Lightning Safety for Hikers

  • With no other options, take shelter under a group of shorter trees among larger trees. A thick forest is far better than a lone tree or a small group of trees.
  • Drop all metal objects during a storm, such as internal or external frame backpacks, trekking poles (including aluminum and carbon fiber), crampons, jewelry, etc., and move 100 feet away from them.

If you're out in the open or above treeline:

  • Avoid solitary trees—they're one of the most dangerous places to be during a storm. Also, avoid any other objects that are higher than the rest of the terrain around you.
  • If you can't immediately get below treeline, find the lowest point of open area and move there quickly.
  • Adopt the lightning safety position as a last resort: Crouch down on the balls of your feet and keep them as close together as possible. Cover your ears, and don't allow other body parts to touch the ground. By minimizing the surface area of your body in contact with the ground, you reduce the threat of receiving any electricity traveling across the ground. Keep in mind that this position should only be used as a last resort.

A recent study analyzing lightning victims in Florida found that most people were struck either prior to the storm reaching their location, or after the storm ended. Most people struck were either near water or near/under trees.

If you feel hairs on your head, leg, or arms tingling or standing on end, it means you're in an extremely high electrical field. Take these signs as an indication of immediate and severe danger. Move away from long conductors (metal fencing, power lines), tall trees or high points, spread out and adopt the lightning safety position.

For more information, including first aid for victims, check out these tips from the National Severe Storms Library and NOLS' lightning risk management guidelines.

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  Seek shelter at a campsite.

Jeff Doran is author of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Blog. For more hiking and camping insight, visit HikingintheSmokies.com.

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