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Top 5 Things to Consider for Vehicle Recovery

If you go off-road, eventually you will get stuck. These points will help get you home!

Top 5 Things to Consider for Vehicle Recovery

Before venturing into the unknown, for fun or in an emergency, you will want both recovery gear and the knowledge to use it! (Sean Utley photo)

Choosing the right recovery gear for your 4-wheel drive vehicle can be daunting for newcomers and veterans alike. Often you will get different answers based on where you live. and what kind of terrain features you may encounter. Make no mistake, where you live and what you expect to encounter off-road is indeed important. Plus, the “old ways” of airing down your tire pressure PSI to match your wheel diameter, and using a shovel, still hold true. However, technology does improve as time goes by, and there are some things you should be aware of. Of course, you should always start with the basics. Three things you should always have in your vehicle are a medical kit, fire extinguisher, and recovery gear. Today, we will focus on recovery gear to get you out of a bad situation and mobile again.

Top 5 Things to Consider For Vehicle Recovery
Warn recommends you chose a winch that can manage 1.5 times the GVWR of your vehicle. So, this Warn Zeon 10S is a good match for the Jeep Gladiator seen here. (Sean Utley photo)

Here are 5-pieces of kit you can add to the trusty shovel which will make your life a lot easier in the event of a self-recovery, or recovery of someone else.

1. Winch Kit

Warn Winches have been the industry standard since their inception in 1959. Warn recommends you chose a variant that can manage 1.5 times the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). My Jeep Gladiator weighs in at a little over 5,000 pounds from the factory, so the Warn Zeon 10S is up to the task. The 10s model stands for 10,000 pounds, and S for synthetic line. I prefer synthetic line when choosing my kit, but you could go with steel if you prefer. The major benefit of synthetic is that it’s inherently safer. Steel line will store energy as a load is put on the line while synthetic line will not. So, in the event of a breakage, the steel line can become a very dangerous projectile. Synthetic line is also significantly lighter, and will save you on weight. Remember, the pounds add up quickly when setting up a preparedness vehicle. Your winch kit should include three shackles (I prefer synthetic), a tree strap/sling, and a pulley block (also known as snatch blocks). Remember, all must be rated to manage the weight of your vehicle.

2. Kinetic Rope

A good kinetic rope should have up to 40% stretch and have a breaking strength 4 times the GVWR. A kinetic rope is also synthetic. See a trend here? Essentially, this rope is used with some momentum, as opposed to a tow rope which is gently pulled taught before applying force. Any quality product will have the rating labeled on the rope. You can get them in 20 and 30 foot lengths.

3. Hi-Lift Jack

Hi-Lift has been around for over 100 years and their design has long been a staple item with off-roaders. It will be much more appropriate for recovery than your factory jack, if you need to lift the vehicle off the ground while off-road. The Hi-Lift jack has one point of contact on the ground and one point of contact on the vehicle. It has a universal fit, and lifting the vehicle is its primary function. However, it can also be used in an assortment of ways, including for winching. For our purpose today though, we will only address using it to lift the vehicle. You should include one wheel lift attachment rated at 5,000 pounds, as it is an extremely valuable addition to the Hi-Lift jack. Again, make sure to purchase the appropriate jack for the weight of your vehicle. All Hi-Lifts come with the specification on the product. Always be very careful when using it though. Improper or careless use can result in severe injury or death. Watch that handle too!

Top 5 Things to Consider For Vehicle Recovery
A Hi-Lift jack can be very handy for lifting your vehicle and you can also use it to winch with. Properly used it is a useful tool, but it can be dangerous if you are careless. (Sean Utley photo)

4. Tire Kit

This kit will allow you to quickly address a non-catastrophic tire puncture while the tire is on the rim. This is ideal because you will not have to use or change your spare tire. A good tire kit and knowing how to properly use it will allow you to quickly address the issue, and be on your way. Your tire kit should include these repair tools: insertion tool, reamer tool, a valve tool, pliers, and repair cords. Plus, you should have a good air pressure gauge. Keep in mind, most tire repair kits do not come with pliers. If you have a nail or piece of steel in your tire, you will need something to remove it. Needle nose pliers work very well for this. The reamer and insertion tool should have robust construction so neither breaks when you need them, especially if you are trying to plug a truck tire. Learn how to use these tools properly before you need them.

Top 5 Things to Consider For Vehicle Recovery
A tire repair kit is a must, and should include an insertion tool, reamer tool, a valve tool, pliers, repair cords and a good air pressure gauge. (Sean Utley photo)

5. Additional Items

These should include the shovel we originally talked about, gloves, toolbox, first aid kit, lug wrench, communications, and a full-size spare tire. Remember, while a short handled spade is easy to store, a long handled shovel will allow you to dig into the mud or snow without having to get right down into it. Plus, a good set of gloves will protect your hands, so pick their construction carefully.

Recently I have encountered a few situations that required the use of the Kinetic rope (snatch rope). The first incident was on a trip up through beautiful northern Arizona during the wintertime in the snow. A close friend of mine has very well equipped 4runner, and he and his wife are very knowledgeable, and seasoned, off-roaders. It is important to note this because even the most squared away people still encounter incidents which require some problem solving. As a matter of fact, the more you head out the more likely you are to get into similar situations. It is not a matter of if you will need to recover a vehicle, but rather when.

Top 5 Things to Consider For Vehicle Recovery
A secure mounting point is a must when recovering a vehicle. (Sean Utley photo)

As we made our way down a forest road the driver side and passenger side of the road began to show a gentle slope. The 4runner trailed behind me and began to slide down the driver side of the road due to the snow on the ground. We stopped and inspected the vehicle and the road. It became apparent that ice had formed at the base, causing the tires to lose traction, which in turn led to the 4runner sliding off the road very slowly into the ditch. He made a few attempts to drive out, but ultimately could not gain traction. After failing to drive out, we tried other options. First, he used some tractions boards, and ended up breaking them in the process.

Top 5 Things to Consider For Vehicle Recovery
A good tree saver is a must, and one is seen here being placed around a large boulder. (Sean Utley photo)

At that point he and I both agreed it was in our best interest to use the kinetic rope. We started by visually inspected under the 4runner. We needed to make sure the vehicle had enough clearance, and there was nothing which might hit the underbelly, cause damage, or be unsafe. We then used two synthetic shackles, each at the opposite ends of the kinetic rope, and mounted them to the front bumper’s tow point of the 4runner, and the rear tow point on my bumper. The kinetic rope laid on the ground in between us in a straight line, and I accelerated to a safe speed and out came the 4runner on the first try. Later in the day he returned the favor, and pulled me out in the exact same scenario on the passenger side of the road.

Top 5 Things to Consider For Vehicle Recovery
A synthetic shackle is seen here being used as a connection point between the tree saver and the winch line. Make sure everything is properly rated for your needs. (Sean Utley photo)

The next experience happened during a more competitive setting. I was fortunate to be able to race in a legendary off-road race in Johnson Valley, CA called King of the Hammers. We raced in the 4500 class and found ourselves stuck in the rocks at about mile 87. Essentially, the rock section was so large that our car had hi-centered, causing us to lose traction. As the co-driver of the 903 car, my responsibility was to exit the vehicle and be the Man on the Ground.

Top 5 Things to Consider For Vehicle Recovery
What’s the bag for? If the winch line should break it will help prevent it from causing harm or doing damage. This is especially important with steel cables! (Sean Utley photo)

I grabbed our recovery kit and pulled the winch line out. I found a tree saver already looped around an exceptionally large granite rock. I then used a synthetic shackle to attach the winch line to the tree saver. Next, I communicated via radio to my driver, and he used the winch controller to winch our car out of the rocks. Just as we were free from the obstacle, the car behind us became stuck in a similar spot. Since I had already been setup, and our car was out of the way, I passed off the winch point we had just used to the next racer. He successfully used it in the same manner.


Top 5 Things to Consider For Vehicle Recovery
A demonstration of a simple winching scenario being practiced. Remember, it’s extremely important to know how to use your gear before you need it! (Sean Utley photo)

These two experiences differ greatly, and were in completely different environments. One was a recreational drive on a snow-covered forest road. The other, a professional race through school bus sized rocks in the desert. Both were addressed with the right mindset and the same vehicle recovery considerations.

Top 5 Things to Consider For Vehicle Recovery
The author carefully observes while he runs the winch controller with his left hand. Careful observation is always important during a recovery. (Sean Utley photo)

It is my intent to encourage you to get out and enjoy your 4wheel drive vehicle. When you build out a vehicle for recreation, by default, you set yourself up for preparedness. Your recovery needs do not end here. In fact, this is just an intro into recovery. Seek out training from reputable sources and continue to adventure. See you on the trail.

If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at

About the Author:

Mike Hernandez is the Mobility and Motorsports Director at He specializes in Jeeps as they pertain to vehicle preparedness and off-road. Michael has been building vehicles for 20+ years, after completion of an ASE Ford program in his teens.

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