How Do You Put Plastic Stakes in the Ground

Man setting up tent with plastic stakes

You’re out on your first overnight trek. Your stuff in and on your backpack, and you’re looking for a place to spend the night. You find it in the dwindling light, unpack and begin preparing to pitch your tent. You unpack everything, lay it out on the ground as you practiced in your backyard, and – you run into trouble where you didn’t anticipate it. 

The stakes won’t go into the ground. 

Your plastic pegs, which you got with the tent or bought because you read they are the lightest, are bending and breaking. It’s nothing like on your lawn when you were preparing your tent for its first use.

Maybe it’s bone-dry, frozen, or just too rocky. In any case, the stakes refuse to penetrate. The scenario is frustrating and unpleasant, but there are things to try if you get caught in it. And there are many more things to do in preparing to avoid it. So, how do you put plastic stakes in the ground?

If you’re setting camp on soft ground, you’ll have no problems driving your plastic stakes into the soil. More often than not, you’ll be able to push them in by hand, and that’ll do. If you run the tip into a hidden rock, try a few inches further. The same, though with more effort, should work in the medium-hard ground. 

There are different types of tent pegs, and each is suited for a more or less specific task. You should be acquainted with each of them. And unless you can be sure that you’ll camp on a particular terrain, you should have the equipment for every possible scenario. That doesn’t mean any scenario – just any in which you may find yourself.

What Types of Tent Pegs are There?

There are several ways to differentiate tent pegs. By material, there are pegs made of various types of metal and plastic stakes. There are even biodegradable tent pegs. They’re great for massive events with many tents and tarps. When it’s time to pack, the organizers can leave such pegs behind without polluting the environment. That saves the hassle of collecting, cleaning, and packing hundreds, if not thousands of stakes. 

Of course, when necessary, you can also use makeshift stakes made from branches or secure your tent with rocks.

Some pegs serve very specialized purposes, terrains, and scenarios. Alpinists screw them into rocks or ice, for instance. Rock pegs are no more than a large nail with a cross or a ring welded near the top. Those you hammer in between rocks, but they’re also an option for rock-hard ground.

Tent pitched with plastic stakes

You can also bring a groundsheet peg, a giant plastic thumb-tack that will hold your footprint firmly in place. You probably aren’t reading this to prepare for an inherently dangerous adventure dictating very specific hardware. For mainstream camping, you should acquaint yourself with these pegs. When you make plans, don’t rely only on whatever the tent manufacturer tossed into the pack.

The Usual Stakes

  • The round wire peg is what you will get bundled together with most tents. Usually, it is the cheapest and weakest. Some roundwire pegs aren’t low-price, however. The metal alloy and size determine their sturdiness, traction, and, of course, the price tag. In any case, the roundwire peg has limited capabilities, and particularly the light models will easily bend.
  • The skewer and ripple pegs are variants of the roundwire but with a modified structure. The former has a spirally twisted and the latter a rippled body for more traction. 
  • The skewer peg is sensitive to subterranean obstacles and bends easily. The ripple peg is especially well-suited to sand and resists pulling vertically and vectored by the tent line.
  • The delta is an innovative peg-shaped like a boomerang or as a sharply bent hook. It is the best security against the wind. With both ends pointed toward the tent, it digs in deeper when tugged. If you are heading out on a windy weekend, bring enough delta pegs to secure at least one side of the tent. With the deltas securing the side facing the wind, you won’t have to spend the night holding your shelter together.
  • The half-round U-peg is a rugged metal stake with a shaft bent or folded lengthwise. The cross-section makes a U or V – hence the name. The U-pegs are usable and reliable on nearly any terrain.
  • The harpoon peg is another relatively new design. Stuck into the ground – best on gravel, grass or sand – it offers plenty of grip.

The Plastic Peg

Nowadays, many tentmakers include plastic pegs into the bundle they ship off to the stores. Particularly in low-cost packages. They hold better than wire pegs, but they don’t work in rocky terrain. Well, they do as long as you don’t hit an underground rock. Then a plastic peg will easily bend. It’s best to stick to the softer ground if plastic pegs are all you have in your bag.

Why would you pack plastic pegs at all? Well, they only dislike rocks and work well on any other ground. And they’re light. So, especially if you plan to hike a long way and over several days, cutting the backpack is a real bonus. Not least, they’re cheap.

On the minus side, the strong plastic stakes are relatively bulky. And not only do they bend easily – their tips are even more vulnerable and may break. Once your peg loses its sharp driving end, you can throw it away.

Plastic pegs come in different shapes: some are simple flat stakes, others have a cross-section of a cross or an X. And some are U or V-shaped. Yet others are spirals that you screw into the ground. Some can have tread holes on top, others have simple and some feature double-hooks, resembling a sagging letter T.

Driving Plastic Pegs Into the Ground

Some campers say they step on the peg to push it into the ground. But when the soil is dried hard, that won’t work either. You’ll probably bend or break the peg. 

In some cases, you’ll have a stream nearby. Bring some water and pour it over the place you designated for the pegs to soften the soil. 

Naturally, that won’t work on rocky or even frozen ground. At that, remember that a broader peg offers more security in soft terrain, but a narrow one take will do well stuck into the hard soil. And you’ll drive a narrower stake into the ground with less effort.

When the ground’s too hard for you to drive the pegs by hand or foot, you’ll have to pound it in. As we’re looking at lightweight backpacking, you’ll probably not carry a hammer or a mallet. But you can use a flat rock for the job. Pound the peg firmly in, all the way. Leaving half out reduces its hold.

What when the ground is soft enough to raise concern that it will not offer enough resistance to hold the tent properly? You can use two pegs, crossing them under the ground for additional hold. And you can always place a sizeable rock on top of the peg to weigh it down a bit.

How to Stake a Tent in the Hard Ground

As discussed in previous lines, the stakes provided with your tent pack may not always be the right ones for a specific campsite. If you’re camping on sandy terrains, you may need broader stakes. On the other hand, rocky terrain may require more robust aluminum stakes. It means, there’s got to be some strategy involved in staking your tent.

To get your tent stakes into hard ground, you need to:

  • Penetrate the soil – you may use little water to loosen up the ground, especially if it is dense
  • Use the proper tools – it may be a rock or a specific tool, but be careful and listen for changes in sound, especially in rocky terrain.
  • Take your time/be patient – don’t try to hammer a stake into the rocky ground too quickly or forcefully. Your stake may get broken.
  • Create a starter whole – try using a stronger titanium or steel stake to create the whole
  • Be ready to compromise – if the stakes don’t work, opt for trees, logs, bushes, or anything that you can tie your tent lines or guy wires to (large rocks, too).

If you take your time and do it properly, your tent will remain staked no matter the type of soil beneath it or the weather.

Prepare Before to Avoid Frustration Later

At the end of the day, unless you’re an experienced camper and aren’t going to your usual spot, do the research. Learn as much as you can, about various types of pegs, about the location you’ll visit, what the ground is like there. Check the weather forecast regularly and adjust your plans, if possible. By doing this, you will manage to even set up a tent at night with no problems.

While cutting weight from your backpack is a legitimate goal, don’t try to set records for the sake of a record. If you do, you could have to pay the price in the middle of nowhere, at the worst moment.

So, a couple of additional pegs will not break your back but they may make a difference between setting your camp up quickly or sweating in frustration. Carry several types of pegs and ensure that you’ll have a solid shelter in nature, regardless of what kind of soil is underneath. 

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