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How to Get Your Off-Road Rig Unstuck: Trail Tips and Recovery Tools You Need

Author: Trent McGee | 12/15/2020 < Back to Motor Life Home

Any self-respecting car enthusiast will do some kind of preparation before they leave for a trip, but the level of preparation and equipment you carry changes quite a bit when venturing off of the pavement. With a normal road trip, help is just a phone call away should things go awry. But off-roading usually involves going to remote places where cell service is slim and people that could lend a helping hand are few and far between. Off-roading requires a great deal of self-reliance, and part of that is carrying some extra equipment in case you have to get yourself out of a tight spot. Just as important as having the equipment is knowing how to use it, so let’s take a closer look at some of the gear you should carry on your backcountry adventures along with some of the ways this gear is used for vehicle recovery.


We’re assuming you’re already packing some basic hand tools and maybe even some spare parts in the event of a breakdown. Most off-roaders also equip their vehicle with a winch because let’s face it, getting stuck is just a fact of off-roading life. But a winch doesn’t do a whole lot of good without some other gear on-hand. Straps and clevises for hooking to anchor points are essential, as is knowledge of basic winch rigging techniques. Anvil Off-Road is a great source for outfitting your vehicle with everything from winches to rigging equipment to straps and fuel cans and a whole lot more. We’re going to take a look at some of the high-quality gear that’s available from Anvil and also show you some of the ways this gear can be used to get yourself or someone else out of a sticky situation.


Trail Tools kit

A winch is a vital accessory for any 4x4, but in addition to the winch itself you’re going to need some rigging equipment to use the winch properly. The Anvil Winch Accessory Kit has all of the essentials needed for most common vehicle recoveries. It includes a pair of 3”x10’ tree savers rated at 24,000 lbs. (only one is pictured), a pair of ¾” D-ring shackles rated at 9,500lbs each, a heavy-duty greaseable snatch block rated at 20,000 lbs., a tow hook that permanently attaches to your vehicle (rated at 10,000 lbs.), a pair of heavy-duty gloves for working with winch cables, and a high-quality storage bag to keep all the components contained and secure when not in use.

Fuel Cans

While not absolutely essential, carrying some extra fuel is a good idea, especially for extended trips to remote places where fuel stations are few and far between. We’ve been in many situations where we have gotten lost or unexpectedly detoured by trail blockages and ended up using much more fuel than originally planned. Running out of fuel can ruin any good off-road trip, and depending on the circumstances it can end up being disastrous or even deadly. Unfortunately, the plastic fuel jugs available today are junk and not designed to stand up to off-road abuse. We much prefer using metal cans such as these 5.3 gallon Anvil units, which are modeled after the NATO military grade fuel cans. They offer a heavy-duty leak-proof seal and a spout that positively locks on the can when you want to drain its contents. They are offered in red (gas), yellow (diesel), blue (water) and green. Anvil also offers a mounting bracket for the cans.

Tire Pressure Gauge

A tire pressure gauge is handy to have in any vehicle, but the little stick gauges aren’t really practical for off-road use because they’re not terribly accurate at lower pressures. This Mr. Gasket tire pressure gauge is much more useful for several reasons. The liquid-filled gauge is protected by a rubber boot to resist vibration and abuse from getting stuffed in a tool bag, while the braided steel flexible line allows the gauge to work with most wheel configurations and allows the gauge to be more easily viewed. The 0-60psi scale delivers accurate readings on everything from single digit trail pressure to full highway pressure for most off-road tires. Mr. Gasket also has 0-45psi and 0-15psi gauges for even more accuracy should it be desired.

Ratchet Strap

It’s a little unconventional, but we usually carry at least one heavy-duty trailer ratchet strap with us when we head to the dirt. Not only is having an extra strap handy should you have a tie down that’s securing your gear fail, we’ve used ratchet straps to perform countless trailside repairs. We’ve straightened bent tie rods, field-fixed broken motor mounts, and even used them as substitute suspension links when we’ve had suspension failures. Sometimes you have to get creative to overcome breakdowns, and ratchet straps are extremely handy for all sorts of fixes. This one is from Mr. Gasket, is 8 ft. long and offers a 5,000lb rating.

D-Ring

Let’s now take a closer look at some basics on how to use some of the recovery equipment. A ¾” D-ring (also commonly known as a clevis or a shackle) is the most common way to connect different pieces of rigging equipment. The bumper on this rig has eyelet anchor points built into it, which some off-roaders prefer over open tow hooks. While eyelets offer a more secure and arguably stronger connection than a regular hook, attaching nearly anything to them is going to require a D-ring. Contrary to what some believe, the pin of a D-ring does not need to be tightened beyond finger-tight in order to offer its full load rating. On the contrary, we will typically tighten the D-ring pin by hand until it stops, and then back it off a half turn. This prevents the pin from inadvertently tightening when under load, requiring you to hunt for tools to loosen it when you need to re-rig or the recovery is complete.


Tree Saver

Always, always, always use a tree saver when using a tree as an anchor point. NEVER loop the winch cable around a tree and hook it back to itself. Why? For one, hooking the winch cable back to itself damages the cable and doesn’t offer as secure a connection. But more important, a winch cable will cut deeply into a tree once it’s under tension, which causes serious damage to the tree and can kill it. A tree saver is exactly that…it’s a strap that allows you to use the tree as an anchor while saving it for the next guy that might need it.

Tree strap option 2

It’s always better to loop a strap around the tree and secure both ends in a D-ring or winch hook, but sometimes that’s not possible. Maybe the tree is too big in diameter for the strap to loop all the way around it, or perhaps more strap length is needed to get the winch hooked up. Though not ideal, in a pinch you can loop a strap back to itself and use only one end of the strap to hook up the winch. We would only do this if there’s no better option, but not every recovery scenario presents ideal conditions.

Tree

Make sure you look up and verify that the tree you intend to use as an anchor is alive before using it. There’s nothing like pulling a dead tree down on top of your rig to make a recovery more difficult and dangerous. Also make sure the tree is big enough to support the load of the recovery. As a general rule you want a tree that’s at least 12 inches in diameter for lighter recoveries, and the bigger the better for heavier extractions.

Snatch block

A snatch block can be used to change the winch’s direction of pull or double the pulling power of the winch. Most snatch blocks are configured like the Anvil unit, with two steel brackets that open like scissors with the pulley in the middle. Rigging a snatch block can be confusing for newcomers but it’s actually quite simple. Open the two side brackets so they are apart from one another and pass the cable through them, placing the cable down on the pulley. Close the two halves, then secure the snatch block to an anchor by passing a D-ring through the aligned holes in the side brackets.

A snatch block is needed to perform a double-line pull, which cuts the winch movement in half but also nearly doubles the pulling power. In other words, rigging a double-line pull can turn a 10,000lb winch into a 20,000lb winch. It has been our experience that it’s rare to need a double-line pull in circumstances other than deep mud, or when the vehicle being recovered is dead and vehicle power cannot be used to assist with recovery efforts. With two snatch blocks you can even do a triple-line pull for nearly triple the pulling power.

As mentioned, a snatch block can also be used to change the direction of winch pull, which can be handy in some recovery scenarios. However, if a snatch block is ever in use and you have this view of the recovery, you are standing in the wrong spot! If the rigging holding the snatch block fails, that heavy snatch block is going to come straight at you much faster than you can get out of the way. There can be thousands of pounds of stored tension on a winch cable, and any hardware is going to go flying with lethal amounts of force in the event of a failure. Always stand well away from a recovery, keeping something large and substantial between you and any cable under tension.

Gloves

Gloves are included with just about every winch accessory kit for good reason: steel cable often has burrs that can cut ungloved hands to ribbons. We’ve even been bitten by the wires poking out of the swedged end of a brand-new cable. Always handle winch cable or synthetic winch rope with gloves. It will help keep you out of the first aid kit and make for a much happier recovery.

A recovery strap is great for quick extractions, when the vehicle just needs a tug to get off of whatever it’s stuck on. A 30’ strap like the one from Anvil is a very handy length, and if needed the strap length can be halved by doubling it up. However, you never want to use a long strap with winch rigging. A long strap will stretch quite a bit when under tension and store a lot of energy. In the event of a failure, that stored energy can act like a slingshot for the winch cable and other rigging gear.


If there’s some distance between the anchor and the vehicle being recovered, always make sure there are a minimum of 5 wraps of cable on the winch drum. The small anchor that holds the fixed end of the cable to the drum is really only there to assist with getting the cable on the drum and is not strong enough to support a load on it. Less than 5 wraps can cause the cable to slip on the drum and break the little anchor, causing a mess that’s no fun to fix. Either find a different anchor or some up with some alternative rigging if you can’t start with five wraps on the drum.


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