*4WD Recovery gear*
By Schtoo

Are you stuck, in the mud/rock/sand?

Aren’t you lucky you are reading this as you contemplate how to extricate yourself from your dilemma? Well, maybe not, but it’s possible!

If at any time you have spent more than a fleeting glance at any kind of media/event/store that has 4WD equipment in it, you will have seen something dedicated to getting a vehicle un-stuck from an obstacle. Let’s face it, if you drive your 4WD the way it should be driven, it’s going to get stuck (or you’re not driving it properly!) Whether it’s due to inexperience, over exuberance or just bad luck, you will get your vehicle stuck in something that you can’t just drive out of. You are going to need to learn how to get it out and what you need to facilitate your escape.

All these items are used to one main thing, get you out. They are referred to in the game as ‘Recovery devices’. They will be listed below in order of importance, and usually monetary cost. Funnily enough, the further you go down the list, the faster you can get un-stuck using them, if they are used properly...

So, without further ado...

The faithful escape ‘assistants’.

Firstly, the item you should never leave home without, the digging implement known as a ‘long handled shovel’. This is the granddaddy of all recovery items. It will get you out of ANY situation given enough time and effort. It’s not fast or easy, but it works. It will allow you to move mountains, lakes and swamps, just v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.

Next is an Axe. Nothing fancy, just a regular good quality axe. It will allow you to clear a tree that has fallen across your path, or collect bits of tree to help you get out of your problem. It can also make waiting for help easier by helping you start a fire ;) But it should always be carried, and in a safe manner too.

Chains, ropes, shackles and straps. All of these are probably the fastest way to get out of anywhere, but their use is limited to one very important item. Another un-stuck vehicle, which are very expensive when you don’t have one. But if you have them, keep them on board. An un-stuck vehicle is just a passing trail buddy (and not a rescuer) when you don’t have something to tow you out.

Firstly I recommend a simple snatch strap and rated ‘D’ or ‘Bow’ Shackles to attach it with. A snatch strap goes under several names like the generic ‘snatch strap’, kinetic rope, magic rubber band and similar. All mean a rope that stretches when load is applied to it and contracts when load is removed from it. These are most useful in ‘sticky’ surfaces like mud and sand where they stretch, move the stuck vehicle then spring it out with minimal stress or incident. The shackles are used to attach the loops at either end of the strap to a part or parts of the vehicles (rated recovery points ONLY!). These straps are never to be used for towing or lugging loads around, doing so will destroy them very quickly. And if you use them in the mud or sand, wash them as soon as is possible or else you will have two short straps...

Next, some kind of rope or chain rated to tow a fully loaded vehicle. These are very different to the snatch straps as they have no stretch at all. They are not used to spring anything out of anywhere, they are simply for pulling things around or as a solid extension to another recovery device. Be very careful when using these as applying any heavy shock loads can damage them, and when these things break, things get broken in a violent manner. But their uses are as varied as you can dream up. Just as useful as a snatch strap, and completes a recovery bag.

Make very sure that all straps, ropes, chains and shackles are ‘rated’. This simply means they have a measured loading at which they will hold, but not break. This is a kind of ‘insurance’ that they will hold up to that much load without being damaged. Unrated items have no such insurance and WILL break at unexpected times, usually well before it is expected and often with disastrous results.

Jacks??? Yes, jacks! Any old jack is better than no jack, but the best one you can own for any kind of off road adventures is the venerable ‘High lift Jack’. These are essentially a mechanical jack that has a 3-4 foot operating range and will lift over 3 tons. They are strong, powerful, heavy and potentially dangerous. Be cautious of high lift jacks at all times, they hurt even when they don’t whack you! But they too are indispensable when you need to lift yourself out of a jamb. Can also be used as a slow ungainly winch. If you have somewhere to put it safely, do not ever leave it at home. I don’t, but I can’t change a tyre without it either ;)

Chains, tyre chains. You might be thinking "These are good for snow, but why are they mentioned here?". Well, it because they are great for snow and ice. But mud can also conquered with tyre chains. They essentially make any tyre they are attached to ‘ultra aggressive’ and give you more grip. These are more like ‘prevention rather than cure’ as they should be used in anticipation of being stuck. With good judgement, they will prevent you from getting stuck somewhere you might easily be caught with just rubber alone. Invaluable if you have them.

"Sand ladders? What the heck are they??" is the most often uttered comment I hear when these things are mentioned. Basically, they are a rigid plank or a flexible surface used to spread the weight of a tyre out over a larger area. Effectively work the same as tyre chains, but can be more useful than a chain can be. Not easy to find, but if you feel the need for them, great items to have on board.

Winches mechanical, electrical and hydraulic... Almost musical huh? Anyway these are exactly what they sound like, all winches and all just flat out pull you out of trouble.

Mechanical winches are most often known as ‘hand’ winches what are used with a long lever and a rapidly tiring hand/arm/person. Alot of effort, but almost indestructible. If you carry any winch, you should have a hand winch as a backup. Most common brand is ‘Tirfor’ and they come in various weight ratings. Be warned, the ratings on these items (as the shackles are rated too) is for a dead vertical lift. They will pull much greater weights around, but can only withstand the weight rated on the side before they ‘might’ fail. Most common are winches in the 1600-2500kg/3500-5500lb scale.

Electrical, mechanical-PTO and hydraulic winches are alot faster that hand winches and alot easier on the operator. They are also extremely expensive compared to the combined cost of every item above. They are used to get you moving quickly and that’s about it. If you feel the need for one of these (and are going to actually use it!) you should be beyond the stage of getting stuck by reasons of "I didn’t expect to get stuck there". You should be well into the ability of "I hope I get through this" before a ‘fast’ winch becomes a viable option. Of course you can buy one of these, and if you can genuinely afford to I suggest that you do. But they are not a necessity unless you are a LOT more serious than the usual ‘soccer-mom’ :)

The electrical winches are most common, brands such as ‘Warn’, ‘Superwinch’, ‘Husky’ and the like are what’s common here. Ask around before spending your money, the variants offered by these companies are mind boggling. But if you ‘need’ one, you have probably decided which one you want before you can afford it. Be warned that you will need bumper modifications and some wiring work to make these things operate.

The hydraulic winches are operationally identical to the electrical units, except they use hydraulic fluid from your power steering and use the power steering pump to provide the required pressure. Their effectiveness is debateable, but they do work well. Do your homework before deciding on one and you should not be disappointed.

PTO winches are the granddaddy of the powered winch scene. They are as old as 4WD vehicle are and are still widely used. Can be faster and more powerful than any other winch, but do need experience to be used effectively. Basically you will need to know your stuff before you say "I’m getting one of THEM!". Seeing one being used by an experienced operator goes beyond ‘amazing’ and becomes ‘poetry in motion’.

What else?

If you think you might need more than what’s mentioned above, you don’t need me to tell you about it. You should have been fully indoctrinated into the 4WD scene and have a good idea of what’s about and what works.

But as a ‘teaser’ the full range of 4WD gear extends to welders, air compressors, tool kits, tyre repair kits, tyre changers, satellite communication and navigation, guards, racks, wading or swimming gear, diff lockers, big tyres, suspension and body ‘lifts’, war paint, lights, etc, etc, etc. The list is endless, expensive and a bucket load of dirty, filthy fun!!!

So, have you found your way out yet? Why are you still reading this, get out there and go get stuck again! :)


All materials at this site not otherwise credited are Copyright (c) 1996-2001 Trip Williams. All rights reserved. May be reproduced for personal use only. Use of any material contained herein is subject to stated terms or written permission.