Back in July I seized on a weather window and probable lack of snow and did a big alpine traverse in the Bob. Early summer in the alpine, especially in the limestone reaches of the Bob that hold water in mysterious places, generally mean bugs. So when set my camp the first night, in a notch in the rugged ridge at 8000 feet, I chose the only unambiguously flat spot, right in the middle of the pass. This had the advantage of being away from the springs on the north side (and would thus hopefully keep the many elk I’d seen that evening from tripping on my guylines), as well as the extensive grizzly diggings along the eastern (and more verdant) edge. Most importantly, it would take advantage of any breezes to reduce bug pressure.
The disadvantage of this approach is that any storms would come full force, which is just what happened at 3 in the morning. The thunder and wind woke me up simultaneously, and I had plenty of time to assimilate the simultaneous flash/bangs as the storm rolled over, as I was sitting up with my back against my tarp, hoping to help keep both the paddle sections propping up the rear intact, and the windward end stake from ripping. Neither of these things happened, and after 20 or so minutes I went back to sleep to the music of frantic rain.
I was sleeping in this tarp, with the wall end fortunately facing dead west. That end was propped up by my Shuna, with the ridgeline supported by a single MSR Cyclone, and the corners by MSR Groundhogs. These burly stakes, hammered with significant into the rocky alpine soils, were the main reason my sub 1 pound shelter held tight.
Pictured above is an MSR Cyclone at top, MSR Groundhog, and DAC J stake (formerly standard with Sierra Designs tents) at bottom. All are made from stout aluminum alloys which over the years have proven immune to any abuse. I’ve never bent any of these, and only broken older Groundhogs (10+ years ago) by snapping off the heads pounding them into frozen desert soil with a rock.
Contrast this with the shit stakes that came with the Sierra Designs Clearwing we bought this summer, and the state they were in after the very first use in the field. Fortunately that night in the Beartooths only featured pouring rain, and was not accompanied by any wind.
Lesson being; don’t get good tent stakes, get the very best. If your fancy tent, tarp, or mid can’t stay upright, all other particulars are irrelevant.
I’ve used Groundhogs since they first went on the market, and they’ve only gotten better with time. For years they were all saw fit to use. I first came across the Cyclones looking for something that would provide enough holding power in loose soils for the great forces bigger shelters (like the Seek Outside 4 man tipi pictured at top) inevitably enact. They’re expensive, but they do that job admirably, along with providing reassuring overkill for smaller shelters in extreme conditions. Anyone who camps in sand or sandy soil should have a few, as well as anyone who camps in the alpine. Adding stake point to an otherwise vulnerable shelter like a tarp is the traditional approach. The limit here is in the form of soil conditions, which might not admit two guylines, at an acceptable angle, on a primary load point. A cyclone can be pounded into almost any ground without buckling, and is a more reliable solution to a guy point that must not fail.
In conclusion, it is appropriate to excoriate the many companies who sell faux-MSR stakes with their shelters, presumably in hopes customers will never have cause to know the difference. MSR doesn’t cut generous deals on the wholesale front because, building the best stakes on the market, they don’t have to. Either providing these stakes with your shelter, or having the grace to sell shelters without them, communicates seriousness and respect.
There is currently no substitute.