In the world of four wheel driving, most people know about winches and snatch straps. They are very different in many ways (including the price) but will achieve very similar outcomes. A Snatch Strap is basically a long strap with some elasticity in it, allowing the strap to stretch up to 20% of its length. The idea behind these is simple – when a four wheel drive is stuck, you attach the strap to rated recovery points on both vehicles and one vehicle pulls the other out. The advantage of a strap that can stretch is that you can get a run up and when the strap takes up it will stretch and the energy is slowly applied to the stuck vehicle. If you did it with a rope that didn’t stretch, it would either snap or it would put some serious shock onto both vehicles.
Snatch straps are great for recovering in sand, mud, snow and even rocks. In many cases you only need a small tug anyway, so the stretch is not needed. However, in some cases having the ability to get a bit of extra momentum is needed. These start off at around $40 and are well worth having in your vehicle. The only downside though, is that you need two cars to use them!
Winches on the other hand, are a bit more versatile. They can be attached to another vehicle or tree, meaning you can usually get out even when you don’t have another vehicle around. If there is no trees, you can bury a spare tyre and winch off that. Winches have a number of advantages over snatch straps, but the main one is that they are slower and more controlled. Rather than having to build up a considerable amount of kinetic energy, you can slowly pull a vehicle out. This is very advantageous when you are four wheel driving on rocks. If you give a sudden tug to a vehicle on rocks you are likely to cause damage or make the situation worse.
Obviously winches are much more expensive (and you can only pull forwards unless you have a rear winch!), but they are very common on four wheel drives today. The biggest gripe I have with both winches and snatch straps is the risk that they can apply to both people and four wheel drives. If either snaps, some serious damage can occur. Many people have been killed using these, and they are very dangerous if used correctly.
My preference then (for everything except rocks) is Maxtrax. These are engineer grade nylon boards which you simply place under the tyres of your vehicle. From there, you can drive onto them and you are out in seconds. There is no need for excessive force on the vehicle (and you can do it without needing another car), there is no risk of anything breaking and going flying through the air and they are considerably quicker and easier to use. You will get a four wheel drive that is stuck on the beach out in half of the time it takes to rig up a snatch strap or winch (with no risk too!)