‣ Tent stakes can come in different shapes, sizes and materials.
‣ Consider your needs (ex: terrain) and priorities (ex: weight) to choose the right type for you.
‣ Know how to properly stake down your tent (otherwise your tent could collapse in inclement weather).
‣ You don't need tent stakes to pitch a tent. You can use trees, rocks, repurpose hiking gear, etc.
All varieties of tent stakes have some kind of advantage: some are lighter, some hold onto the ground better, some are stronger, while some are a compromised blending of weight, strength, and grip.
And you don’t always just pound them in. There is also a proper way to put your tent stakes in the ground so they stay in place and stay in one piece.
We break down all varieties of tent stakes so you don’t end up stumbling around in the dark trying to secure the corners of your tent in the middle of the night.
|Zpacks Ultralight Titanium Tent Stake||0.19 oz||Titanium||Shepherd's hook||6 in.||$3|
|Easton Nano Stakes||0.28 oz||Aluminum||Peg||6 in.||$3|
|Vargo Titanium Nail Peg||0.3 oz||Titanium||Peg||6 in.||$27
|Toaks Titanium Crevice Stake||0.4 oz||Titanium||Perforated V||6 in.||$18
|MSR Groundhog||0.46 oz||Aluminum||Y||8 in.||$17
|Kelty Nobendium Tent Stakes||0.5 oz||Aluminum||Shepherd's hook||7 in.||$12
|Sea To Summit Ground Control Tent Peg||0.5 oz||Aluminum||Y||8 inches||$24
|Nemo Airpin Stake||0.7 oz||Aluminum||Peg||6 in.||$10
|REI Co-Op Snow Stake||1 oz||Aluminum||Peg||9.6 in.||$3
|Orange Screw Ultimate Ground Anchor||1.8 oz||Plastic||Screw||12 ¼ in.||$27
|Snow Peak Steel Stakes||3 oz||Steel||Peg||8 in.||$4-20|
Tent stakes are easy to identify since they are usually named after what they look like.
You get the idea here... In general, the bigger the stake, the stronger it will be.
Different types of tent stakes
A. V STAKES
V stakes look like a V when viewed from above. They look like Y stakes from one side, but if looked at from behind they look very different because they do not have that third arm.
V stakes have a similar holding power to Y stakes but tend to be slightly weaker since they lack that third side of a Y stake. They are often lighter than Y stakes, though, and are often available with perforations to further reduce weight and increase holding power.
B. Y STAKES
Y stakes are shaped like a Y when viewed from above. These three-sided stakes are very strong and generally provide some of the best all-around holding power among the tent stake varieties. Their three-sided designs also make them very strong. They can handle being pounded into hard-packed dirt with a rock.
C. SHEPHERD'S HOOK
Of all the tent stake varieties mentioned so far, shepherd's hook stakes look the most like “traditional” tent stakes. They are shaped like a shepherd’s crook, a walking stick with a hook at the end to manage sheep.
In this case, the hook works to hold your tent’s guy line and the walking stick portion is pointed to drive into the ground. The hook is also very convenient for pulling the stakes out of the ground when you’re done with them.
These stakes can be made very lightweight and are common in many ultralight backpacking kits. However, their holding power in loose soil is minimal, and they are prone to bending in harder grounds, especially if you try to pound them with a rock.
Titanium shepherd's hook tent stake (Vargo)
D. PERFORATED STAKES (SNOW/SAND)
Perforated stakes are generally larger to provide excellent holding power in snow, sand, or other soft ground. They have holes that fill with snow and allow the stakes to freeze in place once driven into the ground. The holes also help to keep weight down, since these stakes have to be larger to hold in snow or sand.
These stakes are simple and often quite light. They look like nails and usually have a head to drive into the ground using a rock or mallet. For this reason, these stakes are very good for hard ground. Note that some types of peg stakes have a carbon core and should not be hammered. You’ll have to push these in with your foot.
Screws are designed to twist as they are driven into the ground. These are often very large and designed for use in sand, snow, or loosely packed soil. There are also some screw stakes that are designed to screw into ice.
Plastic screw tent stake (Orange Screw Ultimate Ground Anchor)
If you have a freestanding tent, you don’t need tent stakes, but you probably want to use at least a few to keep your tent from flying away. If you have a non-freestanding tent or tarp, your shelter won’t even stand up without tent stakes or something you’ve found to use in their place.
Having tent stakes would also certainly be more convenient than having to scavenge things to use in place of tent stakes every night.
Not staking down your tent—even if it's freestanding—could make an amazing campsite much less comfortable.
Let’s say you just pitched your tent on a beautiful ridge with an epic view. The sky looks clear, so you opt to not attach the rainfly, the only part of your tent that necessitates tent stakes. Before settling in for an evening of eating your dinner and watching the sunset, you run down to the stream to collect some water.
While you’re gone, the wind picks up. You return to your campsite and see the wind has picked up your tent, which you neglected to stake down.
Hopefully, your tent hasn’t blown too far away. But, in the worst case scenario, your tent may have blown over a cliff and your shelter is lost forever. Let’s hope the wind only picked up and threw your tent a few hundred yards.
Ultralight aluminum tent peg (Easton Nano Stake)
(Optional) Insert tent poles or trekking poles into your tent
You can do this before or after you setup your tent. Personal preference. In general, most backpackers setup the poles in the inserts before staking everything down. You can also refer to the instruction of your tent if you are not sure about this part.
STEP 1: Layout your tent and the correct number of stakes required
The number of stakes you will need depends on your tent’s design. Generally, you will need as many stakes as your tent has tie-out points. These points are pretty obvious. They are usually loops or guylines on the corner of the tent. Some tie-out points might be optional, but those optional tie-out points probably will increase your tent’s ventilation or interior space, so it is best to use them.
Be sure to put your tent footprint down under your tent when you lay it out.
STEP 2: Slide tent stakes through guylines (or loops) and insert into ground
You will need tent stakes about 1 foot away from every tie-out point (or guyout loop) on your tent.
Insert tent stakes at an angle into the ground with the pointed end going towards your tent and the head angled away. If your tent stake is not angled in this way, they are much more likely to pull out of the ground after you have tensioned your guy lines, especially if the wind starts blowing.
Push stakes in by hand as far as you can first. When you cannot push them into the ground any farther and if they are not fully inserted into the ground, use the sole of your shoe or boot to press them into the ground until the entire stake minus the head is underground. If you cannot push the stake in by hand or with the sole of your shoe (and your tent stake can handle being hammered), grab a large rock and pound the stake into the ground.
If your guy lines do not have a fixed loop tied at the end already, tie a bowline knot to create one. If your tent or tarp does not have line tensioners, you will need to use a different knot such as this one to attach and tension your guy lines.
STEP 3: Adjust stake position and tension guy lines
This is where tensioners on your guy lines are very convenient. If your stakes start to come out of the ground when you tension your guy lines, make sure the head is angled away from your tent. If your stakes are positioned correctly and they are still coming out of the ground, place a heavy object such as a rock or log on top of the stake.
(Removal) Remove tent stakes and pack up.
When you are ready to pack up your tent, pull your tent stakes out of the ground. If you have a shepherd's hook stake, grab the hook and pull. Most other types of stakes come with a loop of cord attached to the head to make getting them out of the ground easier. If your stakes do not have a pull loop attached, you can use your guy line with a fixed loop tied on the end to remove stakes.
After removing tent poles, roll or fold your tent into its stuff sack.
These titanium shepherds hook stakes are common in the most ultralight backpacking kits and are probably the lightest stakes currently available. But, there is a price to pay for the very low weight. They are fragile. Don’t even think about using that rock to hammer them into the ground. They are 6 inches long, and provide good holding power if you are smart with how you pitch your shelter. These stakes are good for moderately firm soil and the thin profile allows them to slide into the ground easily, as long as the soil isn’t too hard.
Available at Zpacks
These aluminum peg style stakes are currently only available in the 8 inch version. The 6 inch version has been discontinued by the manufacturer and is all but unavailable on the internet. These stakes have a very high strength to weight ratio. Strong enough to be hammered into the ground, they’re great for hard packed dirt. Their longer length gives them adequate holding power in most conditions, even loose and muddy soil. If you are able to track down the 6 inch version of these stakes, the .1 oz weight savings wouldn’t justify the significantly lower holding power of the shorter stake.
Available at Mountain Laurel Designs
These stakes look like a 6 inch long nail and can be treated like one. Pound them into the hardest soil, the flat head won’t complain, and the straight titanium shaft won’t bend. These are some of the strongest tent stakes available. You can pound these stakes in almost anywhere, they’ve even been reported to have been successfully hammered into ice. In looser soils you’ll need to put a rock on top of them or they’ll come out of the ground, though.
Available at Amazon
Also check out Vargo's original titanium Shepherd's Hook stake. It's just as performant and light as the peg and can be used in most grounds.
This V stake design is perfect when a little extra holding power is needed. The extra surface gives these stakes extra grip in looser soils, and the grooves on the edges also help with holding on. However, at 6 inches long, these aren’t quite big enough to hold in extremely loose packed dirt. Since these are titanium, they are very strong, and can take a decent beating. They can bend, though, so don’t treat them as if they’re indestructible.
Available at Amazon
These Y Stakes are 7.5 inches long, extremely strong, and grip the ground well in most all conditions. Their long length and Y shape ensure these stakes have plenty of surface area to hold on with. They will shine in windy conditions when you’ve pitched your tent on loose soil. You can also hammer on these stakes pretty hard, and since they’re well designed and big enough, you probably won’t bend them.
Available at Amazon
Other noteworthy tent stakes by MSR:
MSR Groundhog Mini: a shorter and lighter version of the groundhog, not quite as much holding power but adequate for most applications.
MSR Blizzard: a 9.5-inch aluminum snow stake also good for sand or other loosely packed ground. (doubles as trowel)
MSR Cyclone: an aluminum screw and Y stake hybrid for sow and loose soil.
MSR Carbon Core: a 6-inch peg that shave .1 oz from a comparably shaped fully aluminum peg stake. A bit fragile though.
These shepherds hook stakes have a hexagonal shape to increase strength. They are 7 inches long, quite inexpensive, and reasonably light. But just because they’re designed to be slightly stronger than a round shepherd’s hook stake doesn’t mean you can hammer them into hard packed dirt and expect to not bend them. Like any shepherd’s hook stake, the hook will fold if you pound on it too hard. These stakes aren’t spectacular, and aren’t designed to be, but they will hold your tent down well enough in medium soft to firm soil.
Available at Kelty
This stake looks a lot like the MSR groundhog with one added feature. They have multi-height guy points to minimize leverage on the stake in situations where you cannot press it fully into the ground. This feature along with the long Y stake design make it extremely versatile, and will excel in most all ground conditions. They have a rubberized coating on the pull loop to make removing them softer on your finger, too.
Available at Amazon
These aluminum peg stakes have a 3 point locking system at the head to eliminate the need for guyline tensioners or knots. These are quite light, and not too expensive. They are a great option for tie outs in places that don’t have built in tensioners and where you don’t want to tie a knot every time. Their straight profile won’t hold the ground well in softer conditions. You’ll need to hold them in with a rock in that case. These are unique in what they offer, but only useful for very specific shelter setups.
Available at Amazon
Very similar design to the MSR Blizzard but slightly lighter and less expensive. Wide profile holds on to snow or sand, while holes are filled to further improve holding power. The holes on this stake can also be used as tie off points and the stake can be buried in powdery snow. These stakes are only designed for use with the softest of ground, so they aren’t very versatile, but they’re good at what they’re designed for, and are much cheaper than other snow stakes.
Available at REI
This stake is just a giant plastic screw designed to be twisted into the ground. Placing the carrying tube through the top eyelet to form a T, you can twist this anchor in. These are extremely good at staying put once they’ve been screwed in. And, at 9.5 inches, they will work in most types of ground. Orange Screw would be a good candidate for the main anchor points of a large tarp or sun shelter in windy areas.
Available at Amazon
If you’re the type of camper who brings a mallet to drive in your tent stakes, these stakes are for you. At eight inches long, these peg style stakes are designed to be pounded into hard, rocky soil. With an eyelet and hook at the top, looping your guy lines over these is easy, and removing them is too. They’re heavy compared to the other stakes on this list, but these steel stakes really could be the last tent stakes you'll ever need to buy.
Available at Amazon
If you’ve lost one or more of your tent stakes, you probably have a lot of objects that can be used in place of those lost stakes. Anything strong enough to stab into the ground can be used as a tent stake. Look through your pack, and see what you have available to you.
Trekking Poles: If you don’t use your trekking poles to set up your tent, those trekking poles can be used as tent stakes. A sturdy eating utensil can be used as a tent stake as well, but you’ll have to wait to tie out one corner of your tent until after dinner. Be sure to thoroughly clean your spork before using it to eat breakfast, too.
Pocket Knife: Pocket knives can work as tent stakes as well. Just open the knife and stab the blade into the ground. If your knife is part of a multi-tool, loop your bowline knot over a non-sharp tool extended from the opposite side as the knife, then close that tool to hold the guy line in place.
Trowel: Trowels such as the deuce of spades work as tent stakes in softer ground and work especially well if you find yourself camping unexpectedly on sand or snow.
Someone's Trash: If you can’t find enough objects in your pack to replace your lost tent stakes, look in the area around you. Someone’s trash they left behind, like an old rusty grill top, can be taken apart and turned into tent stakes.
Sticks and Sharp Rocks: Sharpen a few sticks enough to drive them into the ground and you have tent stakes. Maybe there are some long and sharp rocks laying around? Use those to stake out your tent.
Large Rocks: Large rocks can be used in lieu of tent stakes too. Pick up the rock, put it in where you need to secure your guy line, and tie the line around it. Be sure to lift with the legs when moving the rock. The last thing you want is to throw out your back while in the backcountry without tent stakes.
Trees, Boulders, and Vines: You can use trees, boulders, vines, and other secure objects that are strong enough to tie down your tent as well. If your tent’s guy line is long enough to reach all the way around the object, wrap it around the base and tie the line to itself to secure it. If the object is too large to wrap your guy line around, you’ll have to use some extra cord if you have it. If you don't, remove shock cord from your pack, cinch cords from stuff sacks, or use the stuff sacks themselves to extend your guy lines Secure the extra cord to your tent’s guyline, wrap the cord around the tree, and tie it to secure.
© Kelly Hodgkins
A. ON A WOODEN PLATFORM
If you know you’ll be camping on a wooden platform and you have a non-freestanding tent, platform anchors are the simplest solution to pitching your tent. An anchor is basically a fishbone-shaped pieces of metal. Attach the guyline to the anchor, slide it between two boards, and turn the anchor 90 degrees.
You can get creative and use items from your environment or in your kit to pitch your tent on a wooden platform or other places your tent stakes won’t work.
Finding yourself camping on a trail angel's deck?
Loop your guy line around the middle of a stake (or stick, trekking pole, etc.). Some guy lines come with a bowline knot already tied, in which case, use it. Otherwise, tie a clove hitch or a taut line hitch to attach the line to your object. (see 11 Essential Knots for the Outdoors)
Now, slide the cord over the edge of the platform, between two boards. Whatever you’ve tied your guyline to will prevent the cord from pulling through the crack. Now you have one corner of your tent secured and it’s time to move on to the other tie-out points.
B. ON A ROCK
When camping on a top rock you can stake out your tent similarly. If there are cracks in the rock you’re looking to set up on, you can follow the same principles used in placing anchors in trad climbing to stake out your tent.
Find a crack that is about the same width as your stakes. Wedge your stake into the crack, angling the stake head away from your tent. You’ll want to find a way to wedge the stake into a crack so that it is easy enough to insert and remove from one direction but won’t come out when pulled from the direction of your tent. When you’ve placed your stake in the crack, loop your guy line over the stake head and tug at it.
If the stake doesn’t budge, move on to the next corner.
If the stake pulls out, wedge it a little deeper into the crack and try tugging on it again until you’ve found the right position in the crack. Repeat this process for all of your tent’s tie-out points, or use this in combination with the following alternate methods.
C. ON HARD GROUND
If you’re camping on concrete or ice, you probably don’t have the right stake for the application. In this case, try using rocks, sticks, or other heavy objects in place of your stakes rather than fighting against that hard ground all night. If you’re camping on concrete, there might be a park bench nearby, for instance.
If you can get your stakes partially driven into the ground, try placing a rock on the guy line in front of the stake to hold the guy line low to the ground. Pile rocks all around the partially buried tent stake to keep it from tipping over, and put a large rock on top of the stake. You have now effectively buried your stake in rocks. It’s probably not going anywhere.
A long stick can also be used as a tent stake without driving it into the ground at all. Attach your guy line around the middle of the stick and place it on the ground perpendicular to the part of your tent you need to stake out. If the stick is heavy enough to hold your tent as is, great, if not, pile heavy objects on top of the stick to secure it in place.
D. ON SOFT AND LOOSE GROUND
If camping on very loose ground, or in extremely windy conditions, you can also place rocks on top of a stake in the ground to provide extra holding power. If the stake still seems to want to come out of the ground just keep piling rocks on top to secure it.
Some photos in this post were taken by Jonathan Davis (@meowhikes)
By Sam Schild (aka “Sia,” pronounced sigh): Sam is a writer, thru-hiker, and bikepacker. You can find him in Denver when he’s not out exploring in the mountains somewhere..
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
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