The "ultimate" tent stake?

Anyone who has used a tent of any size in the field has experienced the comically inadequate nature of the stakes supplied with most of them. Tent manufacturers are driven to, a) publish the lightest possible packed weight of their product, and, b) save as much as possible on the ancillaries supplied with it. As a result, the stakes you get with a tent vary from spaghetti-like round aluminum pegs the diameter of a medium-sized nail (which I have as a demonstration bent in my teeth), to, if you’re lucky with a high-quality tent such as the excellent models from Hilleberg or Terra Nova, a heat-treated, V or T-shaped DAC stake—but still no more than six inches long. The latter work acceptably in perfect grass turf, the former work acceptably nowhere. If you expect to be able to safely anchor your tent in a range of conditions and substrates, you need aftermarket stakes.

The Ultimate stake on top, with a high-quality but too-small factory stake below

Thirty years ago, Black Diamond Equipment produced something they called the Chouinard T-Stake. It was made in two sizes, eight or nine and a half inches, from 2024 T3 heat-treated aluminum. We bought a dozen or so. If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have taken out a loan and bought a hundred. T-Stakes proved virtually indestructible, and the holding power was superb. My old Marmot Taku survived numerous howling Chubascos on Sea of Cortez islands anchored with just one upwind T-Stake; our North Face VE25 sat unperturbed through an arctic storm on the Beaufort Sea coast that the VHF radio said was gusting past 60 mph.

Sadly, tent stakes have a way of evaporating. It’s so easy to miss one after taking down a tent that used eight or ten or more with various guylines. Over the years our original supply of T-Stakes has dwindled to the point where we only have six or seven, jealously hoarded and thus rarely used, which defeats the purpose. Recently I missed an auction on eBay for nine of them, in good condition, with a buy-it-now price of a hundred bucks. I’m glad I missed it, because I would have been tempted.

You’ve gathered that I’ve yet to find a fully comparable stake, and you’re right. I’ve never encountered the combination of reasonable weight and size with that much strength. But I might just have come close. In doing some research for another publication, I literally stumbled upon something called the “Ultimate” stake, at, of all places, Campmor.

Ultimate stake on top, a well-used Chouinard T-Stake below

Made from 6061 T6 aluminum, and available in a stout nine-inch length and an even stouter twelve-inch, the Ultimate stake certainly looks the part. A central U-shaped body is backed up by a substantial gusset—no bending this one with my teeth. At the top are both a hook and a hole for tent loops or guylines (the hook also helps when pulling the stake out). Campmor says they’re made in the U.S., but I found not a trace of branding on the four nine-inch versions I ordered to try. I don’t know if Campmor has them made or is simply retailing them. That’s weird.

The machining on the Ultimate stakes is definitely a step down from the superior anodized finish on the T-Stakes—although, at $3.49 each for the nine-inch size, they’re only a dollar more than the larger T-Stake cost 30 years ago. I plan to take a Dremel to the hook and hole to round off the sharp edges and reduce chafe on guylines and stake-out tabs. Presumably the Ultimate stake is designed to be inserted with the U-shaped edge toward the tent. This gives the stake less cross-sectional area than the large T-Stake and about the same as the small one (although I suppose the U shape might enhance resistance over a flat stake). I wonder if in soft soil using it sideways might be more effective, given the broad gusset.

I tested the resilience of the Ultimate stake by hammering one repeatedly into compacted Arizona Sonoran Desert soil—used for centuries by residents to make bricks, literally. It held up just fine, the most obvious signs of use being a slight peening on top. My experiences with other stakes, especially the T-Stake, leads me to believe this sort of stabilizes over time, whether from work hardening, simple expansion of the contact area and resultant dispersal of impact force, or some combination of the two.

Great—time for test-to-destruction. I chose a patch of asphalt in town and started hammering the Ultimate stake into it—or rather, at it, because penetration was minimal. However, the “weak point” of the stake revealed itself: the point right at the hook, where the gusset narrows. The neck began to bend backwards at that point. A demonstration beyond reasonable expectations, but it did point out where one of these would fail if you seriously abused it.

"Weak point"revealed: note bend at neck

So is the Ultimate stake the ultimate stake? Given the astonishing condition of my 30-year-old Chouinard T-Stakes, none of which shows the slightest sign of bending, I’d have to say no. However, it’s a damned good stake. Available here.