If you go off-roading or on overland trips and expeditions, a winch can be a vital part of your equipment and vehicle capability, especially when you are the only vehicle on the trail or trip.
A winch can often mean the difference between not only getting home or not, but even life and death. It may sound serious, but really, there have been situations where lone overlanders have gotten stuck on remote trails alone, and have not survived to tell the tale because of it.
The next step after getting your winch fitted to you vehicle, is getting to know how it works and how to use it. Our Off-Road Winch & Winching Basics guide is a good place to start. As you will quickly learn upon reading that guide or trying to use your winch off-road, you will need a few extra connectors, couplings and other equipment to properly make use of your winch. Luckily there are bunch of Off Road Winch Recovery Kits available on the market that already includes most of what you may need to use your winch effectively, and we have gone through the trouble of comparing them for you, so you can get the right one, the first time round.
What Is a Off Road Winch Recovery Kit
An Off-Road Winch Recovery Kit, is a complete kit containing the connectors, couplings and other additional accessories that may be need for effective off-road winch recoveries and anchoring. Usually all neatly in a storage bag or box to prevent everything rolling or falling around in your vehicle.
What Size Off-Road Winch Recovery Kit
Similar to selecting the correct size or weight rating of your winch, you also have to select the correct size or weight rating for your off-road winch recovery kit, this is to ensure the component can handle the forces exerted on them by your vehicle’s mass, and your winch’s pull rating. If one of those components like a bow shackle fail, the results can be deadly.
Recovery Kit Rating
For the rating of the Kit, we usually use the maximum rating for the lowest rated component of the kit, to ensure that you are safe for our given rating, if any item in the kit is used.
Some people claim that a 3/4″ Bow shackle that is rated at 4.75t (10,640 lbs) for instance, is only safe for vehicles of 5,600 lbs or less because manufacturers recommend items that are rated at 3-4x the vehicle weight. This is however not accurate, as when those manufacturers stated that, they were referring to the older method of using either SWL (Safe Working Load) limit or the MBL (Minimum Breaking Load). The 4.75t (10,640 lbs) rating on ARB Shackles for instance, is actually now a WLL (Working Load Limit) rating, which is already almost 5 times lower than the MBL because a Safety factor of 5:1 is incorporated to calculate the WLL from the tested limit.
Recovery Safety Zone
Kinetic recovery straps or snatch straps, can be very dangerous if not used responsibly. They multiply the forces to greater than the weight of one of the vehicles involved, and if they, or one of the connectors or shackles let go, they become projectiles carrying that force at speed. Any parties not in one of the two vehicles, should stay clear of the recovery safety zone, or at least 1.5x the length of the strap or rope.
Winch Recovery Kit Components
A recovery kit isn’t a kit, if it does not include a storage bag to keep the gear in, otherwise it is just recovery gear. Although many frequent overlanders already have storage boxes or drawer systems to store recovery gear in, the average weekend off roader does not, and given the importance of the condition of the kinetic recovery strap, if is not a good idea to have it rolling and sliding around in the back of your truck damaging against other sharp or hard objects. Furthermore, it is just plain unsafe to have smaller heavier items like shackles and snatch block lying look in or on the back of a vehicle, as all those become speeding projectiles during accidents or harsh breaking. Even in a drawer system or storage box, it helps to have the kit in it’s own bag nicely stored and organize to prevent it backing against the other gear and damaging. The bag also makes it easy to load the winch recovery kit when you plan on going on a trail and unload it as it is only one item to load as opposed to every individual component. Because of the heavy duty nature of the equipment stored in the bag, a strong tear resistant canvas or even ballistic material is advisable with heavy duty zippers.
For hard shackles, we get two types for off-roading use, namely bow shackles and D-ring shackles.
Use only legitimately rated shackles for recoveries. A rated shackle will have different diameter body and pin, where the pin is usually thicker that the body of the shackle. All rated shackles have the WLL (Working Load Limit) embossed on the body of the shackle. Use only trusted name brand shackles bought from reputable stores to ensure you get actually rated, and authentic shackles. Shackles are certainly not a part to skimp or save money on, they can save or cost your life.
Working with winches and rigging gear, there are many contact and anchor points that can result in pinching of fingers and hand, and when you add to that the forces involved in vehicle recoveries and winching, as well as the torque from winch motors, that can easily result in broken torn off fingers or skin, so utmost care need to be exercised when setting up and working with your winch and vehicle recovery. Yes gloves will not necessarily save your hand or finger if it gets caught in a snatch block with a cable busy pulling a 8000 lbs vehicle out of a mud hole, but it will certainly help prevent small nicks and cuts from close calls, or sharp edges and pinches from the equipment. A finger cut can quickly ruin a trip if serious enough, so always be sure to wear your gloves when rigging and recovering a vehicle.
Tree Trunk Protector
The serve a dual purpose, and sometimes even more than that. Firstly, imagine what the trees along a popular off-road trail would look like if a few hundred motorists wrap thin winch wire rope around them, and winch 12,000 or more lbs of them every year, pretty soon they will have no bark left and we all know that a tree without enough bark eventually dies, and a dead tree eventually falls. This not only makes the tree dangerous that it can fall on a passing vehicle, but it also removes the winch anchor point that may have been the only or crucial one at an obstacle. Other than that, it also sucks, as we would like the trees to be around for our kids to also someday winch off of when they do those trails in their own trucks or Jeeps.
The second item that gets damaged when just wrapping your winch wire rope or synthetic winch line around a tree or anchor point and winching out, is your winch line itself. With 8,000 or even 12,000 lbs of force pulling the wire to one side, chances are it is going to have a permanent kink or bend in it when release from that recovery, if you are lucky enough that the winch hook did not cut or shear some of the wires or part of the synthetic rope.
The tree trunk protector straps, cover both of these scenarios, by firstly protecting the tree bark or anchor point that it is wrapped around, and secondly the winch line or rope, as the winch line remains straight and connectors to the two end loops of the tree trunk protector instead.
The other added bonus of a tree trunk protector, given the fact that it is rigid and does not really stretch, and when looking ratings that they can accommodate, means that it can be used as a standard tow rope in a situation where a stretching or kinetic recovery rope is not recommended, like a standard vehicle tow over a distance.
Winch Extension Strap
A winch extension strap does exactly what it’s name implies, it extends the winch line reach for those situations where there is no anchor point within range of your winch’s total line length. It is important to note that the rated limit of your winch extension strap should at least equal or exceed the rated pulling power of your winch, so that it does not break when you attempt to winch something out.
Kinetic Recovery Strap or Snatch Strap
A kinetic recovery strap or snatch strap, is essentially a tow strap or rope, that can stretch and build up kinetic energy, which it releases at maximum length, increasing the pulling force of the vehicle that is pulling, by up to 100%. Usually made from nylon, and initially designed for military applications, where on tank or even a smaller truck, needed to recover another larger tank or truck that is stuck in mud or sand. The use of the straps have helped make stuck vehicle recoveries much easier because of the easy of use and increased force they exert to quickly get stuck vehicles loose. They can however, be very dangerous is they or one of the connections to them fail during the recovery, as that built-up kinetic energy is then sent flying in a direction and can quickly turn deadly to bystanders. The fact that they increase the normal pulling forces of the vehicles, also is the reason why normal recovery points and equipment is not usually able to withstand recoveries with them, and the importance of officially rated recovery points and equipment becomes evident. We always recommend using both a recovery bridle, and well as a recovery damper or blanket in conjunction with a kinetic recovery strap.
Recovery Damper Blanket
An absolutely non-negotiable piece of equipment when doing any kinetic rope or snatch type recoveries. Seriously, this will help prevent serious injury or death. Yes it is not part of all the kits, and yes most often people do not have one at hand for a recovery, but at the very least, drape a heavy normal blanket, or jacket over the center or the kinetic rope before the recovery.
We have first hand experience. A few years ago, I had to recover a heavy Nissan Patrol stock in deep soft sand. It did not have recovery points and it’s whole chassis was buried deep, with the tide approaching, and the driver of the stuck vehicle insisting I just use his snatch rope, which he only attached to his tow-ball (never do this). I quickly attached the other end to my vehicle’s recovery point, then took out my heavy Parka bush jacket and draped it over the center of the snatch rope (with his friends laughing) and proceeded with the snatch. Needless to say, as expected the tow-ball did come lose, breaking both the attached bolts clean off. When I got out, sure enough, there was high whole tow ball, lying tangled inside my heavy jacket, right behind my vehicle. Without that jacket, it would have been like a heavy bullet coming straight through the back of the vehicle towards me.
A snatch block is an awesome, but possibly very dangerous device. It is essentially a pulley, that can serve a few purposes when used in conjunction with your off-road winch.
A snatch block can essentially double the pulling capacity or force of your winch, by pulling both to, and away from the winch at the same time. This help for situations where you vehicle is so deeply stuck, that the pulling capacity of your winch is not sufficient to pull it out. Be aware however, that this also doubles the forces on the mounting points and other equipment used in the recovery, so make sure everything can handle that increases load.
A snatch block also allows you to change the direction of the winch cable, by creating a off set anchor point, allowing a three-point pulling motion.
Contrary to what is often claimed, any snatch block can be used with synthetic winch rope. The chance of damage to the winch rope is just a little greater than with wire rope, but can easily be avoided if you ensure the sheave is smooth and free of any burs left by previous damage from damaged wire rope, the groove in the sheave is big enough for the diameter of the synthetic winch rope, and lastly that the gap between the sheave and side plates of the pulley is not too large as this leave space for the synthetic rope to get caught in and get damaged. If there is a gap between the side plates and the sheave on your snatch block, that is no cause for concern, as long as you use it correctly. Just ensure there is constantly tension on the winch line and the snatch block, if any slack develops on the line, check and reset the line in the snatch block before continuing the pull.
Soft shackles serve the same purpose in kinetic snatch rope recoveries as standard D-ring and bow shackles do, however they are made from softer, synthetic rope instead of the steel or alloy used in traditional shackles. This makes them a lot safer in the even of failure, and they also have the added benefit of having a much higher strength rating, whilst being much liter than traditional shackles. They are essentially a piece of synthetic rope, with a knot at the one end, and a loop at the other. The knot goes through the loop, and the tension on the shackles twists the loop at an angle to keep the knot in there. They need to be under constant tension to hold the knot, otherwise it falls out, so the method to set them up and use them is slightly different, but not any harder at all.
Also because of how light their are compared to their air resistance, they have the added benefit of quickly falling to the floor if one of them, the snatch rope or the recovery point fails, making them much less of a hazard.
Chains for 4×4 and off-road purposes are somewhat outdated, with winch wire and synthetic rope, as well as most to and snatch straps all being not only much stronger, but also lighter and easier to take along, not to mention much safer when something give than a heavy piece of chain. Yes they have their place, but mostly to drag stuff or vehicles around, where part of the chain will drag on the ground, where it would be much more resilient to damage and breaking than a strap or synthetic rope. Other than that, we never ever recommend using chains in any part of your kinetic or winch recovery off-road.
Basic Winch Recovery Kits
Medium Duty Winch Recovery Kits
Premium Heavy Duty Winch Recovery Kits
Off-Road Recovery Kits
These are the kits intended for recoveries without winches, the type of kit that you should have as bare minimum in your vehicle with or without a winch. If you are the type of guy that spends you time off-road riding on the beach or dunes in a light vehicle that is perfect for soft sand driving, this is all you need, as long as you don’t do that type of driving alone, as a second vehicle is needed to do the snatch or pull-out type recovery. If you go at it alone (which is never recommended) however, then you will be better suited to also have a set of recovery tracks like MaxTrax also on your truck, as well as a spade.
Even if you have a winch, this is still the perfect kind of kit to have for snatch recoveries that you will also inevitably need to do if there is no anchor point to winch off of, or if a quick snatch recovery is the fastest way out of a sand ditch.
Not so much a winch accessory kit, but rather just a normal recovery kit, mostly intended to be used without a winch. This is used when one vehicle snatches another out of thick sand or mud. The D-ring shackles and gloves are about all you can use with a winch on this kit. Don’t let that perturb you, this is an excellent kit if you spend most of your time in a light beach or dune off-roader that doesn’t have a winch to save weight.
IMPORTANT! Snatch Recovery Bridle
When doing snatch recoveries, it is very important to remember that Kinetic ropes or straps, use elastic kinetic energy to multiply the pulling force of the vehicle, by anywhere from 30% to 100% of the pulling vehicles weight. This can exert huge amounts of force on both vehicles recovery points and couplings, so when doing any type of snatch recovery, it is always recommended to use a bridle. A bridle is basically like another strap, that attached to two recovery points on your vehicle, and to the kinetic recovery rope, so it distributes the forces of the kinetic rope over two recovery points on your vehicle, and the connecting shackles, instead of just one. This lowers the chance of failure of any of your vehicles recovery points or the shackles considerably.
Caring for Your Recovery Gear
Taking care of your recovery gear is important as much for safety and reliability, as it is for performance and not having a part of your gear or equipment letting you down when you need it most out on a trail.
When it comes to an electric off-road winch, the number one enemy of a winch is not being use for extended periods of time, whilst constantly being exposed to the sun, rain and other elements. This will cause corrosion on the motor brushes and other electrical contacts, and we see very often out on the trails guys getting there, after not being on a trail or off-road for a whole year, then they get stuck (as we all do) and when they try to use their winch to recover their vehicle, it simply does not work. For this very reason, it is an excellent idea to get a winch cover, which protects it from the elements, and then simply unwinding and spooling up your winch line once every two or so months when not using it otherwise. If you have a synthetic winch rope, you should also wind it out fully and thoroughly hose it down with water after you drove through mud and dirt whether you used it there or not, as dirt and durst between the fibers will wear the line much faster than normal.
A kinetic recovery or snatch rope has a limited use life cycle as with most elastic equipment where the stretching and contract fatigues the materials it is made of and will cause it to fail eventually. It is important to inspect your kinetic recovery strap frequently to make sure it isn’t cut, or sheared on parts of it, as this could cause it to fail in use. It is also important to let a snatch strap rest after each one or two recoveries so that it can naturally contract and relax back to it’s original length and shape and basically ‘reset’ before using it again. This is important before rolling it up, and is done by just basically chucking it in a loose pile in the back of your vehicle and to let it lie there for an hour or two, then rolling it up neatly.