If you go off-road, it's pretty much inevitable that sooner or later you'll be stuck, whether it's being mired in soupy goo, sunk in the sand, or high-centered in the boulders. The challenge of the backcountry means we sometimes find ourselves less than mobile. You may find yourself stuck while out solo, or you may be in a position where another vehicle can help extract you from your predicament.
The Easy Stuff
So, you've found yourself void of forward or reverse motion. The best thing to do (not that we always do) is probably to stop what you're doing and assess the situation. Persisting with more throttle may very well dig you ever deeper or pound some vulnerable part of your undercarriage on a rock.
For sand, we've seen people use everything from old scraps of carpet to plywood to purpose-made sand ladders under their tires to gain traction while not sinking further in the loose grains. In any case, the first thing to do when you're having trouble in sand is to air down your tires to allow them to bulge more and present a fatter footprint. You can generally go down to the low teens in pressure without a beadlock wheel, just try to refrain from cornering hard on low-pressure tires.
When that doesn't get you going, it's a good idea to start shoveling the sand away from the tire so you don't have to deal with the added weight and friction of it packed on the tire or blocking the axle housing. It's also a good idea to shovel a clear path in front of the tires to make it easier to get moving forward. Jacking the vehicle up can help pull it back up out of the sand and allow you to put traction helpers under the tires.
Once you're sucked into mud, you're dealing with two forces that prevent you from going forward. You've got little traction in the slippery stuff, and the muck will usually engulf your tires and the resulting vacuum makes it difficult to pop free of the goo. A winch is ideal in this case, but a snatch strap and a willing friend work well too if the other vehicle has traction and is in a position to pull you out. Use a stretching snatch strap and its elasticity to spring you free of the slop.
When captive on a rock, take a moment, and find a strategic way to back off it or a point where you can jack the vehicle to raise it off the spot. Aim tires for the highest drivable points to keep the chassis or axles from dragging. Light use of the e-brake can help put better torque to both tires if you have an open rear differential.
Jacks To Freedom
We've managed to do quite a bit with a quality bottle jack when that's all we've had, but using one requires a good solid foundation and the ability to work under the axle housing. This also usually requires stacking some rocks to form a raised base. The method is slow and limited in lift height, but may be worth some effort if the alternative is a long walk home.
For those on a budget or wanting to travel with light, basic extraction gear, a Hi-Lift jack is hard to beat. We still often carry one on vehicles that have a winch as well. The jacks come in 48- and 60-inch lengths and have the advantage of being able to operate and lift over a range exceeding several feet. This means you can usually fit one under a bumper or slider and raise the chassis until the suspension is topped out and keep jacking to get a tire off the ground.
Hi-Lift jacks are super handy to have along when you're wheeling. Not only can they be used to jack up your rig and change a tire or make a repair, they can do all manner of applying a pushing force where needed. We've used them to push vehicles away from boulders, push broken suspension components back in place, and simply raise vehicles off a sticky spot on the trail. You can even use one for stretching fence wire in the back country, if you like.
This is a useful gadget to supplement your Hi-Lift. The JackMate from Rescue 42 (www.rescue42.com) is made to slip onto either end of your jack and make it more versatile. The multi-purpose addition can be pinned in place and serve as a gripping jack base or additional push/pull point, and it has several holes and slots to accept a D-ring or chain for pulling purposes.
It's not often we see a hand winch or come-a-long off-road, but these can be used for light extraction duty the same as you would a powered winch, assuming you have an anchor point available, the vehicle is not fullsize heavy, and the stick is relatively mild. This aged one has been used on several occasions to pull a vehicle sideways, or to pull broken suspension components back into place for repair or to aid in limping an injured vehicle off the trail.