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How to Stake Your Tent and NOT Your Friends

 Safely staking down pop-ups, carports and tents, along with some general camping safety tips

Author: Master Phillipos the Skeptic, OL College of Brymstonne, Barony of Twin Moons, Atenveldt 
aka Phil Waclawski, (
muck@felitaur.com) a computer information services instructor at Mesa Community College 

Many people camp with pop-up tents and carports, including our encampment. They are cheap and easy to set up. However, they tend to be the most dangerous type of shelter found at SCA events. Regular tents, and especially canvas pavilions come with stakes and guy ropes, and often can't be set up at all without them.

The carports and pop-ups, however, can just stand there, waiting to strike against innocent campers at a moment's gust of wind. And a moment's gust of wind is all it takes! Twice now a carport has attacked the College of Brymstonne in Atenveldt. One of them blasted through our gate and then into the front of a knight's truck, doing a few thousand dollars in damage. The other blasted through our encampment, went through one young lady's tent and nearly speared her, then slammed up against one tent, and partially collapsed yet another.

So far, no one has been seriously hurt that I know of in the SCA, but it is only a matter of time before a poorly or non staked carport or pop-up hurts someone badly. It is really quite easy to secure these flying death kites so that they can no longer harm anyone. My goal is to make it easy for you to secure your campsite and protect your friends and fellow campers.


First, if your tent came with those little L-shaped aluminum wires, use them as a hair pin, or throw them out. Depending on where in the Known World you live, they may be better than nothing, but not by much. An excellent source of good, solid stakes would be your local home supply store. Get the 10-12” long “landscape spikes” which are just gigantic nails. Then get some heavy washers that will slide over those spikes and you have a very solid, but affordable stake.

You can of course get some of the 3/8” -1/2” thick stakes made out of mild steel from the period tent sellers, blacksmiths and so on. They are excellent if you can afford them.


You have a lot of choices for good ropes. Clothesline rope is the lowest in quality that I would go, and only if I had no other options. There are many good nylon, polyester, blend and natural ropes (manila, hemp, sisal) that will work for guy ropes. I would not go less than 1/4” for small ropes, and 3/8” and up for larger guy ropes.

Finishing the ends on most ropes will prevent fraying and make them last longer. For synthetic ropes, use a lighter and carefully melt the ends - hot nylon/polyester can burn you very badly. For natural ropes, you can wrap a few layers of duct tape strip around the end to keep them from fraying. Whipping the ends with some heavy thread is best, but takes some time and practice (see middle photo on knot tying for example of a “whipped” end).


A solid 2-3 pound, or heavier, sledge type hammer is excellent for driving stakes into tough ground. Of course, you may need a good crowbar to remove those stakes after you drive them into tough ground. There are many cheap hardware supply places to get these tools, Harbor Freight is one of my favorites.

How to stake

Stakes work best if they are at an angle AWAY from what they are holding down. In the figure below you can see the “yes” side has the guy rope out away from the tent to give more support, and the the stake has been driven in at nearly a 90 degree angle to the rope. This gives the stake a great deal of holding power. On the “no!” side the stake is parallel to the rope it is holding, which is great for pulling the stake out of the ground, but not for holding down your tent. Even the stakes for the sides of your tent should follow this rule.
The guy ropes need to be tight, so you have to be able to adjust them easily. One way is with a simple wooden toggle (wood pieces, about 1” wide, 3/4” thick and 3” long with a 1/2” or so hole in either end). Slide one end of the rope through one hole of the toggle then up through the other and tie a short overhand knot. You can then pull the toggle up the rope as it loops around the stake to keep the line tight. The way I prefer is to use a classic knot, known as the “taut line hitch”. In the three pictures below, the rope that is basically vertical is the rope what would be connected to your tent or pop up. The part that loops around the tent stake would be what looks like two ropes at the bottom of the photos (bottom of loop was cut off to reduce image size).
This is a very useful, adjustable knot, and works well. If you lose your toggles, you can just tie this on the spot.
When there is a steady wind, remember to periodically check and tighten all guy ropes, as the back and forth motion caused by the wind can loosen ropes.
For the corners of pop-ups especially, there should be TWO ropes on each corner, at slight angles from each other, to help steady the tent in multiple directions.
Taking down tents safely
Remember, putting up or taking down a tent/carport is a very dangerous time. You are either putting in or removing the supports for the structure, and a sudden gust can take it away from you. Until the canvas/plastic/nylon is down or off of the frame, you need people to hold the carport in place so that it doesn't take off, get wrecked, or worse, wreck someone else's tent or possibly health.
Pulling stakes can be very easy if the ground cooperates, or a real chore. Using a nice big crowbar, and a small piece of wood under it for leverage works well to get up the tough stakes.
What to do if you can't stake?
Some events, you just can't stake due to site rules. There are several alternatives you can use.  
  1. Sand bags. Roughly 25lbs per rope works well for pop-ups, with two ropes per corner. This does mean you have to haul 200lbs of sand bags to an event.
  2. Cinder blocks. Again, two at each corner should do the trick. If you don't like the look, Lady Selina suggests a “cinder block cozy”...really. 
  3. PVC weights. You hang these from the inside corners of a pop-up. Take about a 2-3foot long section of 3” diameter PVC. Glue a cap on the bottom. Fill with sand until weight is where you want it. Drill a hole in top cap and put in a 1/4” threaded eye bolt and tighten well. Then glue that cap on. Spray paint or put a “cozy” on it as you see fit.
 Additional Safety and other Tips 
  • Fire - Be extremely careful with fire inside a tent. Things catch on fire quickly. A strong breeze can make your tent walls knock over a lantern. Have a FIRE EXTINGUISHER handy by your tent, and all tents and fire pits in camp.
  • Tent Heaters – Danger of fire and also death by carbon monoxide poisoning. This HAS happened at one of the Estrella War's I attended. Your tent must have some ventilation (nylon tents are often very bad for ventilation), the heater should be designed for tents (safety features such as shutting off if tipped, if pilot goes out, if oxygen levels drop etc). Even then, the manufacturers warn to only use it while awake, and turn it off just as you go to bed.
  • Keep warm at night.
  • Get off the ground. Put some serious insulation below you or a short cot. Have layers of bedding. Make sure you sleep in dry, clean clothes and not the ones you have been wearing all day.
  • Lighting inside your tent. It's a good thing, but in canvas and other tents, you're basically projecting everything you do onto the sides of your tent. Just FYI ;)
  • Sunscreen. Trust me on this, sunscreen is a good idea.
Thanks to: HL Raven Mayne for the title. Much better than “Please stop launching carports at Brymstonne!” and to the many Brymstonne wives who kept reminding me to do this article. And to Mistress Angela for her regular “war camping 101” classes.