Water Barrels - Not Worth the Water they Hold

With last week’s Staking Blog still fresh off the presses (not literally, of course), we can’t help but feel the need to touch on an aspect of tent anchoring that gives us the heebie-jeebies. All too often we’ve sold a frame-style tent to a customer only to see the worst practices put to the test. And we don’t feel we need to mention, but more often than not we’re watching them fail.

Securing a tent by tying it to water barrels has become an all-too-common occurrence in the otherwise very safe field of tent installation. Since this may seem like a foreign concept to some, let’s break down what the standard process entails.

The Water Barrel Setup

Water barrels used for tent anchoring are most commonly plastic barrels with handles and spigots/opening at the top, and can hold upwards of 55 gallons of water apiece. A barrel would be filled at the installation site, rolled or walked to an anchoring location next to a tent leg, and attached to the tent by ropes or ratchet straps. Each guy line would extend down from the tent similar to how normal staking lines are attached, and tied to the barrel handle or secured by wrapping around the middle of the barrel and ratcheted tight.

Basically Sound?

On the surface that seems like it should work, and work well. After all, when was the last time you could lift 55 gallons of water, which would weigh around 458.7 pounds (or 32.8 stone)? Not to mention the time you could save not having to worry about soil conditions or the effort spent in driving and eventually pulling all of those stakes.

Too good to be true? Well, of course it is (would I be writing this otherwise?).

The Nitty Gritty

The main issues with water barrels boil down into 3 basic parts:

  1. 450 lbs of Holding Power isn’t that much in Tent Anchoring

    Depending on the size of your tent, the average guy line needs to be able to hold its own against the cumulative power of any wind that is pushing on your tent. The larger the tent, the larger the fabric that wind – even a light breeze – has to push against.  A standard tent guy line requires around ### lbs of force to keep a tent in place.

    Plastic has a Low Coefficient of Friction

    In the most basic terminology, plastic is slick. Slippery. Slide-y. Even without any moisture to help it along (and if you’re filling a barrel with water, how dry can you keep it?) plastic is very easy to get moving, and even easier to keep in motion.

  3. High Staking = Bad Staking

    Most staking requires that the line tie-off be less than 6” (15.2 cm) above the ground, since any attachment point higher will start to compromise the stake’s holding power. With a water barrel, the anchoring point is at best in the middle of the barrel, and most likely at the very top. This doesn’t let you take advantage of nearly enough of the barrel’s total weight.

Combine all of this and you can see why barrel anchoring is just about the worst method you can choose, and is a blatant disregard for the safety of anyone who enters the tent. We have footage to prove it.

Celina has a complete compendium of the basic staking we suggest for all of our tents located in the first few pages of each tent’s installation manual, which can be accessed online here, day or night. Feel free to contact us at any time with questions you may have about staking and tent safety!