If you’re thinking about getting into the 4×4 life, off-roading, or overlanding, it’s inevitable that you or someone on your team is going to get stuck. This can be a true disaster or a minor inconvenience depending on how well prepared you are, and there is no excuse for not being prepared for this…it WILL happen.
Not every vehicle needs a winch but it’s certainly nice to have at least one in the team. Although if you have more than one vehicle, winches aren’t necessary. Some basic recovery gear and a second vehicle can avoid disaster, or recovery/tow fees that can run into the thousands of dollars.
I used to work as a flat-bed tow truck driver and dozens of times a day I was dragging vehicles up on to the flat bed using a steel cable winch. I became very familiar with how to recover various types of vehicles. The winch (along with a couple straps) was my “go to” for recovering, or rescuing vehicles. Due to the weight of my truck and the size of my winch, I never needed anything else, like kinetic ropes. In the offoading world though, you’re probably going to get stuck well beyond the reach of a regular tow truck.
Don’t do anything without gloves on. Period. If you’re working with a steel winch cable, you could easily get a bur, or piece of frayed cable wire stuck in your fingers or hand. Or worse…it could go right through your hand! You could also get your hand, finger, or skin pinched between something and you don’t need that kind of hurt. All too often someone forgoes their gloves to do something quick and easy, and end up needing stitches. Just add some decent gloves to your recovery bag. Your hands will thank you.
I’m not a fan of tow ropes because a lot of damage can be done by shock loading vehicle parts. The strap could break, or worse, your anchor point could fail, or rip right off and go flying. Kinetic Ropes are the way to go. They can be used for towing but their real advantage is their elastic properties. They are designed to stretch 20-30 percent making recoveries a lot easier and a lot safer.
If you want a high quality rope (made in the USA), check out Yankum Ropes. Their quality is second to none but they do come with a hefty price tag. You get what you pay for though. When you combine them with soft shackles, you’ve essentially removed metal from your recovery system, which means if something snaps, there isn’t any metal flying through the air like a lethal weapon. Far too many people have been seriously injured or killed from a metal shackle, hook, or pulley flying through the air.
If you’re looking for a couple affordable options for kinetic ropes, here are some options from Amazon that I have used personally. Note though that I sold the 30ft one because I wasn’t happy with the quality. If you only expect to use it in an emergency, it’s fine, but I wanted a Yankum Rope for regular use.
Rated D-Shackles (or Bow Shackles) have long been the standard but they are heavy and if they fail, or should the anchor point fail, you have a heavy chunk of metal flying through the air. The increasingly popular option though, and my personal preference, is the use of soft shackles. They are extremely strong, light, and can be used to attach your rope to all sorts of recovery points. You can even wrap them around lower control arms without risk of damaging them, and they won’t fall off like a metal J-Hooks often do.
When attempting to recover a vehicle, you need a point of attachment. Be it a load bearing bumper, hitch recovery point, cross member, lower control arm, or some other anchor suitable point…it needs to be solid! I’ve seen far too many bumpers get ripped off because of poor towing techniques and it’s almost always due to attaching to something that shouldn’t have been attached to.
I have a tow hitch on my Jeep, and I have a recovery hitch receiver that stays attached at all times. I also carry a second one that I can quickly install on another vehicle (if they have a tow hitch also). This allows for two solid recovery points. Many offroad vehicles have bumpers that have recovery points, tow hooks, or both that are suitable anchor points. Ideally you want to create a “closed” loop though vs an “open” one. The tow hooks on the bumpers of many trucks or Jeeps are “open” which means the rope can pop off, or even fly off at great speed. NEVER use a metal shackle, or a strap hook on these. If you only have a bumper tow hook, just loop your rope or strap to it directly.
NEVER attach to a hitch ball or a drop hitch. When fail, they fly through the air at tremendous speed and deaths have occurred.
Tow Eyelets are commonly found in the truck of many modern cars (especially European cars) and are specifically for towing the vehicle up on to a flatbed truck. However, they aren’t designed for recovery from ditches, snow banks, or deep sand or mud, and they aren’t designed for side-loading. So use with extreme caution. Once again…flying metal is bad.
I’m far more likely to crawl underneath and wrap a soft shackle around the lower control arm, than use a tow eyelet to free a vehicle from whatever it is that they are stuck on.
Leave them at home! They are heavy, awkward to work with, and extremely dangerous. They are prone to snapping when they are shock loaded and even when loaded gently, they are still likely to break. It’s just inevitable, and when they break, they whip wildly through the air and can cause extremely serious injuries or death.
They are so bad that at some offroading events, if you are caught with a chain in your bag, the organizer will take it from you and throw it in the swamp, never to be seen again.