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Self Recovery 101: How To Get Unstuck!

Don't let a stuck truck ruin your day. Here's some helpful self-recovery tips and tricks.

Self Recovery 101: How To Get Unstuck!

At some point in the life of every avid outdoor enthusiast the inevitable happens: getting stuck. The REASONS ARE PLENTIFUL: an error in driver judgment or a bad spot in the road; a little too much momentum in slick conditions; a misplaced tire going over rough, uneven terrain; a sudden encounter with deep sand or deep snow; driving in ruts and getting high-centered; overestimating vehicle ability; or any number of other reasons can result in a vehicle’s momentum to suddenly cease.

When the tires start spinning and the vehicle isn’t moving, sinking tires are accompanied by a sinking feeling deep in the pit of the stomach. You’re in self-recovery mode unless there’s a way to get outside help. And if you’re in the backcountry, that’s probably not going to happen very quickly. I speak from experience. Been there. Done that. In fact, I’ve done that more than once over the years. It happens to even the most experienced driver.

Those teaching moments have ingrained a few basic self-recovery tips and tricks needed to get an immobilized vehicle moving again under its own power, relieving any trepidations or stress taking wheels afield might bring about. They should help you as well.

ALWAYS BE PREPARED

The reason most vehicles get stuck is the tires dig down, creating a shelf that prevents the tires from moving forward. To move forward, that momentum-blocking barrier has to be either removed, the angle of the offending blockage reduced, or the vehicle tires need to be raised enough so they can roll over the obstacle.

It takes brute force to lift one tire off the ground, let alone the weight of one corner of a vehicle. A regular OEM vehicle jack doesn’t cut it off-pavement, and a floor jack is bulky and cumbersome. The Hi-Lift Jack is the best tool for base-level self-recovery. The Hi-Lift Jack is a rugged, highly versatile, manual jack that allows you to lift, push, and pull depending on the situation. This versatile jack weighs about 30 pounds, yet it can exert nearly 5,000 pounds of force in those uses. Every Hi-Lift Jack comes complete with an adjustable top clamp/clevis for use in clamping and winching.

The Hi-Lift can be invaluable when it comes to lifting a vehicle enough to put rocks, limbs, or some other traction-aiding material under a sunken tire or to help make room to remove or dig out whatever is keeping your vehicle from moving.

15_hi-lift_wheel_lm100
The easiest way to lift a tire to put support underneath it is to use the Hi-Lift Jack’s LM-100 Lift Mate. The accessory reduces the amount of up-travel needed to lift a wheel off the ground.

SELF-RECOVERY ACCESSORIES

That brings up the next “must-have” item: a self-recovery accessory bag. Hi-Lift’s Off-Road Kit, as well as similar kits offered by nearly every winch manufacturer, has items needed to use the jack as a hand-powered winch, including D-ring shackle, a nylon “tree saver” strap, a pair of grab hooks for a 3/8-inch G40 chain, special attachment brackets, and gloves. Adding a 20-foot length of 3/8-inch chain is also a necessity.

It’s also prudent to have a small folding shovel as part of the self-recovery equipment. A shovel can make short work of getting rid of the offending lip the tire is trying to climb over. Likewise, having a nylon tree-saver strap handy not only prevents damage to the bark of the tree that’s serving as an anchor point for any winching operation, but also can be really handy going around the vehicle’s frame or attaching between the winching device and shackles or other sturdy connection point on the bumpers.

Having these accessories is akin to having a cup, plate, knife, and fork as part of your camping gear. There’s nothing wrong with being over-prepared for the unexpected.

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One of the best self-recovery tools anyone with overlanding intentions can have in their vehicle is a Hi-Lift Jack and Off-Road Kit made by Bloomfield Manufacturing. It can be used to lift, push, or pull up to about 5,000 pounds.

MUST-HAVE WINCHING GEAR

The most convenient and efficient method of self-recovery situations is having the muscle of an electric or hydraulic winch mounted on your vehicle. Whatever style winch you choose should have a minimum of 1.2 times the pulling power of the vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), which is its maximum weight when fully loaded with fuel, cargo, and passengers. The GVWR number is listed on the vehicle ID tag attached to the driver’s door jamb. An even better choice for self-recovery is a winch with 1.5 times more pull than the GVWR.

As with the Hi-Lift Jack, having the right winch accessories maximizes how efficiently you are able to get out of a “stuck situation.” A winch without the correct accessories to go with it significantly limits one’s ability and options for self-recovery.

“Accessories, such as a snatch block, shackles, and tree truck protector, allow you to get the most out of your winch,” said Andy Lilienthal, an instructor of Winching Techniques at Warn Industries. “Recovery kits, such as the Warn Epic Recovery Kit, offer all of these accessories in a handy carrying bag. Having at least a snatch block, two shackles, a tree-trunk protector, recovery strap, and gloves (along with a winch line damper) are the minimum kit Warn recommends for recoveries.”

Recommended


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WINCH SAFETY
  • Wear leather gloves at all times when handling cable.
  • Keep hands well away from the fairlead and cable drum.
  • Only attach winch line to frame or other strong location on the vehicle.
  • Don’t attach winch cable to steering components.
  • Never attach a winch cable to a tow ball.
  • Stand off to the side when winching.
  • Use a coat or floor mats over a winch cable to act as a damper should the cable come loose under load.

SLOW DOWN & ASSESS THE SITUATION

Using a winch seems simple enough. Pull out the cable, hook it to a sturdy anchor point, and push the “In” button. But there’s more to safe self-recovery using a winch than just hook-and-go. “The No. 1 novice mistake in using a winch is simply going too fast,” said Lilienthal. “When ‘stuck happens,’ you should stop and assess the situation. Slow down and decide exactly what needs to happen and how. From identifying the correct anchor point, deciding how to rig up the recovery, to ensuring people are in safe places, following safe winching practices, and slowing down is crucial. But a little patience will go a long way when recovering something that weighs several tons.”

Another big mistake first-time outdoor adventurers make is not being familiar with how to actually use the recovery gear. Lilienthal suggested a little driveway practice spooling the winch cable in and out and correctly attaching the chain, shackles, and nylon straps. (Warn’s The Basic Guide To Winching Techniques is an excellent training video and manual.)

For example, never use pliers or a screwdriver to tighten the pin on a shackle. (Only hand-tighten them, then turn them a quarter-turn back, or you’ll have a hard time getting the pin out.) Never connect the winch cable/hook back onto itself because this can damage the winch line. Use a tree-saver strap because it doesn’t stretch, and the wide strap protects the tree bark. Instead of attaching the winch cable hook directly to the tree-saver strap, use a D-shackle as the anchor connection between the hook and the strap.

“You’ve heard me say it now twice: slow down, assess the situation, and be familiar with your winch and its accessories before venturing out,” said Lilienthal. “Know your vehicle’s recovery points. Know what’s a rated recovery point and what might just be a tie-down point. And never use the ball on a ball hitch as an anchor point. While it’s tempting, it’s a very dangerous place to hook a winch cable or tow strap. These metal balls are not designed for the shock loads that winches can create.”

06_smith_tree_saver_straps_bws-0
Tree-saver straps prevent winch cables from cutting into the bark of a tree and provide a strong anchor point to attach a shackle for the winch cable’s hook (shown) or the rigging up a snatch block.

THE BEAUTY OF SNATCH BLOCKS

It’s easy to winch in a straight line. But quite often getting out of a “stuck” not only requires winching at a different angle, but also more muscle than the winch can provide on its own. That’s where a snatch block comes to the rescue.

Archimedes, the father of using complex pulley systems to move heavy loads, said, “If you give me a lever and a place to stand, I can move the world.” Some 1,600 years later, the pulley, aka snatch block, remains a vital tool for overlanders, adventurers, and off-roaders. The winch line goes around the pulley in the snatch block, and the snatch block is closed and attached to an anchor point such as a tree. The winch cable/hook is then attached to another location. This way the snatch block can be used to change the direction of the pull.

If the winch doesn’t have enough power to move the winching vehicle, then the cable/ hook can be attached back to the winching vehicle to change the pull ratio so the winch is doubling its rated pulling power. Need more pulling power? To triple the effective pulling power of a winch, run the winch cable through a second snatch block attached to the winching vehicle, then back to your tree-saver strap/shackle at the primary anchor point—or one close by as shown in the rigging illustration.

10_warn_angle_snatch_block_warn_drawing
A snatch block allows you to pull the vehicle in a straight line and to run out the winch cable to maximize pulling power. A snatch block can also be used to pull trees or other items blocking the path off to the side. The winch line should always be run into the winch at a 90-degree angle.

MAXIMIZING WINCH PULL

Before you begin to physically shop for a winch, it’s important to understand how winches are rated in pulling power. The pulling power of a winch, stated as “line pull,” is the maximum load the winch can exert before it stalls. A winch’s rating is always measured when the cable is on the innermost layer on the drum—not the outside layer.

Why does that matter? Pulling power is all about gearing. A winch drum is actually another gear in the overall scheme of winching power: As more cable winds onto the drum, the gearing gets taller and the pulling power lessens.

As a general rule of thumb, the second layer of cable above the drum cuts the winch’s rated pulling power by about 10 percent. Succeeding layers reduce effective pulling power by 5 to 8 percent per wrap. For example, a 9,000-pound-capacity electric winch may have five layers of 5/16-inch aircraft cable. When the winch line is coming off the outermost layer, the winch may only be able to exert 6,000 pounds of pull. Likewise, the second layer down pulls 7,000 pounds; the third layer, 7,500 pounds; the fourth layer, 8,100 pounds; and the innermost wrap, 9,000 pounds as rated.

11_multiple_snatch_blocks_warn_drawing_
To double the pulling efficiency of a winch, run the winch cable out to the anchor point and use a snatch block so the winch cable can be brought back to attach to your winching vehicle. To triple the winch pulling power, attach a second snatch block to the winching vehicle so the cable can be run through it and back to either the primary or a secondary anchor point.

Spooling out the winch line to an anchor point that leaves the cable coming off the last layer of cable on the drum maximizes winching power and at the same time helps shorten winching time that saves on battery power. (Safety tip: Always keep at least three or four wraps of cable on the winch drum.)

With the right tools—be that a winch, manual jack, or both—it’s easy to get your vehicle extricated from most stuck situations without unnecessary drama or anxiety. The key to self-recovery is to stop and assess the situation in a calm manner. Then get to work. Being able to handle vehicular self-recovery is gratifying—and it’s a skill that serves outdoor adventurers well.




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