We test a few different styles of self-recovery aids to see what works, what doesn’t and what you shouldn’t waste your time with…
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Traction mats have been around for over a decade now. In fact, it was back in 2005 when Maxtrax burst onto the scene and took the aftermarket by storm. They allowed fast, easy and safe single-vehicle recoveries from sand, mud and snow with a minimum of fuss and effort. In the last decade there have been countless other traction aids brought out onto the market and every 4X4 retailer in the country is pretty-much guaranteed to have one variation or another on the shelves.
And y’know what? They work well and are an invaluable part of any four-wheel driver’s recovery kit.
However they ain’t cheap, with some examples costing several hundred dollars; and if you don’t have a roof rack they can take up a significant amount of room in the back of your vehicle. Not deal breakers by any means… but we got to wondering if there are other ways to get the same results with a lot less outlay and with a bit more added convenience.
So we took our long-termer 70 Series Troopy out onto the beach and got it well and truly bogged (cough) on purpose (cough) on the soft sand to see what the easiest method of single-vehicle recovery would be.
We had an exhaust jack to lift the vehicle out of its holes so we could fill them in with the shovel; and (just for fun) we thought we’d give a couple of milk crates the old grinder-’n’-cable-tie treatment to fashion our very own set of fold-up traction aids.
Let’s just say we were more than a little surprised at what we found…
Ok, we can’t say we recommend this one except as a last resort, but the old piece of wood and ratchet strap combo will get you out of a bog if you’re fresh out of options. It’s not an overly difficult option, but it will get you a little messy. You simply take a piece of wood, run a ratchet strap in a loop through your wheel spokes and tension it up so that the wood is running across your tyre. Make sure it’s nice and tight and nothing is going to contact the wheel arch or brake caliper as it rotates as the chance for some pretty serious panel damage could be quite high here.
Once it’s in place and you’re confident it’ll clear, slowly try to back out of where you’re stuck. Hopefully the wood will be enough to dig you out. Take a look at the video to see how it works.
WINCHING WITH YOUR WHEELS
This was another new product for the Unsealed 4X4 team: A product called the Bog Out Bag. After staring at it for a few minutes in disbelief, we set it up on my GQ Patrol. Basically it is a rope ladder, which is wrapped around your front or rear wheel, and then fixed to an anchor point. As the wheel spins, the rope wraps tightly around the spinning wheel and pulls the stuck vehicle forward.
So, did the Bog Out Bag work? Yep, it sure did! While a traditional winch or snatch recovery is quicker and easier, the Bog Out Bag is a good backup (or handy for those without a winch fitted).
Using an exhaust jack as a traction aid may not be the most obvious use for such a thing – but it’s actually a well-trodden path that works fairly well. The idea is to lift each side of the vehicle so that the wheels come free of the holes they’re in, before filling the holes with sand (or rocks or logs if you’re in mud) to give you a more solid base from which to drive out. Seems pretty straightforward, eh?
Well, yes and no. On the one hand our exhaust jack performed admirably – lifting up our loaded Troopy (which had to weigh the best part of three tonnes). On the other hand, it’s one of those recovery methods that’s going to have you covered, and I mean covered, in sand (yep, it’ll be there too). Then there’s the problem of copping a lungful of diesel fumes if the rubber cover slips off the exhaust tip; and trying to keep it held in place without feeling like you’re holding a molten ball of lava. OK, it’s not really that difficult. But it was the most time-consuming out of all of our tests. The exhaust jack also took up a fair amount of space – but we all still had to rate it as a decent way of getting unstuck and a valuable tool to have on-board.
THE “BUDGET? I DON’T EVEN HAVE ONE!” OPTION
This one was a bit of a ‘what if’? situation that started when we were discussing traction mats and their usefulness when driving off-road. Evan mentioned that he’d seen people cutting up storage crates and stringing them together with cable ties to make a cheap, foldable and dependable traction mat. Naturally we were curious to see how it worked – so before we left on our trip Ev got busy with his 100mm grinder on four plastic crates we had kicking around, and 10 minutes later we had our homebrew ‘milk mats’.
To be totally honest, we weren’t expecting much out of these things. I mean, they look like something you’d find at the tip and feel about as sturdy as a Land Rover head gasket – so it was with low expectations that we slide them under the tyres. Ev put it in second-low and began to idle it… Bam! Near instant hook-up and the vehicle was out in about three seconds flat. Surely that had to be a fluke, right? Nup, we re-bogged the vehicle and gave it a second crack. Same result. The fact that they were not a continuous solid board made them much easier to dig into the sand, too. On top of that, they folded up and took up a fraction of the space of the other two options. We were all extremely impressed!
OK, let’s get real here for a sec. I’m not saying you should chuck out your traction mats and replace them with some home-made ‘milk mats’. It’s well established that traction boards are a godsend in the off-road recovery game, and are almost mandatory when travelling on your own; but still, it’s hard to argue with results like this… especially if you’re on a budget.