This is a multi-post series on backpacking shelter systems. Start with the Introduction or skip to:
- Six questions to ask before buying a tent, tarp, or hammock
- Modular Tent: Gear list & discussion
- Tarp & Bivy: Gear list & discussion
- Hammock: Gear list & discussion
- If cost were no object: My go-to shelter systems, gone ultralight
- Stakes & Guylines: My top picks
I will finish this series on backpacking shelter systems with a discussion of stakes and guylines, which have a critical role but which are normally treated as an afterthought. To maximize the usability and performance of your tent, tarp, or hammock, give them some attention.
If stakes are included with the purchase of a shelter, they normally are about 7 inches long, made of aluminum, and have a V- or Y-shape. Examples:
(Kelty’s J-stakes are named after Jake Lah, founder of DAC, the largest manufacturer of tent poles in the world, and do not refer to the stake’s shape.)
Either of these styles is acceptable, and I wouldn’t recommend anything different. That said, I generally prefer the Y-stakes, which have:
- More surface area, and thus more holding power;
- Direction-neutral orientation; and,
- A deeper notch for cord.
I have bent and broken a few Y-stakes, always at the neck. But it’s very rare, and I’m extremely hard on tent pegs.
V-stakes are lighter (0.4 oz versus 0.5 oz, per stake) and I have never broken one. But they have less surface area, and I can imagine a guyline slipping off one if the “V” is pointed away from the shelter (though I haven’t had or seen this happen).
If you are willing to spend a few more dollars, you can spring for titanium V-stakes. They also weigh 0.4 oz, but they have more surface area and a deeper notch than the J-stakes.
Short loops of cord often come attached to Y- and V-stakes. I always cut them off.
With these pull loops, it is easier to remove the stake from the ground. However, the loops tangle with my guylines and can block the notch that keeps the guyline in place.
To remove stakes from the ground without pull loops, wrap the head with some slack cord, then pull. Easy.
To save weight, you may consider swapping Y- and V-shaped stakes for titanium skewer stakes. If your shelter requires 6 or 8 stakes, this represents a 1.5- or 2-oz weight-savings. But skewer stakes:
- Bend easily;
- Spin in the ground, potentially releasing your guyline; and
- Have little surface area, and thus holding power.
I think skewers are okay for non-critical tie-outs. For example, if the sides of your freestanding tent must be staked out for proper ventilation, you could bring skewer stakes for this purpose.
But for critical tension lines, such as the corners and ridgelines of a non-freestanding tent or tarp, they’d be stupid light. They may work under ideal conditions (e.g. firm but not rocky ground, and calm weather) but they will fail when tested.
There is a basic tradeoff with guylines: weight versus user-friendliness.
Strength is not a concern. The lightest cord I see being used, which is 1.25 mm in diameter and which has a pure Dyneema core, has a breaking strength of over 200 pounds. I struggle to imagine forces approaching such loads on a 3-season backpacking trip (or most winter trips).
Unfortunately, knots are difficult to tie (or untie) with such small cord. A polyester sheath dramatically improves user-friendliness, but I would still not use it when teaching knot-tying clinic.
I have used and would recommend three different types of guylines:
- Kelty Triptease (1.5-mm), which is ultralight, ultra strong, and reflective;
- MLD LiteLine (1.5-mm), which is similar to Triptease but bright orange; and
- PMI Utility Cord (3mm), which is a budget-friendly option that I put on my demo shelters.
My guyline & tensioning system
Once you select your stakes and guylines, you should learn to use them. Watch and read about my system.)
What stakes and guylines do you use? What’s your feedback on them?
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