Our tools to recover the Jeep when we get stuck. Shovel, Hi-Lift Jack and Traction Mats
We have a Jeep and we will get stuck, eventually. Even forest service roads have their tricky parts. Many of them are dormant and not maintained. They were built for logging and mining operations years or even decades ago. The most apparent hazard is during the spring thaw, when the forest (and roads) are still flooded from the snow melt and overflowing creeks. We usually back out when there is any doubt on the trail condition, however we did have a few close calls. We bought some recovery gear over time, in the hope that we never have to use them for our own recovery. We want to be perfectly clear, we don't do mud or rock crawling. We are travellers and love to explore.
If your budget is in the hundreds of dollars, you are likely in search of a winch. Congratulations, this is for sure a good decision, but beyond the scope of this document or our needs. We built up our recovery gear starting with a shovel. The second most useful piece in the collection are Traction Mats. You already have a scissor jack in the Jeep should you need to lift the Jeep out of a small hole and fill it with rocks or the traction mat. We said small hole. Neither the scissor jack nor the traction mats will get you out of a swamp.
Both a shovel and the traction mats are the first actions in a recovery attempt. The winch is usually the last self recovery option when all else fails. This is not a set rule, but a practical progression from least effort to maximum effort. Keep in mind that the winch and all the other gear has to be maintained and cleaned after use.
The Traction Mats are from Canadian Tire and we got the pair for $100. Are they worth the money? We'll find out this year. The first test was at below freezing to see if the plastic will crack in the cold. Have a look at the 1 minute Traction Plates test.
Recovering or fixing the Jeep or trailer
Let's think about this for a while. You are kneeling beside the Jeep and trying to get the jack, traction mat or shovel in action. It is muddy, wet or just plain dirty. Make sure you have a big mat or tarp to kneel or sit, gloves and protective eye wear. Why do we know? We had a problem with the travel trailer on top of the Heckman Pass on our trip to Whistler and Bella Coola in British Columbia.
Trailer or Jeep, you want something to clean the gear and tools, or a bag to keep the dirty gear until you are back in the basecamp. Plastic garbage bags in the Jeep are essential. Not just for the dirty tools, you can always pickup garbage that was left behind by careless people. We made it a habit to clean up when we're out in the wild. That's where the Spare Tire Garbage Bag from Adventure Trail Gear makes a big difference.
With the exception of the big shovel, the tools in the picture are left in the Jeep at all time. Initially we bought a small axe, but upgraded to one that actually splits wood. Same with the saw, we bought two smaller ones until we put the big one from the garage in the Jeep. All these items are kept under the rear seat or behind it.
When you do repairs or recovery, your hands, pants and shoes may be dirty. An automotive hand cleaner gets the oil off your hands. A set of clothes gets you comfortable again. The spare clothes are not designer fashion, but will do when the alternative is 'wet' and 'dirty'.
You also have to consider external factors such as the weather. You may get wet or cold or hot. And the worst of them all are the mosquitoes and blackflies. The plastic garbage bags make an effective rain or wind jacket. For the insects, we have a full set of repellent, after bite, sun block, disinfectant, 70% alcohol and more. After all, we spend a lot of time out there. More thoughts on the topic is in the Great Canadian Outdoors.
We decided NOT to get a winch for several reasons. A setup where we would feel comfortable in an emergency was in the thousands of dollars. The deciding facts were:
1. To mount a winch, you need a bumper that is strong enough. This adds weight to the front of the Jeep.
2. You need a second winch at the back when you have to recover backwards. You probably didn't think of this one?
3. With the winch in front, you are very likely to change and reduce the airflow to the engine cooling. Before you say 'no big deal', it actually is. There are two sets of cooling coils partially behind the bumper. The actual engine cooling and in the lower half, a smaller for the auto transmission cooling. And this is THE PROBLEM.
4. A winch draws very low current when you spool the cable in/out. The alternator in your Jeep can likely produce the needed power. A winch under light load draws about 4 times the Amps (current) of the alternator capacity and 10 times the Amps under heavy load. A healthy battery can handle this without issues.
You have to do your own calculation based on the alternator in your vehicle. Pay attention to idle speed vs 1,500 RPM. Use the technical specs from the winch you plan to purchase. You may consider an alternator upgrade that delivers about double the Amps of the OEM model. When you do the upgrade, make sure that your charging wire is also upgraded to the higher Amps. Lower gauge wires may catch fire due to heat produced by resistance.
Mopar 68078950AA 160 Amp Alternator for 12-18 Jeep Wrangler JK
Tuff Stuff Performance® - Denso Alternator with Serpentine Pulley (250A; 12V)
Our conclusion, 'Jack'
We came to the conclusion that we have to implement a rule, let's call this rule number one.
We don't do mud! Easy to remember, usually easy to follow.
If rule number one fails, well, then we get 'Jack'.
We never had to use our recovery gear for the Jeep yet. We bought the Hi-Lift® X-TREME Jack should the circumstance arise.
Talking about 'Jack', the movie Death Wish with Bruce Willis comes to mind where the bad guy is under the jacked-up car and asks "You're not gonna kill me". Bruce Willis responds with "No, but Jack is" and pulls out the car jack. This shows that gravity is not always in your favour. Be extra cautious when working with any device that lifts the Jeep. Do not reach or lean under the vehicle at any time. Always secure the frame on solid blocks.
Hi-Lift® X-TREME Jack
The Hi-Lift® X-TREME Jack is designed to lift, push, pull, winch and clamp. Except the Yellow Zinc Plated Steel Chain and plastic boxes, all the parts came with the set. To extend the reach when winching, we bought the chain and straps.
It takes some practice with the jack to apply the different functions. We successfully lifted and moved a wooden bridge. When a trail was blocked by a massive tree, we considered to lift it up by two inches, but we managed to squeeze underneath without the lift. We had to drive around rocks that blocked part of the road. We would not hesitate to move the bolder with the Jack.
The best way to get some ideas is from YouTube. Search by name and you'll get many instructional videos and tips. 2021 Price and vendor information is on our We Need Stuff page.
We bought two tow straps to reach a nearby tree. These are static straps and have very little flex. When we used the jack, the footing was a concern. The ground is soft and the small plate sinks under the pressure. A thick tree branch(es) does not provide the required sturdy footage. A bigger foot plate to improve the base is extremely important. Bring a very solid piece of wood and screw the Hi-Lift stand onto the plate.
We built a solid base from wood pieces that we had in the garage. The bottom of the base fits on the metal traction aid and will grip into any wood branch that can be used to extend the base on soft ground. We placed a T-nut between the wood pieces to give the bolts a secure anchor.
You need an anchor point
For a winch to work, you need an anchor point. When you are wheeling with a group, a second Jeep will provide a good anchor. We do most of our trips solo and have to work with the features around us. Before we proceed into mud or water, we first check for an anchor point before we even check the passage. If there are trees or big rocks, we have an anchor. Should we have any doubts, we just turn around and look for an alternate trail. We found many of them
The Traction Mats work great in snow. You need a shovel as well, preferably a snow shovel. There are many foldable versions that will do the trick. We also have the metal traction aid that bite into the ice. The tape on the device is used to tie it onto the vehicle. Once you are going, keep on going and pull the traction aid behind you until it is safe to stop and recover the devices. It is much easier to just untie them without having to walk back and find them under the snow.
Our gear inventory
The cost for our recovery gear is well below $500. The Traction Mat pair was $100, Hi-Lift Jack was $150, the chain was $80 and all the other items were already in our possession. We bought the axe and saw to get firewood when we go camping.
Tow Strap and extension chain
Work Gloves, rubber gloves and safety glasses
Axe and saw
Wheel Choke to secure the vehicle
Lights to work at night
Mat or tarp
The things you won't find in any recovery set:
Change of clothes
Hand cleaner or soap
Water to clean up
Shop or paper towel and rags
Insect repellent and mosquito net