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Review: MSR Carbon Core Tent Stakes


Aaron Zagrodnick

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Listed at just under 6 grams /.2 ounces per stake and costing around $40 for 4, the MSR Carbon Core stakes come in as some of the lightest and most expensive tent stakes on the market. After breaking a lot of different types of stakes, or having them fall apart, I’d come to rely on utilizing titanium shepherd’s hook stakes all around. They’re light, aren’t made up of multiple pieces that can come apart, and are generally reasonably priced. The drawbacks: They can be easy to lose, can bend, and don’t exactly have the best holding power.

MSR Carbon Core Tent Stakes Review

MSR Carbon Core Stakes

You can however purchase shepherd’s hook stakes with orange heads to solve the visibility problem, or add your own color with heat-shrink tubing like we described here in Issue 2. Additionally, placing a rock on top of each stake will usually keep everything in the ground. But it can be hard to resist new gear that’s just a touch lighter and might offer just that much more improvement when it comes to performance and usability in the field.

MSR Carbon Core Stake

MSR Carbon Core Tent Stake Design

The Carbon Core tent stakes from MSR are made in the USA (of U.S. and imported materials) and have a carbon fiber core wrapped in 7000 series aluminum for durability, and a separate plastic / synthetic head has been affixed to the shaft of the stake, with a hole to add a loop of cord if you desire. The stakes have a 6” total length and weighed .2 oz / 5.5 grams each on my scale. They’re thinner than I expected, but still quite a bit more robust in size compared to a standard shepherd’s hook stake, and lighter than most versions. Grab half a dozen for a trip and it’s like nothing is in your hand - and as I inadvertently found out, they even float in water.

Carbon Core Stake from MSR and Sheperd's Hook

Impressions

As I talked about earlier, I’ve had bad experiences with stakes utilizing a 2-piece design in the past, but so far the MSR carbon core stakes have been holding up well in the field...for the most part (more on that later). I haven’t been rough on them however, and have learned to just use my hand or light pressure from my foot to get them in the ground. Best of all, the top doesn’t tear up your hands like many other stakes. Holding power is good and definitely better than titanium shepherd’s hook stakes, but if you need the best holding power that’s to be had in soft ground you’d probably best be served by looking at a heavier category of stakes like the MSR Groundhog.

MSR Carbon Core Stake Kit

Over the years, I've used the stakes on everything from 4-person family sized backpacking tents to ultralight solo shelters and everything in between. The MSR Carbon Cores work great for additional tie outs on large tents, but they often aren't enough for something like the corners of large shelters with a lot of tension on them in the soft ground of a pine forest when the winds pick up (rocks can do the trick, or a campsite with solid ground, though), and I typically prefer a longer stake for corners that have a lot of tension. For those that need the extra holding power, in high wind, or if you select a tent site with looser soil or sand, something like the longer MSR Core stakes (not carbon) are a good option.

Plastic Head of Carbon Core Stake and Cord Loop Support

The stakes are unique in that they have the light weight and stiffness that you get with carbon fiber, but with the aluminum covering protecting the stakes from abrasion. However, you can only make an ultralight tent stake so strong, and I have broken a Carbon Core using my feet to attempt to push them in to hard ground. Lesson learned, don't use your feet with these stakes and make sure you aren't exerting any sideways torque when placing them.

MSR Carbon Core Tent Stake Top View

Additionally, after 10 years of use, I have had a couple of the heads come off the end of the stake, unfortunately this has happened from time to time with every 2-piece tent stake design I've ever used. A slight wiggle side to side before removing from the ground can help avoid this issue however. You just have to find a balance between loosening the stake slightly but not exerting so much lateral force that you run the risk of breaking the stake in half. Long story short, the stakes are pretty tough, but for those that pack ultralight, you will still need to treat them like the rest of your ultralight gear.

Conclusion

In the end, when you consider the weight to holding power ratio, the MSR Carbon Core stakes are definitely a contender and overall they are very nice stakes, although I do wish for the price more stakes were included with the package. I have been and will continue to use them in place of shepherd’s hook stakes moving forward, mixing and matching with other types of stakes depending on the shelter and types of ground / conditions I expect to encounter, typically using the carbon cores for lower stress areas, and a few longer aluminum stakes for higher tension corners, etc.

The Carbon Cores come in a set of four tent stakes and currently retail for about $40, but you can frequently find a deal on the stakes if you keep an eye out. You can find them here at Backcountry, and here at Amazon.

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tmountainnut

Posted

My only caution about placing rocks on top of stakes is that in high wind, the movement of the cord against the edge of the rocks may cause them to fray and snap if they are thin cords. I have also found the thin titanium to have a low holding power, and i am interested in trying out something better.

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Aaron Zagrodnick

Posted

Good point regarding the rocks. I've never actually had a line snap but I've been lucky enough to catch it before it's gotten too bad a few times...

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