If you’ve been camping during a thunderstorm lately, I’m sure you’ve wondered if your fragile shelter is susceptible to being hit by a lightning strike.
As scary as they might be, being inside a tent presents the same risk as being in the open field.
Tents alone don’t attract lightning, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe during a thunderstorm. The possibility for a tent to get struck by lightning is increased by the campsite location and adjacent tall objects. Contrary to people’s beliefs, there’s nothing that lighting is attracted to; it will only try to find the quick way to the ground. If you’re camping on a ridgetop, you’ll have more chances to get struck by one.
What about tent poles?
Nowadays, the majority of tent poles are made of carbon fiber or plastic, which don’t conduct electricity at all. This makes them present the same risk as to the tent itself.
If, however, you’re using old aluminum or other metal poles, the risk is slightly increased, but not to a huge amount. In this case, you’ll need to choose a campsite where your tent poles will not be the tallest objects around.
One other thing to mention about metal tent poles: don’t try to insulate the pole at the bottom, as this will work against you if you’re that unlucky to get struck. It’s important that the electricity goes into the ground, rather than finding a stop and jumping to the nearest conductor. That’s going to be you, by the way.
How to safely camp during a thunderstorm
Normally, everybody would advise you to not camp during a thunderstorm. But we can’t always follow this advice because, in 99 percent of the cases, we find ourselves surrounded by a thunderstorm, not that we specifically looked for one.
If you see a storm approaching, here are some important steps that you need to take:
- Check the location of your campsite: Look around and see if your tent is on the highest ground. If it is, quickly relocate to a lower part of that area.
- Stay away from tall trees: Tall trees are likely to get hit by lightning, the immense power can bring them down or light them up. You don’t want to be near one if this happens.
- Where boots and adopt a low sitting position: If lightning strikes near you, this can still be dangerous if your bare feet are touching the ground.
Don’t hesitate to check our article to learn more tips about camping in the rain.
Lightning proof tents
If you’re still afraid that your tent is dangerous, and want to look for a safe alternative, there are not many choices out there.
At the time of writing, there are students working on a lightning-proof tent, but the design is still in the prototype phase.
Here’s a picture of how this tent might look.
Here are some of the features it presents:
- wooden pegs
- aluminum poles (strangely enough, I assume they are trying to conduct the potential electricity into the ground)
- lightweight material
- not enough room to lay down and sleep (it can only be used in the daytime)
Not really what you’re looking for, isn’t it?
This design is surely the work of a student that’s very afraid of thunderstorms. It does have a great name though, the Bolt Tent. I’m still not sure how this tent will offer protection in the event of a lightning strike.
Tent shapes and lightning protection
There is little evidence that the shape of a tent can influence in any way the chances of a lightning strike. The same thing can be said about the fabric they’re made of.
One thing to mention, in the case of Bell tents, the pole in middle (usually made of metal), can act as a lightning rod, therefore you should avoid using them.
Unfortunately, there is no extra tent lightning protection that you can get in order to make them safer. It’s all down to luck and reducing those chances by taking the precautionary measures mentioned before.
Although your chances of getting struck by lightning while camping in the wild are low, about 1 in 1.000.000 per year and 1 in 3000 during the course of your lifetime, you should try to plan your trips according to the weather forecast. There’s no need to look for a specific type of tent, as none of them will offer you extra protection.