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Which Tent Pegs Do I Use?

This week’s Monday Tip takes the form of a brief, all-in wrestling match with the thorny dilemma of which tent peg to use in different conditions. Is there one peg to do it all, or should you be assembling an arsenal of different tent pegs to cope with differing conditions?

The Dilemma

It used to be dead simple, tents came with pegs and you just got on with it, mostly they were vee or curved section things that gave reasonable all-round results, or maybe just simple skewers with hooked tops that you used until they’d all bent being trodden into hard, rocky ground, and then replaced.

That’s fine with chunky, medium-weight pegs, but as pegs have got lighter and more minimalist, it’s easy to find yourself with a set of tiny carbon-fibre nail-type pegs that have limited holding power in anything other than perfection conditions.

Mix And Match

One possible solution is to mix and match your pegs. In general, longer pegs with a greater surface area like those with a vee-section or a curved cross section or a cross will tend to give more security in looser ground whereas svelte ‘nail–type pegs work brilliantly in firm turfy conditions, but will often be tenuous in looser and soft conditions. Generally though they’re lighter.

With a mountain tunnel tent, you could, for example, carry four long, but light, high-spec alloy nail-type pegs for main guying points and supplement them with some short titanium nails or skewers for fixing guys in firmer ground and some gnarlier pegs with a more complicated cross-section for softer and sandy conditions.

Here’s a run-down of some tent-peg types and where they work best.

Skewers

The hook-topped generic alloy skewers supplied with many tents are ideal for the sort of perfect medium conditions where you can push them in by hand and the top hook can be used to, hold a guy in place and to pull them out when you leave.

Unfortunately they have limited holding power in soft ground or sandy conditions. In harder and rocky soil, they’re great if you can get the peg into the ground, but invariably bend into a banana shape in the process making them prime candidates first for awkward straightening and then replacement. Very hard to hammer successfully.

Nails

Nails look rather like they sound, being a bit like short skewers without a hooked head – we have some Alpkit titanium ones that work well – which means they hold very well in firm to hard ground and, in harder conditions, can be hammered home like, well, a nail. Make sure you pop some accessory cord through the hole in the head or you’ll never get them out again.

Like skewers, they’re not so good in sandy, loose conditions or softer soil where they tend to pull through and out.

Long Nails

There are several √ľber nails out here, around six-inches long and generally made from hollow high-spec alloy tubing with a pointy end and some sort of top cap for easier hammering and anchoring. They’re longer and thicker than normal pegs which gives them great holding power in medium to hard ground and better hold than normal skewers in other conditions making them an acceptable compromise.

Manufacturers will tell you they’re indestructible, but you can still blunt the end on buried rocks if you try hard enough. They’re also quite expensive and as with shorter nails, need a length of cord to ease removal.

Our choice for main anchoring points in most normal-ish conditions, but you wouldn’t want to carry more than four of them. Solid versions, Alpkit sells some, are heavier again, but cheaper and a great option for anchoring family tents or for general car camping use.

Vee-Section Pegs

Classic vee-section pegs up the holding power over nail-types in softer ground with the greater surface area making them harder to pul through. The downside, of course is that they’re heavier even if the same materials are used. Variants include curved cross-section pegs – they seem to bend more easily – and ‘Y’ and ‘X’ beam cross-sectioned pegs which present more surface area again for better hold, but tend to be heavier.

We’ve found that even small vee-section pegs give significantly better holding power than equivalent-length skewers and we’d suggest them as lightweight all-rounders in preference to ultra-lightweight nails for general use.

One thing to be wary of is lightweight tents with big indents cut into them at the top, they have a tendency to break there if hammered or pressed hard into the ground. Ooops. On the same theme, our experience of Y and X-section pegs is that they’re far less likely to bend or break under hammering than V-section pegs thanks to the bracing on all sides.

Big Vee Section Pegs

For really good holding power in looser conditions, it’s no real surprise that great, big, vee section pegs are the best call. Adding waviness to the profile helps a little too, but for most backpacking these are simply too heavy, although if you know you’re going to encounter really poor ground conditions, it might be worth gritting your teeth and packing a few regardless of the weight.

If you want to get specialist, you can buy dedicated sand pegs if you know, for example, you’re going to be camping on dunes and even complex super-engineered Tough Stakes for snow and sand anchoring, but 99% of the time for most campers, that’s overkill.

Improvise

Last but not least, remember you can improvise by using handy rocks, boulders, ice gear, even axes as anchoring points. Another option you may not be aware of are Dead Guys essentially anchoring bags you can fill with soil or stones for use on rocky terrain where short of bolting, you have no other options.

Overall

With pegs it’s generally a trade-off between weight and holding power. Ti and carbon fibre pegs are generally not that much lighter than aluminium but tend to be tougher and less prone to bending at the same weight, but as we said earlier, for most of us, a mix of pegs is arguably the best solution.

Our optimum stack is four big, hollow, alloy spikes for the main anchoring points with a mix of Y-section lightweight pegs and some ti nails for guying out. All of them sport loops of small-bore accessory cord for rapid removal and all are hard to bend or break without some real effort.

V-section pegs (Hilleberg) and Y-section ones from MHW have better holding power in soft and sandy ground, but are slightly heavier.

The curved-section VauDe lightweights (right) are surprisingly good despite being small and light. Tiny ti skewers need firm ground to hold well.

Ooops – traditional curved skewers tend to finish up this way.

Hence the attraction of nail-type pegs with reinforced tops. These are old MHW ones, hollow to save weight, but still impressively strong.

The full arsenal – four main pegs plus a selection of lighter satellite skewers.

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