falling!
A groundsheet protects the tent from below
A thick, stable groundsheet protects your tent floor from damage from sharp branches and sharp stones and it is an insurmountable barrier for water from below. If the wind tears a hole in your tent, you can also use the tarpaulin to protect yourself from rain.
Practical: lighting with a long service life
When thick thunderstorms and rain clouds come up, it can get pretty dark in the tent. We recommend a reliable LED lantern with a long lifespan. If you like it more cozy, take a fireproof oil lantern.
- Attention: The oil lantern really has to be fireproof! Otherwise, if the lantern tips over, your tent and even your life will be in danger.
Find paths close by
Heavy rain quickly turns a cozy meadow into a swamp. Then it’s good if your tent is near a paved path so that you don’t have to wade so far through the mud.
Take good care of your tent wall
If the outer tent touches the inner tent, your tent will become water-permeable in these areas. It is therefore important to tension the tent properly.
Bring repair supplies to mend cracks in the tent wall. Not only water can penetrate through these holes, but they are also weak points that are particularly easy to tear open when exposed to stress. So that your tent wall keeps its waterproof properties.
For the most important equipment: waterproof backpack
Bring a second, waterproof backpack. This backpack is a good place for a set of spare clothing, fire-making equipment, electronics, and dry groceries. By the way, already worn and sweaty clothing can develop an unpleasant life of its own in waterproof containers.
The right rainwear
A rain jacket with rain pants or a rain poncho is standard outdoor clothing and is incredibly practical if you have to leave the tent during a thunderstorm. A rain poncho has the advantage that you can still carry a backpack under the poncho.
An extra blanket for cold nights
If it gets colder than expected, you can place the blanket as an additional insulation layer between the sleeping mat and the floor. Or just wrap it around your sleeping bag.
If you are going on a longer tour: A lightweight aluminum rescue blanket does not weigh much and fits in every backpack.
Do you know the wind chill effect?
People and objects exposed to the wind cool down faster. With an ambient temperature of 0 degrees Celsius and a wind speed of 50 km / h, the effective temperature in the wind is only 8.1 degrees Celsius. A double-walled tent and an additional tarpaulin over the tent wall offer protection against the wind chill effect.
Wear a hat when you sleep
The risk of cooling down when sleeping is particularly high, as the body produces less heat here. The body loses up to 10% of the heat through the head – this is why it is so comfortable to wear a hat in the cold. Long hats are best. However, if it gets light too early in the morning, you can simply pull the hat over your eyes and go back to sleep.
Warm-up from within
Warning: alcohol increases the heat dissipation through the skin, which lowers the body temperature! If you get cold, you better make a hot cup of tea with ginger. The essential oils and pungent substances contained in ginger will keep you warm. Cinnamon and Chilli work well too.
Conclusion: You can effectively minimize the risk
The right behavior greatly increases your safety in thunderstorms. Buildings with lightning rods and vehicles with metallic bodies offer you absolute security. A distance of 10 meters protects you from exploding trees and a tightly closed step position reduces the dangerous step tension after a lightning strike.
With the right equipment, you can get through severe storms dry. A sturdy PVC groundsheet is an insurmountable barrier for water. Steel pegs and the right hammering technique will keep your tent on the ground in strong gusts of wind. And with an additional waterproof backpack, you always have dry spare clothes. Even if, contrary to all advice, you set up your tent in a dry stream bed.