How to stake a tent in snow without tying knots

A simple method of setting up stake cords so that you don’t have to tie any knots in severe weather conditions.

4-season tent

This is just a quick tip to help you stake out your tent on snow. You may already be familiar with snow stakes and the deadman strategy for securing the stakes in soft snow. What I want to explain here is a method of setting up your stake cords so that you don’t have to tie any knots when you set up your tent. That is, the only tieing involved is done at home before you head out to the wilderness. Technically, you do need to tie one “knot,” a “girth hitch” to attach the cord to the stake, but this isn’t the kind of knot that requires much finger dexterity or time in cold conditions.

When you get ready to set up camp, you may be tied, it may be getting dark, and the weather may be cold and windy. You’ll want to set up your tent as quickly as possible. Tying knots with gloves on is not easy, so if you can avoid it, why not?

To eliminate this hassle, you can use the 2mm utility cord to prepare extensions. Simply pre-tie six or eight loops, or however many your tent requires. Close the loop using a hitch with a quick release knot. Each closed loop needs to be around 2–3 feet long (i.e., about 6 feet of cord each) to allow you to bury the stake at least a foot below the snow surface and a couple of feet away from the tent.

The key idea is to have the cord tied in a circle or loop so that it can then be attached with girth hitches to the stake straps on the tent and the actual tent stake. No tying at the campsite is required. Simple looping (girth hitches) is all you need to do. If your hands are cold or it is too windy to remove gloves, you’ll appreciate the speed and ease of this technique.

Tent stake utility cord
Test out your tent set up before heading out.

If you do have to adjust the cord, use the pre-tied adjustable hitch. This release can come in handy when removing the stake in the morning when the snow if firmer from colder overnight temperatures. Release the hitch and use the cords to pull up each stake or dig them out with your snow shovel or ice ax if necessary.

Most winter backpackers will recommend using an ice ax to dig a trench for the stake. In the early season when snow is softest and least compacted, ice axes are usually useless and you will not need to carry one. You will, however, need a snow shovel (necessary for avalanche rescue). Just shove the shovel blade deeply into the snow and pull it out. The shovel blade will leave a narrow trench perfect for the stake. Flip the shovel over and use the handle to push the stake (the stake is in the horizontal deadman position) to the bottom of the trench. Then stomp the snow down to pack it down firmly. If high winds are unlikely I don’t bury the stakes in a deadman position because it is often hard to dig them out in the morning when the snow is frozen solid.

Guy line extension

snow stake
Snow stake attached to pre-tied guy line extension.

winter backpacking 4-season tent

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. I’ll be updating this post periodically (including correcting bad grammar and spelling, etc.).

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