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Wednesday, May 15, 2024

How to Tie Down a Load

 photo by Pranee Mankit via iStock

This article was last updated on May 9, 2024.

Whether you’re moving to a new home, taking your side-by-side or dirt bike to the trailhead, taking an extended overlanding trip, or something in between, you need to know how to tie down a load.

Obviously, knowing how to tie down a load is important not just for the safety of your gear but also for the safety of others on the road.

Now, living in Southern California as I do, you often see vehicles on the freeway that have way too much cargo, cargo that isn’t properly secured, or both. In fact, this happened just the other day…

A Quick Story…

I was heading southbound on the 405 at about 4:10 pm on Tuesday, so it wasn’t quite rush hour, but things were starting to get clogged up. 

As I kept heading south, I encountered a bottleneck that really slowed me down. Once I made my way through the bottleneck, the culprit of the traffic jam was evident – an ugly 1970s olive green couch was sitting in the middle of the freeway!  OK, I’m not sure about the age of this thing, but it sure looked like something that was remnants of the 70s!  

On the right shoulder was the truck that used to be transporting the couch, and its driver and passengers were trying to figure out how to get the couch out of traffic and back into their truck.

You would think that this would be a rare occurrence, but in my experience, it’s far too common. Heck, take a 30-minute drive on any freeway in the L.A. area, and you’re likely to find all sorts of debris on the roadside that’s fallen off of trucks and trailers because it wasn’t properly secured.

So, out of that experience comes this article on how to tie down a load! I’d like to share some quick tips on how to tie down a load, as well as offer a few recommendations for gear you can use to secure your cargo.

Table of Contents

How to Tie Down a Load – Quick Tips

Four dirt bikes on tied down a trailer - How to Tie Down a Load

 photo by dlHunter via iStock

Before we get into the various tools and accessories you can use for securing cargo, I want to go over just a few quick tips for how to tie down a load.

Step 1: What Cargo Do You Have?

First, consider the cargo you have. If you’re transporting your motorcycle on your flatbed, you’ll need different means of securing it than if you’re hauling a baby grand piano inside an enclosed trailer.

Step 2: Inspect Your Tools

Second, whatever tools and accessories you use for securing the load, be sure they aren’t damaged in any way. Before use, inspect each item to ensure there’s no wear or damage that will prevent it from doing its job of keeping your cargo in place.

Step 3: Double-Check Load Ratings

Third, make sure that the tie-downs you’re using are rated for the load they are intended to secure. Furthermore, make sure you have enough tie-downs for the load you’re securing. This number will vary depending on the cargo you have, but having too many tie-downs is better than not having enough.

Two students move furniture in a raining day - How to Tie Down a Load

photo by manonallard via iStock

A last quick tip on how to tie down a load is this – ensure the cargo is securely contained such that it can’t shift, tip over, fall off, or otherwise move.

This means having tie-downs that are securely attached to prevent them from opening, loosening, or worse, releasing altogether. And don’t rely on your tie-downs to remain this way for the duration of your trip! Whenever you stop for fuel or to stretch your legs, check the tie-downs and tighten them as needed.  

There are many more considerations to take into account when transporting cargo, so be sure you do your due diligence and thoroughly understand how to tie down a load before hitting the road. Use these tips to get going!

Methods for Securing Cargo

Now that we’ve established a few ground rules on how to tie down a load, let’s look at a few methods you can use for ensuring that the cargo you’re transporting is secure.

How to Tie Down a Load – An Innovative, Versatile Option 

Elf Offroad Universal Mounting Clamps - How to Tie Down a Load

One of my absolute favorite tools to use for securing cargo are the Elf Offroad Universal Mounting Clamps.

I was first introduced to these devices at Overland West last fall, and I have to say, they have left me nothing but impressed.

Essentially, the Universal Mounting Clamps negate the need for drilling anchor points. Instead, they simply clamp onto any flat surface, like the rail of a flatbed trailer.

Just put one clamp on one side of the trailer, another clamp on the other side, and connect them with a strap. As you tighten the straps, the clamps lock down, giving you a secure attachment for tying down your cargo.

Movability is a Huge Benefit

Elf Offroad Universal Mounting Clamps - How to Tie Down a Load

Aside from the obvious ease of use is the fact that these things are moveable. You aren’t tied down (pun intended!) to using the existing anchor points on your trailer, which can often be in a location that isn’t usable depending on the load you’re carrying. Instead, you can position the Universal Mounting Clips precisely where you need them for the different types of cargo you carry. That’s versatility that you just can’t beat.

And just to be clear, you can use these clamps to secure all sorts of loads…

Small and Large Options

Elf Offroad Universal Mounting Clamps

The small clamps have a working load limit of 600 pounds to go along with a break strength of 1,800 pounds each. If you need a beefier clamp, the large clamps have a working load limit of 2,000 pounds and a break strength of 7,200 pounds each.

Perhaps best of all, these clamps enable you to secure loads by yourself. You don’t need your wife or husband or neighbor to come out and assist you in tying down your cargo (though you might need their help loading the cargo…)

At any rate, these made-in-the-U.S.A. clamps are hands-down one of my favorite new tools. If you do a lot of trailering, you need a few Elf Offroad Universal Mounting Clamps in your kit!

How to Tie Down a Load That’s Light – The Almighty Bungee Cord

Bungee Cord

I call it the “almighty” bungee cord as a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that bungee cords are not intended for securing big loads.

Instead, bungee cords are well suited for securing small, lightweight items, or better still, covering the load in the back of your truck or on a flatbed trailer with a tarp.

There are many benefits of bungee cords for tying down loads:

  • Easy to attach and detach
  • Various sizes for different needs (like 24-inch, 32-inch, and 72-inch, to name a few)
  • Can stretch to accommodate longer spans
  • Are very inexpensive
  • Available virtually anywhere

But despite having many benefits, the major drawback of the “almighty” bungee cord is that it just doesn’t have a ton of utility beyond working with small, lightweight loads.

It’s always good to have some bungees on hand, though, so if anything else, invest in a bungee cord pack with various lengths and throw them in your truck box for use when you need them.

Tying Down Light to Heavy Loads – Ratchet Straps

Ratchet Straps

If you have larger loads you need to secure, a ratchet strap is a great option.

These straps are heavy-duty and stand up to the rigors of use over many years. They come with a range of hooks on either end, so you can use them with virtually any kind of anchor point – including the Elf Offroad Universal Mounting Clamps I discussed earlier.

The cam buckle on these straps makes quick work of tightening them down and accommodating loads of various shapes and sizes, which makes ratchet straps a prime choice when considering how to tie down a load.

On the plus side, ratchet straps are:

  • Available in light-duty, medium-duty, and heavy-duty versions
  • Much lighter than using chains
  • More convenient than tying ropes
  • Usable for different sizes and shapes of loads

But you do need to be sure you keep an eye on the straps for fraying or other wear. Long-term use on sharp edges, in particular, can lead to the breakdown of the material.

Just as with bungee cords, it’s worth having a set of ratchet straps that you keep in your vehicle for occasions when you need to secure a load. Fortunately, you can find ratchet straps just about anywhere and at all sorts of price points, too.

How to Tie Down a Big, Heavy Load – Use Chains

Tie down chains

 photo by WichienTep via iStock

There’s a reason why you see truckers secure big, heavy loads with chains. There are few options for how to tie down a load that offer as much strength as a big ol’ chain.

While chains give you the highest load capacity, they are also a bear to deal with.

Unlike the options I’ve listed thus far, chains are big, bulky, and very heavy. They take up the most storage space, too.

But, if you’re moving vehicles, heavy machinery, and other really big cargo, you can’t go wrong with chains.

The biggest benefits of chains include:

  • Excellent durability
  • Many different sizes and lengths available 
  • Can secure extremely heavy loads
  • Top-shelf breaking limit

Of course, as I just mentioned, the downside of using chains for securing cargo is that they are heavy and bulky. They are also the most likely of the options I’ve listed here to cause damage to your cargo.

Other Options for Securing Loads

Jeeps driving through shallow lake

 photo by Elli Thor Magnusson via iStock

Learning how to tie down a load might require that you use other methods for maximizing the safety of your cargo. Fortunately, there are other options at your disposal:

  • Cargo nets are great if you’ve got a variety of items in the truck bed or on the trailer. Likewise, nets can cover loads that are loose and lightweight to ensure they stay in the cargo area. 
  • Tarps can also be used to help secure loose and lightweight loads inside a truck bed or trailer. They have the added benefit of providing some measure of protection from the elements as well.
  • Special-use tie-downs are available for specific cargo, too. You can invest in boat straps, axle straps or wheel nets for various vehicles, and tie-downs for everything from motorcycles to kayaks.

Heck, you can even use rope for certain loads, provided the rope you have has the strength to secure the cargo you’re carrying. You also need to know how to tie effective knots, so check out the video above by InnerBark Outdoors to learn how to tie common knots.

With that, you have plenty of resources that will help you learn how to die down a load. It really just comes down to having the appropriate gear and taking the time and care to ensure your cargo is secure.

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