Does it feel like an early winter is coming? It does to me! This means it will be time to venture out into to white stuff soon. If you plan to pitch anything on the snow and you want it to be there when you wake up, you’ll probably want to invest in a set of snow stakes. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the available options for the backpacker and how to use em.
Snow Stake Options
SMC 9.5″ Snow Stakes
SMC stakes are fairly common and well known. You can pick up SMC’s from just about anywhere including REI. They usually cost under $2/stake and weigh 1 ounce each on my scale. SMC claims that the “natural” finish of their stakes helps them bond better to the snow that anodized aluminum stakes. No clue if that’s true or not. Made in the USA.
REI 9.5″ Snow Stakes
These REI stakes are very similar to the SMC version. They have a slightly different profile and they’re anodized in an orange finish. These can be purchased from REI (go figure) for under $2/stake and weigh 1.05 ounce each on my scale. One point worth mentioning, the anodized finish seems to smooth out the edges of the stake and holes, or it’s possible they’ve been sanded in a separate step. Either way all of the edges are a little smoother than the SMC stakes… but the million dollar question is: does the anodizing have a negative impact on holding strength?? Made in China.
Zerogram 9.5″ Snow Stakes
Zerogram sent me out a set of their snow stakes last winter to test and I won’t have gotten to it until this winter (2013/14). They appear to be identical to the REI stakes, but mine are consistently lighter (we’re talking grams here) on the scale. They sport the same profile, anodized finish (in blue), and smoothed over edges. These cost about $45 for a set of 6, so $7.50/stake and they weigh .90 ounces on my scale. Made in South Korea.
Toughstake takes a different approach which is more oriented toward sand, but appear to work well in snow also. The large spade where the guyline attaches is buried and is functionally similar to a deadman. I have a friend who used these on an epic snow trip where their shelters literally got buried and he had zero issues with them. These are also made from anodized aluminum. They can be picked up online for about $25 for a set of 4, or $6.50 each. The claimed weight is 1.18 ounces each. Made in the USA.
Suluk 46 Snow Stake
Suluk 46 likes really lightweight gear, and their stakes would definitely fit that description. Weighing in at only .50 ounces each, they’re the lightest I know of. The design concept is similar to Toughstake; it works like a deadman. However the slotting will allow the snow to bond on both sides similar to a traditional snow stake, so these would appear to have better holding power in the snow. The Suluk 46 stakes are made from very lightweight (super thin) titanium and Suluk 46 states that they’re “snow stakes, not ice stakes”. I’d love to put a set of these through the paces over a winter and see how they hold up… but at $90 per set of 4, or $15 per stake I haven’t quite decided to pull the trigger. Made in the USA.
Easton “Camp Anchor” 12″ Stakes
If you know what time it is, then yeah, Easton stakes can be made to work although I don’t really consider them a snow stake. The longer the better, and the 12-inch “Camp Anchors” seem to be a rare beast in the wild. They’re anodized aluminum, cost around $5/stake online (if you can actually find them in stock) and weigh a claimed 1.1 ounces. I have an older version of these that only weigh 0.65 ounces on my scale, the newer design must be a solid stake. In any event, success with this type of stake in the snow is all about proper preparation and installation. Made in the USA.
Yes, there are more out there. SMC offers and anchor type of stake also, though I have a hard time finding them for sale anywhere. I know of a couple of different slotted V-stakes and Y-stakes (or “Tri-stakes” depending on how you call them) around. I don’t really consider these a serious snow stake as they are only about 6 inches long and have very small slots for snow bonding with no other means of holding. There are a few “pickets” which are getting to be super long and heavy, not really backpacking equipment. Then, there are the deadman style anchors which aren’t stakes so I’m not going to worry about those.
How to Use Snow Stakes
It depends on the stake, generally the concept is similar though. First, compact the area you’re going to pitch your shelter on by stomping around on it with your snowshoes or feets. That’s right, I said feets. Moving on, lay out your tent and get it situated the best you can, then decide on the stake locations. I like to give the stake out spots a few extra stomps with a boot to get them really compacted, then stake it out. Do not fully erect the shelter or put tension on the guylines right away. The snow needs some time to re consolidate/freeze around the stakes. This may make adjusting any stake locations a pain in the arm, but at least all the stakes won’t yank out when you go to raise your shelter.
With a basic snow stake like the SMC/REI/Zerogram, I prefer to have the heads right at the top of my compacted surface (which should be near the general snow surface if you fill in as you stomp). I connect these via long loops which are attached to my stakes, then I just loop them to the tent guylines. It’s all loop-to-loop. When it’s time to retrieve them, prying with the tip of the snow shovel will pop them right out.
For stakes like the Toughstake or Suluk 46, the idea is to bury the guyline like a deadman. Deadman anchors can be hell to retrieve once they’ve frozen into the snow, so only bury them as deep as necessary! What’s necessary?? Well, you’ll have to figure that out with experience on various stake/shelter/snow surface scenarios.
All the stakes should get jabbed in at a good 45º angle to discourage pull out. With a non-snow stake like the Easton, everything above is extra important. They won’t work like a deadman, they don’t have the surface area for snow to bond with and they’ll slide out fairly easily if not set properly. If using this type of stake I’d suggest burying the heads under a few inches of boot compacted snow; this effectively makes them even longer and the compacted snow on top of the head will set up and help keep them in place. You may rarely lose a head while retrieving them, but they don’t put up too much fight in my experience. Honestly, I wouldn’t use a “normal” stake like this unless it was a last resort, or possibly only for non-critical guy outs if saving a couple ounces is that important to you.
Everyone who plans to camp once or more on the snow should be prepared with a set of proper snow stakes. It’s actually a safety concern to not carry them (in my opinion) and as with most snow camping skills, getting some practice on trips with a bailout option is always a good idea. I’ve had the misfortune of having snow camped in some rough wind and blowing snow, and even then I had a snow stake or two pop loose under the wind load. If I had used normal stakes there’s no way they’d have held. Moral of the story is: It’s no fun getting up in the middle of the sub-freezing night with snow blowing everywhere and resetting a stake or two – but it’s even less fun to have your shelter blow away and then deal with whatever survival situation ensues. My experience so far has only been with the SMC and extra long Easton stakes. Of the two I strongly prefer the SMC stakes. I’ll see what I can do about getting my hands on some of the others mentioned here and update this post after the winter with my experience. Let’s get ready for some snow camping fun! Hike It. Like It.