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8/21/2018 1:43 pm  #1


Heading up this weekend for a four day trip, and the forecast at this time is not the stuff of postcards.  Good chance of rain each day, and each day has "chance" or "slight chance" of a thunderstorm.  I have only been in two thunderstorms while camping, both a long time ago, and both really bad.  I've read up on it a bit this year because I knew I lacked some knowledge there - so I'm looking for some affirmation of what I've learned (below) and/or personal practices from you folks.

The idea as I understand it is to get into (what I will call) an in-betweener area - not too high up, not next to an isolated tree, certainly not next to the tallest tree in the forest, not too low where water will pool, but maybe on a slight incline in a grouping of trees, and then to create a few meters of distance between people - no huddling together in a bunch.  If it is really banging around you, then you'd crouch down I guess, I saw something about keeping your feet together.  And hope no widow-makers decide to come around at that time in spite of the probable wind.  If you see lightning but hear no thunder, that apparently means the storm is so far out of range for a strike (10 miles), but otherwise you are within striking distance.

While in the boat - you are the highest object on water, so get to land.  If river traveling, this might be easier said than done however. 

If in the tent - that's not the place to be.

I'm wondering about your practical experiences with thunderstorms.  If we've got a big banging storm going on overhead, I can see getting everybody out of the tents and into a safe(r) area until it blows over.  If I'm in the boat, and I start hearing thunder, I want out.  What if I'm in the tent and I hear thunder out there distance away?  Do you guys call it at that time, everybody out?  Are you taking "shelter" from the moment you hear the first clap of thunder to the last?  are you crouching down from beginning to end in your sheltered position?  Do you empty your pockets of metal and leave that stuff at camp?  Do you wait some defined period of time after hearing "the last" thunder clap before getting back in the boat?

I'm sure the primary answer will be you have to play each situation the way it feels since some storms are real bruisers and others are less so, but I'm also betting that many of you have some rules of thumb you live by that would be helpful to have an appreciation of.     


8/21/2018 2:38 pm  #2

Re: Thunderstorms....

The crouching you mentioned is for the lightning crouch position... crouched down on your toes with your heels touching, covering your ears. Google “lightning crouch position” for an example.

Not sure why you would leave the tent though? I get that there’s aluminum, but if your tent is surrounded by tall trees, and if lightning did happen to strike in your immediate vicinity, wouldn’t it strike the tall trees rather than your very low (aluminum) tent?

For me, if I’m mid travel and I see lightning, I get to shore ASAP and try to find decent cover. I feel safe getting back on the water 10-20min after lightning, if the skies look good. If skies still look bad, I’ll stay longer. If I’m already on campsite, I usually stay in the tent or under a tarp and wait it out.


8/21/2018 3:58 pm  #3

Re: Thunderstorms....

I don't like to be in a tent during a thunderstorm if I can help it, but if it's overnight I'm just going to go back to sleep - no heroics. The odds are always in your favour unless you staked your tent directly under the highest tree you could find. The rest of the time, assuming I have a tarp up (which if there's a thunderstorm I should), I just sit down under the tarp, in the middle (farthest from the trees it's attached to) and enjoy the show. 

Stressing about being hit by lightning is like stressing about being attacked by a bear. Can it happen? Yes. Is it likely going to happen? No. 

Edit: where are you going by the way? I'm headed in tomorrow morning, access point 1. 

Last edited by Uppa (8/21/2018 3:59 pm)


8/21/2018 5:05 pm  #4

Re: Thunderstorms....

Thanks for the replies - the worst of any of the thunderstorm stuff will probably be my son.  We got caught in the canoe in a bad one, just barely got out of the water and back to a tent in a state park when he was little, and it was banging like crazy with a very foreboding sky for several hours.  He's been apprehensive of thunder/lightning ever since, can't say I blame him.  He'll be sleeping in a hammock....probably safer than any of us relative to lightning, but I'm sure feeling more exposed since he won't have a cuddle buddy.  If we get a big banger overnight my wife and I will probably get a visitor, and that's fine.  He's a good kid, I don't mind sharing space with him!

This trip is a little different in that my entire family is going - for the first time all of us, and my daughter's bestie is going as well, so I have charge of somebody else's daughter, which makes me nervous.  She'll be fine, but I need to make sure I take her back home in one piece!  Also interesting because this trip is kind of a milestone for my wife.  Some medical issues last year at this time resulted in terrible walking/balance issues, and she's worked so hard on physical therapy - she's ready to go.  Six months ago she needed a cane, today you'd never know.  I'm saving some of this for a trip report that I hope will share her great success, but it should be something else.  We are going Magnetawan, to Casey on Day 1, then through Rain to Jubilee on Day 2, then day 3 looping up through the Petawawa (upstream) to Daisy....then out on Day 4.  Nothing super-exotic, though Day 3 will be six carries and our longest day for sure.  I've been to all of these places before, but some of those places it has been 25 or 30 years, and there are a few special places along the way - the first place I ever saw the park, the place where I camped one time with my dad, etc.  I'm almost looking forward to the trip report more than the trip!

     Thread Starter

8/21/2018 6:00 pm  #5

Re: Thunderstorms....

Amazing - have a wonderful trip!


8/22/2018 8:11 am  #6

Re: Thunderstorms....

This sounds like a wonderful trip with the family!

Weirdly enough, I get less scared of thunderstorms when I'm in the backcountry than when I'm home inside my house (I realize this is NOT rational).

We always make sure to get off the water at the first sound of thunder. If it's threatening to storm but hasn't hit yet, we'll continue paddling but be constantly eyeing the best place to take out. We'll ping pong from good take out spot to good take out spot so we're never far from shore if it does hit. If we were on a river with high cliffs, I'd probably play it safe and not paddle that section until the storm passes. 

Like Uppa, we hang out under the tarp and enjoy the show. If we're stopped just on shore and not at camp, I put my pack under my canoe to keep it dry and take cover from the rain in the trees staying away from widow makers or super tall trees. The actual storm part never lasts that long. The rain may continue but the storm passes fairly quickly. 

I've also stopped before at other people's campsites and taken shelter with them under their tarp. Anytime I've done this, people are so friendly. One family made me a hot chocolate and another group shared a beer with me! 

I know you're supposed to get out of the tent (so you can see if a tree is about to fall on you) but if it storms at night, I just snooze through it as best I can. I do always make sure to double check that the tent is set up in a storm safe spot (no dead limbs above, not in a hollow that might fill with water and not at the top of a hill). 


8/22/2018 10:54 pm  #7

Re: Thunderstorms....

About four years ago. Laying in my hammock, middle of the night, I'm awakened by thunder. i count the interval between flashes and thunder claps. It's close but not too bad.  Count to 7, so that's about 2.4 km. The sky is lighting up something fierce. I'm on Ragged Lake in the channel that leads to Parkside Bay.
It's a slow moving electrical storm, but the front is getting closer. Count to 5 now..that's what? 1.7km. The interval gets shorter and shorter and the lightning flashes are brighter. Count to 3...just over 1km. I imagine a bolt of lightning finding its way from one tree to another via the hammock--with me in it!!

I get out and put on my raingear, and see that the lightning is hitting things in Crown Bay. It's really close, and coming my way. About 2 seconds..less than 700 metres. What to do?  My hammock is tied to two tall trees. Not the tallest, but pretty big.  

Discretion is the better part of valour. I walk away in to the woods to the base of the hill away from big trees. Sit on my lifejacket, feet together, ears plugged, mouth open. I felt that thing I had only read about, a weird feeling of electricity in the air. Several more flashes an one close strike on the other side of the channel and inland a ways and pretty soon the main bit has passed. About a half hour later i venture back to my hammock and crash.

With regard to lightning, that's the only time I felt like this might actually be "it."


8/23/2018 5:01 am  #8

Re: Thunderstorms....

Just set up a couple tarps over common areas and you can still be outside enjoying the storm from a dry position.  I've been in a few storms in the park and my best advice is to have a tent you dont have to worry about leaks or set a tarp over the tent as extra protection, and set up at least 1 big tarp tied to trees over an area you can all sit or stand under.  It's nice to have an area outside to make some food, coffee, hot chocolate, etc while watching the storm show.


8/23/2018 8:40 am  #9

Re: Thunderstorms....

Methye - Yeeeeeeshh........made me shiver.

     Thread Starter

8/23/2018 7:25 pm  #10

Re: Thunderstorms....

Should this be in the winter camping area?


8/24/2018 11:39 am  #11

Re: Thunderstorms....

Hey dontgroandaddy, I'm in the same boat as you, going up for 4 days this weekend, except I'll be backcountry camping with my wife and daughter. Hopefully the rain isn't TOO bad. In retrospect, I wished I'd booked time in July when the weather was good.... Fingers crossed.




8/24/2018 3:16 pm  #12

Re: Thunderstorms....

Uppa beat me to it ... I just stay in the tent ... honestly I usually fall back to sleep and my kids are pretty much used to it too. 

However if thundershowers are forecasted and given the choice I do choose a campsite that is not below the tallest tree in the area ... unless its a shang gra-la site then its worth the gamble.

We were camping on Big Crow one time at the ranger cabin (wind bound) and that night lightning blew the top off the fire tower on the hill just behind us.  We heard the lightning and knew it sounded a bit different when it hit ... but didn't realize what had happened until we paddled out and looked back at the mountain the next day.  So never camp right below a fire tower either .. ! 


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