Quick Tip: Tent stakes in hard ground


When  going camping at established campsites, there are certain amenities that often come with the site: A pit toilet, perhaps a water spicket, usually a place for trash.

Some established campsites are better than others, but when they are good, they offer a great way to experience a place not open for backpacking.

The problem with these established sites are that they have tent areas that are very hard and impacted. The ground makes it hard to put a tent stake in effectively.

And it is not just car camping sites, either. When you have to use established backcountry sites (such as national parks), the ground tends to be hard as well.

So what to do? My method in the past was to grab a Big Ass Rock (BAR), pound the stake in, sometimes bend them (with cheaper tent stakes esp.), curse and finally get the stakes in the ground.


A little while ago, I stumbled upon a much easier method. I still use a BAR, but also add the simple tool of a water bottle. Simple. Effective. And saves endless aggravation!

Here are  the easy steps!


High tech!

  1. Take water bottle and pour a small amount of water on area where you plan to place tent stake.
  2. Wait a minute or two for water to settle a bit.
  3. Place stake.
  4. Use the BAR to tap in stake..or even your foot if the ground is now soft enough.
  5. Repeat until all needed stakes are in sufficiently.
  6. Blissfully enjoy  your campsite!

Easy peasy…mac n’ cheesy!

What to use for tent stakes?

My personal stakes of choice in the since 2014  or so have been:

  • MSR Groundhog minis for backpacking. A good, all-purpose  tent stake that is somewhat expensive but is light (.35 oz), versatile, sturdy and holds down well. Works well for the off-the beaten path areas I often favor.
  • Colghan’s Ultralight tent stakes: The budget alternative for above that happens to be much longer.  I use them in my car camping tote. The areas for car camping tends to have harder ground and beats on stakes. Why not use the budget, but still capable, alternative?
  • Gutter Nails The budget alternative I like to use on occassion esp with the large tarp in the camp kit.

 Update:  A well known blogger suggested using urine because it does not waste water. Apparently this blogger has not met someone. 🙂 If she knew I was peeing where I planned on putting the tent stakes…well, let’s just say a Central European accent is really effective at vocalizing displeasure. 😉

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9 years ago

Truth be told, when I was at campsites alone, twice that I can remember, and that I’ll confess to, without water on hard compacted ground with no BARs around to drive in stakes, yes I did soften the ground to drive in the stakes with only water, yellow water, I had on, umm in hand.

Another Kevin
8 years ago
Reply to  Dogwood

One time that I tried that, a porcupine got attracted to the salt. Not only did he dig up the ground and loosen the stake, but he made off with my skivvies that were in the tent vestibule. Porcupines love salt.

We need a followup on how to get the stake out again when whatever liquid you used freezes around it.

9 years ago

I’ve started using aluminum gutter spikes for stakes. They are 1/4″ diameter, 7 inches long, weigh 12 grams each and cost $0.30 each. I dull the points with a hammer so that they don’t poke through the stake bag. They do bend, but can be straightened with a BAR. I’m thinking about cutting some of them to 4″ to save a bit of weight. I’d use the long ones for my main guys and the short ones for edges. They should work fairly well in hard ground.

doug k
8 years ago

when we had kids and started to do more car camping than backpacking, I settled on a nice big hammer, and a bag of Coghlan’s 10″ nail pegs.. http://goo.gl/kxoFXI
Haven’t bent one yet..


[…] PMags says you should wet the ground with water wherever you’re driving the stakes or pegs. Don’t use too much water or the soil will be loose and muddy, but a little bit of water will make it easier for the hammer to push the stakes through the grommets and into the ground. […]


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