Sand recovery masterclass

Michael Borg — 22 November 2017

This great country we call home is hands down one of the best places on earth to own a 4WD. There’s just so much diversity in terms of terrain to tackle, and if you ask me, I reckon it’s a big endless stretch of beach that really takes the cake. After all — you can’t beat locking in the hubs and blasting up the coast for a BBQ and a few laughs with blue skies and an ocean breeze to top everything off. 

Sounds relaxing eh? Well, it is — until you get bogged! Yep, when you get a day on the beach right you’ll be floating on cloud nine, but if you get it wrong, things can go pear-shaped in the worst possible way. After all, with high tides and sandy sink holes, the beach is hands-down the most dangerous place for a 4WD to get bogged. Not to worry though. We’ve got a few proven tricks up our sleeves to help get you out of a pickle if trouble should strike, as well as a few handy hacks to ensure you don’t get caught out by the more common troubles you’re likely to come across on your next beach camping adventure.


Lets talk 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 tyre's foot print, spreading 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 15-19psi, 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, too. Sometimes you’ll need to lower your trailer's tyres even lower than your vehicle's to get the same effect due to the camper trailer's lower weight. A tell-tail sign that the camper's tyre pressures are too high is if they're skimming across the top of the sand instead of rolling, or the tyre isn’t ballooning (bulging) on the bottom. 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 the ruts

Driving in any existing wheel ruts or tracks can help reduce the amount of resistance against your vehicle’s tyres, which are 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

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 half way up a hill.

The right approach

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-camper angles can drag you into all sorts of predicaments — if you’re not careful.

Who needs brakes?

Thanks to all that extra resistance, applying the trailer brakes on sand can just about launch you through the window, if you’re not careful. Ok, so maybe I’m exaggerating slightly, but nine times out of ten, the brakes will be a hindrance rather than an asset for sand driving. A little trick is to back the adjustment off a bit if they’re making life difficult. Trust me, with plenty of soft sand around you shouldn’t have any dramas stopping.

Smart parking

Trying to take off from a stop-standing start straight up a hill is always going to be hard work for your 4WD. So, it makes plenty of sense to park facing down hill, eh? In other words; use the dunes to help you, not hinder you!


The sand anchor

The problem with getting bogged on the beach is there are bugger-all trees around to anchor the old 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; I’ve literally seen an old potato sack filled with sand do the job a few years back, but obviously common sense prevails here, so always keep your safety in mind. 

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.

Trailer recovery

In a tricky recovery situation, you may need to unhitch the camper trailer to help lighten the load a little, which means you’ll have to recover it separately, after your 4WD. You’ll need a sturdy base plate to put under your bottle jack or jockey wheel, which will help stop it from sinking into the sand. A block of wood or bit of flat rock will get the job done. Heck, we've used the old trusty shovel! Now, you don’t want to winch the trailer forward while the jockey wheel is supporting the trailers’ weight; they’re simply not designed for that kind of load and will almost definitely end up twisting into a pile of rubble. Instead, try using your shovel as a ski under the hitch itself, and wrap your recovery strap around it in such a way that it supports the shovel in its mounting position as it drags forward. The shovel's pointy end shouldn’t be digging down in the sand; instead it should resemble the bow of a boat, which helps clear the path. When you’re ready to rumble, simply let the winch pull the trailer forward, so it drops off the stand and onto the shovel.

Traction aids - the smarter way to go!

One of the most effective recovery tools for the beach these days is a traction aid/board, like a set of MaxTrax or similar. Not only do they work miracles, they are 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 aid helps your vehicle drive out under its own steam. This results in far less 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.

Make-shift traction

Don’t have a set of traction boards? Well, all is not lost if you’ve got a bit of imagination. Put simply, there are heaps of different do-it-yourself methods to gain that little bit more traction. For example, a few carefully positioned sticks or logs can work wonders; same goes for that rubber mat in the back of your mate's ute. Heck, an old milk crate cut into squares and tied together could literally save the day. Then there’s the old hessian bag filled with sand trick — that one will get a few bystanders interested!   


Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, it’s time to break-out the bikinis and budgie smugglers, and head for the coast! Bring the fishing rods, the BBQ and a smile because one thing’s for sure – a beach camping adventure is one of the best things you can do with a 4WD and camper trailer!

Check out the full feature in issue #119 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.   


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