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  1. #1

    The compromise of tent stakes

    Background:
    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.

    commercial stakes:
    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?

  2. #2
    BrianWillan's Avatar
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    Placing heavy objects (rocks, logs, etc) over your stakes will help keep them in place in soft ground. Other options would be to tie off to nearby trees, roots or other convenient natural points.

    Cheers

    Brian
    Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment. - Unknown

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  3. #3
    Senior Member AKA Pete's Avatar
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    My "plan"

    My "plan" is to tie off to other trees or brush so I look for the best spot to do that.

    But I do carry 4 aluminum stakes for just in case. Only found 2 good tie offs? That means I can double stake the other two points if need be.

  4. #4
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    If the ground is too soft for my stakes, i just dig a hole, fill my socks and/or extra material (like last time, i cut my camp towel in 4ths and used them. Now i have 4 camp washcloths... lol) with the sand or whatever the ground is, tie the tarp lines to the bundles of earth, bury them with about 8inches of earth, and finally jump on it to really pack it in!!!

    If my explanation is weird, checkout "how to make a deadman stake" i think that's what they are called

  5. #5
    Senior Member Moel Siabod's Avatar
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    If the ground is soft and the wind is high, I use found sticks bolstered up with rocks or logs. They really grip better than any stake money can buy.
    "Live like you will die tomorrow, but learn like you will live forever." Gandhi

  6. #6
    DuctTape's Avatar
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    Tie off to other things like AKA Pete said. If nothing is available as is often the case in established campsites, use a stick (as Moel said). If the ground is muddy, use one that is longer and thicker and keep pushing it in until you can't go anymore. Tie off to that. If the ground is hard, use a greenish stick and sharpen the end and pound it in with a rock or log. Great thing about sticks is you have plenty of sizes/shapes to choose from, added bonus is they weigh nothing (how often when people say this, it isn't really true).

    <- been stakeless for a few years now.
    Last edited by DuctTape; 10-16-2012 at 17:39. Reason: added reference to Moel.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Moel Siabod's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DuctTape View Post
    <- been stakeless for a few years now.
    Oh the joy and freedom of stake-free hiking.
    "Live like you will die tomorrow, but learn like you will live forever." Gandhi

  8. #8
    Senior Member XSrcing's Avatar
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    A couple times in high winds I have double staked my guy lines beaus rocks/roots wouldn't allow me to use one long stake.

  9. #9
    Prefers life at 12 MPH. FLRider's Avatar
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    Run into this quite a bit down here in sandy FL. If you have to set up in soft ground, deadmen are the way to go. Dig an hole, attach your tie-out to something (I usually use one of my Groundhogs), and fill it in. Repeat as needed.

    I don't want to go to that much trouble virtually every time I set up my tarp, and with FL being as sandy as it is, I would if I used needle stakes. Hence the Groundhogs.
    "Just prepare what you can and enjoy the rest."
    --Floridahanger

  10. #10
    dangerous's Avatar
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    Man I have been waiting all day to post this (I can view but not log in from work) In soft or loose soil/sand/mud bury a dead man. You dig a small hole or pull up some earth then wrap your line or clove hitch it to the middle of your stake, lay the stake flat down in the hole so the stake and line make a "T" pointing towards your tarp. Replace the removed soil and pack it down. You can also add rock, logs or whatever you can find to help hold the soil down. These work great with sticks too.
    -Jon-
    Beware of the man who owns one gun, he probably shoots it well.

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