How To Find the Best Ultralight Tent Stakes for Backpacking
Tent stakes are usually one of the last pieces of gear you'd ever think about upgrading. Tent stakes are mostly unseen and definitely not as fun to shop for. But if you've ever been backpacking during a storm or in strong winds, you'll quickly appreciate high quality tent stakes. They could mean the difference between a comfy night's sleep and a rude awakening if your tent collapses when the stakes come out of the ground.
I spent more time than I'd like to admit researching all of the tent stakes on the market. After seeing how flimsy the stakes were that came with my tent I decided to upgrade and went down the rabbit hole of reading review after review. After countless hours of research I feel confident that I've found the best tent stakes out there and they only cost $5 :)
Why You Should Trust Me
I am a backpacking fanatic. I live in Michigan and have backpacked the Manistee River and Manitou Island. I flew out to Colorado last year and spent a week in the Rawah Wilderness and this year I'm going out to backpack in Grand Teton.
Whenever I get a chance to get out in the wilderness I take it and I've been able to field test a ton of gear over the years.
My first 1 man tent was a Eureka Spitfire (check out the review here). Unfortunately for me the tent stakes were pretty flimsy. This gif shows how easy they are to bend.
After getting those weak stakes I went on a mission to find the best tent stakes out there. This article is a round up of everything I learned.
What's Your Use Case?
Before I jump in to the different tent stake options and my top pick, I want to make sure you think about how you'll be using your tent stakes.
This article is going to be focused on lightweight tent options for ultralight backpackers. I'm going to be balancing cost, weight and performance to review each of these options. There are other tent stakes out there that may be cheaper or may work better, but I'm trying to find the trifecta of cost/weight/performance that makes the most sense for backpacking.
If you mostly car camp or don't need to go ultralight, then you can find some nice, heavy, cheap tent stakes that will do the job at Walmart or any general outdoor store.
Top Pick - Best Backpacking Tent Stakes
If you're in a rush and want to skip ahead to the part where I reveal my top choice, here it is. If you want the full background on why I chose these tent stakes you can read the rest of the article.
AliExpress Aluminum Stakes - 10 High Quality Stakes for $5
Almost everyone recommends MSR Groundhog stakes as the best backpacking tent stakes due to their lightweight and solid design.
These Aliexpress tent stakes are a direct copy of the MSR design but they cost a 75% less.
I was skeptical when I first bought these but $5 for 10 tent stakes is a steal and the total weight is under 5 ounces.
Common Tent Stake Materials
Most tent stakes for backpacking will either be aluminum or titanium, with aluminum being the most common.
You can find tent stakes made of carbon fiber, steel, plastic and even wood (those are probably better for vampire slaying than camping). Here's a quick run down of the pros and cons for each material, why you might want to choose this material, and an example from different manufacturers.
Aluminum tent stakes are the most popular for backpacking because of their light weight and low cost. Aluminum is flexible which makes it easy to work with (which is why they're cheap to buy), but this is also it's biggest downfall.
Aluminum stakes bend easily and can be difficult to drive into hard or rocky soil. The stakes are also easy to bend back to their original shape so it's not a serious problem.
Aluminum stakes come in a variety of colors but the most common is the plain, unpainted style shown here.
Titanium is even more lightweight than aluminum (titanium stakes weigh about 1/2 as much as aluminum).
Titanium stakes are also pretty easy to bend so the same warnings from the aluminum stakes apply here.
Titanium stakes are less common and cost a little bit more compared to aluminum. If you're looking to shave every last ounce then titanium might be a good option.
My top pick for stakes I mentioned earlier weighs 4.6 oz for a 10 pack. If you bought 10 titanium stakes (as pictured), it'd weigh about 2.2 oz.
Carbon fiber tent stakes are pretty uncommon in the backpacking world. Their downsides usually outweigh the benefits and they're more expensive than aluminum.
Carbon fiber is very strong but brittle. Carbon fiber is lightweight and cannot be bent, but it will snap in half if stressed too much.
Carbon fiber stakes weigh about .2 oz each which is the same as titanium.
Steel tent stakes should only be used when you're car camping.
Steel is cheap and durable but also very heavy. Steel tent stakes are the only ones you can hit with a hammer and not have to worry about damaging them.
When we looked at aluminum stakes we were planning on 5 ounces for 10 stakes. 10 steel stakes would weigh 24 ounces, or 5x as much as aluminum.
Plastic tent stakes are cheap and lightweight but they don't have much gripping power.
This means they pull out of the ground very easily which is the last thing you want when you're backpacking and you have 40 mph winds barreling down on you at night.
Plastic stakes can make sense for use around the home to hold down tarps but you shouldn't use this for backpacking or camping.
I've never actually heard of anyone using wooden tent stakes but they do exist! Wood swells when it gets wet which means these tent stakes will expand a little bit when you put them in the ground.
Wood is also lightweight but it's also not very durable and doesn't have as much grip as aluminum.
I wouldn't advise using wooden tent stakes while backpacking because of these flaws and it also costs at least double what aluminum stakes would be.
Tent Stake Designs
After landing on a material, the next decision will be what shape of tent stake you're looking for. For most people, V-stakes will make the most sense since they perform well in the most common backpacking terrains.
Sticking with the name theme here, Y-stakes are shaped like a Y. Just like V-stakes that use their unique shape to add additional strength and prevent bending, Y stakes ratchet this up to the next level by adding another fin to the tent stake.
Y stakes are usually made of lightweight materials and are meant for backpacking in all terrain conditions.
Nail stakes are shaped like nails (duh), with long slender stakes and a larger, flat-ish top which makes them easy to hammer into the ground.
Because of their size and weight, nail stakes are meant for car camping. Because of their increased weight and size, they're very durable and will hold up forever.
Additional Features to Look For
Most tent stakes have similar features and since the beginning of backpacking, there haven't been a lot of changes in the way tents stakes are designed aside from different shapes and materials. Here's a couple of features to look for when shopping for tent stakes.
- Loop pull cords - Some tent stakes will have a small, fabric loop at the top of the stake. This makes it easier to pull out of the ground. Usually I just wiggle the stake back and forth to loosen it up then pull it out but a loop can make this easier.
- Carrying pouch - Most tent stakes will come with a small pouch for holding the tent stakes. If you're an ultra lightweight backpacker, ditch this bag and save a little bit of weight. Personally I bring it with me for convenience and so I don't have to worry about losing any pieces.
- Number of stakes - Make sure you figure out the maximum number of stakes you'll need for your tent. Usually a backpacking tent will require at least 4 stakes for the tent (head area, foot area, on each side), a couple for the rainfly, then 2 or 3 additional stakes for the guy lines. Guy lines aren't usually necessary but if you're in strong winds you'll want to use them. Don't get caught in the back country during a storm only to find out you skimped and bought 8 stakes when your tent needs 10.
My Top Choices for Best Backpacking Tent Stakes
Backpacking can be a pretty expensive hobby when you start upgrading your gear. To me, tent stakes aren't a critical piece of gear that I'd splurge on. I prefer to spend my money on backpacks, tents and sleeping bags, so I'm going to break this up into 3 categories instead of simply declaring 1 brand as "the best".
- Best bang for the buck - This is the best option for getting the most features at the lowest price and weight. It won't be top of the line, name brand, but it will work for almost everyone and save you money.
- High end, best of the best - If you're focused on cutting every last ounce and money is no object, this will be the choice for you.
- Old faithful - This will be a middle of the road pick that's affordable, lightweight, and is widely considered to be a good choice. If you don't want to "risk" the low end option and don't want to splurge on the high end, this is the choice for you.
Best Bang for the Buck - AliExpress Stakes - 10 for $5
My top choice (and the option I personally use) is the 10 pack of aluminum Y-stakes from Aliexpress. This 10 pack of stakes only costs $5 which is as much as some other brands charge for a single stake!
Most tent stakes you'll see online are made in just a couple of factories. There isn't much of a difference between the AliExpress stakes and some of the name brands other than the additional mark up you'll pay.
These stakes have held up well for me and cost about 1/4 as much as the name brand. The entire 10 pack weighs in at 4.6 oz which is very lightweight and the best you'll ever do for $5.
Best High End Stakes - Zpacks 6" Titanium Stakes
If you're looking to save weight and are OK with spending a little bit more money, the Zpacks titanium stakes are your best bet.
A 10 pack of Zpacks titanium stakes weighs just 1.9 ounces and will cost $20.
$20 won't break the bank but compared to the $5 stakes from AliExpress you're only saving about 3 ounces. It's a lot easier to cut ounces from other areas of your gear, but like they say, ounces make pounds. Is it worth it to spend $15 extra to save 3 ounces? Your call.
Old Faithful - MSR Groundhogs
MSR Groundhogs are the go-to choice for most backpackers. MSR makes really high quality gear and is a well known brand in the backpacking world.
You can't go wrong with MSR stakes but to be honest they're almost identical to the AliExpress stakes and cost about 4x as much.
They come in packs of 6 so you'll probably want to buy 2 packs.
Just to keep the comparisons the same, 10 of these stakes weighs 4.6 ounces which is exactly the same as the AliExpress stakes...almost like they're the exact same stakes :)