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Winch Anchors and Deadman Anchors: Guide to Treeless Off-road Recovery

Remember the Lorax, that Dr. Suess character who threw a fit when all the trees were gone? We can relate. Getting your vehicle stuck in a remote, treeless landscape where your winch has nothing obvious to anchor to can seem like a mighty bleak situation.

Fortunately, trees (and big rocks for that matter) aren’t the only game in town when it comes to using a winch for off-road recovery. Winch anchors and deadman anchors are two options for finding traction in barren landscapes.

Below, we will cover the differences between winch anchors and deadman anchors. For those looking for quick recommendations for commercially available gear, hear are some quality options:

PullPro Winch Anchor

Smittybilt W.A.S.P. Winch Anchor

Deadman Earth Anchor

What are Winch Anchors?

Winch anchors are metal devices that act like giant grappling hooks at the end of your winch line, grabbing dirt, sand, or snow so the winch can pull the vehicle free. 

These ground anchors have a plow-like blade that drives down into the substrate as the winch line pulls it toward the vehicle. Some models come with a handle on top to keep the winch anchor in an upright position during the recovery.

Winch anchors are versatile, useful in many different situations. In particular, they are helpful in sandy, muddy, and snowy landscapes where there are few existing anchors, such as trees or rocks to use during recovery.

Pullpal in snow
Pullpal winch anchor in action.

PROS

Versatile in various conditions, including sand, snow and mud.

Easy to use (e.g., don’t require digging)

CONS

Heavy and bulky

Pricey

What are Deadman Anchors?

A deadman anchor works a lot like a metal winch anchor but requires you to dig into the ground or snow to bury the anchor. A long-standing method of creating a deadman anchor is to connect a spare tire to the winch line and then bury the tire to create purchase for the winch to pull the vehicle free. Logs and large rocks can also be buried to serve as anchors. 

Deadman Anchor for Off-road Recovery

More recently, there are some commercial products that replicate this concept without having to unscrew your spare tire or rely on finding a rock or log nearby. A particularly handy device is the Deadman Earth Anchor, made with vinyl fabric and webbing. The nice thing about these is their versatility, they can be used to wrap around above-grown objects, such as trees and rocks, as well as buried when you don’t have those options.

PROS

Don’t require extra gear, beyond basic winching equipment

Can use natural objects such as trees or rocks

Low cost when using spare tire or found objects

CONS

Digging hole is time consuming and physically taxing