Being Prepared for the Inevitable
As capable as your Overlanding vehicle might be, it’s still only a matter of time before you get stuck on a trail. Simply put, getting stuck is a common occurrence for anyone who goes off-road on a regular basis.
Maybe you decide to take a trail that’s a bit too much for your rig, or maybe you encounter something unexpected on a trail you thought you knew. Either way, you’re stuck. So, what now?
This is where off-road recovery gear comes in. We could go into reams of discussion on what to bring, but there’s a pretty basic and short list of “things to bring” before your next time on the trail. These are items that every serious off-roader or Overlander should have on hand before tackling the trails solo.
Now, there’s always a chance that you’ll run into other wheelers on the trail, and they’re typically a helpful group. But you never know when it will be solely up to you to get your rig unstuck. Let’s take a look at the absolute must-have recovery gear for getting unstuck off-road.
Winches are probably the most necessary item in your off-road recovery gear collection. No one who’s serious about off-roading does so without a winch. Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a winch.
First, your winch needs to be rated for 1.5 times the weight of your vehicle. It’s important to remember that the weight of your vehicle isn’t just the gross weight of your vehicle when it’s empty. It should be the weight of your vehicle including gear and mods.
Second, there are two main types of line that winches come with: synthetic rope and steel rope. Both have benefits and drawbacks. In basic terms, steel rope is good for moving a lot of weight quickly, but synthetic rope is better for frequent winching. Synthetic rope also boasts some safety benefits in that it’s not nearly as dangerous in a snapping situation as steel rope can be.
A recovery jack, often referred to as a Hi-Lift jack, is similar to a winch in that it’s one of the most important and powerful off-road trail tools for getting unstuck. Also like a winch, it does pose some operational risk, and it has a tendency to look cool on your rig.
Recovery jacks have a lot of uses. If you end up with a flat tire or something busted underneath, the jack can get your vehicle up off the ground so you can fix it. The other use for a recovery jack is to boost your ground clearance for getting unstuck from a large obstacle that you may have miscalculated.
Recovery jacks typically attach to your off-road bumper, roof rack, bed rack or spare tire carrier. If you’re on level ground, then you should use a floor or bottle jack. The Hi-Lift jack is very specifically for off-road use.
Some recovery jack recommendations include the ubiquitous Hi-Lift Jack whose name has become synonymous with the tool itself. ARB is another company to consider with its JACK model which features 360-degree adjustability and an ergonomic design.
Recovery Straps or Ropes
Along with winches and jacks, recovery straps fall into the Top Three off-road tools you should have with you whenever you’re on the trails. These may also be called recovery ropes, but it’s important to make sure that you’re looking at kinetic recovery straps and not tow straps, which are static. Think of a kinetic recovery strap as a giant rubber band. They store energy and stretch up to 30% beyond their normal 20-30-foot length.
Kinetic recovery straps can be used when winching isn’t ideal. They can be used for short pulls when winching might be more hassle than it’s worth or maybe not even possible. Like a winch, it’s important that your recovery straps are rated for the right weight. In this case, they should be rated for at least twice your vehicle’s weight. And remember, this means vehicle weight with gear.
Recovery ropes are usually made of braided nylon and look similar to synthetic winch ropes. The ropes are coated for protection against UV rays and moisture, but you should still store them away from these factors.
Some recommendations include the Bubba Rope 30-foot Power Stretch recovery rope and the Voodoo Offroad kinetic recovery rope. The former has a breaking strength of over 52,000 pounds, which makes it ideal for large trucks and SUVs. The Voodoo rope comes in a lighter 24,500-pound weight capacity.
Soft shackles are essentially knots in synthetic winch rope form. Instead of steel, soft shackles are made from high-molecular-weight polyethylene and are usually coated with a compound to protect against UV rays. The typical soft shackle is about half an inch in diameter and is rated for weight between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds.
If you’re used to using steel rings, soft shackles are a good replacement or complement as they’re lighter, have more flex, and are easier to store. They’re also safer in a breakage situation. If your line fails during a pull, you won’t have a mass of steel flying around.
Some soft shackle recommendations include Spydura Soft Shackle from WARN and synthetic shackles made by Bubba’s Gator-Jaw. The latter is an extremely popular model with a variety of sizes, colors, ratings, and prices.
Recovery boards are pretty straightforward and easy to use. In a sticky situation, you can put a recovery board in front or behind a vehicle’s tires to add traction. In soft terrain like mud, sand, and snow, a recovery board can also keep your vehicle from sinking too far in.
Those two reasons alone are worth carrying a recovery board or two. But wait, there’s more! You can also use recovery boards to act as a ramp for your vehicle to clear a rock or fallen tree.
Recovery boards are generally constructed of nylon, plastic, and fiberglass. The weight ratings vary from 2,000 pounds to 10,000 pounds or more per board. Just like winches and Hi-Lift jacks, recovery boards add to your vehicle’s off-road aesthetic.
Some recommendations for recovery boards include the very popular MAXTRAX recovery boards and Element Ramps by Smittybilt. Another option to consider are the ARB TRED Pro recovery boards. These boards offer a lifetime warranty and feature a nodule design that resembles the tread pattern of popular and effective off-road tires for the ultimate traction.
For some people, Overlanding is a weekend out in nature, for others, it’s a way of life. Regardless of which group you fit in, off-road recovery gear is an integral part of the Overland gear you’ll need to make your trip enjoyable and safe. For additional suggestions on what to bring, check out our Overlanding essentials checklist. Be safe and have fun! We’ll see you on the trails.