A tent stake is a lowly item that just needs to address some very basic issues:
- Easy to drive into the ground;
- Stays put when in the ground;
- Easy to remove from the ground;
- Light and small enough to be carried;
- ...yet durable enough to do their job when replacements are not readily available.
With such a basic list of requirements, you'd think that this would be an easy job to fulfill. Well, anyone who has ever set up a tent more than once already knows that this is not necessarily the case.
First, a glance at the commonly available competition:
- Molded plastic stakes:
- Lightweight, relatively inexpensive, but bulky and brittle (by far the most common stake that you'll find left behind by litterbug campers before you... In pieces.
- Stamped steel stakes:
- Heavy, moderately bulky (when not carefully stacked), relatively robust, but may be bent if the tip strikes a rock or tree root (although easy to bend back and keep in service.)
- Bent aluminum rod stakes (comes standard with most tents) :
- Really light and compact, but poor holding power in all but the most benign conditions. Will bend into a pretzel if you so much as look at it funny.
Enter the MSR Groundhog stakes. These have a "Y" shaped cross section, and are made from lightweight aluminum.
This equal-sided "Y" shape, with guy line notches on all three legs, are lightweight, fairly compact, offer better than average holding power, and drive into and come back out of the ground without much fuss.
This non-directional shape is handy in the dark, since you don't have to be sure that the guy line hook is properly oriented when driving it into the ground. While this isn't exactly a difficult task to get right with your eyes closed, once you realize this feature it does become a nice touch.
While they do drive nicely into hard or rocky soil, if it doesn't go in with just moderate tapping of the hammer, hatchet, or rock, don't force it! They will bend or break, which I have done.
Also, if using your foot to push these into the ground, stop pushing when you meet any resistance beyond that of soft soil, otherwise you risk bending them (which I have also done.)
Which is not to say that the Groundhog stakes are not durable; they are. These are just a couple of things to look out for.
Another nice feature is the pull loops, which are made using guy line cordage with a reflective tracer. I actually found this to be extraordinarily helpful in locating a stake still in the ground after dark. Just be sure to retie the knot when you first get them; they're a little loose from the factory. This is just a tip, and not a mark against the stakes. It's easier than tying your hiking boots.
If you can't just pull the stake from the ground with a couple of fingers in the loop, just use another stake through the loop to use as handle. That way you can use your whole hand for more pulling force.
The downside? The price! They are made from extruded aluminum. For those of you who don't know, the extrusion process can be thought of being similar in concept to a pasta maker... only you're squeezing out aluminum instead of pasta dough. This is a decades old technology, and is an inexpensive way of forming thousands of feet of aluminum into your desired shape. The machining cuts to finish the product are very simple, and with aluminum being as relatively a soft a metal means that tooling costs are also low. To top that off, these are being currently made in China. While I do prefer a U.S. made product, I'm not adverse to purchasing overseas goods. It's the cost I'm talking about here.
They -are- overpriced for what they are, and for the low cost of production that they have. That being said, I do still recommend a set of them for your tent. At about $2.50 each, 25 bucks for an average tent will not break the bank... Especially when you consider that you'll get to use them for years to come, and they can be moved from tent to tent.
The bottom line is that MSR's Groundhog tent stakes are a superior product, and with a little care in using them should last indefinitely.
Now go camping!