Ask Our Experts: Tent Lightning Strikes, Unleaded Camping and Sun-Drying Tomatoes

MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers receive guidance on tent lightning strikes, burning unleaded gas in camping lamps and making bottles of sun-dried tomatoes.

| July/August 1988

MOTHER's column gives MOTHER EARTH NEWs readers a chance to ask our experts about a variety of homesteading problems that are in need of a good answer. 

Ask Our Experts: Tent Lightning Strikes, Unleaded Camping and Sun-Drying Tomatoes

Electric Tents

My tent poles are made of fiberglass, not metal, and this is a great comfort to me when violent electrical storms thunder around my campsite. But I want a bigger tent and the available models all seem to have aluminum poles. Any information about lightning being attracted to aluminum? 

When the perfume of ozone surrounds your tent, it may be reassuring to know that metal does not; but aluminum poles aren't a pronounced liability over fiberglass ones most of which have metal ferrules. Lightning, impetuous stuff at best, is indiscriminate in its search for a path to ground. If it can't find a handy pole, it will settle for a body of (90%) water—you, for example. Jed Williamson, chairman of safety for the American Alpine Club, does say, "If your tent actually gets hit, aluminum poles will make the strike more severe."

Though avoiding lightning is mostly luck, remember the stuff we all learned as children. Stay off high, exposed ridges. Keep away from isolated features—a tree, a rock, a knoll. Head for ditches, depressions, stands of trees—places that decrease your odds of being lightning's fall guy. If storm-trapped in a tent, insulate your body from wet ground with rubber soles and foam pads, and think comforting thoughts: If struck, you have about a 70% chance of surviving and about a 50% chance of selling your story to Reader's Digest. 

—David Swift 

Mountaineer and freelance writer David Swift wrote the article "Tents" for MOTHER EARTH NEWS in 1988. 

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