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Reviews > Shelters > Shelter Accessories > Toughstake tent stakes > Test Report by Ralph Ditton
Test series by Ralph Ditton
Initial Report: 13th April, 2011
Field Report: 19th June, 2011
Long Term Report: 11th August, 2011
My playgrounds are the Bibbulmun Track, the Coastal Plain Trail, Darling Scarp and Cape to Cape Track. I lead walks for my bushwalking club and they consist of day walks and overnighters. My pack weight for multi day trips including food and water, tends to hover around 18 kg (40 lb) but I am trying to get lighter. My trips range from overnighters to six days duration.
Expectations from the web page
For some reason I was taken by surprise at the size of the stakes.
Upon opening the parcel there were two sizes of stakes which I immediately assumed were the Medium and Large. It was only after consulting the web page that I discovered my error. I had received the Small and Medium. Heck, the Large must be massive.
At the time of writing this I do not have a sample of the Large but the web page states that it weighs 198 g (7 oz) and measures 44.45 cm (17.5 in) long and 14.6 cm (3.725 in) wide. This was a factor which I had ignored when perusing the web page.
Apart from the size factor, the shape and cables were as I expected.
The Large stake arrived much later. It is very big and the above dimensions confirm my guess.
I can see myself using the Large stake as a shovel to dig cat holes in the sand. It looks ideally suited to the task.
I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter with the stakes from the President of Toughstake, Eric Simonson, explaining that these Toughstakes fill a very narrow niche of Sand and Snow anchoring. Well my camping areas are all sand and we are not known as Sandgropers for nothing.
Included with the letter were a sticky backed transfer of the Toughstake and cable in a stylized country background, two identical Instruction Sheets with one side listing "Recommended Uses" and the other side giving the "Specifications" and "Installation steps" and two business cards.
The parcel attracted the attention of our Customs. They opened it for inspection and left their calling card stating that no item was removed.
I looked at the video that is on their web page a few times and read the instruction sheet. It was all very understandable and easy to follow.
The stakes are even idiot proof as they have a picture at the top of the stake (see top photo) showing where the cable goes and what side faces the tent. It is spelt out, "tent this side".
Another feature that I like is the ergonomic handle at the top of the stakes which makes it easy to withdraw the stake from the sand.
One thing I could not find any information on is what is the slot at the top of the stake for? The small sized stakes do not have this slot.
I am guessing at this stage that it could be used to assist in the recovery of the stake by pushing an object through it to use as a handle for more leverage or even tie a cord through it to pull on. I could even use another stake by putting a part of the cross of the handle into the slot for mechanical advantage.
Then again it could be a snow thing which we do not get here in Western Australia.
The stakes stack well and take up very little space. They are a compact parcel.
Moving onto the cables. Wow, the rings for the Medium and Large stakes are big.
I took the size on the web page as artistic licence to highlight the fact that a ring is used. They have a diameter of 36 mm (1.4 in) and a thickness of 5 mm (0.19 in).
There is plenty of room on these rings to tie down a guy line of a tent and even larger sized types of cords. I am impressed.
Even the small size ring is impressive. A diameter of 26.5 mm (1.04 in) and a thickness of 2.5 mm (0.09 in)
The actual cable reminded me of a fishing line trace with the braiding. I like it.
Inserting the cylindrical locking stop through the slot in the Toughstake is very easy. Removing it is just as easy. That is what I like. Simplicity itself with no tight fittings.
As mentioned above, this product is designed for a very narrow niche market. They are to be used in sand/snow.
The stakes are not designed to press through solid objects. They will bend if tried to be forced through.
My first impression in describing the product is that they look like miniature shovels.
The shape of the stake is what makes them work in sand and snow. It relies on the Deep Anchor Tension System to provide 10x the anchoring strength of other stakes. With the tension cable attached to the base of the stake, any force exerted on the stake is transferred to the ground around it. This is where it differs from other stakes where the guy line attaches to the top of the stake. There is no sand/snow for the force to be transferred to, so they just pull out very easily under stress.
According to the web site, the best environment to use the stake in is in wet sand. The wet sand provides a solid anchor, which results in holding forces from 25 kilos (55 lb) in the small, to over 125 kilos (275 lb) in the large one. There is no information as to how the manufacturer arrived at these numbers.
The web site lists what size each stake is recommended for. I will just refer you to the web site as it list the most common usages. It is not exhaustive.
Below are the three stages on how to use the stake. (Photos courtesy of Toughstake)
There is a video on the web site demonstrating how to insert the stake into the ground and the power required to pull it out of the ground. In addition, there are demonstrations of ordinary stakes and how easily they pull out of the ground.
What did surprise me was what face of the stake faced the tent. Logically, I would have thought that the concave (shovel) side of the stake would face the tent instead of the convex (anti-shovel) side.
According to the manufacturer, the holding force actually increases by 20 - 30% by using the convex (anti-shovel) side. Again, no information as to how these numerals were arrived at.
How far into the sand/snow should the stake go?
It is recommended by the manufacturer that the stake should, if possible, be driven into the sand/snow until the top is flush with the surface.
On the web page I did discover one incorrect conversion of the thickness of the medium stake. My actual measurement had it at 0.2 cm (0.08 in) whereas the manufacturer had a measurement of 0.09 cm (3.725 in).
The metric measurement of the manufacturer's compared to mine is half, but the 3.725 in is wrong. That is the width of the large stake.
Obviously, figures got mixed up in their placement.
Regarding the length of the cables, I found that they were not of a uniform size. They were approximate. Hence the variation of lengths between each cable. Not that this matters.
The cables used for the Medium size stake are the same ones used for the Large stakes, hence the comments in the above table "The same as Medium".
The Swage on the cables that lock the ring and Cylindrical Locking Stops at either end are aluminium. I tapped it against my teeth and brushed it against my tongue for that aluminium feeling.
The crimping on the Swage appears to be well done and do not look like that they will pull apart.
Physically I am a bit intimidated by their size as I really did not study the web site as to the dimensions of these stakes. I really got the sizes wrong thinking that the Small were the Medium.
Once I came to terms with the physical size I can see the logic as to why they are of that size. Good holding power in sand/snow.
Love the colour. Easy to see in the sand so as not to lose them.
I was very surprised that the anti-shovel side of the stake faces the tent. Apart from some statistics from the manufacturer, there is no real plain English reason why that is so. I would like to see some explanation as to how they came up with their figures. Yes, it is a nit pick.
Another explanation of what the top slot on the stake is to be used for would be helpful. I do not think it is an effort in weight reduction.
I had to make contact with the manufacturer as the Large stake had not arrived a week after receiving the first parcel.
The very next day, due to the time difference, the manufacturer had responded with advice that they had posted a replacement stake.
The after sales service is extremely good.
My first outing was on the Coastal Plains whose soil is a mixture of sand and decaying vegetation. No clay is present in it so it is not a loam.
The campsite sat at an elevation of 80 metres (262 ft) and temperatures ranged from a high of 30 C (86 F) to a low of 12 C (54 F) at night.
My tent was a single person shelter and I used four of the small sized Toughstakes to anchor the tent. Due to the very small loops on the tent for the two vestibules, I used two stakes provided with the tent.
guy line to toughstake
It was a little breezy when I was pitching the tent and it did blow over before I had fully assembled it and had not staked it out. Once it was fully erected I had my walking companion hold the tent whilst I staked it out as it only weighs 827 grams (29 oz). The tent has been known to take off in a light breeze before I had staked it out.
Inserting the guy wires into the stakes was very easy. I then tied the guy lines to the rings of the guy wires as I progressed around the tent staking it out.
The stakes went reasonably easy into the sandy soil for a short distance by hand, then I had to use my foot to shove them in deeper. I noticed that when I first put pressure on top of the stake with my foot, the stake gave a wobble from side to side. That stopped the further I drove the stake into the sand.
The guy wire cut nicely into the sand as I drove home the stake.
I did experiment with a medium size stake and guy wire in place to see how easy it went into the sand. I again had to push it home with my foot and it also wobbled from side to side in the early stage.
When I withdrew it, I noticed that the guy wire had deformed.
The manufacturer advised me that the bending happened because the guy wire was not tight when being driven into the sand. It still functioned without any apparent problem.
deformed guy wire
I did another experiment with the same middle size single stake. I pretended to be the wind and pulled on the guy wire until the sand fractured around the stake. It took a lot of force on my part and hurt the crook of my finger pulling on the ring.
This photo below shows the fracture plane of the sand at the early stage of the stake failing to hold.
fracture plane of sand
This exercise gives me great confidence in the holding power of these stakes. It is going to take a heap of force to dislodge these stakes.
Back to Prickly Bark for another camp out.
This time it had been raining and the sand was damp. In addition, a bush fire had passed through the area.
I carried a tent that I had not used for a number of years. I neglected to check out the way it is pitched before packing it for this trip. It does not require guy lines as it has no anchor points for them. Fortunately, the corner loops were large enough to go over the tops of the small stakes. I used 4. One for each corner.
Here is a close up of the arrangement that worked very well.
stake in corner loop
In addition, I attempted to pitch a tarp using the Toughstake.
I have never pitched a tarp before so my attempt was woeful. I only got it about three quarters set up. It rained on me and the wind blew. In the end I gave up as I was drenched, cold and getting frustrated. To cap it off, the wind hit the side of the tarp like a sail and one of the stakes that was only about half way into the sand was pulled out and flung over to the other side of the tarp just missing me. I did score a head full of wet sand as it passed over me. Some of the sand also went down the back of my neck stopping at my waist due to my belt.
I was able to get some of the stakes into the sand but upon their removal I noticed that the guy wire on three of the stakes had deformed with a permanent curl back on itself at the barrel end. The bottom guy wire in the photo below is not affected.
deformed guy wires
I used all sizes on the tarp to experiment with the various stakes. I had great difficulty in pushing the large size stake into the sand that had vegetation growing in it. In fact, I was unable to push it in very far as it was stopped by the root system of the plants. I had no means of hammering the stake through the roots. There were no rocks present as it was on a large sand dune covered by burnt vegetation. I tried using my foot without any luck. The photo below shows how far I was able to insert the stake. Not very far.
I would recommend that the stakes have the leading edge sharpened so as to cut through any small plant root system much like a shovel that has a beveled edge.
unable to cut through the root system
Sadly to date I have only been out twice during this test period. Staking out my tents have been relatively easy and I have had no issues with the Toughstake.
My only disaster is of my own making in trying to pitch a tarp in wet windy weather when I have never pitched one before. Not the ideal time to learn. However, through that misfortune, I did learn that I needed a tool to pound the stake into the sand that had vegetation with tough root systems. One assistance the manufacturer could do is to put a sharp/cutting leading edge on the stakes to assist in chopping through such root systems.
When the stake flew out of the sand, I had not completely staked out the tarp so it was flapping around. In the end I did not complete the staking out. I gave up, pulled it down and retreated back to my tent wet, sandy and very grumpy with myself.
Long Term Report
In this phase I have used the stakes in the Melaleuca Nature Reserve adjacent to Gnangara. The terrain is only 80 metres (263 ft) above sea level and approximately 40 km (25 mi) from the coast and very sandy.
We are currently experiencing a very warm winter so the overnight temperatures have only got down to 8 C (46 F).
The area I was in had had a bush fire go through it and burnt a lot of the vegetation and small shrubs. Little green shoots were just starting to appear.
As we were car base camping I included a rubber mallet to pound the stakes into the sand that in places has roots from vegetation to push through.
The mallet worked like a treat. I pitched my tent in one of the designated tent sites.
The above tent did not have guy lines on all anchor points. I made do with what I had. There were 4 guy lines and 4 guy line loops at each corner of the tent. The set up for the actual guy lines were 2 at the mid point on the sides and 2 for the front vestibule.
This caused me to be innovative.
I hooked the two rear loops over the stakes and used them as regular tent pegs.
For the front loops on the tent proper, I threaded the guy line through the ring then I passed the wire trace through the loop with the barrel end leading the way. This then locked the guy line to the ring. I then affixed the trace wire to the stake and then inserted the stake into the sand.
When I pulled these two front stakes out a few days later, there was no kinking of the wire trace. However, one other wire trace that was attached to a stake at the middle of the tent did get a kink at the barrel end. It did not affect the performance.
It then rained off and on for two days totaling 19 mm (0.75 in) of precipitation. The tent stood up to the rain as did the stakes. There was no wind to speak of during my stay at this camp site. I did have to re tension a few guy lines as they sagged when they got wet.
I found that these stakes were easy to insert into soft loose sand but I did have difficulty where there were small root systems of ground covers. Using my foot with a shoe on helped somewhat but the stake did tend to wobble from side to side as it was sinking into the sand. As it was an all sand environment that I used these stakes in, there were no rocks available to pound the stakes in with. The timber available that was laying on the ground was of the Banksia which is very light. It is useless to use as a hammering tool.
Perhaps a sharp edge on the stake would be of assistance in cutting through the root system of small plants.
Having said that, I will be using these stakes when I am camping in sandy environments as I do like them and I have discovered other configurations that will get me out of trouble when I do not have enough guy lines.
My queries with the Manufacturer were answered the following day by email. Their follow up service was exemplary. This was to do with a missing parcel containing the large sized stake and a torn package that the small and medium sized stakes had punched a hole through during transit. Customs repaired the packet with lots of stick tape. The Manufacturer put an end to sending stakes in the mail using bubble wrap envelopes.
This concludes my testing of these stakes. Many thanks to Toughstake and BackPackGearTest for making this item available to test.
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