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Tow Straps Vs Recovery Straps: Is There a Difference?

Tow Straps Vs Recovery Straps: Is There a Difference?

March 01, 2021

The Difference Between Recovery Straps and Tow Straps and Why It's So Important

One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to off-road recovery is every strap is a recovery strap. Using the wrong strap in a recovery situation could not only result in damage to the involved vehicles but injury to bystanders as well.

Why do you need a strap?

Why do you need a strap?

If you like taking the road less traveled, then sooner or later you're going to get stuck. Whether you're frame deep in mud or broken down in the middle of a trail, it's important to have a strap in your recovery arsenal. The nice thing about straps is that they are a lot less expensive than a winch.

Although in some situations they are not as effective as a winch; sometimes all you need is a little bit of help to get yourself out of a tough spot. Even if you have a winch, a tow strap is a great way to give yourself some more length. This comes in handy when you are out adventuring by yourself.

What are the differences between a tow strap and a recovery strap?

Tow Straps

Orange Tow Strap

Although tow straps are not technically recovery straps, they are still useful in a recovery situation.

The main difference that separates a tow strap from a recovery strap is the amount of "give" each strap possesses. Tow straps contain little to no elasticity making them perfect for towing vehicles. Due to the lack of "give" in a tow strap, they should not be used for yanking a stuck vehicle out of whatever it's stuck in.

Even though tow straps should not be used for aggressive tugging, they still have a place in recovery. If you find yourself stuck and all you have is a tow strap, you can still use it to try and get free. All you do is hook the strap up to a rated recovery point on both vehicles, slowly take the slack out of the strap, and pull.

It's important to remember that tow straps have very little elasticity, meaning you should not get a running start. However, the rigidity and length of a tow strap make them very useful for winching. Tow straps come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and the most common length is 20 feet. This is great for giving your winch line some extra length.

While searching for a tow strap that would fit your needs, it's important to note the pull rating of the strap. It's recommended that the pull rating of your strap is 3x the weight of your vehicle. Obviously, the higher the tow rating, the safer the strap is.

Recovery "Snatch" Straps

Recovery "Snatch" Straps

Pictured: ARB Snatch Strap

Unlike tow straps, recovery straps are elastic. One of the reasons recovery straps work so well is due to the kinetic energy the strap will generate. The elasticity in the strap makes the strap snap back to its original length in a recovery situation. Another reason recovery straps work well is the fact that you can get a running start with one.

Unlike tow straps where you would let all the slack out before pulling, recovery straps contain much more "give" allowing the driver to get a running start. This is much more effective in a recovery situation for a couple of reasons. The first is that the vehicle doing the pulling can get momentum as well as traction. Second, the strap has a rubber band effect on the vehicle that is stuck.

Once the strap is all the way stretched out, it will snap back to its original length, yanking the stuck vehicle out with it. Since recovery straps are more stretchy, it makes winching with them pretty difficult. All the more reason to carry both types of straps with you. Just like tow straps, recovery straps come in all shapes and sizes. This type of strap tends to look like a big piece of rope, as compared to a tow strap which is much flatter.

The tow rating of recovery straps is directly related to the width of the strap; moreover, the most common size for standard 4x4 recovery is 2-3" in diameter. Nonetheless, it's important to double-check the tow rating before purchasing.

Buyer Beware

Shopping for Winch Recovery Gear

When the time comes to buy your own tow strap or recovery rope, you're going to notice there are a ton of options out there. However, there are a couple of things to look out for before purchasing.

If the product you are considering to buy does not have a tow rating (break strength), then do not buy it! Legitimate companies will always have a rated breaking strength listed next to their product. Without this information, there is no way of knowing how much stress the strap can take which may lead to problems down the road.

Some companies will advertise that their product is a "recovery" strap but in reality, it's not. Many of these companies are on Amazon and literally use the words "USA" and "America" in their name which mislead the consumer into believing they made in the USA. Point being, do your research before you buy a recovery product. 

Recovery straps are usually made out of Nylon, which is an elastic material. If the strap is made out of Dacron or Polypropylene, then it should only be used for towing.

One last thing to look for is hooks on the end of the strap. While hooks may be easier to connect to a shackle, it's recommended that straps with hooks on the end are not used for recovery. In fact, a true recovery strap will never have a hook on the end of them.

Breaking Strength & WLL (Working Load Limit)

Breaking Strength & WLL (Working Load Limit)

Just like our Shackle Blocks - Tow Straps & Snatch Straps Should Be Marked with a WLL or Breaking Strength

Tow straps and recovery straps are rated by their breaking strength, also known as tow rating, load limit, etc. In other words, how much force is needed to break the strap. The strap you buy must be going to be able to take the strain of a recovery.

It's important to know the breaking strength of a strap for a couple of reasons. The first is that there are straps out there that are designed for ATVs and UTVs, which would have a breaking strength that would be too low for pulling out a standard 4x4 vehicle.

Another reason is that it's imperative to know you aren't just towing the weight of a vehicle during a recovery. You have to take into account that other forces acting against the recovery such as mud, rocks, snow, etc.

Recovery Points

Hitch Receiver D-ring Shackle Mount Recovery Points

Tow straps and recovery straps must be attached to a rated tow point on both vehicles. These points are always on the frame of the vehicle, but if you have trouble finding yours, consult your owner's manual.

Recovery points are generally a hook or loop shape that allows a tow strap, recovery strap, or shackle to attach to the point.

Hitch receivers are a great recovery point if you have the right equipment such as our popular line of Shackle Blocks.

Recovery Gear

Recovery Gear For Overlanding

When it comes to off-road recovery, you really can never have too much gear. The better prepared you are in a recovery situation, the easier and safer the recovery will be.

A shackle block plugs into the hitch receiver and provides an excellent recovery point from the rear of the vehicle. Not only are they easy to use, but shackle blocks are not terribly expensive either.

The Agency 6 shackle block comes with two horizontal holes and one vertical hole, perfect for any recovery situation. Rated for 13,000 pounds, the aggressive-looking shackle blocks should be one of the first pieces of recovery gear you buy.

See a recent overview and review from a Tacoma owner on

Soft Shackles and Bow Shackles

Soft Shackles

The way you attach your tow strap or recovery strap on your vehicle is going to vary, but 9/10 it's going to be done with some sort of shackle.

Bow shackles (D-rings) are a hard piece of steel that come in various sizes. This style of shackle uses a pin that screws into the top of the shackle to secure it, while a strap slips into the center of the shackle.

Although they are not as popular as bow shackles, soft shackles are a great item to have in your arsenal of recovery gear. Made out of synthetic line, this style shackle uses a knot to close the loop and enclose the strap. Soft shackles are handy because they are able to fit into tighter spaces than a bow-style shackle.

Snatch Block

A snatch block is a device that uses a pulley to essentially double your winching capacity. Another feature of a snatch block is it allows you to winch from an angle which is extremely useful if you find yourself stuck by yourself.

Tree Saver Strap

Tree Saver Strap - Using with Winch

Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation where you need to winch to a tree in order to recover your vehicle. This should always be done with a tree saver strap. These straps are essentially smaller tow straps. They tend to be a little thicker in diameter and are designed to wrap around a tree. The tow strap, shackle, or winch will attach to both ends of the tree saver. This style strap gets its name from the fact that the thicker diameter doesn't cut into the tree the way a winch line would if you were to simply loop it.


Winch Shackle - Closed Winch Hook

Pictured: Agency 6 Winch Fairlead and Winch Shackle Hook

A winch is, without a doubt, one of the most useful pieces of recovery equipment you can own. They can come in handy if you find yourself stuck by yourself, or are broken down on the trail. Winches can pull just about anything out of mud, sand, snow, etc. However, winching can be dangerous if done wrong. When you buy a winch, it is imperative that you go over the owner's manual in order to operate your winch safely.

Safety First

Overland Built 4Runner (

Safety should be your #1 priority when it comes to off-road recovery. One of the things to consider to keep yourself safe during a recovery is the working load limit of the products you are using. You need to make sure the strap, shackle, winch, etc., are all within the working load limit of which you are going to be using them. The last thing you want happening is something breaking during a recovery. Not only is the stuck vehicle going to remain stuck, but someone is likely to get hurt.

A good habit to get into during a recovery situation is to make sure everything is tight. Double-check your bow shackles and use a screwdriver to make sure the shackle pin is locked into place. If you're using a winch with a hook on the end of it, make sure the hook isn't going to fall off the recovery point.

As always, it is crucial that you use rated recovery points during any sort of recovery. These points must be attached to your frame to assure a safe, effective recovery. If you have trouble locating your recovery points, consult your owner's manual.

Off-road recovery is a physics-based operation. When physics are ignored, something is bound to go wrong. It is imperative that you take recovery very seriously and don't take any shortcuts so you can ensure your safety and also the safety of bystanders.

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