review: MSR Groundhog Stakes

Simply stated: these are the best stakes I've yet tried.

If you don't know, these are actually pretty well known in backpacking circles. It *seems* like something should be better, and yet nothing arises. I've looked for a titanium alternative, but they are hard to find and I always end up back at the aluminum groundhogs.

Q: So, why do I think they are so great?

A: Well, because they are the best tradeoff.

  • They are strong enough that you can push them in with your heal, and not worry about bending them.
  • They hold well enough that you can pitch a tarp in sand with them, as long as it's not stormy, or in sandy loam if it is stormy. I've had them hold in ~50mph wind when stuck into turf (I twisted my ankle on top of a mountain on the AT), a hailstorm in Yosemite, etc. P1000376
  • They're the lightest thing with the two above properties

Q: Do they always work and always hold?

A: No, of course not, don't be ridiculous. For instance, they don't hold in sandy clay in a full downpour with no cover or rootstructure in the soil, and 40mph winds. Neither do they hold in soft-snow unless you deadman them (burry the stake sideways with the twine tied aroudn the middle). I've used them normally in shallow/stiff snow a couple of times and they worked fine.

Q: Why not these?

A: Because in practice I'd rather tie to bushes, rocks, and sticks. These are okay... but I don't trust these to hold any more than I trust a stick shoved in the ground. They bend on hard ground, they don't hold at all unless you're basically in peat. So why the heck would I bother carrying them? I did for a while... no thanks.

Q: How about these?

A: They snap in half, trying to get them to hold in sand in Joshua Tree I set rocks on them and they collapsed. The ones without the holes through them are a bit better, but still don't hold as well as the groundhogs - I currently use them for non-critical stakes. If you're gentle and a gram weenie, the ones without holes may be a good fit for you though.

Q: How about a large curved steel stake? (sadly, I can't find an image)

A: These are awesome, I might consider carrying these again even if I was the type to go up into the rockies carrying a nice big tent and set a base-camp for a long period of time. For "backpacking" though, as I think of it (that is, hiking every day, moving camp regularly, etc.) these are just WAY overkill.

Last notes

If you're a gear manufacturer, could you make some titanium groundhogs? PLEEASE!?

FYI: make sure you get ones with the label/stamp. There are fakes

So, what are your favorite stakes?


  1. 2 comments outside of here:
    1) I intended this to be about "general purpose stakes", if you know you'll hit specific things like sand, snow, etc. obviously you'll want a stake designed for the task.
    2) As an even more specific example, if you're going to the plya, these probably aren't the stakes for you :).

  2. I'm happy with http://www.globetrotter.de/de/shop/detail.php?mod_nr=101671 and http://www.globetrotter.de/de/shop/detail.php?mod_nr=108680

    Both type in use for many years. I managed to bend 2 or 3 of the second type, but overall both are solid and have a great weight and are nearly indestructible.

    1. Interesting!
      I suspect the first are stronger than the similar ones I talked about the article. Mine failed on the first trip, and in sand :(.

      As for the second, that makes sense. That sounds like about the bend-rate I had with the titanium crook stakes. As long as you push them in with your hand they hold up fine.

      I'm really curious about the first ones you linked now... I wonder just how tough they are. Do you shove them in with your hand, pound on them, use your heal? Ever use them in solid hard-packed clay/gravel campsites?

    2. I've used the first ones even in hard soil with my boot or a rock to pound them in. Worked fine, no visible bending after I think at least 3 years of use.

      The other ones I have even longer. I think 7 or 8 years. From 12 I bought 3 are bent but still usable by now.

    3. Neat. I'll have to try those. Thanks for the hint.

  3. Interesting, are the first ones more solidly built then the other titanium v's you've seen? Or maybe you're just better at not breaking things. ;)

    The second type is neat. Good to know they're easier to bend than titanium v's though - I'd been thinking of picking some up.