If you don’t get stuck, you aren’t having fun! But knowing how to get unstuck ensures it stays fun. Depending on the situation and the tools you have available, there will be different strategies for getting unstuck. Here we’ll lay out solutions, by tool, and teach you when to use each one. Links to all products are at the bottom of the page.
First and foremost, keep safety in mind whenever using a recovery method. There are significant forces at play when manipulating a 4000+lb vehicle. If things go wrong using a winch line or a Hi-Jack lift, serious injuries – or even death – can result. Move slowly, think ahead, and use proper safety precautions with each of these techniques.
When you’re stuck in sand, snow, mud or other loose soil, your tires need a surface to grip. Sand, snow and mud also are soft and you’ll sink down and get really bogged easily. Traction boards (tracks) will give you the traction and surface area needed to get moving again. Traction boards can also be used like a bridge to span gaps in the trail or scale up a small ledge, helping you get up and over larger obstacles. These are probably the safest, easiest, most flexible and functional recovery device you can own. Don’t leave home without them!
2. Air down
One of the easiest hacks to getting a bit more grip is simply to reduce your tire pressure to increase traction. This works especially well on sand, snow, gravel, and solid rock. Lower tire pressures increases the surface area of the tire, making it more compliant, allowing the tire to deform around objects and grab them. An added benefit is that lower tire pressure also means a softer ride on bumpy, rocky roads. 12-15 PSI is good for standard tires and rims on light trucks and suvs/jeeps; 7-10 PSI is good for bead lock rims. Just be sure to air up again before you hit the pavement. If you don’t have an air compressor or tank, you could drop from the 30 psi range down to 22-25 and still get benefits of better ride quality and a little better grip, but maybe not quite enough to get you out of a jamb.
3. A helping hand
Never dismiss what you can achieve with a shove, pull, push, lift, or by applying a little extra counter-weight. Sometimes just a small move, or extra weight on a corner of the vehicle is all that is needed to get going again. So before you spin your tires any deeper, grab a friend, roll up your sleeves and put your back into it!
If you’re hung up on a rock or log, a lift can usually provide the clearance to get free. If you don’t need to lift too high and can access under the vehicle, bottle jacks are the faster and safer method. If you don’t have access under the vehicle or need more vertical travel, a HiJack type lift is the preferred weapon.
Jacking can be more dangerous than other recovery methods, especially the HiJack, so use caution. Much more than simply lifting the wheels, jacking the vehicle body requires you fully extend the suspension before the tires will come off the ground. The vehicle will be much higher off the ground, quite precarious, and contains a lot of potential energy, so be careful! The ARB JACK is a much safer and easier solution, but at a handsome price (cheaper than a hospital visit).
5. A Tow
When truly stuck, you may need another vehicle to get you moving again. Towing is a fairly simple procedure, just pay attention and make sure you attach to hard points (factory tie down points or axles are not sufficient, so you should have tow hooks or points installed prior to heavy off roading). To ensure that you don’t break the strap (or either vehicle), always move slow and steady during a tow recovery. For safety sake, don’t use straps with hooks on the ends, which become projectiles that can do serious personal or vehicular damage.
6. Kinetic Recovery
If you’re really bogged in sand, snow or mud, a dynamic recovery can provide enough extra pull to break you free. This requires an elastic recovery rope or strap that stretches a bit when first pulled, reducing the initial shock on both vehicles. It then releases that stored energy more slowly, helping pull the stuck vehicle free. Make sure to give extra space around this recovery, as a snapped line will have a lot of (you guessed it) kinetic energy.
When all other means fail, a winch might be your best and last resort. A good winch can get you out of most anything including a deep ditch, up a super steep hill, or off a major obstacle. Use a tree protector when anchoring to trees, and a line dampener to control any whiplash. Go slow. There are many advanced winching techniques that we’ll cover in a later post.
Bonus: Creative Winch Anchors
Sometimes there is not much to winch to: no trees, no large rocks, just dirt. That’s no reason to give up! Here are a few tricks for making an anchor:
1. A Deadman Anchor is a product that can be buried in the dirt or sand. These are also great to use as a tree protector, or to wrap around a boulder for a more stable winch point.
2. In loose soil, bury two of your traction boards and run a tree protector through the handles down low in the hole. This will provide enough surface area to create a solid anchor point. Here’s a great how-to video on the topic
3. Do the same thing with your spare tire. It’s quite a bit more work to dig a large enough hole and haul the tire around, but it will get the job done.
Now that you’re armed with a few recovery basics, we hope you’ll take on more challenging trails and choose more daring lines on your next outing! Each time you’re able to get yourself out of a jam, it builds your skillset and your confidence. Share your favorite tip or recovery story below!