Attempt the Rubicon or Moab Rim and you'll likely get stuck, no matter how capable your 4x4. These trails should only be tackled by experienced off-road drivers in highly-modified vehicles equipped with the best rescue and recovery gear. Winches, snatch straps, tree protectors and snatch blocks: you'll need them all.
But you don't have to be out in the wilds to find your wheels spinning. Fording a deep stream, driving a muddy trail or crossing a waterlogged field can all leave you stuck. Or consider a winter morning and a slippery road. Before you know it, you're in a ditch and need pulling out. This is why you should always keep a recovery strap in your vehicle.
Investing in a Strap You Can Rely On
A recovery strap could stay unused in your vehicle for months or even years, but when you need it, it has to work. This article explains what a recovery strap is for and how to find one that's right for your needs. You will need other accessories to put your recovery strap to work, so those are also mentioned here. Finally, we'll review of some of the best recovery straps on the market today.
Table of Contents
- When you need a recovery strap
- Related rescue equipment
- Choosing a recovery strap
- Products and features
Investing in a Strap You Can Rely On
A recovery strap is used to rescue a vehicle that's stuck. It's similar to, though not quite the same as, a tow strap. A tow strap won't stretch and has hooks for quick attachment. A recovery strap has some elasticity and loops at each end. These must be fixed to the two vehicles with shackles, which stop them from coming free as the load is applied. Typically, the shackles are secured around the towing eye built into every vehicle's frame.
An alternative is to replace the conventional ball tow hitch with a shackle hitch. Don't loop a recovery strap over a ball hitch as the hitch could snap.
Related Rescue Equipment
A closely related item you might want to stash with your recovery strap is the tree protector strap. A long length of fabric webbing with loops at both ends, this looks very similar to the recovery strap, but has a different purpose.
If you have a winch on your vehicle you can probably pull yourself free without a rescuer, providing you have a tree protector strap. The tree protector goes around a sturdy trunk, with the two ends being shackled to the winch cable. The tree protector prevents the damage that the cable would cause if wrapped around the trunk, and has very little stretch.
A point to note when using a tree protector is cable alignment. You want the winch cable to be in line with your vehicle, otherwise you'll be pulling at an angle and the cable will bunch at one end of the drum. Sometimes the only answer here is to use a pulley, better known in off-roading circles as a snatch block.
The key feature to note with a snatch block is that one of the side panels swivels out the way so the cable can be easily looped over the wheel. (This is much easier than threading the whole cable through a pulley block!)
Once hooked-up, start the winch and you'll pull yourself free!
A subset of recovery straps is the “kinetic recovery strap,” sometimes also called a “snatch strap.” This is a strap with far more elasticity than a regular recovery strap. Typically a kinetic recovery strap will stretch up to 30% versus 7% for a regular recovery strap, (and close to zero for a tree protector.) The idea is to store up more energy for pulling a stuck vehicle free.
A kinetic recovery needs a different technique to that used for a conventional recovery. We won't go into the details here because our focus is on choosing the best recovery strap for your needs.
Choosing a Recovery Strap
Recovery straps come in a range of lengths, strengths and colors. Some are sold with all the associated items you need to effect a rescue but with most you need to buy those separately. Recovery straps are usually manufactured from a polyester material woven into a form of webbing. This makes them very strong but still allows a degree of stretch, typically no more than 7% of the length.
The two main aspects to consider are length and strength. Most straps are 20' long although some manufacturers do produce longer. Extra length is useful because it lets you keep the rescue vehicle further away from where the first vehicle got stuck. Alternatively, with a longer strap it's easier to pull yourself free if your vehicle is equipped with a winch. However, the downsides of a longer strap are more weight, more storage space required, and of course a higher price.
The strength you need depends on what you expect to be pulling. A forklift truck or Ford F-350 is going to need a much stronger recovery strap than your ATV. Be careful though when looking at quoted recovery strap strengths. These are almost always the maximum or breaking strength, which is very different to the maximum safe working load.
A good rule of thumb is that the maximum load you should put on a recovery strap is one third of the breaking strength. So for example, if you see a strap advertised with a maximum strength of 21,000 lbs, the biggest load you should place on it is 7,000 lbs.