Lightning Safety Tips

When there is lightning, the only safe place to be is inside a car or a substantial, enclosed structure. Yet when we are hiking in the mountains, most of the time we cannot quickly make it to a car or building. Instead, we usually have to wait out the storm in a location that places us in some risk.

Are there any secret strategies to stay safe from lightning in the backcountry? Not really, but there are good rules of thumb to give yourself higher odds of avoiding strikes:

Plan to be below treeline by the time of the potential first strike. 

If caught above treeline, descend. Even 50-100 feet can help lower the risk.

If you're in a big group, have everyone spread out. If the entire group is huddled together, and lightning strikes the group, everyone could be knocked unconscious with nobody left to provide medical assistance. By putting space between group members, if the worst happens (someone is struck by lightning), at least one or more of the group members should be safe and able to initiate a rescue.

If caught below treeline, find a low area and avoid the tallest trees and open spaces.

Crouch & keep a small footprint.

These are good rules of thumb, though of course, every situation is different!

For a short primer about lightning safety developed by the National Weather Service and NOLS, scroll below or download the original PDF.

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