How to Secure Your Tent When Traditional Stakes Won’t work

The excitement of purchasing your first tent, along with the accompanying visions of many future nights under the stars, has brought you to this beautiful backcountry campsite. It’s nestled on a flat spot of land, perched 1,000 ft above an alpine lake, where you’ve already spotted a soaring hawk, and what you are certain is an eagle’s nest. You pull out your new toy, which has all the bells and whistles needed to create a scenic, and cozy home amongst this wild landscape. A slight breeze, from an impending afternoon storm, breathes life into the leaves as you get ready to pound your first stake into the ground. A few hulk smashes later, you realize that this once in a lifetime site has one downfall: It’s primarily granite bedrock underneath 1/4 inch of hard-packed soil. You’re not getting any stakes in the ground here. A frustrating sigh as you recover from your hulk transformation, and you notice the rain across the lake, which is heading your way. Besides wishing you had bought the freestanding version of your tent, what do you do now?

With this week’s E² article, we are going to share a few alternative ways to ‘stake’ down, or secure a tent when traditional stakes aren’t an option. Take note of these methods, and you’ll never miss out on an epic campsite, just because you can’t get your tent up!

Rocky, or Hard-packed Surfaces

Probably the most obvious places where traditional stakes are not going to work. The very nature of these camp locations, usually means there a lot of rocks around…use them! Most likely, you will need to tie additional guy lines (bringing extra cordage, or permanently securing some to your tent is critical for these types of situations) to the corner attachments of your tent. These can then be tied around heavy rocks, or objects, such as hydration reservoirs filled with water. The key is finding rocks that are heavy enough to withstand the pull created by wind, but also light enough that you can actually move into position.

Sand, or Snow-covered Surfaces

Learn to stake your tent in the sand
Don’t let a sandy campsite ruin your chances of sleeping with a view like that

This is a great scenario for the classic deadman anchor, buried in the soft soil or snow. Dig a  trench, at least 8-12 inches deep, and exactly perpendicular to the eventual pull of your tent’s guy line. A ’T’ shaped hole is also effective in providing room for your cord to exit (the top of the ’T’ would still be perpendicular). Tie your guy line around a stake, or a stick, and place it into the dugout trench, or into the top of the ’T’. All that’s left is to pile on the sand or snow, burying your anchor underneath a compacted mass that helps to disperse the force of harsh pulls.

Another simple, light, and cheap way to have ‘stakes’ for a tent when camping on soft surfaces is to bring along 4-6 plastic bags, like those you get at walmart or the grocery store. Fill them with sand, snow, or really anything heavy, and bury them so that only the loop created by the handles is above the surface. You now have a convenient place to tie your tent’s guy lines.

Some outdoor manufacturer’s even make pouches specifically designed for this method of staking (see REI’s version here). If you’re feeling crafty, you could also make your own like we did below…extra adventure style points awarded to custom prints or unique fabric designs!

Sand or snow stakes

Tent Platforms

These man-made, wooden platforms are being found in more campgrounds and wilderness areas not just for their convenience to campers (clean, flat, and dry surface to put your tent). They are also being built as solutions for reducing environmental impact, especially in frequently visited areas (less ground & vegetative disturbance). Show up with only tent stakes however, and you may be left frustrated with how to secure your tent on this unique site.

The easiest way to stake your tent in this situation will involve the use of some nails. Simply pound the nails into the wood at a 45* angle, exactly how you would with stakes in the ground. Your tent guy line rings/loops/attachments can now go right over this nail (bending the top of the nail outward also helps prevent the guy line from slipping off).

Without nails, but with some extra cordage, you can always tie your tent directly to the 2×4’s of the platform. This can be somewhat awkward depending on the amount of space left in between each board, and the ability to access underneath as you thread the cord around.


Now that you’ve got the skills to set your tent up on practically any surface, there’s only one thing left to do: Get out there and EXPLORE. Check out our upcoming trip dates, and be sure to give us a like and follow on our Facebook and Instagram pages.

Also, if you’ve been digging some of the photos you’ve seen in recent E² blogs, check out E² guide Chris Olson’s new photography page for some outdoor adventure inspiration!



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  1. Well, or you could just buy a tent that sets up outside in instead, ie. poles in the flysheet and inner tent attached inside, like a lot of the nordic tents ?? Also helps keep your inner tent and gear dry.

    1. Agreed, those style tents are a great way to keep your tent dry, if needing to set up during the rain. We love our models from Tarptent! However, that still does not address how to attach the tent to the earth when stakes don’t easily go into the ground. That is what this article sheds some light on.


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