Integration of simulated and observed states through data assimilation as well as model evaluation requires a realistic representation of soil moisture in land surface models (LSMs). However, soil moisture in LSMs is sensitive to a range of uncertain input parameters, and intermodel differences in parameter values are often large. Here, the effect of soil parameters on soil moisture and evapotranspiration are investigated by using parameters from three different LSMs participating in the European Land Data Assimilation System (ELDAS) project. To prevent compensating effects from other than soil parameters, the effects are evaluated within a common framework of parsimonious stochastic soil moisture models. First, soil parameters are shown to affect soil moisture more strongly than the average evapotranspiration. In arid climates, the effect of soil parameters is on the variance rather than the mean, and the intermodel flux differences are smallest. Soil parameters from the ELDAS LSMs differ strongly, most notably in the available moisture content between the wilting point and the critical moisture content, which differ by a factor of 3. The ELDAS parameters can lead to differences in mean volumetric soil moisture as high as 0.10 and an average evapotranspiration of 10%-20% for the investigated parameter range. The parsimonious framework presented here can be used to investigate first-order parameter sensitivities under a range of climate conditions without using full LSM simulations. The results are consistent with many other studies using different LSMs under a more limited range of possible forcing conditions.