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What to Do in a Lightning Storm While Hiking

While hiking is a great exercise for the mind and body, it doesn’t come without its risks. There are certain times in which it should be swapped for another favorite pastime. Thunderstorms are one of those times. While getting struck by lightning isn’t an especially common thing, hiking in a thunderstorm greatly increases your chances. In this article, we’ll explore the dangers of hiking in a thunderstorm and what to do in a lightning storm while hiking.

Thunder, itself, may not seem like a big deal. Especially when the rain hasn’t yet come, it seems more like entertainment. But it’s also a sure sign that there’s lightning around. Lightning, specifically, is dangerous to anyone in close vicinity and one should avoid it whenever possible.

While one can check the weather and learn when to avoid a hike, thunderstorms can sometimes approach quickly and leave a hiker unprepared. So, here we will discuss what to do in case you get caught in one.

What to Do in a Lightning Storm While Hiking

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Seek Shelter

Head to shelter in an enclosed building as soon as you hear thunder or see the tell-tale clouds rolling in. This is your best protection from lightning. When a shelter isn’t immediately available, finding protection in a valley, ravine, or other depressions in the terrain can also serve as shelter. Still, it’s not as safe as the first option.

Split Up the Group

If you are in a hiking group, it’s best to split up if you can’t find shelter. The closer you are to other people, the higher the chance of getting injured by others in case they get injured. Also, if you get injured, your close proximity can cause injury to them, as well.

Find protection separately, staying 100 feet or more away from each other. This will help to keep you and your group as safe as possible.

What to Avoid

There are a few things that conduct electricity well and should be avoided as much as possible when hiking in a thunderstorm.

Avoid standing within 100 feet of the following:

  • Large bodies of water
  • Metal
  • Other people and animals
  • Lone trees

Adopt the Habit of Coming Prepared

In the same way, you double-check for your hiking poles or water supply, and check the weather conditions of where you plan to hike. Make sure to have what you need to stay warm and dry. But if a thunderstorm is predicted to happen in the area in which you plan to hike, consider doing something else with your time that can be done indoors.

As a Last Resort

Lightning should be avoided at all costs by evacuating the area as soon as you see signs of a storm. However, sometimes this just isn’t possible.

In this case, it’s recommended to either sit on your hiking backpack (containing no metal) or take the “lightning position”, crouching down onto the balls of your feet and covering your ears.

These positions allow a very small part of your body to touch the ground, reducing the chance of a lightning strike. Even still, remember to keep away from lone trees and other lone-standing objects near you. One should only use this technique as a last resort.


Let us go through some FAQs while hiking in scattered lightning and thunderstorms.

Is it dangerous to hike during a thunderstorm?

It is very dangerous to hike during a thunderstorm. It’s best to evacuate the area as soon as possible when signs of a storm approach.

What to do if you are caught in a thunderstorm while hiking?

If you find yourself caught in a thunderstorm, make sure no metal is touching your body or within 100 feet. Move far away from any lone trees, seek shelter in an enclosed building, or head to a lower elevation in a valley or depression in the soil. As a last resort, assume the lightning position mentioned above.

What should you not do during a thunderstorm?

During a thunderstorm, it is strongly advised that hikers do not go near bodies of water, have metal on them, go in caves, or find shelter under a lone tree. These easily attract lightning. Also, the higher you go, the higher the chances you have of attracting a lightning strike.

How do you stay safe while camping in a thunderstorm?

Drop all metal objects you brought with you, including jewelry and metal-framed backpacks. Move at least 100 feet away from them and any large bodies of water. Also, avoid going near lone trees.

What is the 30/30 rule for lightning?

The 30/30 rule says to count the seconds it takes to hear thunder after seeing lightning. If it’s under 30 seconds, seek shelter immediately. After you hear the last rolls of thunder, stay in the shelter for another 30 minutes before going back outside.

Can a thunder kill you?

Thunder cannot kill you. However, when you hear thunder, you are well within the range of lightning strikes, which can kill you.

Is it safe in a tent during a thunderstorm?

Staying in a camping tent is an unsafe option during a thunderstorm. Lightning can strike the tent and can easily cause damage to those insides.

How do you survive a thunderstorm in the woods?

While being in the woods is not ideal during a thunderstorm, it provides more protection than when you are standing next to a lone-standing tree or a large body of water. Find shelter as soon as possible. When that’s not possible, make sure you are far away from any metal and assume the lightning position if there are no valleys around.

Should you hike in a thunderstorm?

No, you should not hike in a thunderstorm as it risks your safety.

Final Verdict

While there is truly no perfectly safe place that lightning can’t touch, the name of the game is minimizing your risk of getting struck. Using all or most of the tips above can help you avoid getting struck while hiking in a thunderstorm. Still, they do not completely eliminate the risk of getting injured during a thunderstorm.

However, that’s life. The best things don’t come without their risks. Hiking remains one of the best ways to exercise your mind and body. As long as risks are mitigated as much as possible, you’ll have no reason to worry while hiking in a thunderstorm. Just remember, when thunder roars, go indoors.


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