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When Lightning Strikes Your Trekking Umbrella…

Bright lightning hit the tree

Can a trekking umbrella protect you against lightning? No. Lightning is attracted to the highest thing around. So if you’re in an open field and you open an umbrella above your head, there is a higher risk that lighting will hit you.

It doesn’t matter if the handle of your umbrella is made of a conductive material or not. Umbrellas with a carbon fiber handle (Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow Carbon), a fiberglass handle (Zpacks Lotus Umbrella) or an aluminum handle (Gossamer Gear Lightrek Umbrella), will all attract lightning if, when held aloft, they make you taller than the surrounding landscape or vegetation.

How is it possible that a non-conductive material can conduct electricity? It’s simple: that lightning bolt is so powerful that anything it strikes will either conduct the current or it will flow around it and continue its course. The electricity can even jump to adjacent objects that are not in direct contact with the original target.

To put things into perspective, a typical lightning bolt is about 300 million volts and about 30,000 amps, which is enough electricity to power a small town for an entire day. In comparison, household current is 120 Volts and 15 Amps. So it doesn’t matter if the thing lightning hits is a conductive material or not. That much power will completely overwhelm anything it comes into contact with and keep on going down your umbrella handle and your arm.

Net net. Don’t be the highest thing around when its starts to thunder and lightning.

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14 comments

  1. This is a shocking exposé. Thanks Phil

  2. It’s easy to forget simple practices when in the bush. Thanks for the reminder.

    I’ve had my hair, or what’s left of it, standing on end several times, in the mountains and out at sea. One of these was when riding a horse up Mt. Wheeler near Taos and I was caught in a violent electrical storm. Fortunately the horse and I were lucky that day, although the horse tried to kill me on the way down by attempting to scrape me off, buck and bite.

    Don’t stow your umbrella or hiking poles above your pack. They quite literally are lightning rods. If your hair is standing on end, ditch them on the ground completely; you can return to pick them up later if you are still alive. 0.02

  3. So when a thunderstorm is likely I should always invite my 6’8″ brother in law along?

    • Jack we have a tree close to the house that has been hit by lightening 3 times. Once it burnt a major branch and once it blew another major branch clean off. The house is tsller than that tree and there are 8 trees close by thatare much taller that all appear to never have been hit

      Dont rely on your brother in law. :)

    • My brothers in law are shorter than me, so they’re even more useless than normal!

      They don’t read this blog…

  4. “Lightning is attracted to the highest thing around”

    Yes, usually… However, a Ranger in NM said to me, as we looked out the window at the narrow deep-grooved valley before us, that she had watched lightning hit the high ground, the bottom of the valley, and the hillsides on both sides. She said this after I had commented about lightning always hitting the highest points. Shortly thereafter, we were cleaning our hiking clothes in a laundromat in the next NM town and, standing in the doorway, watched lightning strike the flat ground, 75 yds from us, halfway between a telephone pole and a trailer. Go figure!

  5. Carbon fiber conducts electricity as well. Phil, your conclusions remain the same. This is from one that hikes with a five foot composite (carbon and Kevlar fiber) hiking staff.

    • I wrote in response to sophmoric tit for tat between two UL umbrella vendors who claimed their umbrellas would prevent you from getting zapped by a lightning bolt. Need to get your marketing right!

  6. Those who think a small layer of isulation will protect them from something that’s traveled miles through the air are in for a shock!

  7. maybe a larger style umbrella incorporating a metal mesh could be developed to act as a faraday cage.

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