Camping 101: Staking A Tent In The Snow

My most embarrassing moment winter camping was at a campground within the Badlands of South Dakota. We had traveled from Minnesota’s Twin Cities to the western reaches of our neighboring state to the west to enjoy a long weekend of winter camping and snowshoeing. My job was to pitch the tent — a task made a bit more challenging by having to pick a site buried by about 18 inches of fresh snow over a 6-inch base. I chose a flat area somewhat protected by trees on one side and proceeded to clear away an area for the footprint of the tent.

Once leveled I laid the tent out and began driving a tent stake down into the frozen ground. It wouldn’t budge. "Hmmm, must have hit a rock," I decided, and moved the corner over about 6 inches. Again the stake resisted against an immovable hardness. "Hmmm, dang BIG rock I surmised and moved the tent once more. After a third strike at the impenetrable ground I decided to scrape away the last inch of ice coating the surface to see if I could find a path through to soil that I knew I could drive a stake through.

Tom Watson

Use Heavy-Duty Stakes
As I chiseled away the icy layer, I started to notice a strange color. More chipping revealed the color “yellow” — as in lines in a parking lot "yellow." I had not scouted out the area as carefully as I should or I would have realized that I had not drifted far enough from the turnout to actually get out into the camping area. Instead I had caught the edge of the asphalt surface with the corner of my tent. Luckily I was using a heavy-duty stake and other than a few nicks in the lot surface, all was well.

Staking through frozen ground, coupled with copious amounts of snow are two challenges faced by the person delegated to pitching the tent during the cold of winter. Special stakes are made to mitigate that hard penetration. One type is a steel-aluminum alloy commonly marketed as a "snow stake." It has a series of holes running along its shaft, is a bit longer than a regular stake, and can be used sparingly at key corners and/or stress points along the tent’s perimeter.


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