Last Saturday night, my wife and I did a little car camping for one night just to take a break from our busy schedule and have some time alone together. The weather was amazing, so at first we didn't even set up tarps at all. Late at night though, she noticed that the stars in the sky had disappeared and the wind had picked up a bit. Thank god for phone service, because she checked her phone and there was a massive thunderstorm rolling in a little over 100 miles west of us, that gave us a couple hours to prepare. She wanted to get in the car and go home, but I insisted that we hunker down and prepare our gear for a thunderstorm. The gear we had that night had never been field tested in a real thunderstorm and for that matter neither had we.
tldr; we're out camping in great weather when we get a 2 hour warning that a thunderstorm is on its way. I decide to stay in order to put our gear and ourselves to the test.
The problem: The ground was soft and muddy. It was soft enough that I could easily push the y-shaped tent stakes all the way into the ground with one hand. I set up my ENO Dry-fly in a storm configuration, but i was very worried that the stakes would pull out of the ground during the storm. Even worse was that the process of tightening down the tarp actually did pull out a few stakes. As I alluded to earlier, I was using MSR Groundhog stakes which are a good balance of weight, strength (for hard ground), and cross section (for soft ground). Lucky for us, the storm didn't bring as much wind as expected and the stakes barely held. But what if the wind had picked up? I doubt my stakes would have held and for that matter, most of the ultralight stakes I see on the market wouldn't either.
The question: There seems to be a balancing act when it comes to tent stakes. Smaller stakes are lighter and probably hold just fine in hard packed ground. Wider stakes seem better suited for soft ground, but are often unreliable and heavier. So should I carry a set of both? What about the inevitability of stakes breaking or bending? Usually I carry 50% more than I need just for that case alone, but now we're talking about a whole lot of tent stakes. My tarp alone uses 6, so that would mean having two sets of at least 9 stakes. That's 18 stakes for one tarp!
Light, hard ground needle stakes: 6 + 3(50% extra) = 9
Wide, soft ground stakes: 6 + 3(50% extra) = 9
Total = 18 stakes. (3x the required amount for a 6 stake tarp)
Now there is a solution to all of this, but the price is high. It seems obvious now, but the military sets up some huge tents and I'm sure they've had similar issues with tent stakes and soft or hard ground. So they have a wide, aluminum stake that is tough enough to pound into hard ground with a sledge but wide enough to get a grip even in the snow. The drawback? These suckers weigh in at a hefty 3 ounces each.
I wouldn't expect them to break at all or nearly as often as the commercial stakes we usually use, so I wouldn't mind bringing just 1 or 2 extra instead of 50% extra. This means I could take 7 or 8 military stakes vs the 18 commercial ones I mentioned before. Even with the reduced numbers though, these weight numbers are scary.
light needle stakes: (<.5 oz each) x 9 = < 4.5 oz. total
wide snow stakes: (.5-.8 oz each) x 9 = 4.5 - 7.2 oz. total
total weight: < 9 oz. to 11.7 oz
Military uuber stakes: 3 oz each x 8 = 24 oz.
Even with drastically reduced numbers, these military stakes still come out as being TWICE as heavy as the large pile of lighter and weaker stakes.
So, how are we supposed to balance terrain, durability, and weight? Which stakes do you use? Are you comfortable that your setup can handle high winds on any type of ground?