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The essential guide to 4X4 recovery

Just starting out in 4X4 land? Or looking to ensure you’re carrying the right kit should things go pear-shaped? It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of recovery kit that gets thrown in your face. It seems like every day there are 10 new companies, all telling you why their latest invention is an absolute must-have. After all, does it really count as 4X4ing unless you’re using a carbon fibre winch thimble and machine-polished billet aluminium fairlead? 

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So what do you actually need to ensure you can get yourself out of strife, and what’s best left at home? Below we’ve got our essential guide to self-recoveries that’ll hopefully not only save your back side. It’ll save you money too. 

The kit you need 

Rhino-Racks shovel mounts
Clever mounts like the Rhino-Rack options mean roof mounted accessories stay where you left them

Long handled shovel

Why you need it 

You’re not going to like this, but the overwhelming majority of sticky situations can be fixed by digging. Whether it’s sand, mud, or rocks, in almost all situations the thing holding you back is literally that. A physical barrier. By reaching for the trusty long-handled shovel you’re able to clear obstacles that are fouling on your frame or diffs and build ramps to give your tyres an easier path to solid ground.

Brands to check out 

You don’t need to spend big here, but steer clear of the timber-handled cheapies from the hardware store. It’ll live in or on your rig so needs to be lightweight, and able to withstand the elements. Fiskars and Bahco are a safe bet if you’re looking for longevity.

What you should pay 

This is a simple tool with a simple price tag. $50-60 will get you a shovel for life.

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Ironman 4x4's rated recovery points
The biggest winch in the world won’t help if you don’t have somewhere to connect it. Rated recovery points are a must

Recovery points

Why you need it 

If you’re in deep enough that a quick shovel isn’t going to do the job, then you’re going to need some strong connections on your 4X4 via jacking and recovery points. It can be tempting to sling a tow strap around a cross member on your chassis. A suspension point. Or heaven forbid, your tow-ball. But all of those can lead to serious damage to your rig, and your face if something should fail. A set of rated recovery points are cheap insurance so you know when you’re on the angry end of a snatch strap you’re not doing serious damage. If you’re on a budget, a single hitch-mounted point is a cheap option.

Brands to check out 

This is one area where you’ll want to buy once so stick to the known brands. Companies like ARB, Roadsafe, and Drivetech4x4 all have well-engineered solutions.

What you should pay

Expect to pay $200-500 to ensure you’re getting quality kit.

A recovery kit in use
Want a recovery kit? Fantastic. Maybe don’t stand over a live winch cable though…

Recovery kit

Why you need it 

All those recovery points aren’t going to do you any good if you’ve got nothing to connect to them so you’ll need to eye off a decent recovery kit. You get what you pay for in this regard. Not always in terms of quality, any decent kit will be rated. But the fancier the price tag, the fancier the kit. High-end gear will replace metal bow shackles for safer rope versions, heavy snatch straps for lighter recovery ropes, and heavy snatch blocks with space-age recovery rings. They’ll all do the same job, it’s just how long you want it to last and what features you’re looking for.

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Brands to check out 

It’s hard to go past Maxtrax and Saber on the high end, while ARB and BushRanger have quality kit for more affordable prices.

What you should pay

There’s a wide variety in the quality and features of recovery kits. Budget $200-300 on the low end. And up to $1000 if you want the cream of the crop.

A 12V winch in use in a steep recovery
Situations like this will almost always require a winch, a snatch just isn’t a safe option

12V winch

Why you need it 

Big tyres and diff locks will get you further, but they’ll rarely help you once you’re stuck. The 12V winch has earned itself a reputation as a get out of gaol free card for good reason. Over the years we’ve used them for everything from self-recovery in mud, to stopping 4X4s from rolling in the rocks. They’re handy for yanking firewood into camp right through to home renovations. Put simply, if you don’t have one, you’re dependent on someone else to help you.

Brands to check out 

For old-school simplicity or people who like to modify their gear, the faithful Warn High-Mount is always a fan favourite. On the more modern side, Carbon Winch, Ultimate Winch, and BushRanger all make quality units that’ll last the distance.

What you should pay

$800-1800 will see with a quality modern winch. Any less than that and you’re typically rolling the dice on quality. More and you’re looking at very fancy kit based on features rather than value for money.

An ARB Jack in use
ARB’s hydraulic jack is a safer, albeit more expensive alternative

High-lift jack

Why you need it 

An electric winch is a monumental force multiplier allowing the push of a button to move tonnes of 4X4 with ease. But they only work in one direction. A high-lift jack will apply over 2000kg of force in any direction you point it. If you need to lift your 4X4 out of a hole to pack it with rocks. Shift it sideways onto a better line. Or even jerry rig up a hand winch in a pinch the high-lift is a jack of all trades. We’ve even used them to clean tyre beads and swap uni-joints track-side.

Brands to check out 

It’s hard to go past the original Hi-Lift jack brand. They’ve got rebuild kits and will last for literal decades if treated well. Some companies such as ARB and Fox offer hydraulic versions that are safer but give up some functionality.

What you should pay

$200 for a legitimate Hi-Lift, up to $1200 for a fancy hydraulic ARB offering.

A 12V compressor pumping up a tyre in the outback
12V compressors are one of the first accessories any 4X4 owner should buy

Compressor

Why you need it 

One of the most common problems you’ll find yourself in when stuck is a rolled tyre off the bead. Whether it’s from bouncing against a tree root, or pressures too low, when they roll off you’re almost always dead in the water. If you’re in a bind you can pinch air from another tyre with a patch lead, but a dedicated 12V air compressor is a far more reliable solution to help you fix that flat or reseat the bead with minimal fuss.

Brands to check out 

This market used to be far more saturated, but lately, budget compressors have all started looking remarkably similar. Regardless, anything from a decent brand will typically perform well, and ARB has a phenomenal twin-piston offering.

What you should pay

Expect to pay $200-300 for a decent entry-level compressor, up to the north end of $1000 for high-end twin-piston kit.

A set of Maxtrax being used to recover an FJ LandCruiser
Traction boards can double as a shovel, but only in sand

Traction boards

Why you need it 

You’re very rarely in need of recovery because your entire driveline has blown up. It’s typically far less serious than that, and just an issue of your spinning tyres not getting enough traction to move you forward. Sounds simple, and so is the solution traction boards offer. By shoving one of these bad boys under your tyre, you’re giving yourself significantly more traction. Hopefully enough to free yourself. They can also be used as a ramp up and over steep steps. A bridge over holes. And even as a raised platform to level your 4X4 out if you’re sleeping in a rooftop tent. Like a high-lift jack, if you just go by what’s on the box their use is limited, but if you get creative they’re an unbelievably versatile bit of kit.

Brands to check out 

Maxtrax, Treds, and Exitrax in that order are the brands with the most experience in the game. There’s plenty of cheap alternatives that’ll fold in half at the first sign of trouble.

What you should pay

You can expect to pay $200-250 for any of the quality brands.

Head Torches are perfect for those unexpected problems
When you need a head torch, nothing else will suffice

Head torch and rain coat

Why you need it 

You’re loading your 4X4 up permanently with kit that’ll help you when things go pear-shaped, so it goes to reason to fit gear that’ll help you get the job done. If you’ve ever tried changing a flat tyre by the light of your phone torch you’d know a simple head torch or two shoved in the back of the glovebox can be an absolute lifesaver. Likewise, a simple raincoat under the front seat can make all the difference if you’re caught out in bad weather.

Brands to check out 

Many brands will have their own head torches but O-Light and Black Diamond build some of the best you can get. On the raincoat front, the camo may be a little over the top, but military surplus raincoats pack flat and last forever making them perfect for the job.

What you should pay

You don’t need to spend the earth here. A $50 head torch and $100 rain coat will last you forever. Or a $5 head torch and $20 rain coat will get you out of strife.

What you can leave at home

Hand winch

Actually, on second thought, don’t leave this at home. Leave it in 1987 where it belongs. They’re heavy, cumbersome, sketchy as hell to use and will leave you a ball of sweat by the time you’re unstuck. Sure, they’re cheap, but so are 2nd hand 12V winches these days.

Folding shovel

Folding shovels are really convenient, they’re lightweight and pack anywhere. In fact, the only thing that sucks about them is trying to use them. If your 4X4 needs you to dig to get it out, a small flimsy shovel is about the worst tool you can do it with. Leave it at home, and bring a proper shovel.

Ground anchor

If you’re racing the Outback Challenge or crossing the desert solo feel free to ignore this. For everyone else, there’s a reason these have fallen out of favour. They weigh an absolute tonne. They’re huge. And unless there are no trees or other vehicles within 60 metres, they’re the worst option available.

Exhaust jack

Another tool with a very limited use case. Again, if you are solo on soft terrain, you may be able to justify losing a large amount of your storage space to this niche bit of kit. For everyone else, save your money to shout your mates a round of beers after they get you unstuck.

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