ECOA Recovery Guide – Phase 1: The basics

In previous article series I’ve broken things down by “phases.”  This is a way to demonstrate that you don’t need everything and the kitchen sink to go out and have an adventure.  The same goes for recovery.  In this three part series I’ll break down three phases for building a off-road recovery kit.

What gear would you use for this recovery?
Do you have what you need?

(Full writeup on this oops here.)

In this article I’ll cover the basics for what the average off-road enthusiast needs in their near stock 4wd.  This will be a little bit of show-and-tell as I tell you what is in my kit as well as show you how I’ve used it in the past.  As this article series moves forward the recovery kit will grow and evolve just like the phases of a build.  Read on to get things started…

Recovery Points

There is no point buying any recovery gear for your rig without it first having solid reliable safe recovery points front and rear.  Back in the good ol’ days every four-wheel-drive vehicle sold was equipped with recovery points from the factory.  Sadly, over time auto manufactures started to pay less attention to the “utility” side and focus more on the “sport” side of their SUV’s.  Now SUV’s are glorified station wagons designed more for the mall than the backcountry.  As such, the rugged utilitarian tow hooks found on old trucks and SUV’s were the first thing to go in favor of sleek sexy plastic bumpers.  For shame.

OEM front tow-hooks for the TJ and LJ Jeep Wranglers.

A safer alternative to open tow-hooks are shackle mounts which allow for a more secure “closed” connection.
These d-ring mounts can be used with either hard or soft shackles (see below).
(Although I removed the OEM tow-hooks when I installed the AtoZ Fabrication bumper, I have since reinstalled them.)

Even Jeeps aren’t exempt for the neutering of their tow hooks.  When I got the LJ in 2014 the factory front hooks were missing.  It did, thankfully, still have the rear hook.  As such, one of the very first things I did was track down a set of OEM hooks and get them bolted on.  Oh the joys of buying a used vehicle.

Recovery Straps

OEM tow-hooks allow for the use of the most simple of recovery gear: the recovery strap.  Recovery straps come in two forms.  Static tow straps are the most common.  They are a dense nylon weave very similar to seat-belts only much much stronger.  Their key features are sewn loops at ether end that slip over tow hooks.  They can also be linked together to make longer recovery straps. The other common form of recovery strap is the kinetic snatch strap.  Kinetic recovery straps act like giant rubber bands thanks in part to their looser weave.  Their built in elasticity stores energy and then helps gently pull a vehicle out of something like mud, snow, or sand when a traditional static strap.

This grey tow strap is a 30 foot 2″ wide static recovery strap with sewn loops at each end.
This, along with a pair of shackles, is about as basic as it gets for vehicle-to-vehicle recovery.
The shackle adapter from Custom Splice is a great way to turn a standard 2″ tow hitch into a recovery point.

To be honest, a recovery strap should be part of the required minimum kit in your rig right along with a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit.  Which one you choose will depend a lot on your terrain and type of wheeling.  Someone who frequents the beach would be better off with a kinetic strap.  Someone who finds themselves on a tight trail in dense trees would be better off with a static strap.  Just know this: never yank with a tow strap and know that a kinetic strap is only effective once “loaded.”  As such, tow straps make terrible snatch straps and snatch straps make terrible tow straps.

Shackles

Shackles are a great accessory to have as part of your recovery kit.  They allow you to do two things. First, they allow you to connect two straps together.  Second, they allow you to connect a strap to a set of D-ring mounts common on many aftermarket bumpers.

These ⅜” soft-shackles from Custom Splice have a 36,000 pound breaking strength.
They are appropriate for Jeeps and ½ ton trucks.
Smaller soft shackles for ATVs are available, as are larger ones for heavier trucks
.

Here is one of the soft shackles in use through the d-ring mount on the LJ’s rear bumper.
Notice how the abrasion guard (red sheath) goes through the shackle mount to help protect the soft shackle
.

There are two types of shackles.  Steel shackles are made of steel and can, at time, become dangerous flying projectiles.  They are also prone to the locking screwed binding up after a heavy load.  A relatively new item to the 4wd market is the soft shackle.  Commonly used in the maritime industry for years soft-shackles are now finding their way into 4×4’s around the world.  They are lighter, less prone to binding, and are omni-directional.  They also hurt a lot less when you drop one on your toes.

OEM Jack

Most people do not consider a jack to be a piece of recovery gear.  Although used almost exclusively for changing tires and routine vehicle maintenance, a good sturdy jack can also be used to help nudge a stuck vehicle.  In the past I’ve used a bottle jack under an axle to help get a stuck Jeep (yes, my own) off a stump… off a rock… and from being high-centered.  Needless to say, a good jack is essential.

It might not look like much, and be a pain in the a** to use, but don’t throw it out.

If you’re vehicle is still stock (or nearly stock) then the OEM jack will be more than adequate.  That said, some sort of riser (like a scrap piece of wood) can be very useful when used in conjunction with a factory jack.  It can help make up the little bit of difference of clearance if you’re running slightly larger tires.  The wood can also help distribute the load over a larger footprint helping lower the over ground pressure load which is great in soft terrain like dirt, snow, or sand and even helps on firm but loose terrain like gravel.

Conclusion

This list represents what I consider to be the essentials for a “phase 1” basic recovery kit.  This allows you to be recovered when you get stuck or provide aid to someone else when they get stuck.  Even the most seasoned of driver will get stuck from time to time (yes, that includes me).  I’ll also repeat earlier proclamations to take a formal off-road class.  Even if you’ve already got a 101 class under your belt, most quality 4wd instructors (like those at Off-road Consulting) also offer specialized recovery classes.  It’s a great way to learn recovery skills and how to safely use recovery gear in a controlled environment.

Here you can see how two soft shackles and a 30′ tow-strap work together.
In this case Phoenix’s Tacoma had become high-centered.
A slow steady pull with the static recovery strap was all he needed to get unstuck.


The vast majority of the recoveries I’ve made have been like this…

… and the vast majority of the times I’ve been recovered have been like this.

In the “phase 2” kit I’ll add a few things to the list in recognition of a slightly modified vehicle as well as a slightly more experienced driver.  Stay tuned for more…

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