Right from the outset let me say that there is no such thing as the perfect tent peg, or stake as many prefer to call them, or even ‘sardine’, a name for which I have an inordinate fondness. What there is, is a good peg for specific circumstances. It is better to hammer a decent pin into rocky solid ground than a Y or V profile peg or similar. However the latter type peg is going to provide a far better fix in soft or sandy ground. A Ti shepherds hook will do nothing in soft snow but burying a bag of snow or a stray branch with the guy tied round it will provide an incredibly efficient anchor. All that said, lets have a look at just a handful of the options available when it comes to selecting pegs or stakes to suit a tent or tarp and associated ground conditions.
Nottingham based, and apparently ‘fuelled by doughnuts’, UK firm Alpkit have been designing, sourcing and manufacturing good quality, well priced gear since 2004. Their titanium V peg is a well thought out design and is an easy hop into saving a few grams in tent weight. I have used them in most types of ground, I found that they were just about perfect for the dry, sandy Brecklands of East Anglia.
However I have probably relied on these too much and often attempted to use them in unsuitable ground conditions. It is almost certainly this reason, and my fault, that I have bent so many over the years. The large, brightly coloured cord loop is not only almost essential to pull a peg out, but also enables the grey muted colour peg to be found in the undergrowth. Every peg has its problem, and I feel that the holes in the sides are part of the problem with these pegs. Over the years and following unfair abuse, you will begin to notice that too many are starting to show bends, buckles and curves in various places along their length. This is a problem that manifests itself with many pegs that utilise holes in their length. To my mind, while this is a potential weight saving device, it is too much to the detriment of the strength of a peg and is usually an undesirable feature.
The basic peg, shown above, is in a simple V configuration. This bent piece of titanium provides a good strong profile and the media saves the weight. Weight is also saved by the ten cut out holes in the shank, five on each side. I am told that this design provides more than a weight saving in winter as snow (ice) will apparently freeze in the holes providing increased grip strength. Unfortunately this can be at the expense of gripping a peg more tightly when you wish to retrieve it. If so, just remember to tap each peg into the ground a little further to release the grip before attempting to draw it out.
Even though the damage shown in some of the images here is a little (OK, a lot) excessive and unwelcome. It really is as a result of hard usage. But not what you want to experience on a longer hike. If this is a style of peg you like, yet possibly want a stronger variant, then the aluminium DAC J-stakes (or North Face J-Stakes et al) may meet your needs. These measure some 165mm and weigh 10g each. The extra strength is gained partly by avoiding the hole cut outs in the body of the stake. Again, the cordage loop in the top aids considerably in retrieving the peg from hard or frozen ground.
Alpkit have not just sat back, they have continued to consider and implement improvements to the pegs they sell. Decently priced, their products are definitely worth consideration not only by people watching their expenditure on an item that can easily be lost or damaged in the field, but also by those looking for decent savings in overall weight carried.
This is a hardened aluminium tent peg sold by Hilleberg with their Kerlon 1200 tents or as an optional accessory. The V profile, or perhaps more properly, a half-round U, lends itself best to soft to somewhat firm ground however I have found that they do not last over time. I think it a little surprising that Hilleberg actually sold this peg as they simply do not meet the exacting and high standard of the tents themselves. Hilleberg believe in quality and recognise that their high end, expensive products may be used far beyond a base camp site. They have been supplying products for some of the toughest expeditions for decades however these pegs somehow slipped through the net. Lightweight, yes. Adequate for a decent site, again yes. Take ’em into a tougher region and you are (were) asking for trouble.
While I have found these perfectly serviceable in some peaty grounds in Scotland, other pitches in the same country, with stony ground lying beneath a shallow soil covering have proved too much for these pegs and I have destroyed a number of them as a result. It takes little below ground to force them out of shape. The supplied loop in the top of each peg is a necessity as once in, they hang onto the ground well.
Hilleberg Pro peg
These earlier aluminium pegs, with aluminium heads, have thankfully been upgraded by Hilleberg to their Stinger Titanium (shown on the right) . It was the type shown that came with my Hilleberg however the earlier pins simply weren’t robust enough and despite their generous 9mm diameter will banana out of shape with ridiculous ease.
But, in good ground, often found on organised camp sites, these pegs gave me many years of service until the great majority succumbed as that on the left did. I have never had any issue with the caps coming adrift, and the cord loops, though faded from light exposure, are still there and doing their job
The newer pegs from Hilleberg are better but I feel the alternatives from other suppliers are superior. Rather than upgrade to other Hilleberg pegs I have continued to use the old ‘uns supplemented by pegs from other manufacturers. A couple of which are discussed below.
Hilleberg square pin
These small and lightweight pegs have very often found their way into my peg bag over the years. Despite faults in design and being a bit short for really good purchase, they are a lovely little product. Their shorter length and lightweight have made these an excellent addition to a peg bag to be pulled out for shallow soils with an underlying grit.
Together with the Viper pegs, these square solid aluminium pegs were sold by Hilleberg to accompany their Kerlon 1200 tents. Designed to be hammered into hard ground they are surprisingly strong and resistant to bending out of shape. Supplied with an integrated loop at the top to aid removal I still find myself using these pegs on occasion. They are great for the metal rings found on the Hilleberg tents but I am wary of using these on guys as I feel the hard corners of the square pegs will fray a guy over time. Possibly I am a little over cautious, but that is my prerogative. These are quite similar to the MSR Needle stakes that used to be available but now seem to be unobtainable. There may be other versions that you can find, but I would not like to attest to their quality.
These bright blue aluminium alloy CL622 pegs are a favourite of many. They come at a reasonable cost and are a good lightweight solution. I have used them for years and will continue to do so on occasion. They are a useful all-rounder, often being effective in hard as well as softer ground, though I have had these bend with ease on tree roots in the New Forest. Strike a piece of flint in the chalky ground of southern and eastern England and the peg is wrecked. The anodised colouring to the aluminium alloy peg shows up well if lost temporarily in long grass or leafy foliage. The red pull loop further aids visibility. While ‘reasonably’ robust, they will bend if not used with care. Buy a dozen and change out those that get knackered over time. But I would prefer something a little more sturdy for longer trips. That said, these have given me good anchorage for weeks on end in the Lake District, proving very suited to the mostly good soils of that region.
Each Y profile peg is 190mm long and while Clamcleats advertise these as being both 13g and 16g [each] on the same website, on my scales, pegs are just a shade under 14g. This ensures that a bunch of these is both acceptable and wont break the bank.
Titanium CL620 wide V profile peg that is especially suited to soft ground, including snow. The titanium construction means that it can also be hammered into pretty hard ground too but the large surface means that any below ground obstacle is going to prove problematic.
The dull grey of titanium can be difficult to find on the ground, getting lost in the surface covering, to this end, the red pull cord is a boon, don’t lose it or you will lose the peg.
These are not the longest of pegs but their wide V profile will provide a very good resistance to being pulled out. They look the type of simple product that any number of manufacturers would be churning out, but for some reason they are not. If you frequently pitch your shelter on soft ground, either sandy, friable or waterlogged, one need look little further than this Clamcleat product. In the past these have seldom made their way into my peg bag. I am usually looking for pegs of greater length and more suitability for a variety of ground types. Particularly in winter, if I do need a wider profile peg, I would usually have an MSR Blizzard stake to hand to pull into use. Though possibly only at the windward end of the tent. If so, it could prove difficult to utilise the dual purpose that these pegs offer.
MSR Groundhog and Groundhog mini
While shorter pegs of around six inches will suffice for much of the time, it is also advisable to have at least a couple of longer pegs for use with ridgelines, really soft ground or when wind gusts etc are going to place increased or tugging strain on the peg. Shorter pegs can work loose in the middle of the night. What do you prefer- the additional weight of a few grams or getting up to replace errant pegs? I know which my preference is.
The MSR Groundhog and Groundhog mini are the most popular stakes produced by MSR. The red anodised 7000-series aluminium of both the large and smaller cousins means they show up well if sent flying by a gust of wind. Though it would take a hell of a wind to pull these free. Both sizes of Groundhog come as standard with MSR’s range of tents. It is good to see a mainstream manufacturer actually supplying a decent set of pegs that don’t need to be swapped out almost immediately. These are a slightly beefed up and better thought out, if more expensive, version of the Clamcleats Y offering shown above.
If you are looking for an MSR stake specifically for loose, unconsolidated ground, then MSR’s twisted Cyclone stake may be the answer. At any rate, the additional length of the Cyclone stakes will prove advantageous. However, there are many that may feel the standard MSR Groundhog more than they actually require and may look to shave off a few grams by taking a set of the smaller MSR Groundhog mini
One last point re these popular and efficient pegs. Beware the cheaper, substandard copied that are available. Though I have never knowingly encountered such an item myself, reading the forums, it would appear that many of the complaints regarding heads shearing or easily bending stakes, despite yielding soils, can be put down to the fake versions on the market.
MSR blizzard stake– dual use
This concave profiled peg is often carried by hikers looking for dual purpose, though I will come to the second later.
If you can accept the extra 32.4g weight these are a useful carry for a thru hiker. Every now and then you can come across a flooded meadow, soft sand or snow packed surface where, possibly with the additional complication of strong or gusting wind, any other peg you carry just wont cut it. Being pulled out either with ease or when most inconvenient (read: small hours of the morning in torrential rain or whiteout). The facility to use a blizzard stake on the windward side can be a boon. The 7000 series aluminium pegs are drilled along their length. Because of the greater bulk and integral strength of the Blizzard stake, unlike with smaller pegs, these save a little weight and have little effect on strength (it would really take something to bend one of these beasts), more useful is the potential to attach a guy to the mid-way point and bury it in sand or snow as a dead anchor.
Easily the longest peg I have looked at in this blog, the extra length is only a positive but will mean that it has to usually be stored separate from the other pegs. You may feel that the size of this monster peg is overkill, after all, you can often find a length of branch or similar, even use a walking pole or filled stuff sack, to achieve the same anchoring effect- if using as a dead anchor
And what of its other use? This peg functions very well as a toilet trowel, don’t leave home without one.
Titanium nails or ‘spears’ as Clamcleats likes to call them, are available from a number of manufacturers. The 6″ nail from Vargo has a large and appreciative following. Vargo also make a lighter weight of this peg. Both of those Vargo offerings are 152mm long, the standard peg is 5mm in diameter and weighs 14g, the ‘ultralight’ is 4mm diameter and weighs a paltry 8g. I think Clamcleats variant more useful having the longer 200mm length to be driven further into the ground, a 5mm diameter and still only weighs just under 18g each.
It is always advisable to carry one or two thinner titanium pins, if only when there is the need to make a pilot hole or test the ground before putting in a wider peg.
You will find any number of YouTube films showing these and similar nails being hammered into wood pallets etc. How much a length of 2″ x 4″ is actually mimicking true ground conditions I shall leave you to decide. However few lightweight hikers are going to be carrying any form of hammer/mallet. Instead, you will need to find a handy piece of rock or something else to pound them in. The narrow head is too slim for pushing in with the sole of a trail shoe. I have even poked a hole through the bottom of an earlier incarnation of the Cascadia running shoes in the past. Something to bear in mind.
Easton Mountain Products Full Metal Jacket stakes
The Easton company was founded by Doug Easton in 1922 when he began producing wooden bows and arrows. When they decided to start producing tent pegs they probably thought it was a simple sideways step to make. After all, what is a tent peg if it is not an arrow head with a cap? Um, no… it is an entirely different product that undergoes very different circumstances and stresses. It took a few years for Easton to refine their product with a few, frankly sub-standard, pegs along the way. But they retained their reputation and instead of dropping out of the market, credit to them, have now largely exceeded what other manufacturers are producing.
If you are paying a lot of money for your shelter, possibly a product made of cuben or from a cottage industry supplier, then you may feel that extra expense can be justified for what is going to hold it to the ground effectively. If so, then a serious look at the Easton products is in order.
An earlier version of tent peg from Easton were blue with a cap that many found a little loose with a tendency to come off. Not something you want to happen when it is stuck in frozen ground and you are attempting to extricate it. If you find these on offer, probably best to avoid unless you want to cart epoxy glue around with you too. They replaced these with a 7075-T9 aluminium 6” nano stake, or you could have one of the two longer lengths- (6”/yellow cap, 8.5”/blue cap, 12”/red cap). The newer stakes had a better anchored cap. Or if you really wanted to be sneaky beaky stealthy, you could search out the 8” black shafted military variant. Though why anyone in the military required a stake that had an inconspicuous black part that was buried below the ground and a lovely shiny silver cap above ground, is anyone’s guess. Again, all of these had a hole drilled through which a loop could be passed to enable them to be pulled out, if not with ease, certainly more easily than without.
Excellent as these were, their updated version, in just the one length to date- 6”, is truly amazing. The Easton Full Metal Jacket (FMJs) are probably at the pinnacle of tent peg design. A 7075 aluminium shaft (jacket) filled with carbon fibre. Cap and point are aluminium alloy. Caps are held on well and I have not heard of any issues with them coming adrift, certainly mine have yet to exhibit any problems.
Not only this, but the pegs look the business too. If something of such utilitarian purpose can ever be described as an object of beauty, this is it!
Each peg weighs an incredible 5.5g. They are very strong. I have not had mine long enough to experience any problem of cracking, shaft bending or points splitting or bending. I do wonder if the core could shatter or crack with time. Certainly I would be very wary of any sideways tapping of the peg to loosen in frozen ground. As usual, driving in a bit further to break the grip and loosen before pulling out is always the better solution anyway.
With regard to the, frankly extreme, cost of these pegs, there is simply no way that this can be considered unless it can be justified. This is for the individual to decide upon. The only way to justify that cost is by their effectiveness and if you can afford to lose any. They are light, stupid light. But more important than that is if they do their job. They are only six inches long and do not offer much in the way of thickness to resist pulling through softer ground. But that is not what they are for. If you want to carry a couple, or even a half dozen pins for when you need to pound into hard ground and you want something that is going to take such punishment. Then the FMJ is a serious contender. Certainly they are an excellent compromise between length, strength, thickness, reliability and weight, if not cost. You pays your money…
Personally, I decided that despite the cost and excess weight penalty, four or more of these can find their way into my peg bag on a regular basis. I do hope that Easton eventually produces a longer version of the FMJ, possibly eight or nine inches would be pretty much the ideal.
Ti shepherds hooks, long and short
Shepherds Hooks, or Crooks, so called because of the shape of their head, are a stalwart of the peg bag. They come in any variety of head shapes, lengths and ’roundwire pegs’ are often provided as a cheap alloy peg from mainstream tent manufacturers with their products.
Invariably the best thing to do with these supplied pegs is to put them in the nearest bin as they are too soft, will bend with ease and are close to useless. It is not at all difficult to source well-made shepherds hooks, preferably made of titanium. Thickness varies too, anything from a minuscule 2mm, through the popular 3mm to the less frequently encountered 4mm. There will no doubt be a correlation between how the strength, or more importantly, resistance to bending, increases between thickness. I would be interested to see how much of an increase it is.
These pegs are so thin that they are incredibly easy to lose in the undergrowth. Their muted colour means that if they go flying off the end of a guy in the wind in the middle of the night, you are going to be unlikely to find them again.
If the head twists and the guy slips off, then there is even less left visible to relocate. Some like to dip the heads in a bright paint but this can chip with the peg flexing unless paint of some ‘rubberised’ variety is used. I have found a bit of heat shrinkable sleeving a better option.
Shepherds hook wires are an ideal way of ‘helping out’ a large peg. Some stakes, such as the Alpkit example above have holes in their length through which you can pass a shepherds crook at an angle of some 60-90 degrees to the other peg, providing a much firmer anchor.
The shortest variants of these pegs are probably not worth including in a peg bag unless just for use when holding back a door or for holding up a drying line of similar, there simply isn’t usually enough below ground resistance and holding power supplied from a 4″ (101mm) long peg of only 1/8″ (3mm) thickness.
Titanium Sidewinder Stove peg
It is worth noting that if I am out for multi-days and am using my favoured alcohol stove then I will frequently be carrying an additional two pegs as part of this kit. These are the 160mm titanium pegs used with the Cascade Designs Sidewinder stove to support the pot. Of course they need not be confined to this use and can just as easily be used either to hold a guy, or be pushed in as additional secondary help to a primary peg in times of high winds etc. The two pegs, and two have to be used with the stove, weigh 12.5g together. For planning purposes, I include the weight of these in with my overall cook kit rather than shelter weight.
Plastic and wooden pegs
Plastic pegs will shatter in very cold conditions or if given much in the way of sideways force when in the ground. Kick one of these to free it off in frozen ground, or even trip over it in the middle of the night, and you will live to regret it. Wooden pegs are far too heavy and bulky to consider carting around with you but are surprisingly efficient. Their use for decades by various circuses and with marquees is testament to that fact. However you are much more likely to see heavy steel pins or angle iron being driven into the ground these days. If you have a decent knife with you and the materials are there to be used, there is always the option of whittling a tent peg from a piece of wood if you find yourself short due to one or more being lost in the heather having gone flying off into the undergrowth never to be seen again. On that note, one tip is put a mini karabiner through the hole on a peg and attach to the guy. If it gets pulled out in the night in high winds and the peg is sent flying, it remains attached to the guy.
As alluded to above, another word of warning if buying online. Beware of cheap ‘knock-offs’ purporting to be a well known brand. Most of these will look very much like the real thing but will not perform when put to stress. Just because a manufacturers name appears on the side, does not mean that it hasn’t been counterfeited, caveat emptor!
If push comes to shove, in an emergency another option may be to dismantle a walking pole into separate sections and use these, pushed into the ground, as tent anchors. However, being hollow, the lengths will fill up with earth. Also, don’t forget your toilet trowel if you have one, this is a ready made stake for soft ground.
|MSR Blizzard stake||(||246mm||29mm||32.4g||Aluminium||N|
|MSR Groundhog||Vaned Y||191mm||13mm||14.3g||Aluminium||Y|
|MSR Mini Groundhog||Vaned Y||150mm||9.5mm||10.2g||Aluminium||Y|
|Hilleberg Pro peg||O||200mm||9mm||17.3g||Aluminium||Y|
|Hilleberg square pin||̻̻̻̻□||160mm||4mm||10g||Aluminium||Y|
|Easton nail||O||153mm||7mm||5.5g||Titanium/ carbon||N- later added by myself|
|Shepherds crook||O||163mm||3.5mm||6.7g||Titanium||shrink covering to head|
|Shepherds crook||O||151mm||3mm||6g||Titanium||shrink covering to head|
|Shepherds crook||O||101mm||3mm||3.9g||Titanium||shrink covering to head|
Why carry a peg bag…
As an ideal example of where fairly simple savings in weight can be made, the peg, or stake, is perfect. It is by looking, occasionally, at those items that sneak into the pack on a regular basis, ‘because they always have’ , and looking for weight saving advantage while still retaining functionality, that a few grams here, a few grams there can be knocked off.
Peg bags should be considered as a necessity not only to keep all the pegs together, but also to stop them spreading mud, dirt and grit around the tent or pack and its contents when packed. Care should also be taken when packing a tent to ensure that pegs do not poke a hole through expensive side walls. A peg bag need not be heavy, condura for example is an incredibly strong material resistant to puncturing but is far too heavy to consider. Even a plastic zip lock bag can be perfectly up to the job if necessary.
The peg bag shown below came from Lightwave. Made of cuben fibre with a toughened ripstop dyneema bottom and lightweight pull cord closure, it weighs just 1g, yet will easily hold an assortment of any of those pegs above with the exception of the Blizzard peg which is too long.
A final note on peg bags- you may like to consider shoving in a pair of surgical or nitrile gloves. Weighing very little, these are useful when extracting pegs in the morning, keeping mud and cold from the fingers that can take some time to warm up once chilled.
So, what is the perfect peg? As I said at the beginning, there is no such thing. What is needed is a selection of the best quality pegs you can afford, or afford to lose. Remembering that the handful of grams saved here could either be foolish loss, providing ineffective anchors when you need them most, or, just as easily saved by reducing weight elsewhere in the pack. Obviously the number of pegs required will depend on the tie out points and guys that your shelter is provisioned with. On occasion, if taking one of my old Hilleberg tunnel tents out, which have a multitude of peg down points. I need to carry six rather than four of my now default Easton FMJs and an additional handful of Y pegs, either MSR or Clamcleats.
As I have stated before. The idea is to replace backpacking gear with more efficient and lighter options as and when you can. Pegs are simply one place where progress can be made. My refined peg bag weighs 110g, which may be high for many other hikers but suits my needs.
For most hikes, Three Points of the Compass now has a peg bag that contains a variety of pegs. It is quite likely that this may be refined further in the future, or altered according to tent, trip, terrain or season.
However the contents as they are allow for a variety of conditions on any hike but particularly for longer hikes over a variation of terrain. The default stakes are the terrific Easton Nails to which I added bright red pull cords. The four in this set up are simply added to as required if a different shelter is carried.
However there are occasions where something slightly longer is required or there is a need to really pound into hard and rocky ground, that is where the two titanium spears really come into play. Accepting that none of these are fantastically efficient in softer, more yielding ground, I have included a couple of wider anchors. Also, for the occasion where it is difficult to work one of the pins through rocky ground, one of the two titanium shepherds crooks can often be wiggled through between the grit and the stones and can prove useful. Alternatively these can be used for additional guys or tie points. This selection can be supplemented with the two titanium pegs included with the cook kit or even the toilet trowel.