Best Stakes for A Thru-hike

Tent stakes are a vital part of getting a taut pitch. If there happens to be any wind or stormy weather while you’re camping, you will thank yourself for staking out your tent properly. There are a variety of different stakes that can be used to pitch a tent, but depending on the type of terrain you're camping on, certain stakes will be more useful than others.

Some factors to consider when choosing tent stakes are length, weight and the surface area of the stake, as well as the density of the soil you’ll be camping on. We’ve compiled this blog to help you understand which type of stake should be used for the different types of terrain on your thru-hike.

Shepherd’s Hook Stake

Zpacks | 6” Ultralight Titanium Tent Stake6.5” Red Tough Titanium Tent Stake

Shepherd's Hook Stakes

A lot of tents come with shepherd’s hook stakes. These are typically fairly lightweight and have a decent holding power and durability. However, they require care in rocky terrain to avoid being bent. These are the lightest weight stakes you can find with reasonable holding power and durability. You can use them on most terrain that isn’t rocky or too soft, but they are easier to press into moderately firm soil. Be careful, because hook stakes do have a tendency to rotate in the soil. If you’re camping in windy conditions, or on loose soil, it’s wise to weigh your shepherd’s hooks down with rocks or logs if possible. Zpacks standard shepherd's hook is 6”, but for those hikers that need a little more durability, the 6.5” Red Tough Titanium Stake is a longer, thicker option, and is easier to press into packed or frozen ground.


Zpacks | 6.5" Titanium V Stake

Zpacks | 6.5" Titanium V-Steak

If there are rocks throughout the soil you are camping on, you will probably need something a little tougher and more durable than the standard hook stake. V-stakes are slightly heavier, but will not not rotate in the soil because of their unique shape. They are also much more resistant to bending. They are designed to grip loose soil and remain stable in windy conditions. While they are very strong stakes, they can bend under heavy pressure. If the ground is too firm, they can be turned sideways and anchored by placing a rock on tops of them. V-stakes also work well in softer soil or sand.

Nail Stake

Zpacks | 6.4” Carbon Fiber Stake

6.4" Carbon Fiber Stake

If you’re planning a hike on a trail with soft ground or loose soil, you’ll probably want to bring along some nail stakes. These stakes are typically more successful in soft terrain, but they are also functional in average dirt. Their holding power is meant for a 1 or 2 person tent; a larger shelter may require more heavy duty stakes. Most nail stakes are made of titanium or steel, but for ultralight hikers, Zpacks offers a carbon fiber nail stake with a metal tip and end cap. 


Zpacks | 6” Sonic Stake; 7” Super Sonic Stake

6" Sonic Stake & 7" Super Sonic Stake

If it’s your first time on a specific trail, you may not be sure what type of stake you should bring. When in doubt, bring some y-stakes. Due to their y-beam shape, these stakes work very well on all types of terrain. Once they’re in the ground, their unique shape allows them to grip to the ground unlike other stakes. Y-stakes feel very solid, but if they are under too much strain they may bend, so avoid hammering them into the ground.

Platform Anchor

Zpacks | Aluminum Platform Anchor

Aluminum Platform Anchor

A lot of protected lands have campsites with wooden tent platforms to prevent the hikers from trampling on the surrounding vegetation. Platform anchors are the perfect replacement to traditional stakes if you ever find yourself in a position where you have to use a platform. Sometimes these platforms do have anchors around the outside, but unless you’re carrying extra guyline, your tent may not be able to reach them.

Which Stake is Best for the AT, PCT, and CDT?

Best Stake for the AT

The terrain of the Appalachian Trail is widely diverse, ranging from rocky mountain tops to flat farmland. There are many protected areas where you will find tent platforms that must be used in those specific areas, so having some platform anchors in your pack might be a good idea. For most other terrain along the AT, we would recommend using y-stakes or a mix of y-stakes and shepherd’s hook stakes. Considering the terrain of the AT varies, you’re going to want a versatile stake to be used on whatever type of ground you come across. 

Best Stake for the PCT

The Pacific Crest Trail is known for being very windy in some spots and ranges from sandy desert terrain, to often snow covered alpine. V-stakes are ideal for the southern portion of the trail, and can be used throughout the trail with some success, but y-stakes are more likely to withstand the wind when planted into the harder alpine terrain.   

Best Stake for the CDT

Like the PCT, the Continental Divide Trail’s southern section is sandy desert terrain before it elevates to rockier terrain in the San Juan Mountains. The soil is likely to be a little softer than the PCT, so V-stakes should do the trick for your entire thru-hike. Remember, using rocks will help weigh down your stakes during foul weather.

Keep in mind that shorter tent stakes are lighter, but they don’t have as good of holding power as longer stakes.  Now that you know a little more about where to use the different types of tent stakes, you can better choose which ones to carry on your thru-hike. Don’t forget to carry a spare or two, because there’s a lot at stake. *ZING*


Zpacks Corey

About the Author

Corey Gruber oversees Social Media at Zpacks and helps monitor trends within the industry.