Are Pop-up Campers Safe in Lightning?

A lightning flash above a forest. Are Pop-up Campers Safe in Lightning? Depends on what they're made of.

So, you’ve been thinking about buying yourself a neat pop-up camper? Wondering whether they could provide a safe shelter from a storm coming your way? Say no more. You’ve come to the right address.

Since you’re probably an outdoors lover, you might know the fact that most storms occur during the camping season. What a hefty coincidence, right? Of course, it’s not like they’re non-existent throughout the other part of the year. That being said, knowing how to protect yourself (and your fellow campers) from harsh weather conditions could easily save some lives.

Pop-up campers aren’t what you’d call the safest shelter from a thunderstorm. They cannot produce the Faraday cage effect. Therefore – they’re absolutely unsafe. Always be on alert for warning signs of a storm approaching, and seek refuge in the car or a nearby building if you notice anything suspicious. 

In the text below, we’ll further elaborate on the answer to the question Are pop-up campers safe in lighting? Stick around for some useful info.

Table of Contents

What’s all the fuss about?

Let’s see what’s all the deal about lightning. If for some reason, you don’t see it as a potential threat.

Lightning flashes (about 25 million of ’em we get to witness every year) cause approximately 58 deaths per year and a few hundred injuries. One would think: I’m really not that lucky, there’s a far better chance that I win the lottery than to get struck by lightning. That sounds pretty valid, right?

Well, no. The thing is: while you’re camping out in the open the chance of you getting hit by lightning increases greatly. Even if you’re inside your pop-up camper, you’re still pretty much outside. Most pop-up campers are made out of materials that easily attract lightning strikes (more about that in one of the paragraphs below).

As you can see, being cautious when it comes to lightning strikes is not something you’d wanna call overreacting.

How to recognize a pop-up camper?

We didn’t take into consideration you might be new to the pop-up camper concept. Let’s get you covered on the subject of the pop-up camper craze sweeping through campsites all around the country.

Basic information

Now here’s the standard definition. A pop-up camper is a towed recreational vehicle (RV) that’s very easy to set up (even at night, which we know can be a pain with tents). Also, it can be collapsed during transport, which makes it so popular among RV devotees (and regulars, also) in the US.

What about the price? Since you’re asking, you might wanna know that pop-up campers are pretty affordable (in comparison to other types of RV’s).

What they’re made of? (and other features)

We’ve mentioned earlier the materials most pop-up campers are made of.  Let’s take a closer look:

  • Your typical pop-up camper consists of a trailer frame, a hard roof, pull-out bunks, a box, and soft walls.
  • Most pop-ups have a 12-volt DC power system (also incorporating an AC-DC transformer and a deep cycle battery) and interior DC lighting.
  • You’ll probably find freshwater tanks in most of ’em. If you’re wondering how long does the water supply last in most RVs, feel free to click here.
  • They often possess a couple of sleeping bunks and a storage cabinet.
  • Some also include regular household equipment: an electric absorption refrigerator, a stove, a microwave, a water heater, an outdoor shower, etc.
  • There are also pop-ups that have an inside bathroom/shower and wastewater tank.
  • You won’t have to worry about various pests lurking around at night since pop-up campers are placed above the ground.

These are all the features one might expect to find inside a pop-up camper. Now, we’d like to talk about something else.

Different types of pop-up campers

There’s a number of different types of pop-up campers to choose from. Based on your preference, your pick will be one of these:

  • High wall pop-up – they feature a taller box which gives you an apartment-like feeling once inside the camper. You’ll also have more storage space.
  • Motorcycle pop-up – a pretty lightweight pop-up easily towed by a motorcycle.
  • Toyhauler pop-up – comes with an open cargo deck you can use to transport your ATVs, motorcycles, and so on.
  • Off-road pop-up – specifically designed to withstand unpaved roads and such.
  • Flip-out camper – you can flip over the roof to make a bunk.
  • Inflatable trailer – you just blow compressed air into sidewalls and the roof, and you’re all set.
  • A-frame camper – as their name suggests, these small, lightweight pop-up campers take the shape in the form of the letter A. They’re very easy to set up and dismantle. You can do both actions in less than a minute.

Okay, we can take on the focal point of this article: Whether or not are pop-up campers safe in lightning? But, first – a picture of fascinating natural phenomena.

A lightning strike near a village road. Are Pop-up Campers Safe in Lightning? You're about to find out.

Most deaths and injuries from lightning strikes happen in nature, outside the city gates. That’s why campers need to take some precautions.

Are pop-up campers safe in lightning?

We’ve finally reached our main topic. Let’s delve deeper into the subject matter.

The Faraday cage

Most of you’ve already heard about this one. To put it simply: let’s say your car gets hit by lightning; the electrical charge travels around the outside of your car (with all the windows closed, of course) and goes into the ground, protecting people inside from getting struck. This happens because the exterior of your car is made out of metal.

Can pop-up campers function like that?

Unfortunately, most pop-up campers cannot constitute a Faraday cage. Pop-ups are not what you’d call the safest shelter from thunderstorms. Some parts of them are made out of composite material (mostly the passenger compartment). It’s obvious this would be no defense at all.

Most outdoor experts don’t recommend sleeping in a pop-up camper during a storm. Some note that they should be used as a so-called last resort if a thunderstorm approaches.

What can you do?

Luckily, this isn’t the famous “what can you do?” response to all of life’s downsides and mishaps. Let’s see what can you actually do to maximize the safety of your pop-up camper occupants and yourself. Unfortunately, all of these suggestions will just slightly decrease the danger. Here they are:

  • Check the weather forecast and act accordingly – don’t plan a trip before you check out the weather conditions you can expect during your stay in nature. Obtain a weather radio, and keep to yourself while going on hikes and outings. If storms regularly occur during the afternoon, plan the mentioned hikes and outings for the morning.
  • Avoid tall hills, ridgetops, and open fields as your camping grounds – now, if you must camp in an open field, and you don’t have any other options at hand, secure a spot in a depression, with something higher that will attract lightning more easily than your pop-up camper. Also, avoid camping near metal poles or pools of water, as we know they’re great conductors of electricity.
  • Understand the warning signs – be on alert for suspiciously looking clouds. Towering ones with dark bases and the ones that have a flattened top should be your prime suspects. Of course, a storm can come out of the blue, so to speak. If lightning surprises you from a distance, count the seconds before you hear the sounds of it. If that period is less than 30 seconds, immediately head for the nearest shelter from the storm.
  • Unplug the pop-up camper from the power source – well, this goes without saying. Also, turn off your cellphone.

Seek refuge in the car, or a nearby building

As we’ve mentioned already, the car can easily function as a Faraday cage. There’s your easiest form of shelter. A building close by should also do the trick. Once you’re inside the building, stay away from plumbing and electrical installations. If, for some reason, you don’t have those two options (a car or a building close by), squat on the ground to make sure you’re not the tallest object in your nearest surroundings. Remember not to lay on the ground, just squat.

Make sure you don’t waste time taking down other tents you might’ve put up, during the storm.

Once the storm is over

These were all of the things you can do to lessen the chance of getting struck by lightning. Once you see the last flash of lightning, don’t leave the shelter for the next 30 minutes. Let’s say something has gone awful (in this case, we know what’s up – someone got hit). It’s not recommended you leave the shelter to administer CPR or provide some help. It’s best you wait until the storm comes to an end, and seek medical help.

Once the medical crew arrives, make sure you explain to them that the victim was struck by lightning. You probably don’t need this advice, since it’s pretty natural you’d do it anyway, but still… you never know.

A conclusion

That’s about it for this subject. Now you know that pop-up campers aren’t the safest shelter around when a thunderstorm chooses to appear. Hopefully, you’ll find this info pretty useful (not that we’re hoping you’ll encounter a thunderstorm anytime soon). As we all know, nature can be cruel, but we can sometimes outsmart it by being cautious and caring towards others. Knowing what to do in a situation like the one we described above is, basically, a life-saving advantage.



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