Are Rooftop Tents Safe in Thunderstorms?


Hi-van is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on my site, I may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Rooftop tents are a great alternative to regular tents as they can be fitted to your vehicle, letting you stay comfortably clean and dry when you’re camping. They do tend to be made with hardier material than most outdoor tents as well. But thunderstorms are a different kettle of fish. 

Rooftop tents are not safe spaces during thunderstorms. They offer no protection from lightning, tornadoes, winds, flash floods, or hail that come along with a storm. In fact, being above the ground, the rooftop tents might leave you more vulnerable to being struck by lighting.

No outdoor space is safe during a thunderstorm, and tents of any kind are inadequate shelter during a thunderstorm. In this article, I’ll explain the main dangers of thunderstorms and what you should do if you’re out camping in your rooftop tent when a thunderstorm strikes. So let’s get started, shall we?


Dangers of Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms are dangerous because they are incredibly violent storms that are always accompanied by lightning which is especially dangerous when you’re camping.  Thunderstorms may also cause tornadoes, straight-line winds, which are fast winds that can cause a lot of damage, flash floods and flooding of rivers, and hail. 

All of these are dangerous, especially when you’re outdoors, away from shelter of any kind. Ideally, you would not be out camping when storms are predicted. Unfortunately, nature is unpredictable, and you might find yourself caught in a thunderstorm without warning. 

Among all the dangers of thunderstorms, lightning is a guaranteed danger.


Understanding Lightning

Lightning is caused as a result of the collision between the negative charge that develops at the base of the clouds and the positive charge at the surface of the earth. 

When the difference between the charges becomes too large, a channel of air develops between the cloud and the earth, and a small amount of charge moves down from the cloud while a similar amount of charge from the earth moves up. 

The negative charge from the clouds collides with the positive charge from the earth, releasing a powerful discharge that we see as lightning. 

Since human bodies tend to be positively charged on the outside surface and negatively charged inside, they attract both the negative charge from the clouds and the positive charge from the ground and are prime conductors for lightning. 

As human bodies attract lightning, there is no way to outrun it or avoid it outdoors. Most people who get struck by lighting do so because they either waited too long before finding safe shelter or went back outside too soon. 

If you can hear thunder, that’s your cue to get inside a safe shelter immediately. Most thunder you can hear is caused by lightning, which means that you’re in immediate danger. 

Lightning can even occur when the skies directly above you are clear because of how human bodies attract lightning, so having some distance from thunderclouds will not offer you any protection. You must get to a lightning-safe shelter immediately. 

Do Tents Get Struck by Lightning?

Tents can and do get struck by lightning and do not offer any protection from thunderstorms except shelter from the rain. Lightning is attracted to the electric charges in human bodies, and tents are not substantial enough to discharge the current from the clouds and the ground. 

The only safe space during a thunderstorm is indoors, and tents do not count as lightning-safe shelters. 

What Is a Lightning Safe Shelter?

A lightning-safe shelter is a substantial building fully enclosed with a roof, walls, floor, and plumbing or wiring. Hard topped vehicles with the windows rolled up can also offer adequate lightning-safe shelter. 

Tents of any kind do not offer safety from lightning. Normal outdoor tents still leave you in contact with the ground current, which can be just as deadly as the current from the clouds when lightning strikes. 

Rooftop tents offer ground clearance but raise you up, which is the absolute opposite of what is advised during a thunderstorm. You should aim to stay as low as possible to avoid attracting the negative charge from the clouds. 

Thankfully, the advantage of a rooftop tent is that even if you’re in the tent when a thunderstorm arrives, you are directly above safe shelter – your car. Hard topped vehicles (not convertibles) with the windows rolled up to offer safe shelter from thunderstorms. 


What To Do if a Thunderstorm Strikes When You’re Camping

If you are outdoors camping in your rooftop tent when you hear thunder, you should get into your car as it is the closest shelter to you. 

Hard-topped metal vehicles with the windows rolled up offer adequate shelter from lightning. Avoid getting into cars that are not hard-topped or metal. A convertible or a golf cart will offer about as much protection from the thunderstorm as your rooftop tent, which is not very much at all.

If you’re on top of a hill or near tall trees, drive to a low-lying area but be careful of flash floods or any sign of flooding. If you’re in a safe location, stay in the vehicle until the storm passes. Avoid touching anything made of metal or any other material that might conduct electricity inside the car. 

Always keep the 30/30 Lightning safety rule in mind, and do not exit your car for at least 30 minutes until after the storm has passed. 


Conclusion

Rooftop tents are not safe during thunderstorms as they do not provide protection from lightning, winds, flash floods, and hail. However, the advantage of rooftop tents is that they’re in close proximity to your car, which provides adequate shelter from a thunderstorm. 

The moment you hear thunder, you should get out of your rooftop tent and into your car immediately and drive to a low-lying area, like under a hill if possible. Stay inside the car without touching metal surfaces or any other electrical conductors for at least 30 minutes after the storm has passed before driving to safety. 


Find this content useful 🙂 ?

You can support my work by buying me a coffee down here 👇🏻 – or if you want to know more about me, click here.


Here are some of my favorite van life essentials:

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you’re experiencing your life on the road. Here are some tools and gadgets I use on a daily basis that made my van life a lot easier. I hope you’ll also find them as useful as me. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to purchase any of them, I’ll earn a commission.
But in all honesty, these are the exact tools that I use and recommend to everyone, even my closest friends and family.

Kitchen: I’m cooking a lot and I’ve finally found my perfect cookware set: The Magma Cookware 10 Pcs that you can nests and store in less than 1/2 cubic foot of cabinet space is really handy. Since I’m also spending a lot of time working at my desk, I use my favorite coffee mug from Yeti. For more, check my list of kitchen accessories I can’t live without.

Outdoor: Even though I’m spending a lot of time in my van working, I do enjoy getting out and explore my ever-changing neighborhood. This sometimes requires me to take my portable solar battery with me. And when I just want to chill outside and take a nap, I use the Winner Outfitters Hammock.

Clean/Tidy: Space is precious and therefore I used these heavy-duty storage bins from Homs to store my material. They’re robust and you can stack them together. Regarding showering, I like to use this portable solar shower from Advanced Elements when it’s hot outside.

To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations about van life, check out this resource that I made for you!

Martin

As an independent traveler, I try to share my positive and negative observations about van life as well as tips and tricks to make your life on the road easier. I travel and work in my old RV and would greatly appreciate a coffee from you if you find my content useful.

Related Articles