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Hema’s Tips For Sand Recoveries

Got a desert or beach adventure in the plans? Here are some of Hema’s tips to keep you well and truly on track.

Australia is hands down one of the best places on earth to 4WD. Our home’s terrain is incredibly diverse and fun to tackle, most especially our beaches and deserts, until you get bogged, that is. In these situations, things can go pear-shaped in the worst way, especially with high tides and sinkholes. We’ve put together a few proven tricks to help you get out of those sticky situations the next time you head out on your sandy adventure.

TYRE PRESSURES

Without a doubt, the most basic yet important thing you can do is lower your tyre pressure before you hit the soft stuff. This will help increase your tyres’ footprint, which spreads the vehicle’s weight over a larger surface area, preventing your tyres from digging into the sand too much. The average tyre pressure to run is between about 15–19 psi, but this can depend on things like your vehicle’s weight and the type of tyre fitted to your vehicle; you’ll want a tyre with nice strong sidewalls to withstand running lower tyres pressures. Not only does reducing your tyre pressures make it easier for your vehicle, it means you won’t cut the tracks up quite as deep. Driving in any existing wheel ruts or tracks can help reduce the amount of resistance against your vehicle’s tyres created by the soft sand. The idea is the sand has already been squashed and compacted, so it provides a much firmer surface to drive on.

SHIFTING GEARS AND BRAKING

You’ll quickly notice if you back off the throttle on sand (even momentarily) you’ll lose a heap of momentum straight away, which can make things a little tricky when you’re shifting gears. So, make your gear changes a little snappier than usual, and try to select the right gear before you tackle a dune or incline, so you don’t have to back off the throttle halfway up a hill. It doesn’t matter if you’re going up or down a steep dune; the number one rule is to keep your entire set-up nice and straight. This is especially important when you’re towing a camper trailer, as the extra weight on off-camber angles can drag you into all sorts of predicaments if you’re not careful.

NEGOTIATING INCLINES

When it comes to tackling steep hills, it pays to have your recovery gear out and ready — there’s nothing worse than digging around the back of your 4WD for your gear on a steep hill. In saying that, always make sure heavy objects like bow shackles are secure so they don’t fly around. Sticking to the ruts is usually the preferred route choice, mainly because they’ll help guide you down instead of jackknifing if you don’t make it up. If you do get stuck and can’t reverse back safely, your first priority is to make sure the vehicle is safe and secure, to avoid going for a roll backwards. You can do this by securing your vehicle to a tree via a winch extension strap, or/and to chock the back of the tyres up with rocks or logs.

SAND RECOVERY

Getting bogged in sand places a lot of load on your 4WD and recovery equipment, but there are a few little things you can do to help reduce the strain. First up, using an equalizer strap is highly recommended for sand recoveries as it helps to spread the load across two recovery points rather than one, which not only reduces the strain on the recovery point itself but the whole chassis of your vehicle. Secondly, you’ll find you can almost half the amount of resistance created by the sand by clearing a path in front of all your tyres — this is where your long-handled shovel comes in. Third of all, remember to keep your wheels straight! Having the wheels cocked sideways means you’ll have to drag them through the sand making things twice as hard. Oh, and if you stop moving forward, you’ll start digging down, so back off the throttle and you’ll avoid making matters worse.

The problem with getting bogged on the beach or desert is there are rarely trees around to anchor the winch up to. It’s not a problem if there’s another vehicle around to help pull you out of strife, but what do you do if there’s not? Well, as a last resort you could try the sand anchor technique. Fair warning: You’ll need a shovel and plenty of energy for this one. The idea is to dig a deep hole and bury your own anchor point in the sand, which you can winch off. Using your 4WD’s spare tyre as an anchor is the most popular option, but it really depends on what you’ve got handy. You’ll want to dig a hole in the sand around two to three times the depth of the tyre/anchor to ensure it doesn’t get dragged out under load. And it’s not a bad idea to dig your hole at a slight angle and attach your recovery strap to the bottom of the tyre to help add a little more resistance. It’s worth noting that weaker aluminium rims don’t always stand up to the task with this technique, but good quality steel rims are usually more than up for the challenge. Oh, and try to reduce the amount of resistance against your vehicle by clearing a path in front of your tyres and unhitching the camper trailer if you’re towing.

THE STALL RECOVERY

If you get stuck halfway up a steep hill, one way to avoid any freeroll backwards is to use a technique called ‘the stall recovery technique’. You basically let the engine stall while it’s still in gear on the hill. Keep your foot off the clutch and engage the foot brake and handbrake. This ensures the vehicle won’t free roll backwards on its own as it’s still in gear. Then, with the engine still off and your foot hard on the brake, select reverse and take your foot off the clutch. With your handbrake off, and low range/reverse selected, start the engine in gear and let it slowly idle backwards. The end result should be a smooth and controlled descent using the engine to guide you down. 

TRACTION AIDS

One of the most effective recovery tools for the beach these days is a traction aid/board, like MaxTrax. Not only do they work miracles, but they are also by far the safest option compared to other recovery methods like winching or a snatch recovery. Why? Well, instead of physically trying to pull a few tonnes worth of 4WD against its will and playing with extremely high amounts of strain in the process (especially in sand), a traction board helps your vehicle drive out under its own steam. This results in far fewer breakages and a heck of a lot less risk! There are a few tips to help maximise your success with a traction board. The first one is to position the board on a slight upward angle and as far under the tyre as you can get it, which will help your tyre grip the lugs on the board. The second is you’re far better off idling up and onto the traction boards instead of smoking tyres like your Craig Lowndes on a burnout pad. In the worst-case scenario, if they don’t get the job done on their own, using them in conjunction with another recovery technique can really help reduce the amount of resistance received during the process. 

SNATCH STRAP

A snatch strap is probably the most widely used recovery tool on the beach, and for good reason. Otherwise known as a ‘kinetic energy strap’, a good quality strap will stretch up to a third of its length, then contract. The stored, or kinetic, energy in the strap is the main ingredient in getting you out of trouble. The technique goes like this: the bogg

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