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Q:

Will a space blanket attract lightning?

Will a space blanket attract lightning? Jeff Santa Monica, California

A:As questions go, that isn't a bad one. Space blankets, after all, have a metallic coating, lightning is caused by an electrical discharge, and metal conducts electricity. So, put together, you have all the ingredients you need for camper taco. Reminds me of a gadget my dad got many years ago. You'd spear each end of a hot dog on a metal spike, plug it in, and zz-zzz-aaa-PPPPP! HotBdogs.

So, it's theoretically possible that a space blanket might attract lightning. But, I can say with confidence that there's no record of a backpacker getting beaned by a bolt when huddled under a space blanket. You could put a space blanket on right now and march around in it for the next 20 years, and the odds are greater that you'll win Powerball, hit for the cycle in consecutive World Series games, and receive a flirtatious note from Heather Graham before you are struck by lightning.

Not that lightning is to be trifled with. And yes, I admit it: the last sentence in the previous paragraph was written in jest, not because it was accurate. Overall, in fact, the odds that lightning will hit you during your lifetime are about one in 709,000. Better than the Powerball win, probably slightly worse odds than a note from Heather. Still, regardless of a space blanket's lightning-philic attributes, you can do plenty to protect yourself when in the backcountry. During a lightning storm you should:

  • Stay off peaks and ridges;
  • Find a low-lying area with lots of smallish trees and shrubs. Stay away from large trees standing alone;
  • If caught on open, sloping ground, sit in a low area but do not try to find a cave or deep hole. Ground lightning may be conducted to such a place;
  • If you have a metal pack frame, stay away from it. Same for tent poles. But, if you have a pack without a lot of metal in it, sit on it with both feet on the ground;
  • Cover your ears and eyes to avoid damage from the flash and noise of a close strike.


Do the above, and everything will be fine!

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