by Diane Spicer
I'm so glad you're reading this page!
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.
If you've ever been caught out in a thunderstorm, you know how hair raising the experience can be - sometimes literally.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is especially true if you hike in mountainous exposed areas where summer thunderstorms are common in the summer months.
Don't ignore these environmental cues of an impending storm:
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.
It's time to find a safe, or safer, place to ride out the storm.
Note any of the following hazards:
At this point, lightning safety for hikers involves assessing your location and your chances of minimizing damage from a lightning strike.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
You also need to watch for these signs and symptoms if cardiac arrest did not occur:
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.
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.
Lightning Safety For Hikers
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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