It's something we see way too often. That deer in headlights look when you have too many different recovery gear options and simply don't know what the difference is, why you need them, and when you will ever use them. But having a good understanding of recovery gear can be crucial to not only your adventure, but your safety. You know those YouTube videos that should very clearly be labeled "don't do this at home?" Well that's what we are trying to avoid.
So - First thing's first, understanding the recovery gear that's in front of you and making heads or tails of what's important.
Reading the Label - What's Important and Why
When you are comparing different pieces of recovery gear, these are the things that you should really be looking at:
Minimum Break Strength or MBS (for each recommended configuration)
Work Load Limit or WLL (for each recommended configuration)
Let's start with the Raw Materials
When it comes to raw materials, you will mainly see a lot of Polyester and Nylon and variations of such in the world of Recovery Gear. Acronyms like HMPE, UHMPE & UHMWPE may mean something to you, but they may not. What the most important thing to know here is whether or not the materials fall into the Dynamic or Static category. Basically put - is it intended stretch, or stay put?
With Dynamic materials, think in terms of Kinetic energy. Do you need that added force to essentially give you the "slingshot" effect? My usual analogy is with a basic rubber band. If you take the rubber band in its natural state (it's static energy) and hit it against your arm, it doesn't hurt, right? But - the further you stretch the rubber band and release, the more it hurts! It's that kinetic energy that adds the force behind the movement. Dynamic materials are typically nylons, and are used most commonly with vehicle to vehicle recovery.
With Static materials, you want your materials to ultimately stay put (have limited to no stretch). These are the polyester (HMPE, UHWMPE) materials most commonly labeled as winch extensions or tow straps. These are intended to be used when doing basic towing, or when a recovery effort is stabilized by an anchor, such as a tree. Having no stretch, it allows the force of your anchor item and the energy of your winch to work together to recover the vehicle. If attempting to utilize an anchor item with a kinetic strap however, you are ultimately pulling that strap to it's limit without gaining any actual momentum because of the anchored force, thus pushing it closer and closer to its MBS, which we will get to next.
Minimum Breaking Strength
Minimum Breaking Strength, or MBS (sometimes MTS) as labeled on most straps, is the minimum amount of force required to break the rope. Something important to consider when purchasing recovery gear is that you are always looking for the MBS of the finished product. Some manufacturers may put 2 MBS figures on the label, one for the raw materials and one for the finished product. Always ensure you are paying attention to the finished product, as the alterations made when splicing and sewing into the webbing of the rope greatly impacts the products final MBS.
Working Load Limit
Working Load Limit, or WLL, can also sometimes be referred to as Rated Load or Rated Capacity. The important thing to remember here is that this is a manufacturer determination of MBS/X. Where X is a safety factor. X however has no industry standard and is an important factor in the safety buffer of the product. Having a product rating that utilizes a higher safety factor, allows for a larger buffer to ensure things don't go south during your recovery effort. X can commonly be anywhere between 1 and 5, but the most popular usage is generally 3. Finding a product like AEV recovery gear for example that utilizes a 4:1 standard gives you an added level of comfort knowing you won't end up in YouTube's "Don't do this at home" category. On the other hand, utilizing a product with a 2:1 standard can be significantly more dangerous especially for those that are not as familiar with recovery protocol or those that are utilizing shock loading which ultimately triples your force load. Your WLL is the number that you want to work with-in to ensure the highest safety standard possible for that particular product.
What is most important when reading a recovery gear label is that the manufacturer is providing you with BOTH the MBS and the WLL. This will allow you to easily determine the exact safety ratio for that product. When you simply have one or the other, you are forced to make a consumer determination of the safety ratio or potentially have a product that's safety ratio is too low to take unknown factors into consideration.
If you have recovery gear that you are unsure of, contact the manufacturer directly to see if they have a safety rating determination that they can share with you.
If you need help getting set up with the proper recovery gear for your next adventure, contact the Trailtec 4x4 team to talk about your options and possible solutions.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our recovery series to learn more about product names and how to properly use your recovery gear.