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Soft vs Steel Shackles

The proper recovery gear when off-roading is the first thing you should invest in. Using the wrong stuff can lead to serious injuries, broken trucks, and stranded adventurers. 

One of the most important parts of any recovery kit is shackles. They enable us to undertake various types of recoveries. 

As with many things, there are different types and sizes of them. In today’s article, we are going to go through the pros and cons of soft shackles, like those pictured above. 

Steel Shackle attached to front bumper

We’ll also have a look at steel shackles, like the ones in the photo above. What are the advantages of steel shackles? Are they better than soft shackles? Let’s find out!

Soft vs Steel Shackles: Safety

SUV Stuck in the mud

Photo by fdevalera via iStock

Now I am pretty sure you’ve already guessed which one of the two is safest – but in case you didn’t, here it goes – the soft shackle. Why? Well, imagine a steel shackle flying towards someone with all that force. I don’t need to tell you what’s going to happen. 

Or imagine it hitting your hood or windshield, it will most probably destroy them. 

A soft shackle will bloody hurt if it hits you, but you’ll live to see another day. The same is true for your windshield and hood. 

Soft vs Steel Shackles: Recovery Point Compatibility

Attachment point to SUV

Photo by Alikaj2582 via istock 

The sharp edges of front recovery points can slowly tear the soft shackle leading to failure. In this case of soft vs steel shackles, a steel shackle is better. 

Rear recovery points with beveled edges exist; therefore, it is fine to use a soft shackle. However, if you leave it hanging from the back recovery point it can rub against sharp rocks and lose its strength over time. 

Shackle Corrosion and Wear

Soft vs Steel -Shackle Corrosion and Wear 4

Obviously, a soft shackle won’t rust. It will weaken from use, sharp edges, weather, and UV sunlight though. The best way to prolong its life is to keep it stored inside your truck.

A steel shackle can take a lot of punishment but will rust – and when it does, it will seize, and you won’t be able to unbolt it. To prevent that, spray some lubricant spray on the threads.

On corrugated roads, a steel shackle hanging from a recovery point can come undone and you’ll be one shackle down. Therefore, when driving in such conditions it is recommended to remove it beforehand.  

Learn More:

Load Rating for Shackles

two Silver shacles

Photo by DarthArt via iStock

On steel shackles, the breaking strength is usually five times the rated load limit. Thus, a three-ton steel shackle can handle forces of up to 15 tons. 

The majority of soft shackles come rated at about 13-15 tons depending on what you buy. The strength both of them offer is more than enough for most 4×4 recoveries. So in this soft vs steel shackles debate, it’s a draw.

Sizes of ShacklesDifferent sized steel shackles

Photo by Main_sail via iStock

With soft shackles, one size fits all. Their opening is far bigger than that of a steel one; therefore, combining multiple straps together won’t be an issue. 

A steel shackle has a very small opening which can be a pain to fit your snatch straps through. The larger ones may be too thick for certain recovery point holes. 

Oh, and good luck fitting a tree trunk protector and snatch block through that tiny hole. Trust me, you’ll curse a lot. 

Price of Shackles

Steel shackle on the ground in front of a truck

Photo by undefined undefined via iStock

Steel shackles have been used for decades and therefore, are widely available and cheap. Prices range from $15-$25.

Soft shackles exist solely for 4WD recoveries, they are a new technology and as a result are slightly more expensive. A good one will generally set you back anywhere between $30-$70.

Soft vs Steel Shackles: Which One Should You Buy? 

It depends on your vehicle, and the types of recoveries you are planning on doing. If you mostly stay on dirt roads, rarely ever use a winch or get stuck and just need something cheap that will do the job in case things go pear-shaped, go for two steel shackles. 

If your vehicle is light, a 3-ton shackle will be just fine. Although fitting snatch straps through that will be a pain. If it’s a heavy truck opt for anything above 4 tons. 

Now, if you regularly get yourself in sticky situations and complex winch recoveries are on your list, then a soft shackle would be better – solely based on ease of use. 

Ideally, two steel shackles and one soft shackle and winch ring should be carried – these will get you out of most situations. If you want to be even safer include a second soft shackle. 

A steel shackle isn’t better than a soft shackle – the opposite is also true. Each one of them has its uses and based on the situation – you should have the knowledge to decide which one of the two is best suited.

Hopefully, this article has helped you decide if you should carry both or just one of the two. What do you think? Do you have anything else to add to the soft vs steel shackle debate? 

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