Recovery gear continues to evolve from the very first rope used to tow another vehicle to today’s modern synthetic lines. The goal has always been to tow more, do it safely, and make it last.
If we look back into the early years of recovery gear the designs were basic, heavy, and utilitarian. The overarching theory was the heavier the better. The bulk of this early gear was brought over from the heavy equipment and crane industry.
The basic design of these early recovery parts worked but the constant danger from a failed part and the difficulty in teaching proper use made them dangerous when not used properly. Add the large size and the extreme forces at work when there was a failure the potential for dismemberment or death was very likely.
As recovery gear began to evolve companies began to downsize these larger components for ones that matched the lightweight vehicles (compared to cranes) they were being used with. The most recent trend is to forego metal products altogether for synthetic line based recovery gear.
One of these pieces of equipment is the pulley block (snatch block or sheave). Made from slabs of steel with a pulley sandwiched in between they remained big, bulky, and heavy.
The Snatch Block Goes Soft
Performance Unlimited in Vermont have begun to redesign the snatch block and replaced the metal with a sailboat style anti-friction ring and a soft shackle rated for 18,000 lbs.
This alternative to the heavy metal pulley block deletes the heavy and unsafe components out of the recovery equation.
Historically when using a pulley block you had to use a shackle of some kind in conjunction but now with this new design it has taken both components and merged them together to create a safer tool for a recovery situation. This equates to less gear and fewer pieces in the rigging.
So taking the aluminum pulley and merging it with a soft shackle, sounds pretty simple right, but how well does it work? It actually works just as well as a metal pulley block. The soft shackle is not as long lasting as cable but it’s also easier to repair in the field, and safer to use.
Is friction an issue? It is but not like we thought. The soft shackle shows some compression spots from the load but can be massaged back into shape. At the low speeds, the pulley seems to absorb the friction, not the soft shackle. This may be partly due to the low speed of off-road winches.
The new snatch block designs have been impressive and a great product that holds up to regular winch use.
Snatch blocks are simple designs and are in integral part to off-road recovery kit. The downside has always been the weight of the blocks and needing multiple heavy pieces to use them. With the advent of the soft shackle, synthetic rope, hookless winch lines, and soft pulley the world of winching keeps getting safer and safer. (Watch for our BleepinJeep Freedom Winch Line review in the coming months!)
Soft Pulley Block Verdict
We now keep the soft pulley in our recovery kit and have been putting it through its paces. It is exposed to various weather elements and I’ll admit, we are not gentle on our gear. It has to be tough and hold up which the soft pulley has been proving to be over and over.