I get it, camping in a thunderstorm is NOT a pleasant thing.
Sometimes we have no choice but to hunker down and wait it out. That’s when things get dangerous.
However, we might be too far from our vehicle, or it may be passing in a couple of hours.
Whatever option you choose, do know that you can wait out a passing thunderstorm so your trip isn’t completely ruined.
I’ve waited out many thunderstorms, so I absolutely know what I’m talking about 😀 Enjoy!
For the sake of this article, I’m assuming you’re in the wilderness and your vehicle is a long way away.
First and foremost, what is a flash flood?
A flash flood is a flood that occurs in a fast amount of time.
They commonly happen in ditches, ravines, and at the bottom of hills.
This is why you should never pitch your tent in these areas, because flash floods mostly happen at nighttime, and you will become a victim.
The most common flash flood death is caused by people driving into rising waters, so avoid doing this at all costs, especially when you don’t know how deep the water is!
Lightning is incredibly dangerous.
Lightning strikes are usually minor, but there are some instances where it will strike continuously.
These flashes CAN reach the ground.
Even though there’s a very low chance for you to get struck by lightning, you still need to have it in the back of your mind.
These strikes are completely random. They are fatal, and if the victim does survive, they will be left with long-term scars – physical and mental.
Perform CPR right away if someone is struck by lightning
When lightning reaches our heart, there is a massive shutdown.
The victim has a much higher chance of surviving if somebody performs CPR right away.
Don’t wait 5 minutes, don’t wait 1 hour, and definitely do not NOT try.
The only time to perform CPR on someone is when their heart has stopped. Never forget that.
If what I have said right here, right now, saves at least one life, then I know I’m contributing good energy into the world – which is needed now more than ever before.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into the good stuff!
1. Get shelter asap – this does not mean your car
If lightning is going off continuously, you need to realize that you have a higher chance of getting struck.
Get off the peak of a mountain and get as low as possible.
You do not have to be directly struck to suffer the consequences. Lightning travels through the ground and bounces off of nearby objects.
Yes, you can still be struck while in a tent, but at least you can keep warm while lowering your chances of getting hypothermia.
Stand up in the tent, ground currents may travel through your leg and out the other, missing your heart entirely.
For best results, walk around in the tent (if it’s large enough). You will lower the chances of getting hit by ground currents.
A rule of thumb: Use trees as your shelter, however, stay away from their bases, now pitch your tent so you have somewhere to keep warm.
2. Minimize your contact with the ground
If there’s absolutely no chance for you to walk around in your tent to reduce the danger of ground currents, there’s something else you can do.
Stand on a foam mattress or backpack, place your feet close together and crouch or squat.
This will lower your overall height and keep you insulated from the cold, hard ground.
Keep your shoes on for extra warmth!
Lying down in your tent during a thunderstorm is a recipe for disaster.
However, that does NOT mean you will definitely get hit by lightning. I’m just trying to increase your chances of surviving.
What you do is entirely up to you.
Don’t think I’m just being picky, because that is not the case. There is an average of 51 deaths per year in the United States alone.
And you may be next if you’re not careful.
3. Use meadows, caves, and open spaces to your advantage
Caves work best, because you are much safer from strong winds and rain, lightning strikes, and you’ll be much warmer than sitting out in the open.
You lower the risk of getting hypothermia and struck by lightning directly.
Lightning can still travel through the ground and to you, of course, but the current may cut out before reaching you when you’re in a cave.
4. Stay at least 20 feet away from fellow campers
Lighting travels through the ground, so being all bunched up means you will get hit all at once.
Then who’s going to perform CPR when everyone is unconscious?
Of course being 20 feet apart is not possible if you’re all in the same tent, but it is very possible for people out in the open or when everyone has their own tent.
5. Keep all metal items away from your refuge
When you’ve found somewhere to hunker down until the storm passes, remove all metal items and place them far, far away.
Metal conducts electricity, so you’re asking to get struck if you keep them near you.
And that is why hunkering down in your vehicle isn’t the best option.
If your tent has steel or non-anodized poles, you might want to stay away at all costs.
Luckily for you and I, these are mostly used on older tents.
Don’t be “that guy”, the one that refuses to get off a hill because he wants to be the “macho man”.
You will set a bad example for everyone around you and you won’t be impressing anyone.
Thank you to the people that are taking this seriously. You are the ones that will survive a thunderstorm and come back home safe and well.
The macho men are the ones that end up getting hurt, or even worse, killed
Staying in your tent is probably the best option, taking into consideration that you’re actually pitched in a good spot (away from tree bases, below the treeline, etc)
This means if you pitch your tent in a good spot FIRST, you won’t need to move when a thunderstorm passes through the night.
Thanks for reading.
Don’t forget to share this article. You may save a life just by taking two clicks out of your day. Please, your friends and family will thank you for it!
Leave all your questions and concerns in the comments below!
1. Have you been stuck in a thunderstorm while camping before?
2. How will you prepare for next time?
22 thoughts on “5 Things You Must do When Camping in a Thunderstorm”
Hey Brandon, super good article. I really enjoyed reading it. It is very informative. I will share it so others can learn from it! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
Brandon, your article has a lot of good information. I like to go camping but only in an RV!!! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. Were you a boy scout by any chance?
Actually I was not a boy scout, I started camping as a child with my father and really enjoyed it. As soon as I was old enough to go camping alone I ventured out and never looked back.
Very creative. I found this an interesting article. I never really gave it much thought but I didn’t know a lot of these things. Keep up the good work.
Always learn more about camping whenever you can my friend 🙂 You never know when your life and your families safety will depend on you.
Oh wow…I absolutely LOVE this article. I am an avid camper…or was in my younger days …and you hit the nail on the head with all the tips and recommendations you have given in this article. Your writing style is simple and easy to understand and the ‘thread of thought’ is easy to follow. Yes, camping in ‘rough’ weather is no fun, but the fun part is so being a part of nature…in her calm moments as well as in her agitated ones. Great article.
All the best.
Well I’m super glad you found this article helpful and that it was easy for you to follow.
Those kind words mean a lot Michelle and I wish you all the best on your next camping trip.
Nice post i have really learnt a lot. I will make sure i do them next time i go camping
I’m sure you’ll make the right decision for you and your family 🙂
Wow! This is a very important, informative, and scary article. I would definitely hate to get stuck in a thunderstorm during camping. Actually, camping frightens me all together.
Thank you for this article.
It’s not that bad Lane.
This is just worst case scenario and an extremely low chance for this to happen. I just want you to be prepared IN THE EVENT you are stuck in a campsite while there’s a big thunderstorm happening.
Happy to help, friend.
I remember being in a lightning storm while camping once. It was a scary experience! Luckily our tent had fiberglass poles and I was on a rubber mat, so I was pretty well insulated from the ground.
Luckily you had a good setup from the start, and that’s really it all comes down to…being prepared for the worst so you don’t have to panic when something bad does happen.
These are great tips. I’m on the East Coast and we recently had a week of thunderstorms thanks to the hurricane south of us in North Carolina. I can’t imagine trying to camp during a thunderstorm. I’d hate to be stuck in one. Has this ever happened to you?
Thanks Melinda! And yes it has happened many times, but thankfully I know the right steps to take and oftentimes get out before it reaches us.
Very informative article. Although if I were, to be honest with you, the first site of lightning and then thunder…thunderstorm. LOL, I would be packing up and heading home. I guess that is the difference in an occasional camper and a die-hard one.!
You should be getting out as soon as you know a thunderstorm is coming anyway.
This article is for anyone that gets caught in one and simply cannot get out, as in, the middle of the night or too far away from home, etc.
I love camping in a thunderstorm. They don’t last long and they can be quite exciting when out in the woods.
Actually this is great. I didn’t know to stay 20 ft or more from others but it certainly makes sense.
I knew that in a car I am safe but not on a mattress outside
Well it’s cool to camp in a short thunderstorm but definitely not a long thunderstorm since you’re starting to risk lives.
3 of us hiking12 hours to a treeless exposed saddle to camp on dusk. (4 day hike to climb a peak in NZ)
It started raining heavy – getting rather wet we got the lightweight tents up and water on our stove and ate in our tiny 1 man tents. Then the thunder and lightening started. There was no caves, vehicles or trees, just lying on our foam mats waiting to be hit. (cant stand up in a one man tent/bivvy)
One of us somehow didnt even hear the lightening he was so exchausted he had got cold and we had helped him get into his sleepingbag and he must have been very knocked out. But the other two of us were awake and counting. It never got too close.
We don’t get lightening in our towns as much as parts of US I guess so had not even thought of it.
Rest of trip was ok but peoples sleeping bags were getting pretty wet by the end. We are just lucky.
Thanks for the article! Helped me decide to postpone our trip one day to avoid a storm. One piece you may want to clarify is whether to retreat to your vehicle when possible. My understanding is that it IS the safest place (other than being in a building; as long as you’re not parked in a flash flood prone area). I’m told it has to do with it acting like a Farabee(?) cage. Thanks again for the post!
Yes, I have seen authoritative sources that says a metal vehicle is the best place other than a building with plumbing ( for grounding), so long as you do not come in contact with the metal of the frame, or other things such as knobs, or steering wheel that have metal in them, and are grounded to the frame of the vehicle. This is because the vehicle acts as a Faraday Cage, and if struck, the lightning will tend to pass through the metal body of the vehicle, and then to the ground.
This effect is why you can see pictures of people surrounded by electric discharges when they are in a metal cage, and not get struck, so long as they don’t touch the metal cage.