The saying goes: “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye”. In the Jeeping world this could be translated that “it’s all fun and games until someone gets stuck”. Having the tools and know-how for safe vehicle extraction can be the difference between a minor inconvenience and a ruined outing.
When I was a young lad I bought my first 4WD vehicle, a 1979 Ford Bronco, for the express purpose of exploring the Colorado Rockies. I loved that old beast and it did us good service for many years, but one fateful camping trip taught me lessons I’ll never forget about the importance of being well equipped when going off-highway, even on easier trails. We didn’t plan to do any serious 4x4ing, just to drive to the end of a forest service road – where I happened to know the location of a semi-secret ghost town, sleep in the back of the Bronco, and do some hiking the next day.
As we neared the end of the road, there was a stream crossing and a short, steep hill. We drove across the stream, but when we tried the hill, the tires were wet and we didn’t have enough momentum to make it up. I backed down the hill and was in the middle of the stream when something went terribly wrong. The weight of the vehicle caused a rock to come loose underneath. The Bronco pitched and slid sideways, right off a small waterfall. So there we were (my young bride and I), stuck in the middle of a freezing mountain stream with no recovery equipment, 5 miles from the nearest highway, 20 miles from the nearest town, with absolutely no other choice than to start hiking. Needless to say this wasn’t exactly the fun, romantic little getaway we had planned. We hiked most of the 5 miles before hitching a ride to town and calling out a 4wd tow truck to get us out of our little bind. With a few simple and inexpensive tools this story wouldn’t have turned out to be such a disaster.
There is no more versatile and functional tool out on the trails than a high-lift jack. This simple tool can be purchased for under $100 dollars, and can be used in dozens of ways to help you out of a sticky situation. It can lift a vehicle just up and off a high center, it can be used as a winch, the handle makes a good straightener for a bent drag link, it can transfer weight onto tires with better traction, and it’s indispensable when trying to change a tire or fix a broken bead (see previous article). While it is extremely useful, improperly used, it can also be quite dangerous, so please read all warnings and learn how to use it properly before finding yourself in a jam out in the wilderness.
Tool #2 Come-A-Long (AKA the poor man’s winch) (AKA the strong-arm winch)
While everyone wants an electric winch, not everyone has the $500-$1500 to drop on the real thing, and a come-a-long makes a nice supplement for under a $100. Make sure to get the highest capacity one available and make sure it has a built-in snatch block. Most stuck situations don’t require moving the vehicle a long distance, the difference between stuck and unstuck is often only a few inches. The Come-A-Long takes a little elbow grease, but can work extremely well to pull you that short distance to be on the move again.
Tool #3 Recovery Strap/ Kinetic Rope
Whether you just need an extra bit of distance to hook to an anchor point, a little leverage to keeping a Jeep from flipping backward, or you are going to pull another vehicle out of a mud pit, a good strap is absolutely critical to have with you in the back country. I actually carry two straps: a 30’X3” heavy duty recovery strap, and a shorter 15’X2”. Missing from my current kit is an extra wide short strap designed to wrap around a tree without damaging the bark. Kinetic ropes are another option that is growing in popularity due to their ability to stretch and handle greater shock without snapping back. These are ideal for hauling heavy rigs out of deep mud.
Safety and preparedness are two of the most important factors to having fun on the Jeeping trails, and you don’t have to break the bank to be well prepared. When traveling the un-maintained roads in the back country, things can happen to even the best driver. With a few simple hand tools and some basic know-how, you can be the hero for your family and not have to take that embarrassing hike I did with my wife.