Are pop up campers safe in lightning? (5 safety tips)

In this article, we will answer the following question: Are pop up campers safe in lightning? We will discuss safety and protecting yourself in camping during a thunderstorm.

Are pop up campers safe in lightning?

No, pop-up campers are not safe in lightning storms. Pop-up campers should be used as a last resort in case a storm hits!

The Lightning Protection Association recommends some basic rules relating to the safety of campers in lighting storms: 

  1. Think well where you stop with your camper: Quite often, the search for shade and freshness leads the camper to favor locations near trees. It is important to be aware that the presence of trees, the proximity of water or the altitude are, considered separately or associated, as aggravating factors of the risk of lightning strikes.
  1. The pop-up camper canvas is not the safest: Pop-ups are not an effective refuge from lightning strikes. Certain factors increase the risk of lightning strike, such as the presence of metal equipment (mountain bikes, barbecues, gas stove, fridge under awning, etc.) and in particular the presence of electrical outlets nearby.
  1. Other caravans and motorhomes do not provide shelter against lightning either. In almost all cases, the passenger compartment is made of a composite material and does not constitute a Faraday cage; it is very often used as a support, moreover, for perfectly conducting radio and television antennas.

In the event of a lightning strike, increased risks exist due to the possibility of explosion due to gas and other fuels;

Don’t stay in your pop-up camper during a thunderstorm

If possible, you should (and especially in the mountains) try to find shelter in a building, such as an alpine hut, when a thunderstorm approaches. A vehicle, if it is nearby, is also a safe place.

A pop-up camper, on the other hand, offers no protection against lightning strikes. And while it is possible to sleep in a pop-up camper in extreme conditions such as freezing cold, I strongly advise against staying in your pop-up during a thunderstorm.

Unlike a car, a pop-up cannot function as a Faraday cage, capable of carrying electricity from its surface to the surrounding soil.

If lightning strikes a tent, energy will be unevenly discharged through the tent poles into the ground. For this, energy jumps or passes through isolated points. Electrical potential builds up in the ground below the tent, resulting in extremely dangerous voltage.

A pop-up camper is really no protection against lightning. When trekking or hiking independently, for example, knowing how to find the right terrain for camping and knowing the appropriate rules of behaviour in the event of a storm is essential.

Find the best possible location. To reduce the risk of being struck by lightning, there are a few important things you need to consider about your camping situation.

  1. Avoid exposed places such as hills, mountain ridges or river banks. Do not set up on the edge of a forest or under isolated trees, under no circumstances should your tent magnetize lightning. In a dense forest, on the other hand, the risk of being struck by lightning is no greater than in other places.

If you don’t have enough time to find a suitable location for your camp, or if the storm is already too close, it may be a good idea not to pitch your tent at all. It’s best to try and find an alpine hut, ledge, or cave to shelter you during the storm.

Crucial tip: Metal equipment such as trekking poles, ice axes, climbing irons, carabiners, but also kitchen utensils such as pots, pans or cups can attract lightning. Store them a few feet away in waterproof packaging in a safe place. Ditto if you are near a railway: iron ladders and cables carry electricity particularly well.

  1. Avoid all types of trees, especially oaks. Don’t listen to the rumour that people have to take shelter under an oak tree to protect themselves from a thunderstorm. Any tree is susceptible to lightning strikes.

However, lightning does not have the same effect on all trees. The sturdy, thick bark of oak is more waterlogged than other trees during heavy rains. The fluid spreads over a large area. If lightning strikes it, the damage is usually devastating.

In the case of a beach, water simply flows from the surface of the bark to the ground. This carries lightning straight into the ground without causing too much damage. Either way, taking cover under a tree in a thunderstorm is especially dangerous, regardless of the species.

What you should also avoid are utility poles and high voltage lines.

  1. Take shelter in your pop-up camper during the storm if you can’t get out. If it is too late to leave the pop-up camper for a safe place, you should consider the following:
  1. Do not touch the poles or the roof of the pop-up. Try to stay in the middle.
  2. Sit in as compact a squatting position as possible. Touching the ground in one spot can prevent you from being electrocuted (step voltage).
  3. Never sit on the bare ground. An inflatable mattress, a folded camping mat, or your backpack can help improve insulation. And wear your hiking boots.
  4. Get rid of all electrical wiring leading to the camper.

Protect your pop-up camper properly, not just against lightning

In addition to lightning, there are other dangers from which you and your pop-up camper must be protected: heavy rains and hailstorms.

  1. Set up your camper sheltered from the wind. On the one hand, your tent must be protected from the wind. In contrast, so-called safe places carry other dangers. Like I said above, avoid trees no matter what. Branches could break and fall on your tent.
  1. Stay away from bodies of water. Heavy rains, or even torrential rains, can at best penetrate your pop-up camper and at worst destroy it. The water ends up getting everywhere and your belongings suffer, especially your sleeping bag and clothes.
  1. Guess the distance of the storm. How do you know how far away the storm is? There’s a simple rule of thumb: just count the seconds between lightning and thunder. Multiply this number by 342 (sound speed). The result is the distance to the storm in meters.

For example, if there are 3 seconds between lightning and thunder, it means that the storm is, approximately, about 1 kilometre away. In 5 seconds or less, it becomes dangerous.

However, lightning can sometimes be a few miles from a thunderstorm. If the storm isn’t coming your way, you’re safe as soon as you can count 20 seconds between lightning and minimum thunder. There is nothing else to do than verify all of the above. And, if you’re lucky, the storm will pass as quickly as it approaches.

Finally, if you take all the necessary precautions, you can enjoy and be safe on your trip, no matter the type of camper you have! Please let us know if you have any questions or comments on the content. 

FAQ on Are pop-up campers safe in lightning?

Is it dangerous to sleep in a camper during a thunderstorm?

Yes, sleeping in a camper during a thunderstorm is dangerous and it increases the risk of a lightning strike. Research shows that where lightning strikes the ground, there is a danger that can be fatal, over a distance of up to 10 meters. People were injured 15 to 30 meters from the point of impact. 

Can lightning strike a pop-up camper?

Yes, pop-up campers are not an effective refuge from lightning strikes. Certain factors increase the risk of lightning strikes, such as the presence of metal equipment (mountain bikes, barbecues, gas stoves, fridge under the awning, etc.) and in particular the presence of electrical outlets nearby.

How to protect yourself from storms in the mountains?

To protect yourself from storms in the mountains do not pass and move away from any metallic object and any naturally exposed place. Find a place offering the best protection: you can take shelter under a stone building.

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