Getting unstuck is a very important skill for any recreational Jeeper who uses their Jeep to its full potential. If you haven’t ever been stuck, it’s probably not because you are the world’s best driver, but more likely because you are not trying hard enough obstacles or trails. As with anything, there is a right and a wrong way to getting unstuck. Knowing how to get your Jeep out safely and quickly is gonna be an asset to you and all of your wheeling buddies. Heck, it might even help you assist that snobby Prius driver who is stuck in the ditch. Here we are going to talk a little bit about proper techniques and methods. We will discuss using winches and towstraps, as well as a few other ideas that you shouldn’t forget. Now, this begs the question as to whether it’s better to use a towstrap or a winch to get someone unstuck. Well, it all depends on the situation, but if there are two vehicles in a row on a trail and one is stuck, 8 times out of 10 using a towstrap is gonna be the fastest and easiest way to get the one Jeep unstuck.
What sets Jeepers apart from most other animals is our use of tools. Recovery tools are a must-have for…recovery. We always bring our beat-up Warn recovery bag with us on any off-road adventure. Our kit includes a snatch block, an 8-foot tree saver, heavy-duty gloves, a D-ring shackle, and some choker chain. We cut up and used chain for moving engines around the garage and occasionally for trail repairs, but don’t use it to tow on the trail. To supplement this we picked up a couple extra D-rings and a 30-foot towstrap. Also shown is a tow-hitch receiver to D-ring adapter.
The most basic pull you can do with either a winch or a towstrap (or if you absolutely have to, a Hi-Lift-style jack) is the straight pull. Surprisingly, it’s pretty easy to screw this one up. Picking poor attachment points is probably the most common cause of problems when using a towstrap. Basically you want at least one safe and solid tow point per vehicle. For info on picking good attachment points, see the sidebar below. Also see how we added some dead weight to the winch cable. This will help absorb energy if something comes loose or the cable breaks. You can use a recovery bag (as shown), a heavy blanket, jacket, or a dedicated winch cable weight. Another rule is to keep bystanders far away from towstraps and winch cables when in use. Have them stand behind another vehicle.
The other situation that problems pop up during recoveries is when people use the wrong items as towstraps. Never use towstraps with metal hooks on each end, and don’t use a chain. Why? Because you can get hurt or killed if a heavy metal object (like chain or that cast hook on the end of cheap towstraps) hits you after these items break. The best towstraps are ones made of some kind of fabric with loops on either end, such as a 3-inch flat webbing towstrap or something like a Bubba Rope. These are much less likely to hurt or kill someone if they break during a pull.
If you are in a big mud hole or a large area of sand, you might not have anything to winch to. In that case, the best plan is to winch to a buddy or get him to give you a tug. If you are alone and don’t have a Pull-Pal or the like, bury your spare or a log as deep as you can and use it as a winch point. Another problem with soft sand and especially mud is that they these things can suck your Jeep down and keep it from coming out. In this case, a bungee-style towstrap like those from Bubba Rope allow the Jeep providing the tow to gather some speed before yanking a stuck vehicle free.
Using a snatch block in winch recovery can be very important. You can use a snatch block for a double pull (shown), which doubles the pulling power of your winch, or use a winch to pull around a corner so you can pull from somewhere you can’t get a Jeep. Setting up a snatch block correctly is important. Again, it starts with making sure your tow points are strong and stable.
When all else fails, use the tools around you to make the trail more like a road. This means stacking rocks and moving dirt. We almost always carry a folding shovel with us when we are off-road. In a pinch, it’s amazing how much material you can move to get back home. Also, watch out for snakes and scorpions that like living under these rocks.
Picking A Tow Point
High or Low? Whether you are winching someone back over after a tip or a roll, or if you are trying to reposition a vehicle for a recovery, where you winch to or pull to makes a big difference. When righting a rolled vehicle, you want the winch point to be high so that the vehicle rolls back over and doesn’t just drag. Use a stout part of the roll-cage as a mounting point (shown). Want to drag a vehicle? Mount the towstrap or winch cable down low—then it is more likely to drag than to tip over.
Hooks vs. D-ring Shackles There is some debate as to what’s best—good ol’ fashion towhooks or D-ring mounts. Well, we give the nod to the towhook. Why? If you are in a rush to stabilize a tippy vehicle, it’s much easier to slip a towstrap or winch hook over a towhook than it is to fumble with opening a D-ring shackle, slipping in a towstrap, and then properly closing the D-ring shackle.
Suspension Shackle No-No
Be sure not to confuse a D-ring shackle with a suspension shackle. Both have similar names, but very different jobs. At some point someone decided a suspension shackle is a great tow point. It isn’t. If you need to tow to a vehicle that does not have a towhook, don’t use the shackle unless you absolutely have to. Instead, wrap a towstrap around a crossmember. Make sure that the crossmember does not have any sharp edges, though, or you can quickly cut your towstrap in two. Using the suspension shackle as a tow point can damage your suspension or cause you to lose control of your Jeep, because a sharp tug on the suspension shackle can cause your suspension to suddenly load or unload.
D-ring Shackle or Clevis Basics
D-rings, aka D-ring shackles, aka clevises are great tools for vehicle recovery. They are very strong and usually pretty easy to use. Here are some tips and “never dos” to follow when using D-rings. First, make sure your D-rings are large enough. We like 3⁄4-inch D-rings. We keep medium-sized adjustable pliers with our D-rings cause that darn pin can be hard to turn, especially once the D-rings are older, rusty, or dirty. Lastly, make sure you don’t allow your D-ring to be side loaded (Image B). This puts all the force on a few small threads rather than the full girth of the D-rings pin. Instead, make sure the two tow points are at the top and bottom of the D-ring (Image A).
A Hitch Is a Tow Point, Right?
If your Jeep has a receiver style hitch, you already have a great tow point. Just please don’t ever loop a towstrap over a hitch ball. That’s bad. If the ball is loose or the strap slips off, bad things can happen quickly. The proper way to use a receiver as a tow point is to remove the pin, slide a towstrap or tree saver into the receiver, and then run the pin through the loop in the strap or tree saver. You can also use a shackle mount if you have one and your strap won’t fit inside the square hitch. Also, be wary of sharp-edged receivers that can damage your strap.
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