4×4 Off Road Recovery Basics

Photo Cred: NorCal 4×4 Facebook Group

Basic 4×4 Off Road Recovery Things That You Should Know

If you read our post on our Ham Radio Worthy Recovery On The Rubicon, then you may already know that we have a thing for recovering vehicles. Anytime you are out on an off road trail, pushing your vehicle to its limits, chances are high that you are going to be breaking something. When you do break, or fail to proceed, you need to know how to recover your vehicle in the safest manner possible.

Below, we will outline some basic 4×4 Off Road Recovery knowledge. Think of it as a high level Recovery Basics 101. We do not claim to be certified in vehicle recoveries, but we do understand physics, and help that this article will help you understand a little more about 4×4 Off Road Recovery basics. And, when the recovery fails, make sure you have your Ham Radio License so that you can get in touch with someone. Head to our Online Ham Radio Class for off roaders, and study up!


4×4 Off Road Recovery 101: Know Thyself!

This is a pretty self explanatory concept. Know your personal limits and stick to them when recovering vehicles. There are massive amounts of potential energy and forces that are built up when recovering vehicles. One false step at the right time can lead to disasters. If you don’t know how to properly setup mechanical advantage, then don’t. If you don’t have experience rolling a vehicle over in a safe environment, don’t try it in a dangerous one. If you are intoxicated, leave it until you sober up. Know your limits.


4×4 Off Road Recovery 101: Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)

So much of recovering vehicles is basic physics. If you push the rules of physics, then you break equipment. When recovering a vehicle, you want to make sure that you know that vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) as well as your own GVW. For recovery purposes, and the rest of this article, you can think of GVW as a culmination of the actual GVW of the vehicle, plus the added forces from the terrain (mud vacuum, snow build up under the differential, pulling uphill), minus the ability of the vehicle to roll on its wheels, on its given terrain. All of these variables factor into the working load of a recovery pull.



If the GVW of the vehicle that needs to be recovered is MORE than the GVW of the vehicle doing the recovery, then you need to do something to the recovery vehicle to effectively increase its GVW. You can do this by making sure the recovery vehicle has more traction than the problem vehicle, or by anchoring the recovery vehicle with a Land Anchor or another vehicle.


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4×4 Off Road Recovery 101: Suction Sucks

A big part of recoveries is knowing what the terrain is doing around the vehicle. Again, basic physics.


Photo Cred: NorCal 4×4 Facebook Group


Mud is notorious for creating a nice vacuum around objects that go into it. It also likes to fill all the gaps in the tread on tires so that you can’t get traction anymore. With low friction to gain traction, and a vacuum around the tires, mud is one of the harder terrains to recover a vehicle from and will require more force to begin with, in order to break the vacuum. A traction adding device like MAXSA Escaper Buddy or X-Bull Traction Ladder will work wonders to help give you traction in mud.



Think of snow as tiny particles of fluffy ice. Which, takes away traction once it compresses, but it also likes to build up in burms when compressed too. Once you have a burm built up in front of the tires or frame or axle, those fluffy ice particles join together to create a more solid wall of ice. Snow may also require more force to begin with, but you can help mitigate that by shoveling out the burms. Again, traction adding devices like MAXSA Escaper Buddy or X-Bull Traction Ladder will also work really well in the snow. Pair one of these traction boards with any of these shovels from Trail4R.com, and you will be set for mud, sand, or snow!

Maxsa Escaper Buddy Traction Pad set of 2 ($150.00)Check Today’s Price!

X-Bull Traction Ladder ($75.00)Check Today’s Price!


Rocks have lots of friction, but very little rolling friction as long as the vehicle’s wheels are turning. This is one of the easier situations to recover a vehicle from and can usually be accomplished with a gentle pull on a strap rather than a winch. If the vehicle’s wheels aren’t turning though, then it is one of the more frustrating surfaces to recover on and will require higher working load ratings.


4×4 Off Road Recovery 101: Working Loads and Breaking Strengths

Every single piece of recovery equipment (winches, straps, shackles, snatch blocks, pins, winch lines, etc) will have a couple of ratings either printed on them or available when you purchase the item. If it doesn’t have a rating available when you purchase it, DO NOT BUY IT FOR RECOVERY PURPOSES. A working load rating is what the item is rated at for its intended purpose, in order to stay safe, and resist excess wear and premature breakage. A breaking strength is the limits of the equipment, that, should never be exceeded.

For example a lot of 3/4 “ metal bow shackles have a working load rating of between 7,000lbs and 10,000lbs. This means, that they should not be used in recovering a vehicle whos GVW exceeds 10,000lbs. Most of them have a 4-5x breaking strength though, which means they can withstand forces up to 55,000lbs.

These increased forces should only be occurring through peak forces, or shockloading. While static pulling, the working load should never be exceeded.


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4×4 Off Road Recovery 101: Static Pull vs Kinetic (Dynamic) Pull

There will be situations in 4×4 Off Road Recoveries where you will need to use both static and kinetic pulls. A static pull is one where the line you are using is pulled tight prior to the recovery pull. There is no stretch or give in the line and system, and when you start pulling, something is going to either move or break. A kinetic pull is one where there is a little bit of slack left in the line, so that when the line is pulled tight on the recovery pull, a shockload is created. A shockload is a sudden onset of an extreme force to a system. However, shockloading a system can lead to forces that quickly and dangerously exceed the breaking strength on your equipment.


Photo Cred: NorCal 4×4 Facebook Group


Static pulls are done slowly. They rely on torque and slow, gradual movements. Items like chains, steel cable, and low stretch rope work very well for static pulls. If you are stuck on rocks, you want to do static pulls. Static pulls also work great on snow, and mud, so long as you can make the GVW of the problem vehicle lower than the GVW of the recovery vehicle. Avoid attempting static pulls with kinetic ropes and other dynamic stretch recovery devices, as these devices will have a tendency to stretch and rebound creating a rubber band between the 2 vehicles.

Kinetic pulls are done more vigorously. You usually need a kinetic pull in situations where you need to break a vehicle free so that it can then roll freely. Mud, sand, and snow are great situations for a kinetic pull, if the recovery vehicle is also on the same surface. Kinetic pulls should only be done with kinetic ropes (such as a BubbaRope or Billet4x4 Kinetic Rope) that stretch and then rebound themselves. This helps prevent high shockload forces on the system.


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Billet4x4 US Made 1″ x 30′ Kinetic Rope ($139.00)Check Today’s Price!


NEVER EVER attempt kinetic pulls with chains, steel cable, or ropes that don’t stretch. These items are not meant for shockloading and can cause lots of damage very quickly if the breaking strength rating is exceeded. Just watch the videos below to see how not to use chains.



4×4 Off Road Recovery 101: Always Attach to a Recovery Rated Point, or the Frame

We have seen too many bumpers and axles get ripped off of vehicles. A properly rated tow/recovery point is one that is solid and secure to the frame of the vehicle. An axle is not a proper recovery point. Suspension components are not proper recovery points. Wrapping around bumpers are not proper recovery points, unless you have a specially designed bumper that is welded or securely bolted onto your frame. Usually, OEM or factory bumpers are not designed to be recovery points. Watch the video below and learn from them!



4×4 Off Road Recovery 101: Carry Communications Devices

Whether you take our Online Ham Radio Class, get your Ham License, and use ham radios, or use a non licensed general use VHF radio, always have a way to communicate. This goes for communicating with others in the area that might be able to come help you with the recovery. It also goes for communicating with those that are helping you with the recovery. A lot of times when you recover a vehicle, there will be someone in the problem vehicle helping to control the vehicle. Having something as simple as a non licensed MURS handheld radio to talk between the 2 vehicles will go a very long way in keeping everyone safe and working together.



Whenever we go on vehicle recoveries, we take along a small fleet of BaoFeng UV5R ham radio handhelds and set them up on the MURS 1 channel at 1 watt of power. We then hand them out to anyone that is going to be in charge of something like watching the winch, connecting/disconnecting the winch line, running a snatchblock at a tree, etc. Having everyone involved communicating with each other is paramount with any level of recovery.


BTech MURS-V1 Handheld MURS Radio ($55.00)Check Today’s Price!

BaoFeng UV5R Ham Radio Handheld ($25.00)Check Today’s Price!

Baofeng GT-3TP Mark III 8watt Ham Radio Handheld ($50.00)Check Today’s Price


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And, of course, don’t forget to check out our MORRFlate 4 Tire Off Road Inflation Deflation Kit!


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