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Staying Safe on the Trail

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Having the proper tools for the job is wrenching 101, and it's no different when out on the trail. A solid anchor, tree protector, or even as something as "mundane" as a shovel, could be the difference between being wedged in beyond your ability to recover and making it home in time for dinner.

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Trail safety is the most important concept for any avid wheeler to know before heading off-road with a Jeep, as it can potentially save your life in the case of an emergency. If your vehicle crashes or gets stuck off-road, or if you happen to encounter another wheeler in distress, it is crucial to know the fundamentals of winching and recovery, as well as basic safety precautions. This will ensure you, as well as those around you, enjoy the off-roading experience to its fullest potential.

Winching

Winching is one of the most commonly needed techniques for recovering a stuck Jeep, so all wheelers must know the basics of how to winch. A winch is a device containing a strong cable used to connect a vehicle to something else. All winches have the capability to let out or pull in cable, so they can be used to either pull a Jeep away when it is stuck, or to tow other items behind the vehicle. Some winches contain motors, while others rely solely on the power of the car to do the heavy lifting. The moment you attach a winch to your Jeep, you are both enabling yourself with the ability to free yourself from a tricky predicament, while also promising to do the same for any other vehicle, should you find one in need of assistance.  

It is impossible to provide a set of winching instructions that will fit every scenario, but proper rigging is important regardless of your situation. There are three basic lines you can use for pulling, and they are the single, double, and triple lines. Here are basic instructions for each of these rigging set-ups:

Single Line

1) Pull the line to an anchor point (tree, stake, vehicle, etc.) and secure it with a strap, shackle, or both

2) Lock the clutch, connect the remote, and apply tension to the line

3) Drape a blanket or other cover over the line for protection, should the line snap this will prevent it from hitting you or other bystanders

4) Use short, controlled pulls while operating your vehicle

Double Line - For double the strength

1) Use a snatch or a block as an additional anchor, to double the line and increase your pulling power

2) Repeat steps 2-4 of single line winching

Triple Line - For triple the strength

1) Use the same technique as with double lines, but you need another snatch block and anchor point in addition to those used for the double line

2) Maintain a 90-degree angle between the winch and the first anchor, and double check all connections before you begin

3) Repeat steps 2-4 of single line winching

Be warned: while using a double or triple line winching rig increases your pulling power, it also increases the tension to the cable. Make sure your anchors are secure, and be especially cautious to avoid snapping your line or pulling out an anchor point. Remember, NEVER HOOK A LINE BACK ONTO ITSELF, as this can result in catastrophe. Also, always carry and use the proper equipment for winching, which includes: heavy duty gloves, a hook strap, clevis/D-shackles, and a snatch block. These tools will allow you to protect yourself, and ensure a successful winch.

Winching Equipment

It is also necessary for wheelers to understand when to use tree trunk protectors, recovery straps, and choker chains. All three of these tools are used for rigging, but they have different applications for different scenarios.  Here is a brief guide to help you understand each of these tools and their applications:

Tree Trunk Protector: 

  • Made of nylon webbing
  • Designed to rig your winch line to a solid, non-abrasive object (i.e. a tree)
  • Helps to protect the tree from damage

Recovery Strap:

  • Similar to a tree trunk protector, but with more elastic properties for pulling a stuck vehicle
  • Like a giant rubber band, it will transfer energy to pull the object it is attached to
  • NEVER use with a winch, as it will stretch and snap dangerously

Choker Chain:

  • Same function as a tree trunk protector, but it is used on sharp or abrasive surfaces that could tear through the nylon webbing of the tree trunk protector

Never Wheel Alone

Now that you have an underlying knowledge of winching, and the tools you need to safely rescue stuck Jeeps, it is key you do not forget the common sense you learned back when you were in kindergarten. Seriously, this stuff is important, it could save your life! For example, always travel using the buddy system; it’s not just important for field trips anymore. By ensuring you always have a partner when off-roading, you can know that should you get hurt, there will be another person to help you, or call for help. It also guarantees that should your Jeep get stuck, there will be twice the brainpower deciding what tools to use, and how to best approach the situation. You are also far less likely to get lost on the trails. Additionally, always remember to contact proper authorities in the event of an injury or wreck, so you can receive proper medical care, or other assistance depending on the circumstances. 

In summary, always remember the basic principles of trail safety, which includes winching techniques, proper safety equipment, the differences between rigging tools, and of course, basic common sense. This way, you can have the time of your life out there on the trails, while still knowing you will come home safely.

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