Prioritizing Recovery Gear

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Rank I

Traveler I

Philadelphia, PA
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Hi folks,

I just had my first off-roading trip but I was with an experienced guide who had all of the necessary recovery gear. However, I forgot to ask her what I should prioritize so I'm reaching out to the OB community. There seems to be a lot of recovery gear I should have but I can't purchase it all at once. If you could help me prioritize the following I'd appreciate it.
  • Tow strap or snatch strap or both
  • Winch (this would also require a new bumper)
  • Air compressor
  • Tire repair kit
  • Traction boards
  • Anything else?


Rank V

Member II

Wernersville, PA, USA
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Safety/First Aid Kit
Tow strap
Air compressor
Tire repair; & make sure you have “all terrain “ rated tires. Street tires have weak sidewalks and will puncture easily.
I caved in and bought traction boards many years ago. Thousands of off road miles later? Ive never used them and no longer carry them.
winch? I’ve used mine to help others a multitude of times, but have only self recovered twice. If you travel with friends a winch is a low priority, However, if you travel as we do, alone, long and often, then a dependable well maintained winch is necessary. Hope this helps


Rank I

Contributor III

Moyock, NC
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I think it is dependant on the tipe of places you want to go. Soft terrain like sand or mud, traction boards might go higher onthe list.
A speaker on recovery at an overland event I went to said your most important piece of recovery gear is your brain and to know your terrain, know your vehicle, know your capabilities, know your options and to not to get yourself in a recovery situation in the first place. And he went on from there.
Air compressor is pretty universal for airing down.
Appropriate tires are a key in keeping yourself from getting stuck
I do mainly well established trails and forest service roads. I don't have a winch or cary much in the way of recovery.
Don't get caught up in all the things you think you need to buy.


Rank III

Traveler III

Eastern Shore of Maryland
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Totally depends on where you are going and who you are going with. If you are by yourself and are planning to do anything more than a well traveled dirt backroad, a winch is a good thing to have (you don't need an electric one though, you can use a hand winch or a hi-lift jack with the recovery kit and a length of chain). In your situation, my #1 priority would be to make sure that your vehicle has solid front and rear recovery points and get a nice shovel. After that I would get a snatch strap (ARB makes good stuff, but recovery ropes also seem to be popular), and after that I would start looking into recovery boards/traction aids. I bought the $60 X-Bull boards off Amazon and have been pleasantly surprised with them, although I've only gotten to test them in snow and ice.

I don't really place an air compressor under the "recovery" category, but you really should consider buying one, even if it is just a cheap Harbor Freight one. Being able to deflate your tires (well the compressor lets you re-inflate them afterwards) not only improves your traction and lets you float over the sand, it also really softens the ride on washboard roads (try it next time you drive on a bumpy dirt road). I also don't consider a tire repair kit a recovery tool, but its certainly good to have, but if you already have a full size spare and you aren't going on a long trip I wouldn't really worry about that too much.

Another thing to consider if you are going "off grid" by yourself or with a small group is a Satellite Communicator like an Inreach Mini. You can use this to send a text to a friend to come help you if you ran out of gas or got stuck, or in a true emergency you can send out an "SOS" signal. Personally, I would consider this more important than a winch.

If you can, take a vehicle recovery class at Overland Expo or from a guide. Carrying these recovery tools won't really help you if you don't know how to use them safely/effectively.
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Rank V

Enthusiast I

Columbia City, Indiana
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A no brainer first step is the first aid kit, some food/water and a snatch strap. My wife and I are always out by ourselves, no friends that do this stuff. Assuming you will be in a low traffic area and have enough experience to be out there by yourself. Traction boards and a farm jack(High Lift), if the budget is small. You should know what to attempt and not attempt as the sole vehicle out there. Then if the budget allows get a Harbor Freight winch and a hitch mount, assuming you have a trailer hitch. If you get stuck, pull yourself out backwards and go back. I then welded a front hitch to the van and can put the winch on either side.


Rank V

Contributor III

Green Valley, AZ
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Great topic! We frequently travel alone in back country areas, but almost exclusively on two-track routes, forest service roads, etc., and not all are maintained on a regular basis.

As 2dub pointed out above, the guy who said that knowledge is a key starting point is right on the money.

The first thing we'd tell you to add will not cost you a dime. A trip plan. If you're going out alone, have a basic document that details where you're going, approximate dates, due-back date, and information on who you are such as a current photo/physical description of you, description of your rig, etc. And leave it with a trusted friend with a "Uh-oh, he's not back" date/time to call the authorities (or friends with the know-how to come look for you). We used to do wilderness SAR and it is amazing how often people don't do this simple thing.

We don't have a winch and have (knock wood), never needed one even when traveling with other rigs. I'd definitely drop that to the bottom of priorities. Of course, we're frequently in desert areas and there are no trees to anchor to and the equipment to bury a deadman to anchor to is just more cr@p to haul. (And the time needed to dig a hole that big... well, not at my age!)

Food/water for 5 days. We also carry water filters.

Add a decent first aid kit and take the time to go through a more-than-basic first aid class. Recommend Wilderness First Responder if you can take the time for it. But even a basic Red Cross 1st Aid class would be great.

Add a set of what I call "pioneer tools" (USMC term), i.e., bow saw, shovel, hatchet and/or axe, small pick, decent pry bar, etc. We also have a small haul system, i.e., some pulleys and cordage, so that if we need to put together a mechanical advantage pulley system to move smaller stuff out of the way, we can. These are small, climbing/rescue pulleys and 9mm cordage left over from our days in technical rescue. So far as the other tools, consider your situation if a small tree falls across the trail after you passed by and that's also your exit route. You won't be able to handle a 4-ft-diameter Ponderosa Pine, but small stuff is easily dealt with.

A small tool kit is always a good idea. Shoe-box size. You can get a lot in that. Duct tape.

Agree with the tow/snatch strap, good tire repair/plug kit, and a better-than-basic air pump. We got the Viair 88P and are pretty happy with it.

We don't have traction boards, but have been considering them. Just a few months ago we actually buried the truck in deep sand and through airing down, some local vegetation, and technique, did a self-rescue. If the deadwood hadn't been handy, a couple of traction boards might have been useful. We keep reading good things about the less-expensive X-Bull boards.

We have small HAM radios and will soon be getting GMRS/FRS radios to complement them. We're also 'thinking' about a cell signal booster, but not in a serious way just yet. We often find ourselves beyond cell signal coverage. We like the idea of something like SPOT, just not ready to go there. Since we're sometimes in remote desert, we carry a military-style signal mirror, which works incredibly well for getting the attention of aircraft.

That's it for now. We are really interested in reading what other people think on this topic - never too late to learn something new!


Rank V

Influencer II

San Dimas, Ca.
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I mostly travel solo in the west and Baja so your list may vary, this is my list in order:
First aid kit
Food, water, trash bags. Trash bags can be shelter, blankets, or rain gear.
Full sized yard shovel, (I hate short T handle shovels)
Small shovel for dining under the rig
Straps (static) and Rope (dynamic) Shackles (soft and hard)
Air compressor or tank
Tire repair kit
Winch/Snatch blocks
Garmin inreach
The knowledge to us all the above.
I don't carry traction boards, I have used my weather tech liners once once for bottomless mud.
Different areas have different demands. I don't deal much forests, down trees, and deep water crossings. Soft sand, cobble beach washboard and dry river beds are more of what I deal with.

M Rose

US Northwest Region Director

Explorer I

La Grande, Oregon, USA
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I’ve been doing this for about 30 years. When I started out my recovery gear was purchased one piece at a time on a shoe string budget.

First a shovel and an axe can get you out of more situations than any other piece of gear.

Recovery straps/rope is great IF you are going with someone. Alone they are almost useless without some kind of winching device.

Speaking of winches. I went nearly 20 years without one. And it’s still the very last upgrade I ever make to a rig… I use my winch more to help others than to get myself out.

The best piece of recovery gear is your brain. Know your vehicle and it’s strengths and weaknesses. If something is causing that little voice inside your head to say “this is stupid “, it probably is and it’s time to either turn around, or get out and walk.

Last winter I was driving down a FS trail that I’m very familiar with and like driving it in the winter due to the challenge the snow offers. Any ways I got to a section of road that started making me pucker. I ended up getting out and walking a mile or two of road to see how bad the snow really was. I ended up making the decision to drive it, BUT I knew my rig and knew that if I stuck to the lines I chose in my head I would be fine. I drive to the end of the trail and turned around and drove out. When I got back to the spot that made me stop, I ended up sliding off the road into a mountain stream. To get out I just stacked logs to raise myself up to the level of the road and drive out. I had my winch, Highlift Jack, shovel, Axe, recovery ropes, ect. But all would have been more time and work than just rolling a few logs in place to use the vehicle’s own power to get out.
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