Winching with no anchor in sight!

Posted by Chris Jurden on

Here at GearAmerica, we put on recovery gear classes locally, and there's always common questions that people ask. One question comes up quite often when we are talking about winching, and that is, "What happens if I need to winch but I don't have an anchor point?"  Well, today we will talk about creative thinking when it comes to a winch anchor. PLEASE BE CAREFUL. Winching and recoveries use heavy duty gear under extreme loads. This post is for demonstrative purposes only. Please use common sense and caution when attempting.

What is a Winch Anchor Point?

Let's start at the beginning.  An anchor point is a fixed object that you can connect to when using a winch to self-recover. Some examples of this are a sturdy tree, or a buddy's rig. This allows for a solid, sturdy point to easily pull yourself out of a sticky situation. Basic Off-Road 101 says never go out alone, so 99% of the time, a second vehicle should be available for an anchor.

What if there's no Anchor Point available?

This great planet of ours has extremely diverse landscapes. From snow to forest to desert, off-roading is EVERYWHERE. Growing up in Washington State, most of my off-roading was done in or near trees, so I never had to worry about a lack of anchor points if I had to winch.  Here in the desert it's a different story. Sand, sagebrush, cactus...none of these are very conducive to winching anchor points. When find yourself in terrain with nothing to secure you winchline to, you need to think outside the box. First, stop, look around, check what you have available, and formulate a plan...or several get unstuck.

A shovel is your friend. Dig it?

A shovel is always your friend. You may be able to free yourself just by digging a little.  Yes, it's harder work than using a winch, but it is very effective.  Even if you can't get completely unstuck with a shovel, you can lighten the load for winching using one of the following techniques.

Take inventory

Check out your gear.  What did you bring? You'd be surprised what you can do with stuff that you always have with you. Make a mental checklist, and be sure to look at things like spare tire, shovel, hi-lift jack, tow straps, bar work etc. We will use these things to go through a few different ways to get unstuck without an anchor point.

Look around

Scan the surrounding landscape.  Natural features can be your best friend in a situation like this. Do you see hills, drop offs, boulders, cracks, crevices, sand etc.? Anything helps. We love terrain variety! Now, lets look at a handful of creative ways to get unstuck!

NOTE: Use a snatch block to give you a mechanical advantage and reduce your winchline speed by half for a safer pull!

Spare Tire

Your spare tire can be one of the best anchors if used properly.  Depending on the terrain, there are several methods to use a spare as an anchor.

  • Bury it. Put a strap through the tire and bury it. Make it a few feet dep, and use the weight and resistance of the ground to pull you out.
  • Wedge it. Put a strap through it and wedge it in a crack or crevice or between two larger rocks. Your spare can take thousands of pounds of pressure.
  • Toss It. An oversized spare can easily weight 75-100 pounds. If you are near a drop-off, put a strap though it, secure it, and gently toss it off.  Just a little weight and resistance is sometimes enough.

(photo credit: Core77)

Farm Jack Handle (Hi-Lift)

If you carry a farm jack, it can be a very useful tool.  Beside being a jack, it can also be used as a come-along style winch, and the handle can be used as a breaker bar or even a winch anchor point. It can be wedged in rocks, or hammered into the ground at a 45 degree angle away from the winch and used as a land anchor.

Tow Strap

A tow strap is an incredible useful tool if you are near a boulder or large rocks.  You can use a tow strap to wrap around large boulders to use as an anchor.  you can also wrap sticks, branches, clothes, debris etc. in a tow strap and bury it to make a land anchor.

Land Anchors (pull-pal, Smittybilt WASP)

There are several companies that sell Land Anchors. Land anchors can be an effective tool, but they are bulky, heavy and costly.  If you find yourself out alone frequently in terrain without features, it may be a tool to consider.

(photo credit: PullPal)

Home Made Anchor

Feeling creative?  Build your own anchor with a handful of steel spikes and a length of chain. Hammer three or four spikes through the chain and into the ground at an angle to make a solid land anchor.

(photo credit: Pirate 4x4)

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

As you can see, a little creativity and ingenuity goes a long way when you need to winch without a tree in sight. Ultimately it comes down to the resources you have, and the ability to use them safely. Nobody like the long hike out, but always use caution with any recovery. Safety is the number one priority!


As always, Off-Road Smart, And Tread Lightly!


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