Offgrid Transportation Escape the Mud with an Improvised Traction Stick
Modified with the latest in overlanding innovations, the 2023...
It's an awful feeling to get stuck in a vehicle, especially when you're miles away from civilization. You can floor the gas pedal all you want, but you'll only make the problem worse as your tires dig deeper into the soft mud, sand, or snow. If you're an experienced off-roader, you may be able to lock your axles, switch to 4-low, or winch yourself to safety. But if you're stuck in a vehicle without these capabilities, and without any purpose-built rescue tools, you'll need to improvise a way out.
One option is to jam a piece of wood — such as a 2×4 or thick tree branch — underneath your stuck drive wheel. In dry conditions, this can work as a ramp. However, in wet and muddy conditions, this wood can become even more slippery than the ground below. Fortunately, there's another way of using the same piece of wood, provided you also have some strong cordage or a ratchet strap. The video below demonstrates the concept:
This method of strapping a stick perpendicular to a wheel can provide an effective way to escape the mud. It works much like a snowshoe or tank tread, distributing the vehicle's weight over a larger area so it doesn't sink in to the soft terrain. The raised surface also digs in, providing added grip. The method could be more effective with multiple sticks, but one should be enough in most cases.
A word of warning: be gentle on the gas pedal when using this method. As seen in the video above, the tire's tread will continue to slip until it reaches the stick, at which point it will suddenly regain traction. If you accelerate too quickly, this repeated loss and regaining of traction can generate a condition called wheel hop. Under these conditions, the wheel will violently shudder and bounce as it spins, resulting in potential damage to the axle, differential, and drivetrain. Here's what wheel hop looks like:
Notice how the wheels begin to bounce starting at the 9-second mark — that's not good. If you ignore wheel hop and try to power out of the rut you're in, you could end up permanently damaging your vehicle, and then you'll really be stuck. But, if you're slow and steady, the traction stick method should help you get to safety.