Off-road recovery shackles are essential gear for rescuing vehicles that have broken down or gotten stuck on the trail while off-roading and overlanding.
The primary use of a shackle (also known as a clevis) is to connect the various elements in a recovery scenario, such as recovery straps, tree-savers, snatch blocks, winches, and vehicles.
Because they are key links in towing and pulling a vehicle free, recovery shackles must be properly rated for the forces involved. It’s also critical that they are used correctly, as off-road recovery can be dangerous if executed improperly.
In this guide, we’ll explain the different types of shackles used in off-road recovery and provide an overview of use cases. The information here doesn’t take the place of hand-on training by a qualified instructor in off-road vehicle recovery.
How Shackles are Used in Off-road Recovery
Shackles serve a number of purposes in off-road recovery situations, linking the various elements in the recovery setup.
Connecting recovery straps to vehicles
One of the most common off-road recovery scenarios involves one vehicle (the recovery vehicle) rescuing another vehicle (the stuck vehicle). One vehicle may suffer engine trouble and need to be towed off the trail for maintenance. Or one vehicle may get stuck in sand, mud, or snow and need to be pulled free by a second vehicle.
In both of these scenarios, some kind of tow strap or snatch strap (kinetic recovery rope/strap) will need to be connected between the vehicles so that the force from the recovery vehicle is transferred to the stuck vehicle. In these situations, shackles are used to connect the straps or ropes to recovery points on the vehicles.
Connecting winch lines to vehicles and anchors
Another common recovery technique involves using a winch to pull a vehicle free or over an obstacle. Off-road recovery winches have a hook at the end of the winch line so that the winch can connect to another vehicle or an anchor such as a tree or rock.
Since you should never wrap a which line around an anchor, as it can damage the line and the anchor, a strap (such as a tree saver) is wrapped around the anchor and connected to the winch hook using a shackle. If one vehicle is pulling another free using a winch, the winch hook is often connected to a recovery point on the stuck vehicle via a shackle.
Types of Recovery Shackles: D-Ring Shackles vs Soft Shackles
The classic shackle used in off-road recovery is the D-ring shackle, a horseshoe-shaped metal bow that is closed on the open side with a pin. In recent years, so-called soft shackles made of synthetic rope have become increasingly popular.
A bow shackle is essentially a metal loop that is inserted through two things you want to hold together and then closed with a pin that spans the shackles opening. While bow-shackles are often referred to as D-ring shackles, they are slightly different in an important way. The bow of the bow shackle is more round than a D-ring shackle, which helps disperse the force in recovery situations where the angle of pull on the shackle might change as a vehicle is pulled free. D-ring shackles have straighter sides that lead to a curved apex of their bow.
The parts of the bow shackle, include the following:
Bow – the bow is the main loop of the shackle, that may be referred to as the bowl, body or bail
Pin – the pin is a metal rod that spans the open side of the shackle bow, locking it closed during use
Ears – the shackle ears are located at the ends of the bow and serve as the connection point for the pin
Shoulder – the shoulder is the part of the pin that is in contact with the shackle ear when the pin is locked into the ears
Less expensive than soft shackles
Dangerous if flying through air
Soft shackles for use in off-road recovery are a relatively new invention which stemmed from the advent of synthetic recovery ropes used for kinetic vehicle recoveries (snatching). These synthetic shackles are typically made from ultra-strong braided nylon rope.
There are several reasons that these types of shackles have grown in popularity. They are lightweight and stow easily in a recovery kit. They are easy to connect and disconnect, as they don’t require screwing and unscrewing a metal pin. They won’t rust and thus don’t require lubrication. And, perhaps, most importantly, they are safer to use, as a flying piece of nylon rope is less dangerous than a heavy metal shackle, should something break during the recovery effort.
Soft shackle terminology:
Bow – Similar to a metal shackle, the main loop of a soft shackle is referred to as the “bow,” but it’s made of synthetic rope instead of metal. a
Knot – the knot is located at one end of the shackle and serves to hold the it closed when the knot is inserted through the eye loop at the other end of the shackle.
Choke loop – loop at the opposite end of the bow from the knot that wraps around the knot to hold the shackle closed
Slider – some shackles come with a rubber, plastic or rope loop that slides along the bow to cinch the eye closed.
Safer than metal D-ring shackles
Doesn’t require grease
Lightweight and compact
Typically more expensive that steel shackles
Wear more quickly than steel
Sensitive to UV light
Recovery Shackle Ratings
When choosing shackles, it’s important to understand what constitutes a “rated” shackle and what that raring means. When buying a metal shackle, you should only use one that has a working load limit (WLL) imprinted on the shackle.
The WWL indicates the maximum force the shackle can handle (typically given in tons or pounds in the United States) before breaking. This limit is determined through factory testing and each shackle undergoes testing to make sure it can withstand the load.
The minimum breaking strength (MBS) is the force at which a shackle can be expected to fail. The WLL is calculated based on the MBS , by dividing the MBS by some safety factor (often in the 3-6 range). This provides a margin of safety, so that you know that the forces exerted on a shackle during a recovery are unlikely to break the shackle if kept under the WLL.
Similar to ropes and straps used in off-road recovery, soft shackles are rated according to their breaking strength. This will be provided by the manufacturer and typically listed on a tag on the shackle.
Whether you are using a metal shackle or soft shackle, it is important that you don’t exceed the shackles rated capacity, or you risk breaking the shackle which can be dangerous. Flying metal shackles are particularly dangerous situations and have caused injuries and deaths.
For suggestions on safety measures to take during vehicle recovery, check out our article on using a which for off-road recovery. We highly recommend getting training in off-road recovery from a qualified instructor.
Recovery Shackle Usage
One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that a shackle’s rating assumes that you are using it correctly. Don’t sideload your D-ring shackle (see image), as this is not how it is designed to be used and weakens it.
Incorrect (Side loading shackle)
Also, make sure your shackle pin is screwed all the way end. It only needs to be lightly hand tightened but should be all the way in to ensure the connection is trustworthy.