Friday, July 27, 2012

Wilderness First Aid: Lightning Safety/First Aid in the Backcountry

A thunderstorm approaching my camp. This storm ended up producing large cloud-to-ground strikes in the area.

(click to enlarge)

Summertime in the high country brings extremely dangerous electrical storms, so it's best to be prepared if you get caught out in one. Below is an excellent lightning safety\first aid guide by the National Outdoors Leadership Council (NOLS) that should be read and memorized in case you are caught in a storm. Lightning kills more people in an average year than all other natural disasters, so never, and I mean NEVER, underestimate the ability of lightning to strike you while you're out bushcrafting in the backcountry.

Once you've read the NOLS safety guide, check out the Discovery Channel video below to see in slow motion, how a stepped leader forms and strikes an object. The part of the video which shows the slow-motion stepped-leader starts at 2:37.

Here's an incredible live video showing a cloud to ground strike, and why it's important to stay out of open fields during a storm!

If you're out bushcrafting and are able to get to your car safely when a storm is approaching, do it! Vehicles provide the safest shelter that might be available in the backcountry. This video shows a mini-van being struck by lightning on a highway, but the occupants walked away unscathed due to it grounding out the lightning.

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ (without spaces)


  1. Comment emailed to us by "L."- thank you!

    The Crew Over at Rocky Mountain Bushcraft,

    I would comment on the articles on the site but I do not have the needed prereqs to post on your site anymore. Sorry to hear about the comment thing, I would love to comment more should you ever decide to open that back up.
    Just wanted to thank you for the lightning safety article. I love going out during the summers but that coincides with t-storms and it can get pretty rough out there if a good sized one rolls in. There was good info in that NOLS article. Some things I was always told: 1. never be the tallest thing in the area. 2. If out with a buddy, separate. Not so far as to be out of visual range, but enough that if one of you gets nailed it doesn't take you both out and the other can administer aid. Its one of those topics no one thinks about until they are outside wondering, so I am glad you guys brought it up. Thanks again for all you do.

    All the best,

    1. I might add that there are no "prerequisites" for commenting on our site, just a simple Google ID, which only takes 2-3 minutes to setup.

  2. Wrong post Mike, this belongs on the Dave Canterbury post.

  3. Who cares if he a factory worker before he took on dual surival the guy did a great job acting cause it is a show lol and this new guy is a moron and I know why the army didn't want him cause he cant make a fire lol what a joke