There are people in the world who will not venture off the pavement until they have a GPS loaded with their route, a satellite phone, and every piece of recovery equipment known to man. We do not begrudge these people, but we also don’t want you to think that you cannot enjoy four-wheeling until you have all those luxuries. On the contrary, there’s something exciting about venturing into the unknown with only your wits to rely on. Overcoming adversity is part of the appeal of off-roading, harkening back to the pioneering spirit of our forefathers who migrated west. They didn’t have electric winches and sand ladders, yet mud, snow, and rocks didn’t stop them, and they shouldn’t stop you either.
The first step is to assess the situation. If progress has stopped or you hear a strange noise, we recommend stopping immediately before you risk making the situation worse. Find out what the exact issue is. Is one of the diffs stuck on rocks? Are the rear tires digging into the sand? Worse yet, is something broken? You cannot solve the problem until you know what it is. Knowledge is power, and never is it more powerful than when you are attempting to get unstuck.
Step one is to assess the situation. Pouring on more throttle will often just get you further stuck—or worse, broken. Be patient and find out what happened. Are you stuck on one of the differentials? Is the bumper hitting an obstacle? Oftentimes once you know the source of the problem it can be easily overcome.
If you have someone you trust with you, you will be far better off. They can relay information to you from outside the vehicle. Best case scenario is that this person is in a second vehicle, but even if they are riding with you they can still tell you which tires are turning and which are not, what you are hung up on, and which direction you need to go.
Did you break something? Sometimes you will hear a loud bang right before progress stops. If that’s the case, stop! Get out and assess the situation before you risk making matters worse. Are the driveshafts turning? If so, the issue is downstream from the transfer case. Are the tires turning? One tire turning suggests that you broke an axleshaft (if you have a locking differential); neither axle turning suggests that you broke the differential (again, if you have a locker) or a locking hub on the front axle (assuming you have an open diff).
You didn’t go wheeling alone, right? Having someone who can give you a quick tug or tow you back to camp can make all of the difference in the world. We are guilty of breaking this rule ourselves at times, but wheeling with a friend is not only safer but more fun as well.
Gravity is your friend when you are stuck. If you are digging holes as you try to climb a slope, consider turning downhill or backing up to use gravity to your advantage. Even if you eventually want to get to the top of the ridge, going downhill can allow you to reassess the situation and gather more momentum (if that is what the situation calls for).
Stacking rocks is frowned upon, and we always recommend leaving the trail in the same condition you found it. That said, sometimes a strategically placed rock will lift up your differential or rock slider enough to allow you to keep moving along. Just remember to unstack the rock afterward.
We had a situation once when all four tires sank in the soft dirt. We had to jack up each corner of the truck off the ground and fill the hole with sticks and dirt until we were able to back out of the soft spot. A winch or a pull from a friend would have been infinitely faster, but we did eventually get out on our own.
If you do need to jack up one corner of the vehicle by the frame, put a ratchet strap between the axle and the frame so the suspension doesn’t extend as you lift the vehicle. This both makes the vehicle more stable and also means that you don’t have to expend as much energy to get the tire off the ground.
Fancy traction mats are all the rage these days, but if you don’t have them you can use your floormats under the tires to provide more traction. This isn’t our first choice because you will likely ruin your floor mats, but if the alternative is a long walk back to civilization, give this trick a try.
We use the More Power Puller with our car trailer to load dead vehicles, but it can also be used as a winch to get you unstuck. While not particularly compact or lightweight, it can easily be transferred between vehicles and can be used in the front or rear depending on which direction you need to pull.
Have a really big hole to fill? Your spare tire can bridge the gap across a hole that you could not otherwise traverse. This isn’t our first choice, but if you are running out of options and need to continue down the trail, keep this trick in the back of your mind.
Carry a tarp in your rig that you can throw down if you need to get under your vehicle to work on it or even just to look and see if anything is amiss. We actually carry a poncho that serves multiple purposes as a ground cloth for our tent and to keep us dry when it rains.
This shackle started clunking and making noise after it came loose. Recognizing that something was wrong, we stopped and inspected the undercarriage until we found the culprit. Oftentimes the issue will make itself obvious, and if you catch it before things get too bad you can limp off the trail. We lost the shackle nut but put the bolt back through both halves of the shackle and used a ratchet strap to get us home.