When you’re out hiking, you’re at the mercy of nature for everything you didn’t properly prepare for and for every little curveball thrown your way. Sudden storms, wild animals, rock slides, and flash floods are all examples of surprises that may pop up with little or no warning. You need to have a plan to deal with the most probable challenges and then good sense and skills to deal with anything else.

Thunder and lightning is one such surprise that you may experience. I love lightning! It is sooo cool to see the power of nature in such an intense instance of energy. Thunderheads in the far distance with bolts of lightning striking under them are an amazing site. Knowing when to enjoy the show and when to seek shelter is the difference between fun and misery.

Lightning Safety


There was a park ranger named Roy Sullivan who died in 1983. During his career, he was struck by lightning 7 times – that’s in the Guinness Book of World Records. The amazing thing is that he survived all 7 strikes – he wound up killing himself by committing suicide with a gun.
There are actually very few people struck by lightning while hiking, and less than 50 people killed in the US each year by lightning. That number is on a steady decline over the past few decades. If you stay alert and play it safe, you’ll be just fine. You have the responsibility to act appropriately when threatened by lightning – there will be no warning sirens or announcements out on the trail.

  • Check weather reports before starting a hike. If storms are expected, be more vigilant. If nothing but blue skies are expected, relax a bit.
  • Understand the general weather patterns for the area and season. In mountains, storms typically form in the afternoon so plan an early morning hike with the ability to get off the mountain quickly after lunch.
  • Watch the horizon for cloud formation. Scan the horizon every 15 minutes or so and notice any clouds building.
  • Watch distant clouds for lightning. If a cloud looks ominous or you see flashes, have your escape or safety plan ready and make sure everyone in your group understands it.
  • Listen for thunder. Depending on wind, terrain, and distance, you may not hear thunder until lightning is already dangerously close. If you do hear thunder, you should be at or on your way to shelter.
  • Determine the distance of lightning. If you see a lightning flash, count the seconds until you hear thunder. Divide the number of seconds by 5 to approximate the distance in miles.

30/30 Rule

Count the seconds from the lightning flash until thunder is heard. If it is less than 30 seconds, you should already be in shelter. Lightning can strike 6 miles away from the thunderhead, and occasionally even farther. If it’s less than 30 seconds and you are not at your shelter site, you need to take quick action.
Stay inside shelter until at least 30 minutes after hearing the last roll of thunder. This gives time for the storm to pass and minimizes your chance of being struck.

Avoiding Lightning Strikes


There is no completely safe place from lightning. Houses get hit, cars get hit, trees, animals, and people all get hit. Minimizing your strike probability is the name of the game.
If there is an enclosed building nearby with plumbing and/or electric outlets, that makes the best shelter and you should retreat there. Picnic shelters and other open structures do not offer protection from lightning.
If you are at the trailhead, get in your car, roll up all the windows, and don’t touch anything metal.


  • Do NOT seek shelter under a picnic shelter, lone tree, or other object to keep you dry. It will attract lightning. The rain won’t kill you so its better to be wet and alive than dry and dead.
  • Come down from high places. Seek a valley or depression in the terrain. Be careful of entering a drywash that may channel a flashflood from the rainstorm.
  • Seek shelter in a low stand of trees. This will help keep you dry and not attract lightning.
  • If you are above treeline, seek shelter in the lowest area you can reach, preferably with large boulders around so you can get some protection from driving rain behind some smaller boulders.
  • Put on your raingear and remove your backpack.
  • If you have a metal frame pack, leave it 100 feet from where you are seeking shelter.
  • If you have a hiking stick or poles, leave them with your pack.
  • Your group should not huddle together. Instead, have each person find shelter about 100 feet apart. This minimizes the possibility of multiple casualties from a single strike.
    Realistically, due to the situation being dark, wet, windy, cold, loud, and dangerous, allowing members of your group to shelter in buddy pairs will help reduce the level of stress and fear while increasing the possibility of multiple victims a bit.
  • If you are not able to get to any shelter, you need to become a small, round target and cross your fingers. Minimize your contact with the ground and minimize your height. Crouching down on the balls of your feet placed close together with your head tucked down is the recommended position. This position reduces your exposure and encourages any lightning strike to travel down your back and hopefully have less damage to vital organs. Lightning travels through the ground from the point of impact in random tendrils similar to tree roots. The smaller your footprint, the less chance there is of you being shocked from a nearby strike.
  • Cover your ears and close your eyes to protect from the intense noise and light of nearby strikes.
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Lightning Safety For Hikers:
Best Tips For Survival

Lightning safety tips for hikers and campers #lightningsafety #hikingsafety #campingsafety #lightningtips #hikingforher

Lightning safety for hikers involves knowledge, planning, awareness, behavioral adaptations, and more knowledge.

While it’s not likely that you’ll face a dangerous lightning situation (unless you like to hike in high alpine summer conditions), it’s important to know what to do if it happens.

U.S. lightning statistics

  • About 50 people per year are killed by lightning in the United States (probably a low estimate because many cases are never reported).
  • Your odds of being struck in any given year are about 1 in a million.
  • The states with highest risk of lightning strikes include those along the Atlantic coast, Florida, and the southeastern coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Hikers who frequent high alpine terrain in the western states during the summer are also at higher risk due to afternoon thunderstorms that build up as the day heats up.
  • And no surprise that if you hike in tropical and sub-tropical areas outside of the United States, your odds of a lightning strike are much higher.

If you’ve ever been caught out in a thunderstorm, you know how hair raising the experience can be – sometimes literally.

  • Hundreds of people in the U.S. are injured every year.
  • Some of the survivors suffer chronic neurological damage.

Now it’s time to find out why hair raising is one of the worst signs you can face!

Let’s roll through all of the ways you can keep yourself as safe as possible while hiking in a lightning prone area.

Lightning safety for hikers:
know before you go

I know that not every hiker is as fascinated with weather as I am, so I’ll provide two quick resources on lightning safety for you here:

  • a few links to lightning resources which you can visit when you’re ready for details,
  • a short, sweet version of the lightning safety information you need to hit the trail.

Resources for lightning safety
for hikers

These two lightning safety resources for hikers will give you the background of how lightning can reach you, affect your body, and what you can do to minimize your exposure to danger.

1. What better website to visit than the U.S. government’s NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration?

2. NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) provides this free pdf version of their backcountry lightning safety & risk management guidelines.

That takes care of the knowledge portion of our lightning safety discussion.

Now it’s time for action.

Lightning safety tips you need before you hit the trail

Read the weather

I mean that literally!

Read the weather forecast for the area you are planning to spend time in.

It may be bright and sunny at your front door, but who knows what’s happening, or predicted to happen, in the mountains?

The weather forecasters, that’s who.

A “surprise” storm just doesn’t exist.

So after you read what they have to say, read the sky.

White lenticular cloud surrounding summit of Mount Rainier

This lenticular cloud has a message for you, and if you don’t know what it is, this page will get you started thinking about safe hiking weather habits.

Lightning safety for hikers:
tips you need on the trail

Here is the short version of “what to do when you hear thunder and see flashes of lighting on a hike”.

Also known as the Oh, sh*t strategy.

Pay attention to environmental cues

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the beauty and pleasure of a great hiking trail.

But because you did your homework and read the weather forecast, you realize how important it is to pay attention to the not-so-subtle hints that Mother Nature throws your way prior to a storm.

  • Warm, humid days are her favorites for thunderstorms.

This is especially true if you hike in mountainous exposed areas where summer thunderstorms are common in the summer months.

  • Set, and stick to, a turn around time that gets you off the mountain early in the day.
  • Turn around early if a storm is approaching.

Don’t ignore these environmental cues of an impending storm:

  • dark, heavy clouds
  • sudden shift in wind direction, or wind gusts
  • thunder, because it’s impossible to have lightning without thunder

If you’re already seeing lightning, or there are loud thunder booms telling you the storm is one to ten miles away and coming your way, it’s time to take the next step in lightning safety for hikers.

Survey your surroundings

Mountain ridges

It’s time to find a safe, or safer, place to ride out the storm.

Note any of the following hazards:

  • you’re on a peak or ridge
  • the ground you’re on is significantly higher than surrounding terrain
  • you’re inside a tent with metal poles
  • tall trees are surrounding you
  • you’re beneath a single tall tree
  • you’re on wide open ground at a lower elevation
  • your feet are in water (bog, stream bed) or on wet snow
  • you’re near surface water (pond, lake, stream)
  • you’re on or near metal cables or wet ropes
    (like a suspension bridge or fixed trail aids)
  • small overhangs or a cliff that can allow a charge to travel across the gap are above you
  • you’re in a group of hikers

At this point, lightning safety for hikers involves assessing your location and your chances of minimizing damage from a lightning strike.

Check for conduction pathways

Toss your trekking poles, crampons, ice axe and other metal hiking gear away from your body.

If your backpack has a metal external frame, move away from it.

Remove metal on your body (jewellery or a belt buckle, for instance) to avoid the risk of burns. This metal won’t attract lightning, so if time is of the essence, leave it on.

If you’re in a forest, stay away from large tree trunks as much as possible.

If your hair is standing on end, or you feel a buzzy sensation pass across your skin, you’re in danger of being struck (your body is a “positive streamer” that can connect with charged particles in the storm clouds).

  • Be sure to read the information below to make yourself less of a target in this situation.

Don’t make yourself a lightning rod

Standing up is not what you want to be doing as the lightning moves closer.

If you are directly beneath the storm clouds and lightning is crashing around you, stop moving and assume the lightning position.

  • Crouch low.
  • Duck your head.
  • Wrap arms around legs or cover your ears with your hands to avoid hands touching the ground.
  • Keep feet together.
  • Close your eyes.
  • You can sit on a foam pad or pile of clothing, making it more likely that you will stay in the tucked position for a long period of time.
  • No worries if the ground beneath you is wet. It won’t conduct electricity more than dry ground, and in fact might help disperse ground current.
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Important distinction: This crouched position does not enhance your safety, but it does reduce the chances of being seriously injured if struck because the electrical charge will disperse more quickly.

If you have the luxury of time before the storm hits, head for lower ground.

  • A depression or dry ravine would be even better, unless flash flooding is common in the area.

If you’ve got hiking companions, be sure to spread out. This maximizes the chances of someone being unhurt and able to help any victims.

As tempting as it may be to resume hiking once the thunder stops, wait at least 30 minutes for the storm to clear out.

What to do when lightning strikes

We might as well go big or go home in our discussion of lightning safety for hikers.

If your trail buddy is hit by lightning, you need to do these things quickly:

  • Assess for cardiac arrest: no breathing or pulse. Oxygen is not reaching vital organs.
  • Administer CPR immediately: rescue breathing if no breathing but a pulse is present, or chest compressions in the absence of a pulse.
  • The person will not pass an electrical charge to you, because the ground has dissipated it.

You also need to watch for these signs and symptoms if cardiac arrest did not occur:

  • Concussion type issues such as headache, vomiting, dizziness and confusion
  • Tingling sensations
  • Sore muscles
  • Broken leg or foot bones
  • Trouble with balance
  • Superficial burns
  • Hearing and/or eyesight loss

Lightning safety for hikers tip: You don’t want to get a hiker back on the trail until you’ve assessed them for these potential complications. You will endanger them, and yourself.

Longer term and delayed problems will need to be screened for once the lightning victim has returned home.

For a thorough discussion of the medical issues related to lightning injuries, read this article.

Lightning safety for hikers:

Wondering how to deal with lightning when you're hiking? Here's your answer, from Hiking For Her. #hiking #lightningsafety #outdoorsafety #backpacking #staysafeoutside

Any questions about
lightning safety for hikers?

Please let me know if you need more information about this important safety issue for hikers.

I’ve had my share of close calls in the mountains during storms, which have motivated me to know what to do, and how to avoid trouble, when I see lightning moving in.

Hopefully you will never have to ride out a thunderstorm. But if you do, now you know exactly how to do it.

You want to be around to enjoy the rainbow, right?

For more safety tips on the trail, visit my safe hiking tips page.

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Hiking in Thunderstorms: Safety Guide

For all you thrill-seekers out there, hiking in thunderstorms can be an exhilarating experience. For others (including myself), hiking during a thunderstorm can spell trouble and instill fear. So what are you supposed to do when you’re out in the middle of your hike, and thunder starts crashing down like beating drums?

This article will detail what you need to know about thunderstorms and how to stay safe while hiking during one.

What to Do if It Storms While Hiking?

If you hear thunder, that means that lightning is not too far behind. When hiking in a thunderstorm, your first priority should be to get to safety as quickly as possible. If you can make it to a building or car, do so. Otherwise, find the lowest point in the area and crouch down, making yourself as small a target as possible. Here are a few other tips to keep in mind:

  • Avoid open spaces, hilltops, metal objects, and bodies of water.
  • Stay away from trees—if lightning hits a tree, the electrical current can travel through the ground and injure you. as this will make you more susceptible to being struck by lightning. Instead of laying flat on the ground, curl up in a ball and make as little contact with the ground as possible.
  • If you are in a group, spread out to minimize the chances of everyone being hit if lightning does strike.
  • Insulate yourself from the ground by sitting on your pack or using a sleeping pad.
  • Wait out the storm in this position until it passes. Once the thunder has stopped, you can continue on your hike.

What to Do if Someone is Struck by Lightning?

If someone in your group is struck by lightning, it is important to act quickly. Call 911 if possible (The unfortunate reality is that you probably won’t have much cell phone service) and then follow these steps:

  1. Check for a pulse and breathing. If the person has a pulse and is breathing, they are in cardiac arrest and will need CPR. If they are not breathing, begin rescue breaths.
  2. If the person is not breathing and does not have a pulse, they will need CPR.
  3. Perform CPR for two minutes before checking for a pulse again. If there is still no pulse, continue CPR.
  4. If the person begins breathing on their own, monitor them closely and be prepared to perform CPR again if necessary.

I know what you’re thinking, CPR to a person who’s been struck by lightning? Won’t that just electrocute you or them further? People who have been struck by lightning do not carry an electrical charge. So it is completely safe to perform CPR on them.

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Another option is to carry and use a personal locator beacon. Personal locator beacons send out a distress signal that can be picked up by satellite. So if you ever find yourself in an emergency situation with no cell reception, these can be a lifesaver.

I know it’s a terrible situation to think about, but the reality is that thunderstorms can and do strike while people are hiking. Hopefully, you’ll never be in this situation, but it’s always best to be prepared.

Are You Safe in The Woods During a Thunderstorm?

I was always told when I was young and playing in the rain to avoid trees during a thunderstorm. I was told that trees attract lightning, and there was a much greater chance of being struck if I was underneath one.

So here’s the exact science and reasoning behind this: Lightning typically strikes the tallest objects. When you’re out in the woods – that’s gonna be the trees. But trees are not good conductors of electricity. So what happens is lightning currents pass through trees and into the roots and trunk, and then dissipate into the ground.

However, WE are much better conductors of electricity than trees are. So if you’re close enough to the tree when this happens – like within 10 feet – the current can pass through the ground and shock you. You aren’t just in danger from a direct hit; it’s the electrical current that you also have to worry about.

That’s another reason NOT to lay flat on the ground. The current travels from the ground, so you want to make as little contact with the ground as possible.

What Do You Do if You Are Caught in A Thunderstorm While Hiking?

If you are caught in a thunderstorm while hiking, you’re going to need to act quickly. Here are some tips on what to do if you find yourself in this situation:

  • First and foremost, try to get off of any exposed peaks or ridges. If you can’t get off the peak, then crouch down as low to the ground.
  • As I mentioned before, avoid being near tall objects like trees. If you can’t avoid trees, then stay away from the trunks and keep your feet together.
  • If you are in a group, spread out to minimize the chances of everyone being hit if lightning does strike.
  • Insulate yourself from the ground. Use a backpack, sleeping pad, or anything else that will help to keep you dry and away from the ground.
  • Don’t touch anything metal. This includes things like hiking poles, backpacks with metal frames, etc.
  • If you hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. And if you can see lightning, then you are close enough to hear thunder. So basically, if you can see or hear either one, then get to a safe location as quickly as possible.
  • Once you’re in a safe location, stay there for 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder or the sight of lightning.

Thunderstorm Hiking Prevention Tips

The best way to deal with a thunderstorm is to avoid it altogether. Here are some tips on how to do that:

  • Check the weather forecast before you go out hiking. If there is a chance of thunderstorms, then consider postponing your hike or choosing a different trail.
  • Sometimes the weather can be completely unpredictable. The forecast could call for clear skies, and all of a sudden, a thunderstorm pops up. So always be aware of your surroundings and have a plan B in mind if the weather turns for the worse. Pack like you were going hiking during a rainstorm.
  • Be aware of the signs that a thunderstorm is approaching. These can include darkening skies, increasing wind, or a drop in temperature.
  • If you see or hear a thunderstorm, head to lower ground immediately.
  • Another option is to carry and use a personal locator beacon. Personal locator beacons send out a distress signal that can be picked up by satellites. This can be helpful if you do find yourself in a situation where you need to be rescued.

Thunderstorms can be dangerous, but if you know what to do and how to avoid them, you’ll stay safer on your hikes.

Why Is There More Lightning In The Mountains?

There is more lightning in the mountains because storms tend to develop more quickly there. The mountain air is also generally cooler, which can contribute to thunderstorm development. Additionally, the terrain in the mountains provides natural conduits for electrical currents, making it easier for a lightning strike to occur.

Secondly, there’s another risk to being high up in the mountains beside having to deal with higher lightning. There’s something called a “tree line,” which is the boundary between where trees can grow and where they can’t. There are fewer trees as you go up in altitude because the air gets thinner and colder, and there’s less oxygen.

So not only do you have to worry about being struck by lightning, but now there are no more trees. So all of a sudden, you become the tallest object on the mountain.

And as we’ve talked about before, the tallest objects are more likely to be struck by lightning. So if you’re above the tree line, then you need to be extra careful & mindful during a thunderstorm.


Thunderstorms are natural, beautiful phenomena but can also be very dangerous. If you know what to do and how to avoid them, you’ll stay safe on your hikes. Be sure to check the weather forecast before heading out, and always be aware of your surroundings. If you see or hear a thunderstorm approaching, head to lower ground immediately. And finally, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to be rescued, consider carrying and using a personal locator beacon.

My best advice; if the weather looks terrible, just skip the hike. There’s always another day to explore. Stay safe!

David Martirosian is an avid hiker and nature lover. Growing up in New York City, he gained an appreciation for getting lost in the wilderness, where he was able to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. David enjoys the peace and solitude that nature provides, and finds solace in the beauty of the natural world. When he’s not out exploring nature, David can be found learning about new adventures waiting to be explored.




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