Camping in a storm


Whether the thunderclouds are already rolling over your pitch or you’re planning ahead for all weather conditions on your holiday, the prospect of a thunderstorm can feel daunting when you’re staying in a small tent, caravan, motorhome or glamping accommodation. 

There’s no need to panic. A few sensible measures will help you safely see out the rain, wind, hail, thunder or lightning. That includes ways to reinforce your tent, caravan or motorhome pitch, techniques to calm down children and dogs and other top tips – and, for those of you who are yet to depart, how to prepare for all eventualities.

Clouds over a camping field (Ridwan Kosasih / Unsplash)

What to expect if you’re camping in a thunderstorm

By definition, a thunderstorm involves bouts of lightning strikes followed by thunder. A thunderstorm typically comes hand-in-hand with loud rumbling sounds, heavy rain and high winds, while more extreme cases may result in hail or tornadoes (although the latter is very unlikely unless you're in the central plains of North America).

Most thunderstorms don’t last longer than 20 or 30 minutes, so they’ll quickly pass over your site. Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon for thunderstorms to strike in groups, often over the space of one to three days, so you should always stay prepared for more thunder clouds to roll over and regularly check the weather forecast while you’re away.

Naturally, anyone staying in a tent, caravan or motorhome will be more exposed to the elements of a thunderstorm than those who are tucked away behind four walls in a secure building. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place for a brewing storm, whether you’ve already pitched up or you’re yet to embark on your trip.

Advice for camping in a tent in a thunderstorm

Camping in a tent during a thunderstorm has a unique set of challenges, such as how and where to pitch, preventing damage to your tent and keeping out the wind and rain. There are ways that campers can thunderstorm-proof their tent before they depart, but there’s still plenty that can be done when you’re already at your campsite.

Is it safe to camp in a tent in a thunderstorm?

Tents don’t provide much protection from thunderstorms, especially lightning, which can be dangerous if it connects with steel tent poles. Thankfully, the chance of your tent being struck by lightning is incredibly low, but we’d still recommend steering clear of camping in severe lightning storms if possible. 

Don’t worry if you don’t have any other options though, because camping in a thunderstorm is still safe when you take the right precautions.

How to prepare for camping in a thunderstorm

1. Repair any holes, tears or broken poles before you depart.

A damaged tent isn’t practical in a thunderstorm (or other conditions, for that matter). Water can soak into the inside of your tent through holes, tears or split seams, and broken tent poles might cause your tent to collapse in high winds and heavy rain.

Examine your tent for holes, tears, split seams and broken or bent poles before you leave by looking for obvious damage or flaking fabric. Then, perform some simple tent repairs.

2. Waterproof your tent.

Your tent may encounter very heavy rain during a thunderstorm. If it has already been used several times or it’s a couple of years old, assess whether you need to apply a new waterproof layer by spraying water on the outside of the tent and seeing if it forms bead-like droplets. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to waterproof your tent at home using a reproof product to stop rain soaking through the roof and walls during a storm.

3. Pack a tent repair kit.

Stray debris blown by strong winds can damage your tent during a thunderstorm, so make sure that your camping checklist includes a tent repair kit with spare tent poles, pegs, duct tape or tent repair tape and seam sealer at the very least.

4. Pack waterproof gear.

Downpours can quickly soak your clothes through – and once you’re wet, it’s tricky to get warm again. Make sure that your clothes for camping include a waterproof coat, trousers and shoes. Effective waterproof jackets and trousers will be made from nylon, polyester, polyurethane or Teflon, while waterproof boots will usually be made from rubber, neoprene, vinyl, nylon or polyurethane.

5. Choose plastic tent poles over steel tent poles.

If possible, swap your steel tent poles for plastic tent poles. Steel is a type of metal that can conduct heat, so plastic tent poles are safer in the very slim chance that your pitch is struck by lightning.

How to pitch and prepare to camp through a thunderstorm

The best way to wait out a thunderstorm when you’re camping in a tent is to relocate your group to a secure building, as they offer greater protection from heavy rain, lightning and high winds.  Cars are another great option. However, any lightning strikes will be absorbed by the metal frame, so keep your hands off the doors and steering wheels at all times. 

If you don’t have either of these two options, these steps will help to keep you safe and secure in a tent in a thunderstorm. You’ll also find advice for camping in high winds or camping in the rain helpful during a thunderstorm.

1. Avoid pitching near power lines or trees.

Avoid any tall structures that could be struck by lightning, as well as unstable structures or trees with decaying or broken limbs that could fall onto your pitch. In fact, we’d advise steering clear of woodlands altogether. Despite the shelter the canopies provide from rain, woodland pitches are dangerous in a thunderstorm because trees and branches can fall in the high winds.

2. Pitch on gently sloping low ground.

Because thunderstorms present a unique combination of problems (rain, wind and lightning all at the same time), you’ll need a pitch that combats all three. Lower ground is less likely to be struck by lightning. However, these areas are often susceptible to gathering rainwater, so aim to pitch your tent on a gentle slope so that water will continue to flow past your tent without forming soggy ground. Otherwise, water could flood into your tent over the groundsheet.

3. Pitch behind low bushes.

Low bushes are unlikely to come loose in high winds. Instead, they’ll act as a windbreak between your tent and the breeze, giving your tent some protection from the worst of the wind.

4. Avoid debris that could damage your tent in windy conditions, such as rubbish bins or uncleared firepits.

Clear away or completely avoid any areas that have items strewn across the ground, such as rubbish, bins, firepits, wood, stones and other debris. When the wind blows, the debris can damage your tent, enter your tent or get into someone’s eyes.

5. Check that your tent pegs and guy lines are secure.

Your guy lines are your tent’s anchor to the ground. Double check that the tent pegs are firmly hammered into the ground and that the guy lines are taut and securely attached to the pegs and the tent and/or rain fly.

6. Make sure that there is a gap between your tent wall and rainfly.

Anything that touches the tent walls will cause water to soak through into your tent, so check that there’s a gap between your tent walls and the rainfly. 

7. Don’t let your belongings touch the tent walls.

The same applies to the belongings inside your tent. You’ll need to shift these at least a foot away from your tent walls to prevent water leaking into your tent.

8. Keep all doors and windows firmly shut.

It’s easy to overlook a small gap in a window or doorway, so double and triple check that all of your tent’s exits and windows are firmly zipped shut to keep the wind and rain out of your tent.

Advice for staying in a caravan or motorhome in a thunderstorm

Staying in a caravan or motorhome might sound safer than staying in a tent, but there are still important steps that you should take to protect yourself and your vehicle in a storm.

Is it safe to stay in a caravan or motorhome in a storm?

It’s safer to wait out a thunderstorm in a secure building than a motorhome or caravan, because these smaller structures are more susceptible to falling branches, trees or power lines.

Motorhome surrounded by dark clouds (Fabian / Unsplash)

Nevertheless, it’s still safe to stay in a caravan or motorhome during a storm, as long as you take some precautions. 

Top tips for staying in a caravan or motorhome during a storm

1. If possible, pack ropes, wooden blocks and track mats.

A thunderstorm can result in a soggy pitch and a stuck vehicle, especially if you've parked on grass. Ropes, wooden blocks and track mats are useful tools to help tow a vehicle or prevent it from sinking in the first place.

2. If possible, relocate to a sheltered location.

As long as you avoid woodlands and unstable structures (due to the danger of damage from debris caught in the wind), relocating your motorhome or caravan to a more sheltered location beside secure buildings or brick walls provides some protection from harsh winds and rain. 

3. Opt for a hardstanding pitch if possible.

If you do have time before a thunderstorm is due, relocate your caravan to a hardstanding pitch, where it’s less likely to sink when the ground gets wet.

4. Turn your vehicle so that it is facing the wind head-on.

When your vessel is facing the wind head-on, it provides a more streamlined route for wind to pass by. When the wind hits vehicles side-on, the structure is more unstable and prone to rocking, shuddering or tipping in very high winds. 

However, if you’re already in the thick of a thunderstorm, you should wait it out before moving your caravan because driving a motorhome or caravan can be dangerous in a thunderstorm.

5. Take down any awnings and remove outdoor furniture.

In high winds, awnings and other extensions could batter your caravan and cause damage, so you should take these down at the first signs of a thunderstorm. Similarly, outdoor furniture could damage your caravan or get lost or broken in the wind or rain, so they should also be moved indoors.

6. Keep all doors and windows shut.

Keep your caravan or motorhome dry by keeping all of your exits and windows firmly shut.

Is it safe to drive in a motorhome or tow a caravan in a thunderstorm?

You should avoid driving your motorhome or towing your caravan until the thunderstorm is over due to the danger of lightning, poor visibility, high winds and wet roads. Luckily, most thunderstorms only last around 20 to 30 minutes.

Camping with children in a thunderstorm

With limited tech to distract children and thinner walls than at home, it’s natural that kids are susceptible to getting startled by a thunderstorm. However, don’t panic. There are still ways to calm them down and ride out the storm, no matter whether you’re in a tent, caravan or motorhome.

1. Remain calm.

Kids take on the demeanour of their parents, so if you’re acting stressed out, it’s likely that they will start to panic too. Remain as calm as possible, answer any of their questions honestly and reassure them that the storm will pass over soon.

2. Keep to your normal routine if possible.

To keep things as normal as possible, stick to any established bedtime, morning or afternoon routines. This will help them to feel more at ease.

3. Distract them with activities or stories.

Distraction works a treat with children, and it’s no different during a thunderstorm. You could read them a story, start a board game or bring up some of their favourite memories to focus their attention on something other than the thunder, rain and lightning. 

If there’s something that your child loves in particular, for example times tables or storytelling, they’re likely to want to get involved.

4. Keep them close by.

As well as soothing them with hugs or kisses, keeping a close eye on your child is key during a thunderstorm, just in case they try to leave the tent or need comforting. Don’t let any children leave the tent without you, even if it’s for a short trip to the toilets, as they could get injured or lost.

5. Keep torches handy.

Whether it’s a dark tent or a power cut in a motorhome or caravan, keep some battery-powered torches handy so that the dark doesn’t spook your children.

Camping with dogs in a thunderstorm

Loud, unexpected noises can be particularly alarming for dogs due to their sharp sense of hearing, so you’ll need to know how to keep them calm, especially in a space as small as a tent, caravan, motorhome or glamping accommodation. They may feel trapped, anxious and disturbed by the louder-than-usual sounds.

1. Play calming music.

If you have access to a mobile phone or other device, gentle tones will help to cancel out any rumbling that’s going on in the background and should make your dog feel more at ease.

2. Keep them company.

For safety reasons, dogs shouldn’t be left alone on a campsite at any time. However, sitting close to your dog and stroking them or playing with their ears can help to provide some familiar comfort when they’re anxious.

3. Close the windows and doors.

Shut out the noise as much as possible by keeping any windows or doors firmly closed. You should also keep all exits secure, in case they get spooked and try to escape the space.

4. Set up familiar belongings, like their bed, toys and blankets.

If your dog has a favourite toy or blanket, hand them to your dog. The scent of their blankets and bed will also be familiar and comforting, so encourage them to curl up there, rather than on the floor or a corner.

5. Consider getting your dog microchipped.

In the worst-case scenario that your dog does manage to escape during a storm, it’s easier to locate a dog that has a microchip. 

6. Add your contact details to their collar.

Contact details on their collar can also be helpful, as this will help people to reunite you with your beloved pet if they get lost.

Whether you’re camping, caravanning or touring in a thunderstorm, high winds or rainy conditions, there are safe ways to wait out a thunderstorm, while keeping your group calm. It’s also possible to prepare in advance by buying a robust tent and learning how to pitch a tent properly.

Read our guide to camping in bad weather


Is it safe to camp in a tent in a thunderstorm?

Steer clear of camping in lightning storms whenever possible and wait the storm out in a secure building or car. However, tent camping can still be safe when you take precautions such as repositioning your tent and using plastic tent poles.

Is it safe to stay in a caravan or motorhome in a storm?

It’s safer to wait out a thunderstorm in a secure building than a motorhome or caravan. However, holidaymakers can take precautions such as removing awnings, facing the wind head-on and staying away from trees or power lines.