Maybe you forgot your tent stakes (it happens) or maybe you decided to pitch your tent on the side of a boulder. Whatever the deal is, you’ll discover that tent stakes are an integral part of the whole camping experience. No one wants to wake up upside down and halfway down the side of a mountain.

Fortunately, a lack of tent stakes isn’t the end of your camping trip. Nature always provides and there are numerous ways to keep your tent firmly on the ground, such as the use of heavy rocks, deadman anchors, logs, a little bit of wood craft, and trees.

A little innovation goes a long way and it’s not as if leaving the stakes at home means that your tent no longer has guy lines. You can tie it off to something, just not your kids, but more on that below.

Ways to secure a tent without stakes

Photo by Simon Goetz / Unsplash

There are 5 ways that you can secure your tent if you forgot or don’t have any stakes to secure it with.

  1. Use the rocks around you
  2. The deadman anchor (rocks with a twist)
  3. Use larger logs
  4. Tie your tent to the trees
  5. Construct your own wood stakes

If you’re camping at the beach, you should only look at way #1. Without further ado, let’s dive straight into the first way of staking down your tent which is using the rocks around you.

1. Use the rocks around you

This one is especially useful if you managed to find a place where the earth is hard-packed and rocky, so stakes are just not much use. Of course, you’ll need some sizeable rocks, not the kind of rock you can skip across a lake.

Sharp and jagged rocks are no use or, you can use them with a bit of caution, as they can cut or at least fray your guy lines. At the same time, you don’t want to use very smooth rocks, as your loops may slide right off of them, especially if the wind is really kicking.

Make sure you tie your knots tight and don’t worry so much if the only knot you know how to tie is the kind you use for tying your shoelaces. Just double knot it, with the loop section around the rock as tight as humanly possible.

Once your guy lines are all secured to a rock, spread the rocks out just enough so that there is tension on the guy line running from the rock to your tent. If there is a heavy wind, that tension will be important because it will keep your tent from moving around too much, in between all of your rocks.

If you’re using a tent footprint, be sure to run your guy lines down and through the corners of the tent footprint before you run them out and around your rocks. The same goes for pretty much all of the methods below as well.

2. The deadman anchor (rocks with a twist)

A deadman anchor doesn’t involve corpses but what it does involve, is more rocks. It’s essentially the same deal that you would use with the rocks except for this time, you will want to dig shallow holes to place your rocks in after you tie your loop around them.

While there may be quite a bit more work involved than simply tying your guy lines to a bunch of rocks, it’s the far more secure method, as it effectively seals your loops around the rock because you are burying the thing—or at least you’re half burying it.

You can use deadman anchors on just about any kind of terrain that you can dig into. The only places that you will find it a useless method are in rocky areas where the flooring underneath you is either extremely rocky or it actually is rock.

Deadman anchors are the most effective means to secure your tent in sandy and snowy conditions. You can also use this method with logs, which is useful if you don’t have any rocks laying around and your logs are a little on the lightweight side. Speaking of logs…

3. Use larger logs

Logs are always going to be your second choice, right behind rocks. If you’re camping out in the woods, the term “log” may be a little more loosely defined, unless you just happen upon a pile of ready-made, freshly cut logs.

The reality is, you will either have to use your own or go wandering out into the woods to find something small enough but heavy enough to effectively do the job. One of the benefits of using logs over rocks is that they are usually more grippy and less likely to let your line go if it is shifting in the wind.

You can either loop your guy lines around the log as many times as necessary to place them near the tent, or you can loop it once, tighten it down, and spread the logs out until there is tension on the guy lines.

Alternatively, you’re more than welcome to break out your spade, do some digging, and make yourself some deadman anchors with your logs. It’s advisable to use twice as many logs as you would stakes but you will either need more guy lines or an extra line of your own or you would need to tie two logs to each guy line.

You should have a feel for it and how much the wind is affecting your tent as you tie things down.

4. Tie your tent to the trees

This is one of the more obvious choices, however, not everyone reading this is going to be camping out in a place where there are a lot of trees. If they’re there, use them and if they’re not, you’ll have to go with something else.

If you are going to tie your tent to some trees, placement of the ten is more important than anything else. You want to place your tent in such a way that you can get the vast majority of your guy lines tied to trees while keeping some level of uniformity.

The best part about using trees is that they aren’t exactly going anywhere (and if they are, you have more problems than missing tent stakes) however, it’s not likely that you are going to find a perfect formation of trees to keep things uniform and balanced around your tent.

Feel free to mix and match methods. Tie your tent to two trees and use your remaining guy lines on some deadman anchors, heavy logs, or heavy rocks, whichever one is available or floats your boat.

5. Construct your own wood stakes

Look at it this way, you can embrace your inner Neanderthal and practice your vampire hunting skills all while securing your tent to the ground. Not a bad deal at all. You’re not trying to carve something that is going to end up on display in the Louvre Museum in France. All you need to do is collect some good sticks and fashion sharp points on them.

You’ll need a few things if you want to do this right.

  • A very sharp knife
  • A knife with a serrated edge is a bonus
  • A hammer
  • Your tent’s guy lines or some additional lines or paracord
  • 1-2” diameter sticks that are reasonably straight
  • No hollow sounding wood and nothing rotten

If you don’t have much experience with a knife or woodcutting for that matter, the most important rule to follow is to always cut away from yourself. The last thing you want is a severe cut out in the boonies or, even worse, bear country.

Decide which side of the stick you want to be the pointy tip that drives down into the earth. Now shift to the opposite end and come down about 2”. This is where you want to cut yourself a notch.

You can either go with a U-shape or just work a decent V-shape into the side of the wood. Don’t go too deep or you’ll just end up losing a two-inch portion of wood because it snaps clean off.

Now, facing the uncut side away from you or straight down, cut into the wood at a downward or outward angle of 15° to 20°, starting about 1 and ½” from the tip. Just imagine that you’re carving a point on the stick to stab something with because that is essentially what you’re doing, with the ground serving as your victim.

Work your way around the branch until you have a fairly sharp point or something sharp enough to penetrate the ground and dig deep. Now, you can tie your guy lines to the notches that you created and use your hammer, or just a good old rock, to pound the stake down into the ground.

We mentioned finding the straightest sticks you can find and this part (hammering them into the ground) is why. Slightly bent, angled, or otherwise crooked sticks are far more likely to snap where a straight stick can handle the rock or hammer blows as you drive it in.

Final thoughts

There you have it; five solid ways to secure your tent to the ground if you accidentally left your tent stakes at home. The Marine Corps has a saying, “overcome, adapt, and improvise” and that’s all you’re trying to do here. Nature will often provide you with the solution when you’re all out of ideas and you just need a nudge in the right direction.