Use Your Hi-Lift Jack To Get Home Alive
The Hi-Lift jack is one of the most ubiquitous tools you will find on any trail rig, right up there with a winch and spare tire. Although they are found on most wheeling vehicles, not everyone knows how to use one properly. In the right hands the Hi-Lift can be used not only to lift your vehicle, but to winch, clamp, and more. In the wrong hands, if you are really lazy or inexperienced, it can smash fingers or knock out teeth. Fortunately, armed with a little knowledge and the right accessories, you can safely use your Hi-Lift on the trail and look like a superhero to your friends.
The Hi-Lift jack was introduced by Phillip John Harrah of Bloomfield Manufacturing in 1905. Over a century later the Harrah family still runs Bloomfield and is constantly refining the ubiquitous Hi-Lift. Called a jack-all, a farmer’s jack, or a sheepherder’s jack, the modern Hi-Lift comes in three models: Cast/Steel, All-Cast, and X-Treme. Each is available in either 48-inch or 60-inch lengths.
We like the All-Cast version, but the X-Treme ups the ante with a unique top clamp, a pin to remove the base easily, and a durable powdercoat finish. The 48-inch length works well for most leaf-sprung Jeeps, but with lots of articulation we would recommend the 60-inch jack. The extra length is necessary to get the tire off the ground with tall lifts and flexible suspension. The 60-inch jack doesn’t cost much more, and if it is too long you can always cut down the bar to fit whatever space you have available.
A Hi-Lift can be a wheeler’s best friend or his worst enemy. It is best to become familiar with your jack at home on level ground so you are familiar with how it functions before you need to use it in an emergency situation. To safely use a Hi-Lift, you must keep it clean and lubricated, otherwise the climbing pins will stick. As this happens you have to bump or wiggle the handle against the jack, and that is when trouble can occur. When a heavy load is placed upon the jack, it stores a lot of energy. That energy can release when the climbing pins move and the handle comes flying up, smashing anything in its path. Never put any part of your body between the handle and the jack, and never leave the handle in the down position. That is a good way to fight cavities, but only because you might be missing some teeth.
There is a whole cottage industry of accessories to make the Hi-Lift jack even better at the variety of tasks it can perform. Whether you have a bone-stock 4x4 or a full-tilt buggy, there are products designed to make the Hi-Lift more functional for your specific needs.
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Beware of Knockoffs
Perhaps no off-road product has been copied more than the Hi-Lift jack, to the point that the very name has come to define a whole segment, as also happened to Band-Aid and Kleenex. Also referred to as a jack-all or a sheepherder’s jack, knockoffs are available from nearly every farm supply store across the country. Oftentimes they use stamped components and loose, sloppy construction right out of the box. Unlike the imitators, genuine Hi-Lift jacks are made in the USA. What’s more, they cost negligibly more than their competitors. Inexpensive climbing pins and other wear items are easy to source for a genuine Hi-Lift, but good luck finding them for a no-name jack. In our experience you get what you pay for, and a jack is not something that you want to leave to chance when it is supporting the weight of your vehicle.