Off-roading is immensely fun, as you and your Land Rover go bashing over hill and dale. But eventually, your vehicle will get stuck, and you will need to recover it. What do you need, and how do you safely use it? We have a basic guide to essential recovery equipment.
Shackles are the building block of any off-road recovery, one of the core tools to connect one component of the recovery setup to another. There are two common styles of shackle: the traditional, “hard” metal bow shackle (often called a D-shackle, though this is technically an incorrect term for the shape off-roaders use), and modern “soft” shackles made out of the same kind of modern nylon material as synthetic winch line.
The main benefit to soft shackles is that if the winch line breaks and the shackle goes flying, there’s a far lower chance of bodily injury than there is with a hard metal shackle. Their light weight and material also mean that they’re more likely to float in water or mud should they get dropped during the recovery setup.
Hard shackles are still a perfectly viable option as well, and there is no harm in adding a few to your recovery kit.
Tree straps serve two purposes in an off-road recovery scenario: protecting the trunk of a tree you are winching off of (Tread Lightly!, after all), and better distributing the pulling forces across the surface of the tree.
To use one, drape the tree strap around a low portion of a sturdy tree that can accept the pulling forces of the recovery operation. A tree strap has two looped ends; you connect them with a shackle and then connect the shackle to the winch line.
Unlike a recovery strap, a good tree strap has no elasticity, so it won’t add to the stack of kinetic energy in the recovery; instead, it makes a sturdy anchor against the tree. As a broad, flat surface to anchor the recovery against the tree – many tree straps are several inches wide – it keeps a winch cable from cutting into the bark, damaging the tree and risking breaking the tree and causing a far larger issue.
Recovery straps look similar to tree straps, but the difference is in the material. Recovery Straps have some elastic in them and are designed for directly recovering a vehicle with another vehicle. The elastic helps to create kinetic energy, which helps pull a stuck vehicle out by increasing the force of the pull.
Recovery straps can also be used to extend the length of your winch line if the recovery situation requires a pull that’s just out of reach. You can also shackle one to a looped tree strap to extend the length of the recovery.
All the recovery gear in the world is useless if you don’t have solid recovery points mounted directly to the vehicle; either the chassis or a solid reinforced part of the unibody. Fortunately, many Land Rovers come with recovery points built-in. Look in your owner's manual for your Land Rover or other 4x4 to see exactly where the designated recovery points are.
If you need to add more points, say to a sturdy steel off-road bumper, there are aftermarket options available.
The core of a complete and safe recovery setup is an electric winch. Rated correctly for the weight of the vehicle in appropriate recovery situations (with a Land Rover, that means buying at least an 8,000-pound winch), properly mounted to the vehicle with a safe mount or heavy-duty winch bumper, wired correctly, and maintained, they are an invaluable tool.
There are myriad options for winches, at all different price points. There are also many ways to operate them, from controllers with long cables that plug into the solenoid on the winch to wireless and Bluetooth remotes. Make sure that you are familiar with how to safely unspool, spool, attach, and operate your winch before you use it for the first time in a stress-filled recovery situation.
When you're changing a tire or trying to lift a vehicle off a rock or other obstacle off-road, the factory jack that came with your vehicle will do something between diddly and squat. You need an off-road, or farm, jack, such as those made by Jackall.
These are immensely useful pieces of equipment, but also some of the most dangerous things in the off-road recovery arsenal. They can lift a vehicle several feet, getting you off a boulder that's wedged itself under your sills, or gets your flat tire out of a hole. But what goes up must come down, and lowering a vehicle on an off-road jack is a very sensitive situation with a huge amount of potential energy stored in the jack. Follow safety guidelines with these to the letter, and keep anyone not actively involved in the recovery far away, and you can get success out of them in a number of off-road situations.
Grip tracks, like those made by ActionTrax, are all the rage these days, big fluorescent boards that scream "I go off-roading!" as you barrel down the Interstate. They're also immensely useful pieces of equipment, and maybe the greatest innovation in recent off-road history. The basis is the sand ladders of old, big aluminum plates that were once salvaged from temporary World War II runways in the South Pacific. These were used to distribute the weight of the vehicle over a larger area than the tires possibly could in a soft terrain situation, helping you get out of a stuck spot or move along incredibly squishy terrain.
They looked great strapped to the roof rack of a Camel Trophy Discovery, but they were heavy, unwieldy, and often got left behind the first time someone needed to reduce weight. Grip tracks are the modern-day answer, made of lightweight but incredibly strong plastic, so they are easy to store and easy to access and use in a recovery situation. Shove them in front of the tires when you're stuck in mud or sand, and they give the vehicle a short solid runway to gain momentum again. Some are also metal studded, for extra grip.
Safety Gear and Knowledge
Last but not least, safety gear is absolutely the most important thing in recovery. Gloves to protect your hands, eye protection, and keeping uninvolved people away from the recovery situation are all key.
It's also important to know how to correctly and safely use every piece of your recovery equipment before you go out and hit the trail. There are a number of great books on off-roading and recovery techniques, as well as DVDs and information on YouTube.