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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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.  



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.



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 bogged vehicle attaches the strap to a suitable recovery point and the recovery vehicle does the same. Leaving up to a third of the strap’s length laid loose on the ground, the recovery vehicle selects first gear high-range, while the bogged vehicle selects second gear. The theory behind this is that if the bogged vehicle selects the same gear as the recovery vehicle, they may bog together. Not good. The driver of the bogged vehicle waits until the slack is almost taken up and accelerates.



When on the beach, all of this assumes that you have been driving just below the high tide mark. If you’ve got yourself bogged down in the wet sand, you are in real trouble. If you don’t recover the vehicle before the tide comes in, it’s time to call the insurance company. Any vehicle bogged on an incoming tide will sink further into the sand and require the services of a tractor, or better. That will spoil your day and your bank account. 

When you are stuck, you have to assess the situation then take the appropriate action. Sometimes, just letting the tyre pressures down, or even driving back and forth gently will do it. By driving forward and back, you are compacting the sand. The further back and forth you go, the greater the length of compacted sand for that final, and hopefully successful, attempt. If not, utilise some of the above tips and you should be back on your way on your sandy holiday.




Snatch straps must be sized to the situation: two to three times the GVM (gross vehicle mass) of the lightest vehicle in the recovery. For typical 2.5t 4WD wagons this will mean an 8000kg strap for the correct release of energy for an effective recovery. You can buy yourself a snatch strap rated to 8000kg for about $100. 


A snatch strap must always be used with a recovery dampener: its weight and air resistance reduces the ~350km/h recoil of a snatch strap if something fails. A recovery blanket will set you back less than $50. All vehicle spectators and occupants (except the drivers) should be at least three car lengths away from the scene. This includes children that may be asleep in car seats, etc. Get everyone out and to the sides of the vehicle.


It’s important to pull in a straight line. A 3m, 8000kg-rated equaliser strap costs about $60.


These heavy-duty polymer ramps are great in sandy and boggy terrain. Jammed in front of a vehicle’s tyres, they work as ‘instant grip’ to help the vehicle claw its way out of the hole it’s in. Maxtrax are also an asset in muddy terrain, providing grip and lifting the vehicle to get its belly away from a sticky situation. Used alone or with a snatch or winch they reduce the effort — and danger — associated with unbogging a vehicle. Available at many 4WD and camping stores, Maxtrax cost about $300 a pair.


If your vehicle has a hook-type recovery point you won’t need shackles, but in many situations, they are required to attach the snatch or tow strap to a recovery point or towing eye. Never use a towball to snatch a vehicle as the towball can become a cannonball if it fails. Instead, use the hitch pin through the snatch strap’s loop or a recovery hitch that temporarily replaces your tow hitch.


  • David S: November 10, 2021

    Re snatch strap recovery, I suggest recovery vehicle use 2nd gear low ratio and bogged vehicle use 1st low (rather than the other way around as you suggest). This means that once the bogged vehicle gains full traction it won’t run straight up the arse of the tow vehicle.

  • Francis: November 10, 2021

    as much as i yearn t o be out exploring the great ,wild outback , my wife would rather be wasteing time in cities exploring museums and libraries, we do have passionate discussions about where and when to go. maybe you have some sugestion . i am now 75 , do not like driving in big cities any more.
    most of what you said about being bogged in sand , is what i learned as a kid growing up on farm, but in mud as well, same basic principle, then reinforced as a driver in the army. maxtrax were not invented then . necesity is the mother of we used sticks and or stones or whatever you can find, on one occassion used a couple of blankets under wheels . use what you have got ,but most important preserve your food and water supplies , just in case, but never give up. now a quote from jack absolom, “if your tired and think you are lost , boil you billy ,make a cup o tea , break out your deck of cards , start to play patience, before you know it there will be a voice coming from behind you saying , the red seven goes on black eight” i forgot you probably don’t know what a deck of cards is.

  • Jim: November 10, 2021

    Hooks are often not recovery points but tie down points. A big trap for many

  • robert hall: November 10, 2021

    No mention of the easiest way to unbog from dry sand. Most common method used in the sandy regions of Namibia. Simple and no gear required. Just a few bodies to rock the vehicle from side to side and in no time the wheels are sitting on the surface of the sand.
    Have had to resort to it in Namibia and have used it in Australia to unbog another vehicle we came across who bogged himself getting off a beach at Broome. The guy couldn’t believe it was so simple.
    Need to pack the sand around the wheels to make it work effectively.

  • Jeffrey Shammall: November 10, 2021

    Hi Bec, A couple of comments,If you have to use your spare as an anchor dig a channel from the hole towards the car for the winch cable to pull in the center of the buried tyre, then fill it in. You can use a bar etc across the back of the tyre and hooked the winch cable/ rope through the center to it. With stall recovery you forgot to take your foot of the brake,LOL. Gear selection in snatch recovery, the bogged vehicle is in a higher gear to prevent the recovering vehicle from fighting against possible engine braking effect. Jeff

  • SKID ROW RECOVERY: November 10, 2021

    Hi Guys, I read with interest your comments on sand recovery. My company developed the trailer skid now marketed by Maxtrax in Australia. This product is designed for anyone towing an off road camper trailer or caravan or trailer boat or jet ski in this wonderful wilderness we have available in this country. There are many times when people get caught out and particularly when you are on your own and you have to find a way out. I developed this product from my own personal experience as did Brad McCarthy from Maxtrax and it has proven to be a valuable accessory for all of us off road adventurers. Please see the website and the video to see how this great product works and if you require more information contact Maxtrax .
    Happy 4X4 adventures,

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