What are the top 3 most useful 4×4 self recovery items?

4X4 recovery gear is diverse and wonderful, but what’s best?

IF YOU DRIVE OFFROAD, you will get stuck. It’s just the way it is. Usually you’ll have a group of cars and people, but not always, and you’d also select which gear to take depending on the terrain – hand winches aren’t much good on beaches for example.

I thought it would be interesting to ask the good people on the 4WD Handbook Facebook page this:

Situation: you have to drive a stock 4WD across what is known to be rough terrain…sand, mud, ruts, rocks, snow, but you don’t know the tracks or even what car you’ll be given other than it’s a low range 4WD.

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You may take only 3 items of recovery gear.

What do you take?

That also assumes you have the necessary kit to go with each item, for example a tree trunk protector and shackles for a winch.

There’s a lot of very experienced people on the page, and back came many answers, about 30 of which were actually useful. Here’s the results:

The most common combination was the first one, shovel, handwinch, and traction ramps. That is also my pick.

The reason is that a handwinch is slow, but it is sure and it will pull from any direction, unlike a power winch which is really only good for forward pulls. The question also specified a stock 4×4, which may or may not be able to take a power winch.

The next item for me is four traction ramps like Maxtrax or Tred. These are great because they can be used to build tracks, add flotation or traction, and don’t require an anchor point like a winch. Incredibly versatile, and very easy to use.

For the third item I’m a bit split, so let’s go through the gear others would take. A hi-lift will be of little use on a stock 4×4. A power winch has been covered. A snatch strap is no use without another vehicle, and a chainsaw isn’t technically for recovery, it’s for track clearing. I don’t need sand anchors or ladders with my traction ramps, and Bog Outs are fine but I have my handwinch.

Nobody mentioned an air jack, but that doesn’t fit all vehicles and the vehicle’s standard jack is included. It can be built up with rocks or whatever else you find if needs be.

So a shovel is favourite, but you could do without by using the wheelbrace, your hands and time. Technically, traction ramps work as shovels but not well and only in the softest of sand.

So that’s my three – hand winch, shovel and traction ramps. So why don’t I take the handwinch when I usually go out offroading? Because I’m always out with other vehicles. My electric winch can drag me forwards and the others can drag me backwards. That doesn’t take away from the basic usefulness of the handwinch though.

Some recovery gear tips:

  • Own a wide range of gear and select from it according to the terrain and what gear your travelling companions are taking.
  • Learn your gear. It takes a long time to master even the simplest of items.
  • Ensure it works before you leave. Many a time a brand new something or other has been unboxed only to find a fault or it doesn’t fit.
  • Work in concert. Many items of gear complement each other, for example traction ramps and winching.
  • Buy quality gear. Cheap knockoffs are not worth the money and could endanger life.

Further reading

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: or follow him on Facebook or buy his new ebook!