Backpacking

    Lightning Safety

    Lightning — Getting hit by lightning can be bad for your health. And unfortunately, every year backpackers, boy scouts and campers are seriously injured or killed by lightning strikes.

    To begin, take this diabolically difficult (i.e. college level) pop quiz on lightning.

    Question 1: Where is the safest place to be in a lightning storm?

    A. On the highest mountain peak.
    B. Out in the open in a low valley.
    C. Under a solitary tree that is midway between a valley and a peak.
    D. Lying flat in shallow water.
    E. Both B and D
    F. Both A and C
    G. All of the above
    H. None of the above are safe

    And the answer is F.

    Just kidding. All of these situations are dangerous so the correct answer is H. If you are in a remote area, you really only have one good option—a large, thick stand of trees or bushes.

    You see, lightning is lazy and follows the path of least resistance. Lightning will only jump from the sky to the ground if it has enough energy. If the ground is willing to meet it halfway, like a mountain or a tall pointy tree, then it just might strike.

    It’s like tag. If you’re standing up in the middle of a grassy meadow—you’re it.

    If you’re standing under a really tall tree—the tree is it. Even if you are not touching the tree you can still get electrocuted because the energy can travel through the roots and ground near the tree and zap you with “one point twenty-one jigawatts” that will send you back to the future or give you hair like Kramer (and kill you).

    The sole of your hiking boots will help insulate you from the ground. If lightning is striking around you, make sure your boots are the only thing touching the ground and try to stand on dirt or rock. Don’t sit or touch trees, logs or anything else which may transfer the energy from a nearby lightning strike to you.

    Referring back to “D” from the quiz, stay away from water and swampy areas. Water is a fairly good conductor of electricity.

    If you are indoors like a cabin then you’ll be just fine (and dry too). When you are outside you should avoid high places, water, metal and tall objects.

    When I was a young smart alec I would play the “well what about this very unlikely scenario” game when it came to lightning safety. For instance, what if you were out in the middle of the ocean and lightning is striking. Or what if you were in the middle of the world’s largest meadow and there is only one tree. Where do you go?

    Always move to low spots and blend in, don’t stick out. If you are in a large meadow, find a low spot and lay down. If you are in a boat in open water, stay in the boat and away from metal. If you can’t find a forest, a large stand of bushes will also be sufficient.

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