Tent stakes. What you need to know.

The sky was blue, and the sun glistened over the lake as if nature itself was watching over me. The cool breeze was refreshing, and symbolic of the sensation of freedom echoing from wilderness as I prepared my meal for the evening. I stirred my pot contently while absorbing the smells of beef and noodles. My concentration was fixed, as my stomach crazed sustenance after a long day’s journey.

Distracted, I hadn’t noticed the black looming clouds flowing over the tall mountain on the other side of the lake. Fiercely, and quickly, the rolling wall of wet steam stampeded across the ridgeline. Trees began to bend, and the wildlife fell silent in awe.

My attention turned, looking across the lake as the sun vanished beneath the bellowing avalanche of rain as the clouds rolled down the side of the mountain onto the flat of the lake. That’s when the wind gained footing, and charged for my camp, from a mile away.

MSR Ground Hogs

Left sides, the ones that failed me during the storm. Center, MSR Groundhog stakes. Right, big steel stakes.

Shocked, a mighty gust of wind slammed into my boy knocking my cooking pan out of my hands. The power was amazing, and frightening considering the amazing weather that I was enjoying seconds ago. I put out my stove and began to shove things into Protective areas as quickly as I could, but there was no hope. The storm had already reached me! In a matter of seconds the wind was tearing through camp, and the water poured down on me.

I looked over just in time to see my tent being ripped out of the ground despite proper staking and guying out the lines. First one, then two stakes pulled out of the earth. Next, the two more, the vestibules have now come undone. My tent, my shelter, my fortress, was being ripped apart! The tent bowed inward, lifting off the ground, the front of the tent now reaching the back as it was bent in half. Somehow the back stakes where holding, but just for a second. I abandoned my position as cook and dove into the tent, using my body to force it back to the ground as it reared into the air on two feet, in angsts of the wind. I rode out the storm using my body against the wall of the tent, holding it down. Rain poured into the flaps of the tent, the vestibules flapped in the wind like flags during a raging battle. I was wet, and disappointed. I saved my tent but much of my gear was blown away, never to be found during the amazing, sudden storm.

The moral here? Your tent stakes probably suck. It’s a small detail, but one that cannot be overlooked.

Tent stakes are small and generally overlooked when it comes to backpacking. Your shelter is on the line here, and you do not want to cut any corners. I recommend MSR groundhogs, or similar two or three sided stakes. They’ll cut weight, hammer easier, be more durable, and above all, they’ll hold your tent! Another alternative, are long steel stakes for snow, or generally softer areas. They are heavy, but this plays to your advantage if you need that extra bit of holding power. There are also some “cyclone” stakes that hold well loose dirt, but they are bulky, and expensive. Still, they are light and another alternative.

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