When island or shoreline camping, what precautions

should one take for selecting where to pitch a

tent? I guess under a tall dead tree is not a

good place because it is more likely to fall down

in the wind gusts. And what if during the middle

of the night, a storm comes up - do you abandon

the tent and crouch between large rocks along the

shoreline? I’m not looking about the ultra-safe

thing to do (such as just stay home), but what

are the reasonable precautions?

Lightening is bad
The fact of the matter is that if you expect lightening in an area you should try to get off the water and well away from any obvious targets. Lightening strikes the tallest object so a tall tree is an obvious target. Generally speaking the best place to pitch a tent would be in a protected location. Between big rocks sounds like a good possibility if such a thing can be found.

Assuming you are insulated from ground such as on a Thermarest, I would not suggest leaving your tent as doing so could make you the tallest nearby object. If you are not insulated from ground it would be good to crouch inside your tent rather than laying down so as to minimize your contact area with ground.

Lightening is not fun and it can definitely dampen our fun. I know some people take it lightly, but that is not a great idea. Unfortunately, there is not a completely foolproof way to protect ourselves from it when we are outside engaged in our favorite activities. Paying attention to weather signs, getting weather forecasts, and planning ahead are all prudent precautions for paddlers at all times and in all circumstances. You are right to be concerned.



how about a lightning rod - - -
on top of the tent? ok, who wants to carry a lighting rod around when camping. sorry, bad idea.

So do you have risk statistics?
Everyone talks about lightning as if it were the riskiest part of a storm, but possibly as many people are injured and killed by wind, flash flood, etc. When we were in Quetico, it was clear that the greater risk was having a tree drop on our tent in a “protected” location. There was such an accident in BWCA, trapping a couple under the fallen tree.

There was a scout killed on Basswood one night when we were still tenting on Agnes. They were tenting on an island, and lightning struck a tree near the tent, which exploded violently. Killed one scout, badly injured another. I cannot for the life of me think of what could have kept them safe. Staying at home, probably. Or they could have erected a giant stone fort around their tents, every night.

Advice from Backpacker/NOLS
From Backpacker Magazine, June 2001. Geared toward hikers, of course, but I thought was useful info.

Lightning Update

By Annette McGivney, BACKPACKER Southwest Editor

“When lightning threatens, head for the rolling hills. That’s the new recommendation from the folks at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). The updated NOLS guidelines advise wilderness travelers to avoid stands of trees (long thought the best lightning cover) and instead seek gently rolling terrain. The reason: Strikes are random and unusual in low, rolling areas where there are few trees to attract lightning. Sit in the “lightning position” -squatting on a sleeping pad or pack-in a ravine or depression.

If you’re stuck among trees during a storm, avoid touching the trunks. The new NOLS guidelines also debunk the old “cone of protection” myth (see “A Hair-Raising Experience,” Wild Things, August 2000). The cone theory held that sitting close to, but not right next to, a tall tree was safe because lightning would go for the tree instead of you. The truth is that lightning strikes are more likely in and around tall, lone trees, and that the surrounding ground also becomes electrified.

NOLS revised its “Lightning Safety Guidelines” to reflect findings from its own extensive field research, as well as standards announced at last year’s International Conference in Atmospheric Electricity.

If a fellow hiker is struck by lightning, administer CPR immediately. If he has a heartbeat but can’t breathe, perform artificial respiration (tilt back his head, hold his nostrils closed, and breathe air into his mouth until you see his chest rise) for at least 30 minutes, the minimum time usually required before normal neurological function returns. Get the victim to a hospital as soon as he is breathing on his own.”

Lucked out tonight.
After watching some advancing thunder cells all afternoon on the internet at work, I made some calls and sent some emails cancelling our club’s lake trip tonight.

Just in case, I drove to the lake for the 7:00pm put-in time and found one paddler there. At EXACTLY 7:01 the skies opened with rain, thunder and lightning. Ahhh, it’s good to be right once in a while…

Not too helpful… I’m hiking in the
woods, or I’m paddling on the river, a thunderstorm rolls in, there’s some lightning strikes, fairly close, and NOLS says to find some gently rolling country.

How, exactly, am I supposed to do that? This is typical of the get-out-of-where-you-are-and-go-to-a-supposedly-safe-place advice.

Rolling, open country sounds a lot like a golf course. Nobody ever gets struck on a golf course.

Bill -you of ALL people should know better -you live in Florida, SOUTH Florida at that!

Down here, we’re the thunderstorm & lightning capital of the US of A, and the 4th worst place for lightning in the world!

Here’s the scoop:

Lightening tends to simplify life, lightning tends to make it REALLY complicated and screw it up;

Lightening is generally positively enlightening, lightning is almost always negatively enlightening (unless it’s positive, of course);

Lightening has been shown to increase longevity in some cases, lightning has been shown to DRASTICALLY DECREASE longevity in some cases!;

Lightening is usually pretty dull, lightning is ALWAYS ELECTRIFYING!;

And, especially out on the water, you’ll wish to have been lightening so you could scoot like lightning to avoid lightning as you

Paddle On!

-Frank in Miami

golf course strikes
lightining is apparently not conducted well through loud patterns and synthethic clothing, and that’s why golfers wear them;now you know

Academic Slogan :slight_smile:
“Make a statement and I will refute it”

It would seem like you would
want to stay in the general area of tall objects but not too close - probably a hundred or so feet away. You don’t want to go so far as to be the tallest thing around. The zone of protection would to seem logical since ligthening would tend to strike the tallest object but of course packs quite a punch so you wouldn’t want to be too close to a strike. Until they make a portable transporter to beam me away, I guess I’ll use that strategy or only camp in Ohio.

Statistics for South Florida
Just a couple of days ago there was a public service announcement on NPR that said on average 6 people die per year from lightning strikes here in Florida. They also had numbers for people hit by lightning and survive. If anyone is interested there might be additional information available at

I personally agree that when a paddler is out on the water, the options are not great and there is no sure fire solution. Most of us in Florida try to work our paddling into the morning hours because most of the electrical storms hit here in the afternoon. Being caught outside when a storm hits is not fun, been there, done that. At the same time, I am not going to stay inside and hide under the bed. Life includes accepting some risk.



ROTFL! Thanks Frank. I will work on my spelling, but truthfully would deliberately do it all again to prompt more creative humor from you. You made my whole day.



My criteria:
If I am way out in the ocean, enjoy the show.

If I am on a river or lake and can get to shore in time, sit on the low side of a bank and enjoy the show.

If I feel a tingle on the top of my head , I’ll stand up, spread my legs, bend over, put my head between my legs, and kiss my a-- goodby!

Obviously, to date, I have enjoyed the show.



L Frank always makes me laugh

you tingle all over
and don’t have time to kiss anything,I know from experience,twice

Paddle where there is no lightning
On average, lightning occurs in Iceland about once every ten years. Then you don’t have to worry about lightning storms!


Quite the odd sensation.
My grandmother used to take me out in a stroller during storms when I was very little. That’s probably why I don’t fear them. Spending my summers growing up around Lake Diefenbaker I got to see some very impressive displays and see lightning do some odd things. Any chance I get I’m outside watching the show.

A few years ago was my first experience with almost getting struck. Felt like hundreds of ants crawling up my legs toward my head (and I know what that feels like too oddly enough lol), hair stood on end, and there was pressure building in my ears along with a hum that rose in pitch much like a camera flash being charged sounds like. Then kabam, the lightning went off and my ears popped when it did. Blinded me for about 5 seconds too. After that experience I’ve been a lot more cautious since I believe I’m lucky to still be alive.