Go prepared! Vehicle recovery gear.
If you venture of the beaten track with your 4×4 it is likely that you will get stuck at some point. The weather can turn perfectly groomed tracks into mud pits. Fallen trees or other obstackles can force you to find a detour and your vehicle can be stranded. With a few basic skills and the right tools that should be no reason for concern. Here is a summary of what we carry on our overland trips, why we take it and what we use it for. The interesting thing is that our vehicle recovery kit remains essentially unchanged no matter where we go. We use this kit in the desert, the snow, the rocks and in the mud.
1) A tow or recovery strap & shackles (or D-rings):
This really should be in the back of every 4×4 that leaves the tarmac. If you drive with multiple vehicles or if you are on a frequently travelled track a recovery strap is usually the quickest and easiest way out. It does require a second vehicle and some precaution. First of all, never skimp on recovery gear. Always buy from a well known brand and a reliable source. The forces that are generated when pulling a two tonne vehicle that is stuck are immense. I have seen snapped straps, failed shackles and recovery points on vehicles that are torn of too many times. Needless to say that such an occurence can have a very nasty outcome. So in this case the chain is litteraly as trong as the weakest link. It starts with your vehicle recovery points. Some trucks have strong recovery points but most need some aftermarket recovery points where you can safely attach your recovery strap. The loops on a stock Land Rover Defender for example are merely tie down points to secure the vehicle to a trailer. Pulling on those will result in a hole in your frame and a potentially deadly situation. So make sure you have strong recovery points on your truck before you leave on any adventure. Then there are the schackles or D-rings. Buy them from a reputable source and make sure thay are rated for minimum the same forces as your strap. There are many kinds of tow and recovery straps from non-elastic to kinetic tow ropes. They all have their strengths and weaknesses but we opted for an ARB heavy duty tow strap with a little (20%) elasticity. Solid straps need to be tensioned before putting much force on them because they are otherwise very brutal on the vehicle. So they are not a good option when you need a little momentum to recover the stranded vehicle. The kinetic tow ropes can be very effective and are easy on the vehicles but they provide little control and I have seen trucks getting unstuck and than launched into the vehicle that was helping them. It is just not a very controlled way to do a recovery. ARB makes a big wide snatch strap that is rated to 11 tonnes and have just the right amount of stretch engineered in them to be super effective whilst remaining controllable. Finally when pulling out a stuck vehicle make sure you plan ahead, communicate well and make sure everybody is out of the way. After a recovery take good care of your gear and make sure it is stored clean and dry for the next occasion.
2) Traction aids.
Sometimes your tires just can’t find traction. In a lot of cases lowerering your tire pressure makes a huge difference, but if that is not enough you can try to put something under your wheels to get going. There are a lot of options available. There are steel and aluminium sand plates, there are waffle boards, and there are a little more “engineered” solutions. The classic sand plates look very “camel trophy” and were the only available solution for a long time. Lot’s of them were available as leftovers from the second world war. They work well in soft sand and can be used as a improvised table for cooking or repairs or whatever. But the steel ones are extremely heavy and both the steel and the aluminium ones have two mayor drawbacks. They deform under load and they don’t get back in shape. Also they don’t offer much grip in mud or snow. Waffle boards are also heavy but offer decent grip an can be used as bridging ladders. They have a tendency to sink into the ground and are difficult to get back out. A couple of years ago we discovered MaxTrax, an purpose engineered solution. They are bright colored traction wonders that work amazingly well. They have a very agressive pattern on the top and on the bottom, they have no holes so they don’t get stuck in the mud or get lost. They are lightweight and virtually indistructable. They can be linkes together to make a really long traction aid or they can be stacked onto each other to become a bridging ladder. If that is not impressive enough you can use them as a shovel too. No wonder they are quickly becoming the standard on overland vehicles around the globe! They are lousy as a table though!
Sometimes it is neccesary to lift your vehicle so you can clear obstacles under the bottom or place something under a wheel in order to get you moving again. There are many types of jacks but in the right hands a farm jack is a great tool for offroad recovery and repairs. Hi-Lift is the most well known and in our opinion the best quality brand available. They also manufacture a lot of accessories to attach your jack to your vehicle, keep it dust free, and make it an even more versatile tool. Our Hi-lift jack comes with two very handy extras that makes it unmissable on every journey. We added a large base plate that makes sure the jack doesn’t sink in to the ground when lifting, but also it keeps the jack more stable and you can even fix the base plate to the ground with tent pegs to create an ultra sturdy platform. The second addition is a wheel lift device that enables the jack to lift up a wheel and not the body of the truck when you want to. This is a nice thing because modern 4×4’s with enhanced suspension systems can go up high in the air before the wheel leaves the ground. So if your objective is to lift up a wheel to be able to put a rock or a traction device under it this is a nice thing to have in your truck. The major drawback of such a jack is that thay can be potentially dangerous if you don’t know how to operate them or if they are not lubricated and dirty. So no matter how macho it looks on your vehicle, we advise to keep your jack inside the car and protected from dust.
4) Small stuff.
We always use gloves and safety goggles when doing recoveries. We carry a shovel to clear sand, dirt or snow, a small axe to get rid of tree stumps and such. And we use two way radios to communicate efficiently when towing.
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