Trail Winching Techniques: Recovery For More Drastic Traction Failure Situations

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Some of the items I don’t go Jeeping without include: leather gloves, a tree saver strap with looped ends, a properly sized shackle, a properly sized snatch block (pulley), Pull Pal (or land anchor), a spare tow strap, and a weighted canvas bag. A couple of upgrades worth considering are a dual battery setup and synthetic winch line. I have a battery disconnect to ensure I can use one battery in a winching operation, and still have a starting battery if it’s a long, hard pull. The synthetic line is nice because it does not store energy like a steel cable. If it comes loose, it’s far less likely to fly a heavy hook. It also doesn’t splinter like steel cable, and often is stronger and lighter than steel.

The first rule of safe winching is “One Person in Charge.” Often on the trail I see multiple spotters shouting different directions, or multiple “helpers” offering winching advice. If one person is assigned the task, he or she can have many helpers but this one person is in charge of making sure everyone knows what the plan is, keeps bystanders safe and out of the way, makes sure everyone is ready, and guides the winching operation to a smooth, safe, and successful conclusion.

The second rule of winching is to “Keep It Simple.” Whenever possible, try for a straight line pull. Advanced winching might include angled pulls or snatch block pulls (change of direction or multiplied force). These are used when simple pulls are not possible. If I can, I always try to position the winching vehicle (or anchor) in as straight a line as possible. It is safer, faster, and simpler.

The “Person In Charge” should personally inspect the pull. That’s the responsibility part, and it keeps anyone from saying later, “I thought you did that.”

Make sure there is a solid anchor. When I use my own Jeep for winching, I place a tire against a rock or large tree. This ensures the winched vehicle (not my own) will move under the force of the winch. Sometimes two Jeeps can be strapped together to provide a heavier anchor.

The weighted bag mentioned earlier is used on the cable in case the hook pulls free. I use the bag that all my winching gear travels in, and place it between the ends of the cable, closer to the hook. Should the hook come loose, the bag will act as a drag and slow the momentum of the missile.

Attach the hook with the open side up. If it comes loose, it will fall down into the dirt instead of up into the air.

Take up slack on the winch cable and go slowly. This is not a race. Be safe and sure, not sloppy at this time.

Periodically check your bystanders. People have a tendency to move around for a better look (or to take a better photograph). As the “Person In Charge”, it is your responsibility to stop the operation and make sure they move back to safety. This also means being careful yourself. Stay out of the line of the pull at all times.

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