Space & Innovation

Killer Lightning Strikes Thwarted by 'Bolt' Tent

The lightweight Bolt tent promises to protect campers from lightning strikes in the backcountry. Continue reading →

Lightning can kill, and those caught outside far from shelter are the most vulnerable. Now a lightweight super tent promises to protect hikers and campers from deadly voltage.

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Polish designer Kama Jania developed the Bolt tent after seeing that most people struck by lightning were caught out in the open. Her goal: Increase safety for hikers and campers who find themselves far from shelter during nasty storms.

Her Bolt tents are made from ultralight materials and can be set up rapidly. Currently her design calls for three sizes, from a one-person version down to a half-tent that can be erected in tight spots too small for a typical tent. They each offer varying degrees of protection.

Each one has components you'd expect to see in a tent like connectors, clips, waterproof fabric, and a groundsheet. Only Jania's version directs voltage away from the inside of the tent, and the special groundsheet protects from "step voltages," the ground currents that are a common source of injury.

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Last fall Jania used a high current generator to test the tent's durability. She directed a series of electrical discharges at the top of the frame and filmed the result. Watch the video of what happened:

Her tent didn't come away from testing unscathed. The stakes melted a bit and the points where the pole segments connected got scorched. Better the tent bear the brunt of the damage than its occupant, though.

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Lightning strikes fear into my heart. Once a hailstorm opened up during a day hike in Colorado with friends. Lightning struck all around. We spread out. I crouched low, covered my head with my hands, and cried like a little kid. Not my finest moment. Fortunately now I know what to do for safety during a backcountry storm.

Earlier that day we'd seen a regular tent set up next to a high lake. Afterward, I hoped those campers had stayed away from their lighting-attracting shelter. Now with gear like the Bolt Tent emerging, there's another option for protection. Sure beats sobbing.


After we ran a blog post about how Lake Erie was almost completely frozen over, we got an email from Cleveland resident Mike Sutadji, who had some even more surprising news. He and his buddy Ariel Travis actually had ventured 2.5 miles out onto the ice and spent the night there in a tent, enduring temperatures that dropped to just 9 degrees Fahrenheit. They've got the pictures to prove it. After Travis, seen above, saw National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration charts showing the ice thickness on Lake Erie, the two got inspired to venture out onto the lake's frozen surface.

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Sutadji and Travis hiked used a NOAA chart showing the thickness in various areas. "When people watched us walk out from the beach, they looked at us like we were crazy," Sutadji recalls.

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Travis and Sutadji, climbing on ice ridges. "It was like we were on Antarctica, not near Cleveland," Sutadji says.  

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Here's a closeup of a lighthouse that the two men saw during their hike.

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At night, out on the frozen lake, Cleveland exuded an otherworldly glow in the distance. The nighttime temperature dropped to 9 degrees Fahrenheit. "Next time, we're going to bring a warmer tent," said Sutadji.

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The men didn't see anyone else out on the frozen lake. They had cellphones to keep in contact with people on land, and a small supply of provisions -- canned tuna, beans and mandarin oranges.

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Another view of Cleveland from the frozen surface of Lake Erie. At one point, the two men found themselves enveloped in fog, which made the environment seem even more isolated and alien.

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