If you plan on doing any off-roading, then you need to have recovery gear with you. This is not a “Nice to have,” but a “MUST have.” Someone will, at some point, require recovery, and that person might be you.
In the 4-wheeling community, it’s customary to use the recovered person’s gear for the actual recovery. The reasoning is that recovery gear is stressed a lot through the recovery process, and there is always a chance that the recovery strap can snap. The risk of this happening during a recovery should be taken by the person being recovered, not by the person helping you (unless they offer or insist).
There are different levels and types of recovery gear used in different situations. We’ll go over some of these by situation.
Sand recoveries are very common here on the Texas Gulf Coast. We have a lot of beaches, many of which are open to 4 wheel drive vehicles. Unfortunately, not many people know how to properly handle sand, and many get stuck, or worse, bogged down and bottomed out.
It’s not always necessary to pull someone out with a strap or with a winch. Using a recovery board, it’s possible to self-recover. That’s why my rig will have a set of recovery boards strapped to the top. I also have some recovery straps, bow shackles, soft shackles, and a shovel.
In many ways, snow is just like sand when it comes to recovery. Self-recovery is possible using shovels and recovery boards, and also much like sand, sometimes it’s necessary to be pulled out of a spot with a recovery strap or winch. The only difference, really, is that on the beach, it’s likely you’ll see more girls in bikinis and shirtless guys.
Getting stuck in mud can be a really tough situation to recover from. Depending on how soft and watery the mud is, a recovery board may not even be an option due to inefficacy. In this case, it may be necessary to go straight to a strap or winch. I have seen extreme cases where an off-road wrecker has to come in and exert extreme amounts of effort to extract a vehicle from mud. Personally, I try to avoid lots of mud, as I rather dislike the possibility of having to trudge in it and wreck the interior of my rig with it, but I don’t discount the possibility of a random rainstorm turning a trail drive into a mud drive.
On my last annual training in the National Guard, my section got an LMTV stuck in some mud when they let their speed get too slow traversing a bog that other vehicles had no problem getting past. We had to call in a wrecker to pull them out, and I remember that the effort required was quite large.
If you find yourself getting high-sided or stuck somehow on a rock, a winch or recovery strap may be your only way off. I’ve seen some people grab large rocks and put them under wheels in an attempt to give the vehicle some traction to self-recover, but I’ve never seen this be successful. I have seen people grab a large piece of wood to pry a vehicle off of a rock with success, however.
Don’t Go Alone if You Can Help It
Not all of us have winches on our vehicles. I won’t have one on mine, and I’m still unsure as to whether I will attach one or not. It’s not the expense that worries me; it’s altering my vehicle in a non-reversible way. I will have to cut parts of my bumper to make the change, and I’m still not sure I want to do that yet. Maybe I’ll look back at this post one day and laugh at my reticence, but for now, I plan on being winchless. I plan on 4-wheeling with my son or with friends. There are definite benefits to having a winch, but I think 4-wheeling with others is of more importance.
Not only do you have the friends there to recover you, or to assist with recovering you (or helping a tow truck find you when you need extreme recovery), but if there is a medical emergency, you have someone else there with you to help. If your vehicle is disabled out in the middle of nowhere, you have someone else to take you back to civilization, get the supplies/help you need, and take you back.
Going alone maximizes the risk you’re taking. I don’t mean going alone in the vehicle. Even a family of four is at great risk if they are a solo vehicle. It’s always best to go with at least one more vehicle. There is safety in numbers.
You Don’t Need to Spend a Fortune
Recovery equipment can be had for a reasonable price. You don’t need the most expensive gear. There are shackles, straps, and hitches available for a reasonable price. I purchased a kit that had basic recovery equipment for under $200 that makes me feel much safer when I’m off-roading. Knowing I have my own basic recovery gear (strap, shackles, and hitch) will help if I need someone to pull me out of a tough spot. I also received two recovery boards for Christmas that cost under $100 and are really good quality. I will likely not be able to use them to bridge obstacles, but they will be useful in actual recovery situations. As with anything, you get what you pay for, so don’t go bargain basement on your recovery gear, but you don’t need to spend a lot for some peace of mind and gear that will actually assist in your recovery, if you need it.
Once my 4Runner arrives from Japan, I will be posting videos detailing my rig and all the things I’ve equipped it with. I’ll show you what that equipment is for, and I’ll even show you where I got it from in case you want to get the same stuff.