Getting stuck; it’s as much a part of 4x4ing as a good braai and a camp fire. At some point, no matter how big your tyres, how expensive your bull bar, or even how many skull stickers you have to your Jeep’s door, you’re going to fluff a line on an obstacle, lose traction and get thoroughly bogged. Getting stuck is all part of the fun, though, and as vehicles get more capable, they find themselves stuck in progressively more precarious situations.
Getting yourself unstuck safely is an art all of its own, which requires that you invest in some essential equipment and get familiar with a bunch of techniques for using it.
We’ve outlined a few of the essential items for any self-recovery situation, and one of the all-in-a-bag kits put together by the various suppliers is a good place to start. You will need a few more items, usually not included in such a bag, so we’ve also listed a few of those. Remember that self-recovery will be difficult unless you’ve got a winch; so, when 4x4ing, always have a friend with you in another vehicle.
*We’ve excluded a winch from this guide, which is a key self-recovery tool; so see our winching article in the December 2016 issue, or find it on www.sa4x4.co.za
RECOVERY WISH LIST
Compressor - A compressor is something that you should always carry, no matter what terrain you are tackling. This is for re-inflating tyres that have been aired down to lengthen their footprint. Even a cheap and nasty Chinese compressor is better than nothing, and has saved our bacon on countless trips − it’s blown out blocked gas jets, and even doubled as a makeshift fire blower when wet wood refused to burn.
A pressure gauge is an obvious one: you need to know how much to let out, and keep it consistent. One of the more useful versions we’ve used is linked to a quick tyre deflator which removes the valve stem and holds it in place, causing the tyre to deflate rapidly while you monitor the pressure on the in-built pressure gauge. When you’ve reached the desired pressure, simply screw the valve back in.
If you’re dealing with winch cables or doing a simple tyre change, a set of thick leather welding gloves (or even a set of good gardening gloves from your local hardware shop) will prove invaluable in preventing scratches, scrapes and other injuries to your hands.
These are something we never travel off-road without, and will almost always get us unstuck from a sandy hole, or over rocky ground, by providing a wide, grippy base for the vehicle to drive on. Recovery tracks were previously steel tracks that looked similar to ladders, but are now usually plastic tracks about 1.5m long which have spikes that tyres can grip on. They can also be used for bridging small gaps when the tracks are stacked on top on one another.
Used to dig away earth that has built up in front of tyres, it makes the recovery process much easier and reduces stress on equipment. A small folding spade is fine for most situations.
Most 4x4 shops will recommend a pull strap to suit the weight of your vehicle, but a five-metre version with a 14-ton rating is a good bet for most towing scenarios. Note that a tow strap does not stretch like a snatch/kinetic recovery strap, and requires a steady pull to extract (and tow) a vehicle.
A kinetic strap or kinetic rope is used when the recovery vehicle has poor traction and cannot simply pull the stuck vehicle out with a tow strap or chain. The kinetic strap/rope is hooked to both vehicles’ recovery points and given a few metres slack, after which the recovery vehicle charges forward, using its momentum to yank the stuck vehicle out of the bog. The kinetic strap/rope will stretch, storing the recovery vehicle’s kinetic energy to make the recovery process extremely effective on soft surfaces.
Though not always needed, an axe and/ or a saw may help you in situations where you need to pack logs under your wheels to gain traction. Use to cut wood to the correct size for your needs.
The recovery blanket can be any heavy fabric placed over a winch cable or kinetic strap/rope during a recovery, to bring it safely to the ground in case the strap or cable snaps, or the recovery point fails. This will minimise the chance of projectiles being flung about the scene. Instead of a recovery blanket, a tow rope or strap can be wrapped around the winch cable.
Connect the shackle to your vehicle’s recovery point before use, and make sure that you remember to turn the pin a quarter-turn back after tightening so that it is easy to remove after the recovery. Shackles should be rated between 2000kg and 6000kg, shaped like a “bow” and not a “D”, and you’ll need at least two. More people now seem to replace these metal attachment points with synthetic rope “soft” shackles, which are lighter and safer than a traditional steel shackle. The shackle has a knot at one end and a hoop at the other, making it easy to open and close. The harder you pull on it, the tighter the knot gets.
The bridle is a short strap that connects to two recovery points at the front or back of the vehicle simultaneously to spread the recovery load evenly. By spreading the load evenly, there is less stress on components and the risk of your vehicle’s recovery point failing is reduced.
This is a short, thick and wide strap designed to wrap around a tree or other environmentally sensitive object to prevent it being damaged. The winch hook attaches to the ends of this protector.
If stuck in deep cotton clay, even a powerful 12 000lb winch may struggle to pull out a fully-laden overland rig. You can double the pulling power of the winch while halving the stress on its motor by attaching the snatch block to an anchor point and pulling the winch line through it, and attaching the end of the winch line back to your vehicle. For even more pulling power, several snatch blocks can be used. They are also effective in changing the direction of the winch line.
An air jack is essentially a large balloon under the vehicle that uses either a compressor or exhaust gas to inflate it and lift the vehicle off the ground. These jacks are safer to use than a high-lift jack, and pose less risk of vehicle-body damage, but they are bulky and sometimes struggle to lift the heaviest loads.
The infamous high-lift jack has gained a reputation for causing serious injury when not operated properly. The jack uses a ratchet mechanism and long lever to lift a tall and heavy 4×4 off the ground via its jacking points. Without solid jacking points, a high-lift jack will damage bumpers or body sides, although it can also be used to winch a stuck vehicle (very slowly) out of a rut by attaching it to a pull strap. The primary use of a high lift jack is to jack up a 4×4 so that its wheels are off the ground, enabling you to put a recovery track or rocks and locks under the wheels. On soft surfaces, a high-lift jack must be used with a base plate to spread the load and keep it stable. Always keep your high lift jack well lubricated and preferably protected in a canvas bag, as rusty and seized pins will leave you with a jammed and useless mechanism.
A drag chain is a chain with a loop on one end and a hook on the other. The chain can be used to pull fallen trees out of the track by looping it around the log and dragging it away. This prevents the environmental destruction of forming new tracks around obstacles. Drag chains can also be used as winch extensions or for towing broken down vehicles.
Kinetic STRAP vs Kinetic ROPE
One of the key parts of a recovery kit is a snatch strap or kinetic rope. Depending on the weight of your vehicle, you’ll require a different kinetic strap/rope to give you optimum stretch. A kinetic line that’s too weak may snap, but one rated for a vehicle much heavier than yours may not stretch sufficiently when used. Kinetic straps or ropes can be expensive, but for sand or mud driving, are extremely useful when a simple tug won’t do.
Kinetic straps and ropes must be used with great caution and NEVER hooked to the tow ball or rusty recovery point of either the recovery vehicle or the stuck vehicle. A snatch strap/rope works like a giant elastic band, and if a weak recovery point or tow ball breaks, it will turn into a deadly missile.
Both the webbing snatch strap and snatch rope have their advantages. The rope is much bulkier, yet generally more durable, whereas a kinetic strap can be used only three or four times (depending on conditions) before it is weakened. Wild Dog 4×4 (who write our recovery column each month) have tested their ropes up to 50 times in a day without failure.
Stretch is a key factor. A tow rope will stretch perhaps 2%, a kinetic webbing strap will stretch 20-25%, and a kinetic rope will stretch up to 30-35% – making a recovery smoother and safer. A kinetic rope of the same rating as a kinetic strap will be double the price and almost double the weight.
OUR TOP 5 ESSENTIALS
Even if you’re travelling light, there are a few things you definitely can’t do without: a compressor, a puncture repair kit, a snatch strap/ rope, recovery tracks, and shackles. With these items, you’ll be able to escape or avoid most situations. Remember that a snatch strap is only useful if you’re travelling with another vehicle, so a few mates in their own 4x4s will not only make your trip more fun, but add to the safety factor, too.
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