All good structures start with a strong foundation. When it comes to tarps and tents that begins with choosing the right tent stakes for the soil conditions in which you will be encountering. I will be covering a few common tent stakes, how to use them, and some alternatives for the worst case scenarios.
We are all familiar with Tent Stakes or pegs, also known as J-hooks or Shepard Hooks, they are the stakes that come with most tents. You can find them in a variety of materials such as titanium, aluminum, or steel, weighing from a quarter of an ounce up to 3 ounces, and varying in length from 6.5 to 8.25 Inches long. They work well in firm soil but they don’t hold fast in soft or sandy conditions, high winds, and they are prone to bending while being hammered into rocky ground.
That is why I prefer MSR Groundhogs. This stakes’ three sided, Y-beam, design provides extra holding power in a wide varieties of soil conditions, they can handle being hammered into rocky soil, and they stay anchored in high winds. They are made out of aluminum, weigh half an ounce, and are 7.5 inches long. If you prefer something a bit smaller and lighter, then try the Mini-Groundhogs. They are 6 inches long, weigh ten grams a piece, and are almost as effective as their larger sibling in many soil conditions. The notch at the top of the stake is perfect for securing guy-lines, and the reflective nylon pull-cord allows easy visibility and removal. When staking out the groundhogs, make sure the top of the Y is facing away from the tarp and use the lower portion of the Y as a guide, pointing your line back to the tarp or tent. This will give the stake more holding power because as the line is pulled in the direction of the tarp, force is put on the opposing side of the stake. The upper portion of the Y, and that force, is distributed throughout the back surface area giving the stake more holding power.
If you need something with even more holding power for snow or sandy situations, consider using Snow or Blizzard Stakes. They are made out of aluminum, each weight about an ounce and are 9.6 inches long. In packed snow or sand, they can be used like normal tent stakes, but if you want to utilize them to their full potential, use them in a Deadman. To set up a deadman feed your line through two of the holes along the stake and tie it off with a bowline hitch on the inside curve of the stake. Decide where you want to place the stake and dig a hole deep enough to bury it where it will remain secure. In icy situations, leave a stick on the ground, under the line, where the line protrudes from the snow to cut down on friction with ice. A few alternatives to using sand or snow pegs in a deadman are using a stick, a bandana or even a stuff sack.
When driving tent stakes into the ground, you don’t have to go along with the old 90 degree angle technique, where your line and stake form a 90 degree angle when it is placed in the ground. It is thought that this old method will give you maximum holding power from your stakes to your guy lines, but there have been studies and tests that show the most effective way to position a stake is vertically straight up and down, with a possible 10 to 15 degree variance. After 15 degrees the stake reduces its holding power by up to 30 percent. The two major factors that you needs to consider when choosing an effective stake is its length and surface area. The longer the stake is and the more surface area it has, the better it will hold in a variety of circumstances.
There are several ways you can attach a stake to your tarp or tent. At the corners of my tarp, I attach loops which can serve several purposes: regular cordage, bungee or shock cord will work fine. Simply feed the stake through the loop and stake it out. In high wind situations, double up the loop for extra security. If you like the idea of quickly releasing your tarp from your stake or just want to try something fancy, girth hitch a toggle or small stick into your setup. There is no need to untie anything later, just pull out the stick. Or, you can add some bling to your stakes with some hardware.
Regardless if you’re a tent or tarp person you will need to know how to attach guy-lines to a stake. Here are three options for tying your guy-lines to your stakes. First let’s start out with a round turn and two slippery half hitches. Wrap the guy-line completely around the stake, taking a turn, then form a bite in the working end and tie two half hitches onto the line. The second way you can tie off your guy-line is by using a marlin spike hitch. Form a loop in your line, then feed a bite from the standing part of the line into the loop, slide the stake between the bite and the loop, pull it tight, and stake it out. The third method is tying a clove hitch. Wrap the guy-line around the stake and do a turn under the standing line, then finish it with a half hitch and tighten. The second way I tie this is by forming two loops the exact same way with the working part on the top of each loop. Then tuck the second loop under first loop, slide the stake into the loops and tighten. All three of these knots will hold fast if you need to reposition your stakes to achieve a tighter tarp.
Eventually every camper will run into a few snags in the field. Maybe you forgot or lost your stakes between where you currently are and where your stakes might actually be, and there is no time to go back looking for them. Maybe your stakes get too bent out of shape, broken, or just won’t work with the soil conditions where you are camping. Here are a few field expedient tips that might just bail you out.
Wood stakes are easy to produce. Simply find a few twigs from a freshly broken limb of a hardwood tree, about the diameter of your thumb, and cut them down to 8 to 10 inches in length. Sharpen one end of the twig to a point and on the opposite end cut a notch on the upper part of stake, this will help by keeping the line locked onto the stake. Pound it into the ground and you are good to go.
Depending upon where you set up camp, you may be limited on options as to how you are going to stake out your tarp, but there are always several alternative opportunities for any situation. On occasion I have tied my guy-lines out to roots, logs, and even rocks. When tying off to a rock I use a Killick Hitch also known as an Anchor Hitch. This one starts out as a Timber Hitch, feed the working end under the rock, back up to and around the standing line, now tuck it under and twist it around and back down the line as many times as you feel necessary. Then tighten it by pulling on the standing line. On the opposite side of the rock finish it off with a half hitch. This hitch is strong enough to hold a rock as you pick it up and will even hold while being thrown. Don’t forget the obvious application of this hitch, its great for canoeing and kayaking. Why carry that heavy anchor when you can just pick one up off of the ground?
In the next part of this series I will be covering guy lines and several ways to set them up. Until then, keep your eyes and ears open and your powder dry!
Some useful information here. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for the compliment and stopping by.
Hi Mike – Thanks for your post. Silly question, but what’s the best knot to create the actual pull loop into the MSR stake. Mine didn’t come with any.
Hi Rebecca, No question is silly. The cordage for the pull loops looks to be the same diameter as paracord and 8 inches in length. It looks like MSR just tied a simple overhand knot, but if you are making them yourself I would make the cordage 9-10 inches long and tie a figure-of-eight loop. I have had the pull loops untie from time to time. Finding reflective cordage might be the real challenge. I hope that helps.
Melissa Gordon says
My Kelty Salida 2 tent has a footprint and rainfly, and came with some pretty chinzy stakes and guylines, and no instructions for staking & tying! I can never figure out what goes where unless it’s a good old j-hook. Your video and guide are fantastic, this is exactly what I’ve been needing! I have been USING stakes for years, but never the correct way, come to find out. Thanks for keeping me from flying away!
LOL, I’m glad I could help. Thank you for the compliment!
Kevin Sweere says
For maximum holding strength, the line (rope) to the tent should go around the stake at ground level, not where the notch happens to be on the stake.
Tying off higher creates a moment (think lever) on the stake encouraging it to roll out.
Kevin Sweere says
+1 for adding the line (string) tie outs. These help insure pulling forces are perpendicular to the stake.
Robert J. hamilton says
very useful information about a tent stake. Thanks for sharing. you can mention some more stakes here. “MSR Groundhog” tent link is not working. while click it shows a 404 error. Please make it correct