Though small, tent stakes play a vital role in your campout. Using inferior or insufficient tent stakes can mean a disaster for your outing. Proper staking is generally possible only with long, heavy duty tent stakes.
Many tents today come with thin, wire-like stakes. Those are fine in some situations, but won’t hold in many of the circumstances four wheelers face.
When traveling by car, weight isn’t as much a factor as it is for bikers and backpackers. Replace the original tent stakes with good, sturdy ones. They are larger and heavier, but you’re less likely to have related issues while camping.
You have many options to choose from. An Internet search for heavy duty tent stakes brings up numerous retailers and brands.
A few worth looking at:
Whichever brand or type you choose, it should be 5/16 or 3/8″ in diameter and at least 9″ long – plus you need at least 4 more that are 12″ long. While I referenced one sources above with 5/8″ diameter stakes, I feel they are a bit too much for our normal needs.
If you’re handy with a welder, you can fashion your own heavy duty tent stakes. My long ones are pieces of 3/8″ steel rod 12 long with a tab welded on the end. My short ones are 5/16″ recycled 9″ nail type stakes that originally came with a green plastic tab. The plastic tab lasted for about 2 trips. These work great in any type of ground, and will last for years. That tab makes it easy to pry up the stakes, too. This is about the size of rod most muffler shops use to fashion muffler hangers. Maybe you can get them to sell you a few lengths. Another advantage of metal stakes – you can always sacrifice one or two to make a vehicle trail repair!
Most any smooth steel rod will work. I don’t care for rebar for tent stakes. While they hold like nothing else, the ridges make it very difficult to pull up the stake. A 3/8″ round stake will feed through the grommet on most tarps too. They may be slightly too large for the holes in the foot of an easy up – something you should check if you own an easy up.
Visit Home Depot for a quick and inexpensive stake. They sell 3/8″ by 10″ and 12″ galvanized spikes for about 70 cents each. A short tab welded near the top will make them even better. Be sure to grind off the galvanizing where you plan to weld.
Can you get by with plastic tent stakes? Sure. The thicker ones hold well in dirt and are fine for summer camping. Their T shape allows for easy extraction, and the bright yellow color really stands out. If you have them, bring them along as “deep” backup!
When to use long or heavy duty tent stakes
As I mentioned, I highly recommend replacing original tent stakes with heavy duty ones. There are certain conditions which call for long and/or heavy duty stakes. These include:
- High winds: Don’t depend on the weight of your gear to hold you tent down. A high wind can move you, your gear, and your tent a long way.
- Hard ground: Will defeat wimpy stakes.
- Soft ground: Particularly if you’re tenting on sand, you’ll need long tent stakes. I recommend at least 12 in length. Carry at least 4 of the 12″ stakes for sand and to guy out the tent in very heavy winds.
- Frozen ground.
The big issue here is getting the stakes out afterward. The tent stakes may pound in easily enough. But if the ground freezes during your trip, the stake will be difficult to remove. You can use a torch to heat up steel tent stakes, especially heavy duty stakes. The key here is to use a small rope to attach the stake to the loops on the tent. Then you can untie the tent and remove it to avoid setting it on fire. Also, use another stake to dig out some of the dirt underneath, then to pry up on the tent stake.
A couple other conditions to watch for:
- Tripping on tent stakes: First, make sure the tent stakes are pounded into the ground. The only thing sticking up should be the part needed to pull up the stake. Paint the tops of your tent stakes a bright color (mine are red). This also makes them easier to find if misplaced in the dirt/ sand.
- Not enough/no stakes (wimpy ones did not work): Screwdrivers work pretty well. I can always come up with an extra 4 or 5 screwdrivers out of my tool box.
- Camping on a slick rock slab: You can use rocks! You cannot pound in tent stakes, so you’re forced to use rocks. Make sure you tie the cord around the rock. Don’t just set the rock on the cord. That won’t hold, regardless of how heavy the rock is. Find big rocks you can carry without hurting yourself. Use one each to tie down the tent cord. Place one more between that rock and the tent to keep the anchoring rock in place. (It acts like a door stop.) Use extras to hold down the edges of the tent, the rain fly, and the corners of the tarp.
Removing tent stakes
What goes in must come out, as they say. One common frustration with campers is the difficulty of pulling out tent stakes. You can buy a tent stake puller. I have yet to find one that really seems worth carrying. They are either the size of my Hi-lift Jack (which would work if it was that bad) or they are as wimpy as the stakes they are designed to pull out.
Use another tent stake or similar tool to dig around the tent stake then pry it up. If you have a mini pry bar, try that. Twist the stake; just a quarter turn will often get it to release. Another possibility involves tying a piece of rope or chord around the stake just under the top. Depending on conditions, you might be able to pull up the tent stake. (Though you might have to loosen it first.) You may find it easier to tie the rope in loop, so you can pull up easier with two hands (A 6 foot cord tied in a loop gives the best results because it allows you to stand up and use your legs not your back). Resist the temptation to use the loop or rope sewn into the tent to pull up the stakes. If they break you have no way to set the tent up until they are repaired.
Don’t let your campout blow away “ literally “ due to poor staking. Buy or make heavy duty tent stakes, and you’ll rest easier.
For related reading, see Use a Checklist For Every Outing, Tom’s Tips for Tranquil Tenting, and Camp Box Tips.