Camping one summer along the sandy banks of Minnesota’s Rum River, our Boy Scout troop learned a valuable lesson in proper tent staking technique.
It was during a torrid summer thunderstorm that swept through the area. Back then we used canvas Baker tents, a large lean-to-shaped monster with no floor and a huge, wall-sized flap cover. The entire tent was roped down with 3/8-inch diameter “mooring” lines worthy of a large cabin cruiser.
The winds advancing ahead of the storm front began streaming through our campsite. As was the nature of the Baker tent, our group of four started bellowing in the wind like spinnakers at the start of a regatta. Filling up like ticks on a hound, the Bakers began pulling loose from the sandy soil faster than they could be re-hammered into the loose ground.
Using BIG Stakes!
Finally, in desperation, our Scoutmaster drew out his knife and in a Zorro-like sweep of his blade cut one of our lashed dining tables into a pile of 4-foot-long poles. “Grab those legs and cross supports and use ’em for tent stakes!” he shouted. Maybe we should have just dropped the tents but we knew the tough Bakers could take it if they didn’t blow away first. We staked our tents down, driving at least half of each table leg into the sandy soil. It worked — and lesson learned.
There are several styles of tent stakes on the market today, and several tried-and-true ways of securing a tent using natural materials, and a few tricks learned along the way as well.
Most stakes, whether they be made out of wood, wire, metal, or formed plastics, are about 6 inches to 8 inches long. The design is straightforward and suitable on most types of firm, but permeable surface. Sometimes, however, the ground is too loose, too wet, too rocky, or otherwise unfriendly to the common stake. Loose ground can be tackled by using two stakes, one to hold the guy line and one to hold the first stake. Sometimes, as we did with the table legs, a longer stake can work in soft ground.
The ‘Deadman’ System Works
Another technique that works in soft ground, sand, and most often in snow, is using a “deadman” system. This is where a guy line is anchored to something buried or otherwise held in place such as a log, large branch, or even large stones. The idea is that a larger surface area — and sometimes shear weight — of the anchor overcomes the looseness of the ground, thereby holding the tent and enabling guy lines to be tightened.
One form of a deadman anchor is to either dig a trench or otherwise secure a large branch or log parallel to a side of the tent and at a staking distance away. Several guy lines can be tied to this support if it’s long enough. Sometimes an individual, arm-sized log can be attached to each guy line and buried to provide the same support. Oftentimes, rocks can serve a similar purpose where even their shear weight literally holds the guy line to the ground. Using a tautline hitch on the guy line will enable one to still loosen or tighten the line as needed.
As a last resort, or simply a handy convenience, lashing at least some of your guy lines to nearby branches — at the base of small ones, a stout branch on bigger bushes — will work well, too. If it’s that windy that bushes are being pulled out of the ground, you’ got a lot more serious things to think about.