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:
- Y-shaped: Kungix 7-inch, MSR 7.5-inch Ground Hog
- V-shaped: Kelty 6.5-inch J-Stakes
(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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For guylines, I have had good results with Lawson Equipment Reflective Glowire Cord in the “2mm” diameter. It is large enough to work in the LineLoc 3 guyline tensioners provided on my Tarptent and MLD shelters. I prefer the feel and knotting ability of the jacket to that of the Kelty Triptease.
With regard to stakes, I have the most confidence in the MSR Groundhogs. I’m curious to see if the Chinese lookalike stakes that you and Alan are recommending are indeed of sufficient metallurgy to be as durable as the MSRs, which obviously cost more.
I’ve also used the Easton Nano stakes a bit. They are of course light, but I’m not convinced of their longer-term durability, as I’ve seen a couple that had their heads pulled off when used by Boy Scouts, which is the acid test. 🙂
All the stakes are made by the same few factories in Asia. I don’t think there is anything proprietary about MSR stakes. The quality control may be better, but at one-third the price you’re still up if only half the 10-pack of no-name stakes are built to the same standards.
i build a tarp shelter with a 10′ x 10′ 1.1 oz.silicone tarp with loops at all locations so it can be secured to the ground, trees, and has tie outs, and a reinforced center quad-loop where a hiking stick or oar is tied to create a higher roof.
i bring 12 DAC aluminum alloy v-shaped tent stakes (usually use 8 unless high winds), they pound into everything the sierras offers (pulling out of tree roots can be a bummer) … they hold even in gnarly wind & rain i’d never try anything else.
in snow, i tie my rope to the center of the stake (at the little curved notch) and use them like a deadman stake
i install stakes to angle away from the shelter at the top, make a truckers knot and taught each and secure it at the notch in the stake, then run line through the hole on the top of the stakes to lock it in.
i tie a 15-20′ line between two trees 5 feet off the ground and make an adirondack wind shed on flat ground (lol), i don’t tie the tarp to the guy line directly so it doesn’t stretch out, i run the center lines through loops on the tarp then use small ropes tied on each end and use prusik knots to create tension on the tarp.
i use 1/8″ reflective poly cord, it doesn’t stretch as much as nylon or get as wet when it rains (sierra showers).
love the reflective rope, helps from taking out your shelter or yourself tripping over a rope at night !
i bring pre-cut/fused rope 1×100′ (emergency long line), 2×50′ (center lines), 4×25′ (four corners), 4×12′ (prusiks) … that’s 350′ of line, but i hate being miserable because i didn’t have enough line so i bring it all now !
i cut those annoying rope loops off too 🙂
also painted my stakes bright orange, makes seeing them easier when i lose them in the woods.
I use 7″ aluminum gutter spikes @ 10 for $3.00. They bend, but not really easily. I often swage an aluminum collar about an inch below the head so that I don’t push them all the way in. I’ve got all of the types of stakes that you mention plus some Easton tubular aluminum stakes. The tubular stakes are big and lightweight, but I don’t have much experience with them. I can’t find any fault with your recommendations and, if I were in your part of the country, I would probably use harder, more expensive stakes more than I do.
As far as tie out lines, I use mostly braided nylon or polyester cord. I also use Zing-It, but I prefer to use 3mm cord or accessory cord, because it’s easier for me to tie and untie. I’ve been using your McCarthy hitch method for the last couple of years and try to use slippery knots as much as possible. I usually braid a loop in one end of my tie outs so that I don’t have to tie them to my tent or tarp. That way, they are easier to move around when I want to change the pitch.
Gutter spikes, nice. Will have to remember that one for when I assemble a budget kit.
Hey Andrew, good article.
I use the groundhogs myself (warbonnet superfly tarp for hammock)
Just curious about your statement on pull loops. You said you cut them off, and then have to wrap shock cord to get them out of the ground? Why not leave the loops and attach your guy line to the loops? I’ve been in just about every weather condition and never had an issue doing that.
No extra cord is needed. Use the guylines on your shelter. Normally I loosen the knot some (a McCarthy or truckers hitch) and that gives me enough slack to wrap the stake head and pull without putting too much extra tension on the shelter.
With stakes that have the pull loop holes, I create an instant pull loop by threading the existing guyline through the hole and then holding both ends. I find that this works better than wrapping the stake head with existing cord (especially for some stake designs like the DAC aluminum “J-stakes”).
I leave the pull loops on. My old eyes need all the help they can get finding stakes sometimes!
I’ve been known to put colored or reflective cord on for that same reason.
I put a strip of neon nail polish around the tops of mine.
I’ve used gutter spikes, but I’d like them better if they were an inch longer. I’ve used Gary’s Stix, which have the double curved head and are longer than regular skewer stakes. And I’ve used 6 and 7″ DIY aluminum V stakes. Get a length of 1/2″ right angle aluminum from Lowes, cut to size, cut a point, file a notch. Dip the top in Plastidip (or use a finer file to smooth the notch edges). You can do a batch of six in about 40 minutes.
For guyline I like Glowire. I put a smaller diameter Prussik on it and use it in place of linelocs.
A couple of others have mentioned them, but I have used the Easton tubular aluminum stakes in a variety of ground conditions and had incredible success — not one broken stake even in rocky/rooty ground. I even like them better than the MSR Groundhog. The only downside is that the company went out of business, so eBay and Bearpaw are the only places I know of you can get them.
How do you feel about groundhog minis? Seems way better than skewers, but do you think the weight savings is worth the loss of surface area and length over a regular groundhog?
Depends. If your shelter is free-standing, and stakes simply need to tension some guylines so that the vents work properly, then the Minis would be fine. They would also be fine if you regularly camp on relatively compacted dirt, such as what you find most of the time in the forested East.
For guylines I use Braided Mason’s Line from Home Depot. It’s lightweight, visible, and never had a breakage!
I have a bunch of braided mason’s line as well, but my experience with it was not as positive. It was not good (at all) at holding friction knots, hard to work with, tended to fray (fuzz out) esp. if used around the trunk of a tree for a tarp or the somewhat sharp edges of a Y-stake. On the plus side it came in day-glo colors, and it is inexpensive.
I found a thinner paracord, 325 (rather than 550), to be a good substitute. Holds knots much better and is much easier to work with.
What is your opinion of carbon fiber tubular stakes, such as those sold by zpacks (http://zpacks.com/accessories/stakes.shtml)?
They have a similar cross-sectional area to Y or V stakes, but weigh only 0.22 oz each. I imagine they have much, much better holding power than titanium skewers at similar weight, perhaps even approaching, if not equaling, the holding power of Y/V stakes. The price is obviously a disadvantage.
I like 1.25 mm Dyneema cord (with sheath of course) for guylines. I agree that I wouldn’t want to be tying/untying lots of knots with it, but for McCarthy/trucker’s hitches that are fully releasable I find that it works quite well.
I have not used CF stakes enough to know how they perform relative to other stakes. It seems like an odd use of CF based on what I know of the material from bike frames and trekking poles (both vulnerable to impact, especially laterally) but maybe I’d be surprised.
Ryan – Late to the party here, but I wanted to weigh in. I have broken 3 of these exact stakes (always towards to head). Maybe fine for softer ground, but I camp in the Sierra, and they don’t seem to do well in hard/rocky ground.
Slightly off topic, but I seem to recall a link being provided from this site to a discussion of the optimum tie-out length for each attachment point on a square tarp. Does anyone know of such an image? As I recall it had something like 4′ for each corner and 8′ for the ridgeline or mid edge lengths.
Question on the Kungix stakes you recommend. I use a double wall freestanding tent. The corners need to be staked out, but the loops on the corners are pretty thick. Can you use these stakes for that type of staking?
There’s enough of a lip that the stakes should bite the loop sufficiently.
That said, I would highly recommend adding at least 2 feet of line to each corner. What are you going to do if there is a rock exactly where you need to put one of your corner stakes? Some line will give you options.
I recently “upgraded” to y-shaped stakes (msr mini groundhogs) to save a little weight and have stakes that are better at staying in the ground.
I’m finding that the trade off is their tendency to not hold cord very well. Cord must be placed in the notch perfectly, the stake needs to be at the right angle and firmly in the ground otherwise the cord pops off far too easily, even by a slight wind.
Will probably bring 2 or 4 of normal aluminum hooked skewer stakes for convenience in the future. They perform better in some situations.
Learned a couple new things / tips in this article. Thx. Swear by the Kelty Triptease cord. The hardest thing that I still haven’t figured out is the type and variety of stakes to bring on a long hike. I don’t like to pack my fears … but I don’t want a catastrophe.
Hallo Andrew, hallo everybody,
what do you think about complementing (only if need be of course) say MSR GroundHogs with strong titanium nail pegs? Nail pegs like Hilleberg’s Titanium Stingers (https://hilleberg.com/eng/tent/tent-accessories/), Vargo’s Titanium Nail Pegs (https://vargooutdoors.com/titanium-nail-peg.html) or similar Ali Express knock-offs; just not those with a predetermined breaking point at the head like Toaks’ Titanium Nail Pegs (https://www.toaksoutdoor.com/collections/accessory/products/peg-05).
I am willing to pay extra for something that lasts and I am obviously not overly concerned with weight, but I would nevertheless like to get away with only two sets of stakes for everything that is not sand, snow or solid granite. Thanks to the Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, I finally settled for a trekking pole ridge tent (https://www.tarptent.com/product/stratospire-li/), so I need strong anchors.
Based on my personal experience Hilleberg’s Titanium Stingers complement GroundHogs very well in rocky designated mountain campsites (along the GR20 on Corsica in the Mediterranean for example): 1.) Unlike the skewer stakes mentioned in the article, they don’t bend. 2.) Using the pull out loop to attach the guy line, there is no danger of the guy line slipping off; the other problem with skewer stakes mentioned in the article. 3.) Their big advantage is of course, that they do get into the ground where I feared the GroundHogs would not survive further stone hammer strikes. (I am not easy on them: I already lost a GroundHog, that I accidentally hammered into a root.) This is of course the flip side of the third problem with skewer stakes mentioned in the article: the reduced holding power. 4.) They take rock hammering better than GroundHogs, thanks the harder material, round flat top and again their higher penetration power.
The only alternative I can think of, apart from rearranging big boulders hopefully present at my camp site, are 11g/0.39oz size S DAC J-Stakes (http://www.thetentlab.com/stakesncords/stakesncords/orderstakes.html), of course in addition to MSR GroundHogs. But I am concerned that they are almost as hard to hammer in as the GroundHogs. Of course the smallest J-Stakes have quite some things going for them: 1.) Each individual peg is lighter than a 14.5g/0.51oz titanium nail peg. 2.) 12 of them could possibly spare me carrying 4 extra 14g/0.49oz GroundHogs to double the ridge line tie outs and the strut corners in the Scandinavian mountains (allowing me to quadruple these points with 3 J-Stakes and one GroundHog each) 3.) The article kind of recommends them. 4.) This french guy on YouTube who almost exclusively hikes in the European Alps swears by them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXmzysjj3W4).
So, what do you think about complementing MSR GroundHogs with strong titanium nail pegs or the smallest DAC J-Stakes? Thank you in advance for your answer.