Camping during a thunderstorm – here’s how you act properly.

Campen bei Gewitter – so verhältst du dich richtig.

Some of us could easily pass on this meteorological phenomenon while others will get cozy inside the safe space of their home to enjoy the spectacle from the sofa. But even die-hard thunderstorm lovers might get uncomfortable outside of their homes when dark clouds start to pile up at the horizon and lighting and thunder are creeping in.

Chances are high that you will be surprised by a thunderstorm while camping at some point, so we’ve gathered the most important facts as well as the dos and don’ts on the topic.

Thunder and lightning – the basics on the weather phenomenon

First, let’s travel back in time to the 11th grade physics lesson: thunderstorms result from the rapid upward movement of warm, moist air into colder zones which creates the spectacular storm clouds. The particles of water charge electrically by friction until the voltage field discharges into lightning. Thunderstorms often occur close to mountain ranges since warm air rises quickly there.

If you want to know how much time you have left until the thunderstorms is right where you are, you should count the seconds between the bolt and the thunder. The number divided by three equals the distance of the storm cell in kilometers. Example: 30 seconds pass, so the thunderstorm is 10 km away. If it’s 6 seconds, it’s already within a 2 km radius.

In case you are surprised by a thunderstorm, buildings with a lightning arrester or vehicles with metal bodywork are the safest places to be. A vehicle turns into a Faraday’s cage which discharges the electric voltage.


A thunderstorm is building up – when does it become dangerous for campers?

The camping community is pretty divers, just as their preferred way of accommodation is. While some camping homes differ from a 5***** hotel only by the existence of the four wheels underneath them, others already frown upon running water.
So, what should you consider regarding the different ways of camping?

#livingonthedge - the cowboy camper

Sleeping under the night sky without any fabric or metal protecting you from nature’s forces – a sleeping bag or mosquito net as concession to your own convenience - is the most original form of camping.

If you belong to this kind of people, you are entirely exposed to a thunderstorm and should consider the following when choosing your spot for the night: avoid exposed areas such as hills, open spaces as well as the edge of a forest or single trees. Instead, look for sheltered spots, preferably a hollow. In case the thunderstorm is already right above you, squat low to the ground with your head ducked and legs and feet close together (if your body contacts the ground on to separate points, electricity runs through your body - aka step voltage -, which can be life threatening).

#abreathofnothing - the tent people

Truth be told, a tent isn’t worth much more than nothing. Lightning can strike into the tent’s poles and insulated parts such as the base of the tent.
Generally, avoid setting up your tent on elevated and exposed ground, as well as the edge of a forest or close to single trees.
In case you are inside your tent during a thunderstorm, squat down on a dry, insulated part to avoid step voltage. Do not touch others that might be in the tent with you and keep your distance from poles and tent fabric. Remove parts stretched between tent and trees, such as clotheslines as well as plugged charging cables.

#vanlifesaveslives - the campervan owner

Let’s beam ourselves back into 11th grade physics lessons and state: your van/ camper/ trailer is a so-called Faraday’s cage which discharges the electric voltage without causing any harm on the inside. Therefore, it’s the safest place to be during a thunderstorm amongst all the camping options.


In that case, the physical law of the Faraday’s cage does not apply, and you are best off staying in the driver’s cab (if separated from the rest of the camper) or squatting low on the ground in the middle of the vehicle. In advance, choose your parking spot carefully (avoid trees that could fall and exposed areas).

Summary: The most important rules for campers during a thunderstorm at one glance

  • Avoid open spaces and/ or elevated spots.
  • Do not stay close to single trees or near the forest line.
  • The safest place is a building with a lightning arrester or a vehicle with a metal body. 
  • In case you can’t reach a secure place, gather into a safe position: squatting down, head ducked in and legs/ feet close together. 
  • Rule of thumb: Distance of the thunderstorm in km = Time between lightning and thunder : 3



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