Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tent Stakes

The weather lately has been very interesting. Just a few days ago the highs were in the teens. Today it was near 70 degrees. There's Missouri for you. The nice weather makes me anxious to get out on the trail but there's still a lot of snow on the trails (now a lot of slush) which makes for unpleasant hiking. So instead of reporting on a trip I'm going to talk about gear again.

I mentioned in a previous post that I was having trouble with my Tite-Lite stakes. In general I like these stakes a lot. They are very lightweight and work great for pot supports for cooking (as I described in this post). The problem is in the winter when the ground is frozen. I've bent a stake trying to get it into the ground.

I've also lost a stake when the wind caught my tarp and ripped the stake out of the ground, sending the stake flying to who knows where. So I purchased some 8" Easton Aluminum stakes. These stakes are surprisingly light and strong. You can pound on them without worrying about them bending. Also, rather than a shepherd's hook at the end they have a cord which you can tie to your guy lines. That means that even if the wind rips the stake out of the ground it will stay attached to your tarp and not get lost.

I set up my tarp in the back yard and slept under it during the snowfall last week. Pounding the stakes into the frozen ground worked great. I was very impressed. Unfortunately it's much harder to get them out. I suppose it's a testament to their staying power but when I tried to remove them I had to really pull and this was all I got. Actually I had 4 to begin with and it only happened on half the stakes so it wasn't a total loss.

One of the good things about buying gear at REI is their return policy. You can return anything at any time in any shape. Sometimes this gets abused I'm afraid, leading people to joke about REI standing for Return Everything Immediately. In this case I felt justified since my stakes had failed on the first use.

So instead I got some MSR Ground Hogs. These aluminum stakes aren't as light or as long as the Easton stakes but they are all one piece so they can't come apart. And they still have the cord attachment rather than the shepherd's crook. I've talked to people who use them and they all say they are really strong and can take a beating. I won't often need that kind of toughness since the ground isn't often frozen in these parts. But I do need it occasionally.

Actually the best thing to do is often to use no stakes at all. If you can find trees or bushes to tie your guy lines to then that is stronger than any stake. I really try hard to pick a spot where I have things to tie to. Sometimes if there isn't a tree in the right place you can find a heavy fallen tree limb and drag it to the spot. Backpackers who often camp in deep snow really like this method because you can't find any ground to pound into. There are stakes that are designed for holding in snow but I have no experience with them.

There's another trick that I have used when I'm concerned about my stakes not holding. The worst wind I ever camped in was early last spring with Kimberly. We hung our hammocks right next to each other so we could talk. Good thing too since we didn't get a wink of sleep. The wind was gusting to 45 mph and the sound that a tarp makes in that kind of wind would wake the dead. The campground was very sandy and so I was concerned the stakes wouldn't stay. Fortunately there were large rocks around. I pushed the stakes into the ground and rolled a large rock on top of each. The wind didn't yank the stakes out of the ground all that night although it tried pretty hard.

1 comment:

Philip Werner said...

Pitching a tent in winter can be like camping on a different planet depending on conditions. If you are in deep snow, you might want to invest in some SMC snow stakes, which you can bury. They're the kind with holes in them. You dig a small trench, put in the stake with the guyline tied, and rebury it so it freezes. Helps to have a tensioner. Using rocks and logs, if there are any visible, also works. Forget the ultralight stakes though.