How to use your recovery gear

When off-roading or overlanding it is common to get stuck. Having the right recovery gear only the first step, you’ll need to know how to use it out in the field.

Recovery tracks

Recovery tracks, also known as sand tracks or traction boards, can get you unstuck from sand, snow and mud. They are a must bring in any solo situation!

When you get stuck in any type of deep terrain such as sand, you should:

  1. Stop giving gas as soon as you lose traction. Once as you are stuck every bit your wheels spin is only digging you deeper into a hole.
  2. Get out of your rig and assess the situation.
  3. Are you dug deep into the terrain? Start digging out in front or behind your tires, whichever way you plan on driving out. Sometimes you cannot continue forward, and the only way out is backwards, so make sure you consider whether it is a good idea to continue through the snowy, sandy, or muddy terrain.
  4. Once as you dig enough space in front of or behind your tires slip your traction boards or mats under you tires, tightly against the ground.
  5. Make sure your tires are in contact with the traction aid devices before you begin your recovery.
  6. Slowly drive over the traction boards and you are home free.

Tip: make sure that your tires do not spin as that can wear out the traction boards and make them less effective in the future. Slowly gas your vehicle for a smooth recovery.


In the vehicle recovery world, one of the most important pieces of kit are shackles. Shackles are used for a variety of rigging duties, such as connecting a tree trunk protector, a recovery strap, or hooking up a winch line. For years, shackles were made of metal and had a screw pin to make them a secure loop. In fact, many are still this way today. However, several years ago, a lighter weight, more flexible version—the soft shackle—came onto the market and have become a popular option. So which is the right one for you?

For decades, metal screw-pin shackles have been used for rigging. They’re super durable and exceedingly strong. To use them, you unscrew the pin, attach it to your rigging gear or bumper, then screw the pin down hand-tight and turn a quarter-turn back to prevent binding. If you don’t do this, you will have a hard time getting the pin out again!

PROS: The good thing about metal shackles is they’re exceptionally durable. They stand up to abuse and don’t care much about abrasion. They can also be left on the outside of the vehicle when not in use.

CONS: Being metal, they can be heavy in recovery bags. Also they store more potential energy compared to a soft shackle. They also can get bulky if carrying multiples. If you’re going to leave them attached to the vehicle, they can make noise or even loosen up and fall off. 

Soft shackles are relatively new to the off-road recovery world compared to metal versions. But as synthetic winch rope became more popular and showcased its strength, soft shackles also started to gain favor. They are usually made from the same material as winch rope. These units are much lighter weight than a metal shackle, and have breaking strengths of 29,700 lbs. and 36,000 lbs., respectively. This is plenty strong for most recoveries.

To use a soft shackle, remove the knot from the shackle’s loop. Then connect your rigging, and reinsert the knot through the loop creating a secure shackle—no pin to lose, no worries about over/under-tightening!

PROS: Soft shackles are lightweight, easy to handle, and easy to use. Plus, there’s no screw pin to worry about. They can be stowed in glove boxes, bags, and don’t take up much space. Plus, they don’t store as much potential energy as a metal shackle.

CONS: Like their synthetic winch rope counterparts, soft shackles are more prone to damage by abrasion. They also shouldn’t be attached to rigging points with sharp edges, as they can compromise the fibers. The minimum breaking strengths often aren’t as high as a forged metal shackle. If used on a bumper’s recovery point, it should be radiused, or be used in conjunction with a bow shackle to prevent damage.

Recovery straps

Recovery straps are used to extract a vehicle that is stuck by pulling it with another vehicle. They can also be used to pull a vehicle up a steep hill or over rocky terrain. Very light and easy to carry, this piece of recovery gear is something every off roader should have in their vehicle.

  1. Make sure you have a recovery strap that can support the weight of your vehicle. Generally, you should get a strap this is rated at least 3-4 times the weight of your vehicle. Make sure that purchase a recovery strap not a tow strap as these are meant to tow vehicles not extract them in a recovery situation. Recovery straps are more elastics opposed to the inelastic tow straps since they use the elastic force to aid in the recovery.
  2. When you get stuck first identify a sturdy part of you vehicle directly attached to the frame of the car to attach the strap to. Do not tie the strap, but instead secure the loop at the end to the vehicle. I recommend getting a D ring adapter for your hitch so that you can securely attach a recovery strap. Some cars also have tow hooks attached to them, or you can install various recovery points to your vehicle if you know what you are doing. Do not attach the strap to a bumper, axles, suspension parts, or tow hitch balls as that can cause serious damage to your vehicle or injury to yourself.
  3. Once as the you have the strap secured to both vehicles, slowly pull out the vehicle. Make sure to carefully drive with a few meters head start, using the kinetic forces to yank out the vehicle while being careful to not yank too aggressively. The driver of the vehicle being recovered should be giving it gas as well to aid in recovery.

Safety tips: make sure to take your time to recover the stuck vehicle. Attempting recovery too fast and aggressively can cause the strap to snap and go flying or can cause damage to either vehicle. Once as the vehicle is unstuck make sure both vehicles carefully slow down in sync and make sure not to accidently crash into each other.

Tip: If a vehicle is fitted with two rated recovery points at the front, a bridle strap should be used to help spread the load evenly across the chassis of the vehicle. The pin of a square tow hitch can be used to connect a recovery strap at the rear of a vehicle, but bear in mind that in extreme circumstances the pin can bend and become difficult to remove; a better bet is to slide out the tow hitch and replace it with a dedicated recovery hitch to which a shackle (steel or soft) can be attached.


Winches are a great piece of gear to have. This mechanical cable system can help you pull your vehicle out of tough situations. A winch is great since all you need is one vehicle to use it, but it can be useful in a variety of recovery situations as well as clearing downed trees from trails.

  1. To use a winch in a recovery situation you first need to find an anchor to attach the winch to. This can be a sturdy tree or bolder, but you want to be certain that the anchor is secure and will not break under pressure
  2. You will need to release the cable so that you can pull the cable out. Usually there is a lever you can pull to disengage the winch and allow it to be unspooled. After that, you will want to slowly pull out the cable all the way to the anchor.
  3. For anchoring to trees you should use a tree saver, which is a nylon strap that you can wrap around the trunk of a tree and attach your winch so you do not damage the tree. You will want to hook a D ring on each of the two hoops at each end of the tree saver and then attach your winch to the D ring with the winch opening facing up. Next you want to reengage the winch, grab your winch controller, and pull the winch cable taut.
  4. Now get in your vehicle and slowly pull the winch with your controller while giving your car some gas to aid in the process. Make sure you slowly winch yourself occasionally releasing the controller button to make sure you do not pull to fast. Once as you are on solid ground and mobile again, you can get out of your car and detach the winch.

For recovering another vehicle it is a similar process. Hook up your winch to a secure part of the other vehicle. Make sure that your brakes are engaged and that your vehicle is in a stable position. Slowly engage your winch as the other vehicle drives in the direction you are pulling until they are out.

Safety tips: make sure all cars and people are clear of the winch cable to avoid getting hit by the winch cable or vehicle being recovered. In rare situations the winch could snap and you do not want to be anywhere near it if that happens. It’s always a good idea to put a recovery damper on your cable or rope, a damper helps to prevent rope or cable recoil in the event of a failure. While rope or cable failure does not happen often, this damper will help the rope or cable fall to the ground if such an event were to occur.

Snatch block

A snatch block simply provides a different way for the winch line to be mounted. That being said, there are some important things to remember when using a snatch block to ensure that both you and your vehicle are safely recovered.

  1. The way a lot of off-road recovery snatch blocks work is that they are composed of two rotating sides. To position the winch line properly inside the snatch block, the top part is rotated, fully exposing the interior pulley. Once that is the case, the top part of the loop is rotated over the other half. Now, with a D-ring, the non-pulley part of the snatch block can be attached to the mounting point.
  2. If you are recovering yourself, you could attach the winch cable back onto the front of your vehicle and perform a double line pull. This is essentially the same process as a standard winch recovery, the only real difference being the setup. Be sure that you are properly mounting the winch line on the front of the vehicle to a suitable tow spot. You can easily put you and your vehicle into more trouble if you accidentally rip off parts of your vehicle while trying to recover.

    In the case that you are using a snatch block to help someone else recover, a bit more care is needed. First off, it’s likely that you are using the snatch block in this situation not for added strength, but rather to compensate for an odd angle. In this case, it’s important to have the winching vehicle directly facing the anchor point. If the line being fed into the winch is not coming in perpendicularly, it will start to bunch up on one side. This can cause plenty of problems later, from damaging your winch to just being a huge hassle.

Safety tips: keep in mind that snatch blocks, like winches and winch line, have a maximum weight capacity. You’ll want to make sure that both your winch line and snatch block can handle the force you are throwing at it. Many times owners won’t equip their winch with line rated above its pulling capacity. That means doubling the force exerted on the winch line could be potentially dangerous. While you should never winch without using a line dampener, a broken line or snatch block is still a recipe for a bad time and can not only injure you and your rig, but it could leave you stranded as well. Again, if you are recovering your vehicle, you don’t want to put yourself in any more trouble than you’re already in.

Not sure what recovery gear you need to get? Be sure to read our blog post!