Snatch Straps; how to stay safe and use them properly

Snatch straps are one of the most commonly used 4WD recovery devices. Unfortunately, they are also the most dangerous, and you’d be wise not to use one without the proper knowledge, and associated gear.

What is a Snatch Strap?

A Snatch Strap is a useful 4WD recovery option. Snatch straps are basically an elastic strap that stretches during a 4WD recovery, and they are used to recover stuck 4WD’s in mud, snow, sand or even rocky terrain.

A Snatch Strap is designed to stretch (about 20% of the length of the strap), and as a result there is much less shock loading in a recovery. You can comfortably get a run up when pulling a vehicle out and the momentum and weight of a 4WD will pull the other car out as it stretches. The only issue with the stretch is that it creates a lot of energy which can go pear shaped quickly.

Snatch straps
A snatch strap being used to recover a stuck 4WD

Before using a Snatch Strap, there are a number of things that you need to know. There have been deaths and serious injuries from incorrect use of Snatch Straps. They are a great tool, but also extremely dangerous if not used correctly. If you don’t believe me, have a read of this – 4WD Recovery Deaths.

Cheap Snatch Straps

Everyone wants to save money when buying recovery gear. However, don’t compromise your safety by buying something that is poorly made. Quality Snatch Straps are made out of nylon, and have a rating clearly stated which tells you how much it can recover.

Personally, I would recommend Just Straps. They are the cheapest, quality Snatch Straps on the market. Sure, they don’t have fancy colours or patterns, but I don’t look for that – I want something that is going to last, work well and recover four wheel drives (hopefully not mine!).

ARB Snatch Straps are also very popular, but they are more expensive, like most brand name items.

The best snatch strap is one that isn’t going to break under its minimum strain, like some of them have done in previous testing.

Snatch strap quality
Don’t buy rubbish quality recovery gear

What do you need to know about Snatch Straps?

This is a 4500kg rated hook
A rated hook for 4500kg on my Hilux

Recovery Points

When using a Snatch Strap, you need to attach it to a rated recovery point. By rated recovery point, I mean checking the rating written (usually 4500kg, 6000kg or 8000kg).

A lot of 4WD’s have tie down points, which are not suitable for recovering off. You will break something, and cause yourself grief from recovering off these.

If you are unsure of whether it is a tie down point or recovery point, have a look on Google images; you will clearly see that a Rated Recovery Point is built considerably stronger. If you still can’t work it out, ring the dealer or take it to a four wheel drive shop.

If you don’t have a rated recovery point, you shouldn’t be going four wheel driving. Most four wheel drives have a hitch, which you can recover off providing you remove the tow ball (see below for more information).

I will quickly mention a recovery point which is very useful for four wheel drives – the Hitch Recovery Point. These are fitted in the same way you would for a tow ball hitch, and to use them you simply remove the pin from the shackle, push the strap eye through and fit the shackle again.

Hitch Recovery Point
My hitch recovery point

The biggest advantage of using this is that they are easy to connect. If you leave your hitch in, you have to fight to take it out (and if you have to do this in the middle of a water puddle you will have a lot of trouble. Even if the hitch is out, you have to pull the R clip out, slide the strap in and make sure that the pin goes through it properly before putting the R clip back in.

If are doing this in knee deep mud I guarantee that you won’t be happy! The other advantage of using these is that they give you a much better departure angle (than if you left the hitch in). They only stick out about 30mm from the back of your tow bar and the shackle will just slide upwards if you do manage to hit it. They are only about $50 – money well spent.


Some recovery points allow you to slip the eye of the strap through (like a hook) but many are just plate with holes in them. If this is the case, to attach the Snatch Strap to the recovery point you need to use a D shackle.

These also need to be rated (make sure the shackle is rated for at least the same amount as your strap and recovery point). Make sure the pins are done up properly too – even if you have to use a spanner to undo them at the end. A rated shackle has the rating stamped on the body. If it doesn’t have a stamp, it isn’t rated and you shouldn’t use it.

Rated 4wd shackle
A rated 4500kg D Shackle

Where possible, avoid using a shackle. When joining straps, do it with the straps only (don’t use a shackle). If you don’t need a shackle to fit onto the recovery point, don’t use one. The more heavy items in a Snatch Strap the more likely you are to have an accident.

Snatch Strap Ratings

Every snatch strap has a weight rating which will tell you what you can safely recover. The standard ratings are 4500kg, 6000kg, 8000kg, 9000kg, 11000kg and 15000kg. The general rule is to buy a strap that is rated at least 3 times the weight of your vehicle.

If you are towing something, you need to take this into account as well. For example, for My Hilux I use a 6000kg Snatch Strap (as it weighs less than 2000kg). If I was to tow a 1000kg trailer, I would need a 9 tonne Snatch Strap.

Again, there is no point having an 8000kg Snatch Strap if your shackles or recovery point is only rated at 4500kg. A lot of people think this is fine, but the weakest link will always break (and in this case flying metal will result!).

What size snatch strap?

The general rule of thumb for snatch straps is to use a snatch strap 2 – 3 times the weight of your loaded vehicle. For a 3 tonne 4WD, you need a 6 – 9 tonne snatch strap.

Equalizer Straps

Many four wheel drives have two recovery points on either end of their four wheel drive. If this is the case, you should make use of them with an equalizer strap. This connects the two points together in a ‘V’ shape. It is important to think about the angle between the two recovery points and the length of your equalizer strap.

If you are put sideways force on the recovery point then they will likely break. As a result of this, you want the angle of the ‘V’ to be less than 60 degrees. Basically an equalizer strap that is too short will pull the recovery points together as a pose to forward.

Recovering off your tow ball

Tow balls are NOT recovery points. The most common mistake in regards to four wheel drive recoveries is people putting the eye of a Snatch Strap around a tow ball. If you do this, you are risking damage to people and property. Tow balls in 4WD recoveries can kill you.

Don't recover off your tow ball
Recovering off your tow ball is dangerous

Tow balls are not designed for shock load, which is effectively what you do when you give it a big pull from another vehicle. I have seen tow balls break, and they will literally go through almost anything. Shackles are just as bad, but they would most certainly cause severe injury if you were hit. There have been many people killed by improper recoveries – please think about what you are doing.

Instead of using a Snatch Strap off your tow ball, do the following. Remove the Reece Hitch R clip and pull the pin out. Remove the hitch (tow ball and all) and put it safely away in your vehicle. Push the strap into the hitch, and put the pin through the strap. Put the R clip back in and check the strap is set up correctly.

Check your Snatch Strap condition

Before using a Snatch Strap, you should inspect it. If you find places where it is fraying, or stitches are coming undone it’s time for a new strap. They don’t last forever, and will break down over time.

Snatch Strap lengths

Snatch Straps are usually 6m, 9m, 12m or 15m. I would suggest a 6 metre is too short in most circumstances – a 9 metre or 12 metre is a good start. If you do need more length you can join two together (if they are the same rating) and you do it properly. You should not join anything else to a Snatch Strap (equalizer straps, recovery chains and winch extension straps should not ever be used).

Joining a Snatch Strap properly

The recommended way of joining a Snatch Strap is simple once you see it done, but quite hard to explain (however, I will give it a go!). Take two straps (A and B). Feed Snatch Strap A through an eye of B. Then, feed the same eye of A over the other eye on B and pull it tight. Put a rolled up magazine between the two straps so that when it tightens you can get them undone easily.

Joining straps with a shackle
Joining snatch straps together

Snatch Strap Dampeners

Every recovery involving a Snatch Strap should be done using one or two Snatch Strap Dampeners. These are basically canvas bags that fold over the strap, and slow it down should the strap break. When you see a strap break you clearly understand why slowing them down is a priority!

How to use a Snatch Strap

There are a few techniques to using a Snatch Strap safely, which I will go into below. There’s plenty of other 4WDing skills and techniques to learn too; take the time to master them.

Consider the options

Is a Snatch Strap the best option? Which way are you going to pull the vehicle out? What can you attach it to? What are the tyre pressures involved? Take your time when coming up with a safe, effective way to recover a four wheel drive and you will get out quicker (and without any damage) than rushing into it.

Do some digging!

Walk around the vehicle that is stuck, and look at what you can do to make the recovery easier. In the case of sand, simply digging a bit of sand out of the way of your tyres will make a huge difference. You put a lot of extra stress on your straps when you are trying to pull a vehicle up onto a mound of dirt. Likewise, if there are rocks that can be moved just slide them out of the way.

Take the easy way out
Get the shovel out!

Attach the Snatch Strap and check everything

Both car drivers should get out of their vehicle, and check that the recovery is set up correctly, with a snatch strap or winch dampener (or even a few towels/jumpers if needed). If anything is wrong, it should be discussed and rectified.

Both drivers need to be happy with the recovery before you go any further. Make sure your hubs are locked, four wheel drive (low range) is engaged and communication is arranged (UHF is ideal).

Move everyone out of the way

Anyone watching should be at least 20 metres away from the vehicles. If anything does break, the bystanders usually end up getting injured.

Get the stuck vehicle attempting to drive

When both drivers are ready, the stuck vehicle should be in 2nd gear low range, and trying to drive out (wheel spinning very slowly). This will aid the recovery when the vehicle is pulled out slightly.

Tow slowly first off

As the person pulling another vehicle out, take it slowly on the first try. I usually take the strap until it is taught, and then attempt to drive off slowly. Most recoveries will work this way – you don’t need a huge run up to pull most bogged vehicles out.

If this doesn’t work, reverse back so there is a metre of slack in the strap and then take off. You can slowly increase the amount of slack used in the strap, but if it takes more than 3 decent pulls and there is no movement you need to get out and try something else. Pull the vehicle out of the way of danger, and ensure that they don’t run over the strap!

Beach in a prado and getting stuck
Towing a Prado off the beach

Don’t run the strap over

I mentioned this above, but it does deserve another bullet point. If you are the car being pulled out, make sure you stay behind the vehicle pulling you out, and don’t drive forward and over the strap. I have seen these wrap around axles and they will damage your break lines very quickly!

Angled recoveries

Snatch Straps are designed to be used in a straight line. You shouldn’t ever recover someone on much of an angle, or you risk something breaking. Of course, a small amount of angle is fine, but when you are pulling someone 60 – 90 degrees from your vehicle then you are asking for trouble.

A good example of this is on a beach – if someone gets stuck near the water, you can safely pull them out from slightly higher up but don’t go too far that you risk something breaking.

Caring for your Snatch Strap

When you are done snatching, you should take it home and wash it (if it is dirty). Don’t use chemicals to wash the strap, or you are likely to damage it. Usually a good squirt of water and then leaving them to dry is all you need. Don’t leave straps damp, or they will rot and degrade. Don’t leave your straps in the sun, or they perish. Don’t drive on the straps, or you will damage them!

Snatch straps vs Kinetic ropes

There’s a number of different recovery options coming out to market today, which is fantastic. Kinetic ropes and soft shackles are becoming common replacements for snatch straps and metal shackles, and that’s great. Kinetic ropes tend to stretch more, and take up less room (but they cost more!).

Snatch straps; are they any good?

Snatch Straps are a great way of recovering a four wheel drive when used correctly. A lot of people know how to use them correctly, but there are still many that don’t know how to safely recover four wheel drives. At the end of the day, the safety of anyone involved in the recovery is the primary priority.

Do you have any horror stories or experience with using Snatch Straps? Please post a comment below and let me know!

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  1. Shaun Watson says:

    Excellent article, especially for a novice like me