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Safer connections using a soft shackle

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September 286 minute read

Comparing hard shackles to soft shackles is perhaps a simpler process than we initially imagined.

The critical difference is easily spotted – if a weak link in our recovery setup were to fail we’ve got one less potential projectile that with bad luck might damage our vehicle, and with worse luck, our friends and family.

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The rest of the benefits and we see quite a few, are more subtle. But before we look at those there’s a couple of ‘apples and oranges’ type points that we think are worth a quick look.

First up is quality. Both shackle types are offered at a range of price points. Whichever you choose, when it comes to safety quality is especially critical. The premium brands typically are made from the best raw materials and have rigorous testing and quality assurance processes.

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The strength is (or easily can be) comparable. Just like with hard shackles, soft shackles come in a variety of strengths. For those new to rigging lingo be sure to compare WLLs (Working Load Limits) with WLLs and Breaking Strains with Breaking Strains. There are heaps of rigging info online which explains how these are calculated.

In high wear, industrial settings hard shackles have the upper hand, but in 4×4 recoveries, we use shackles with soft anchors and increasingly soft winch lines so it doesn’t seem to be a key factor. With brands like MAXTRAX developing vehicle connections like a rear hitch especially for soft shackles, it should become easier to use them in an increasing number of scenarios.

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UV resistance is often listed as a reason not to adopt soft shackles. Like winch ropes, however, most quality soft shackles are UV stabilised. Besides – the exposure time for 4×4 recoveries is relatively minimal, even for those always grabbing their recovery kit.

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With that to the side, the soft shackle is a pleasure to use. Light to carry, you can drop them on the ground while your rigging without them clogging with dirt. They’ll lighten the weight of your recovery kit too.

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The tail slides through anchors of any shape and size with ease and then loops over the ball to lockfast. They’re especially good when you need to connect to larger anchors.

Post recovery they’re a breeze to undo too – no jammings!

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We tried out the Bubba Rope Gator-Jaw (Breaking Strength 14,514kg) and the Deadman Off-Road Soft Shackle (13,600 kg).

The quality, design and usability of both were really comparable. The Deadman Off-Road shackle has a protective sheath. One or two of this style is probably a good idea if you’ve got anchors, like a rear hitch, that is a bit sharper-edged. Otherwise, we’d happily use either.

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Mike Collister has spent his life outdoors. He has represented Australia as a slalom kayaker, guided whitewater expeditions in Nepal, and taught outdoor education and wilderness medicine. He’s paddled the Kimberley’s Fitzroy River in the wet season and across the Bass Strait and is an avid photographer, overlander and camper.