Tom Severin, 4x4 Coach, teaches 4WD owners how to confidently and safely use their vehicles to the fullest extent in difficult terrain and adverse driving conditions. Visit to develop or improve your driving skill. 

Tom Severin

Be Seen And Be Cool

Fish Canyon opening into Panamint Dry Lake

Dune flags are quite popular nowadays. You’ll see all colors and styles, including the American flag, pirate flags, checkerboard flags, rebel flags, “Don’t Tread on Me”, and many others. While the driver may be making a statement with his flag, there is a distinct purpose for the flags, as well.

Be seen in your Jeep with a new Jeep Wrangler top from ExtremeTerrain

Those flags add an element of safety to the sport of four wheeling. Strange as it may seem, collisions do occur in wide open expanses we four-wheelers drive on. Those flags help you see and be seen.

This is especially true in hilly or dusty environments. Hills naturally block views. Climbing a hill or dune, you can’t see what’s on the other side. Is another vehicle coming toward you?

Dust and sand are another problem. While a flag is quite small, if it’s bright orange or red, it often can be seen through the haze of dust. Plus, its height—perhaps six to eight feet above the ground—may place it above most or all of the dust. I’ve witnessed instances when the only thing you could see through the dusty cloud was a couple of flags. You’d be surprised just how low visibility gets on many trails at higher speeds. (BTW remember Tom’s rule: over 10 mph is “fast” off-road! That doesn’t mean we can’t go fast. Just that the dynamics change.)

An added benefit is that by watching the flags of the vehicles ahead, you can get an idea of the terrain. If you see the flags bobbing up and down, that tells you may be headed for some whoop-dee-doo.

Related to that, it’s easier to keep track of the vehicles behind you if they have flags. While in the lead vehicle, I typically can see back at most up to three vehicles. But I can see upwards of a half dozen flags waving behind me. Although the vehicles in my trips are always in radio contact, I also glance in my mirror or over my shoulder frequently to check on the other vehicles progress. Not all drivers travel at the same speed on unfamiliar or difficult terrain. It’s a comforting feeling to look back and see all those flags trailing along knowing the group is together.

At the same time, it’s easier for those in the pack to see the lead vehicle. I recommend that the lead vehicle use a distinctive banner so everyone can spot the vehicle. Vehicles can disappear for a short period while going through brush or down a hill. And, as mentioned before, the dune flag might be seen through or above the dust when its vehicle is not.

Rules, specifications for dune flags

Generally speaking, you aren’t required to use a dune flag while driving off road. The one exception is on public lands containing sand dunes. The Bureau of Land Management requires banners be solid red or orange in color, at least six inches by 12 inches, and placed such that at least part of the banner is within 10 inches of the top of the whip.

BLM a considers a whip to be any pole, rod or antenna mounted on the vehicle that extends at least eight feet from the surface of the ground. It must stand upright when the vehicle is stationary.

Higher quality dune flags and banners (with a pole) usually run about $12 to $15. They can be purchased at any ATV shop, and in most stores and gas stations near off-road areas. As mentioned above, you can use an antenna or most any other whip-like object. You don’t need to buy the unit. Just adhere to BLM’s rules if you’re driving in dunes.

One thing you’ll notice is that the flag or banner doesn’t last long if you use it frequently. Wind, rain, dust and the sun take their toll. My flags tend to fray and fade after about one year. The rod or whip might snap on you, especially if you drive a lot in brushy or wooded areas.<br /><br />How to attach a flag

Because there are so many different styles of vehicles, it would be difficult for the manufacturers of dune flags to design a universal mounting bracket. Instead, the rod or pole comes embedded in a ½-inch bolt. You need to drill a hole for the bolt; a bumper or other sturdy surface might work. If you use your flag frequently a quick disconnect is handy. You can purchase flags with a quick disconnect or you can build one from an air fitting.

Some Jeep owners tuck the pole against the inside hinge of the tailgate. Closing the tailgate keeps the pole upright and secure. You may need to tinker with your dune flag pole, but you should be able to come up with some way to secure it.

Flags serve a very important safety function in four wheeling. They also allow drivers to express themselves a bit. I encourage you to attach a flag to your vehicle and to use it frequently off-road.

Be Seen And Be Cool

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Tom Severin

A Primer on Winching, Part 2

2nd Parachute still needed

A Primer on Winching, Part 2

A winching operation is serious business and should be treated as such. Take your time to think it through before proceeding.
(click picture for higher resolution)

Following up on last month’s article, A Primer on Winching, Part 1 , we’ll delve deeper into the winching process. As with the previous column, this information comes from my exclusive Winch Recovery Bandana, which you can purchase from the Badlands Off-Road Adventures web site.

Winch kit

All successful winching starts with a good winch kit. That kit should include a pair of sturdy, loose fitting leather gloves, a tree strap 15 to 16 feet long, a heavy blanket, four to six D-rings, and a piece of 70 grade 3/8” chain (10 feet is long enough). Let’s look at each component.

Sturdy leather gloves are mandatory. Steel winch line develops small broken wires that will tear into your hands. Loose fitting gloves allow you to pull your hand out if the gloves become caught in the winch or line. A tree strap that is at least 15 feet long will be long enough to go around larger trees. This is done to protect the tree. A chain or cable will cut into the bark, mortally wounding the tree. Also, cable that’s wrapped around a tree and hooked back on itself develops a kink, which weakens the cable. The blanket is used as a “parachute” and placed over the winch line during winching to dampen recoil should the winch line break.

The chain, by the way, needs to be sturdy. Chain strength is given in grades; the higher the number, the stronger the chain. The Working Load limit (WLL) of the chain needs to be in the same range as the rest of your gear. Using higher grade chain (like grade 70) allows appropriate strength in a smaller link size which is easier to store and manage. Chain found at hardware stores is typically around a 43 grade. You will need quite a large link size at that grade. Go with 70 grade (or higher if you can afford it). Higher grade chains have each link welded for extra strength. Finally, having four to six D-rings puts more options at your disposal, especially for complicated winching.

What is working load limit?

I want to stress one thing: Never use equipment whose rating – either working load limit (WLL) or breaking limit – you don’t know. If that information is not on the item, do not use the part. You could put yourself and everyone else in danger.

Working load limit, previously called safe working limit, is just what it means: the maximum stress that the item is designed to handle while in use. For safety reasons, the WLL of winching components is about one-fifth of the item’s breaking strength. Let’s look at some examples. The WLL for grade 70 3/8” chain is 6,600 lbs. D-rings should have a minimum of 3/4” pin. That size has a WLL of 9,500 lbs. You can find the WLL for other sizes of parts on my winching bandana.

After purchasing the parts, if the WLL is only indicated on the package it comes in, make sure you transfer the WLL onto the part permanently. A permanent marker (magic marker or Sharpie) works great on tree straps, whose packaging you pitch after opening. For pulleys and D-rings, carve the information with an engraving pen into the metal. Original sticky labels and markings tend to wear off over time.

Also, never use a recovery strap for winching. Recovery straps are designed to stretch. That stretching builds energy, which is used to snatch a stuck vehicle free. A jerking action while winching is dangerous because of all the metal parts used. A recovery strap adds additional recoil to the winch rigging which is not desirable. If that strap were to break, you’d have a bunch of steel missiles flying around. (For more information on risks of using a recovery strap, see “Don’t Lose Your Head While Recovering a Vehicle.” ) For winching, we want a nice, steady pull.

Winching starts with a vehicle recovery plan

A winching operation is serious business and should be treated as such. Take your time to think it through before proceeding. The following steps are outlined under the Vehicle Recovery Plan section of the bandana.

Make sure everyone in the affected vehicle is safe, especially if the vehicle rolled over. Be prepared to provide first aid, but also make sure the vehicle itself is stable. If not, you may need to attach straps or cables first. Also, look for any hazards that could endanger the recovery crew.

Be careful if the vehicle is perched on its side. You don’t want it dropping on top of you while you’re attaching the cable.

A vehicle recovery plan is essential. Gather everyone together. Get their input, and determine the best course of action. Don’t let anyone start rigging up until you’ve decided what to do. If need be, appoint a leader. Have someone (that could be you) take charge of the situation. The winching should be done in an orderly manner.

Inspect the vehicle. Are there any broken of dangling parts that could affect the recovery? What about leaking liquids? Do something to capture those until you can devote time to the environmental issues and clean up.

Determine your exit path, and get a lay of the land. See if there are any obstacles you’ll need to overcome. What is the best direction to go? It’s always easier to go downhill, but you may find that pulling a few feet up and over a hill or obstacle makes more sense.

If the vehicle is on a slope, set the emergency brake. You don’t want the vehicle rolling downhill once it’s freed up.

Plan the rigging. Estimate your stuck load, and calculate whether you have the capability to handle the load. (See the sidebar for more information.) Pulleys add friction, so remember to add 10% to the load for each pulley used.

But pulleys also aid in pulling. A full discussion is beyond the scope of this article. Just remember that when you use one "moving" pulley, the winch “sees” only one-half of the total load. (Only one-third, if two "moving" pulleys are used.) The total load may be 10,000 lbs. but the winch needs to pull only 5,500 lbs. (10,000 plus 10% for the pulley divided by 2).

Last step

Set up the rigging and double check it. Take up the slack and re-inspect for correct assembly. Proceed with the recovery.

This may seem like a lot of steps—especially when you’re following off the bandana—but after doing a couple, it’s easy to pick up the fundamentals of winching. For additional, hands-on training, sign up for one of my winching courses.


A number of variables go into estimating the stuck load:

Stuck Factors are:

Weight of the vehicle and its contents (aka Gross Vehicle Weight –GVW) Type of material it’s stuck in and how deep Slope to be pulled up or down

Ground Conditions Resistance

For only shallowly stuck (i.e. no traction) here are the numbers for various types of ground. Don’t try to memorize them all. Assume 70% for mud and 35% for any other type of ground. Those numbers will get you close enough in your calculations in the field.

% OF GVW Pavement/ Hard Surface 2-4% Grass 8-14% Wet sand 15-20% Gravel 10-20% Soft, Dry sand 25-35% Light, shallow mud 30-35% Heavy, deep mud 40-60% Deep Clay Mud 50-70%

Depth Resistance

(Overrides ground condition – use this instead of the shallowly stuck numbers above.) Up to axles 100% of GVW Top of the tires 200% of GVW Hood / Body 300% of GVW

Slope Resistance

(Gravity has to be taken into account. It adds to the load for uphill pull)
Slope in degrees divided by 60 times the vehicle’s weight up to a 60-degree slope. For a more severe angle, use 100% of vehicle weight.

Let’s say the vehicle is on a 30-degree slope: 30 degrees / 60 = 50% x 5,000 GVW = 2,500 lbs.

Finally Calculation

Add ground conditions resistance (or depth resistance) to slope resistance for load estimate.

Related Articles from Badlands Off-road Adventures

A Primer on Winching, Part 1 Press Release - Winch Recovery Bandana Don't Lose Your Head While Recovering a Vehicle Wick it up, Bud! Clean Up Toxic Spills Promptly, Thoroughly

Did you miss the previous articles?

A Primer on Winching, Part 1 Set Your Tent Up Right 12 Must Have Books for the 4 Wheeler 6 7 Reasons Why Your Spouse Should Learn to Drive Off Road. Maintain Your Edge

Media Release

Winch Recovery Bandana

Click for higher resolution image
Badlands Off-Road Adventures, Inc. just released their "Winching Recovery Bandana".

According to Tom Severin, President of Badlands Off-Road Adventures, "the Bandana is a fantastic supplement to the Badlands Off-Road Adventure "Basic to Advanced Winching and Recovery DVD". The Bandana is packed full of useful information and is a quick reference in the field when no DVD player is available."

A winch is a useful off-road tool that can quickly become dangerous and potentially lethal to the operator and spectators. Proper use requires good working knowledge of safety procedures, safe riggings and inspection. Since winches are not used often, the Bandana serves as a quick reminder of the details learned in the training class and watching the DVD.

The Bandana layout follows the “Vehicle Recovery Plan” with pathways to more detail. A unique section of the Bandana, gives the steps for a “Winch Rigging Check: Walk through” so that you verify every element of the rigging before you commit to the pull. Stuff this in your recovery kit and you will always be ready!

Badlands Off-Road Adventures will be stocking their Dealers soon. Additional colors will be available in the near future. The Bandana can be ordered at - Winch Recovery Bandana" Pick up or order the Winching DVD too! There is no substitute for hands on training. If you can, sign up for one of Badlands Off-Road Adventure’s Winching Clinics.

Warning – the Bandana and DVD are not a substitute for proper training and use of quality equipment that is used within the bounds of their safe working load. We advise you to use the information provided in both the Winching Recovery Bandana and the "Basic to Advanced Winching and Recovery DVD" at your own risk. We cannot control the quality and specifications of the equipment used and the methods actually employed.

Winch Recovery Bandana Order Button
Yellow Natural



Toys for Tots December 8th & 9th, 2012

It's time again for the 6th annual Toys for Tots is at its new location in Hungry Valley State Vehicle Recreation Area, Gorman CA Located just north of Los Angeles.

The entire Aliklik Campground right next to the 4x4 Practice Course has been reserved for the event. The campground is near trails for exploration and serves as the gateway to the Los Padres NF.

Bring a new unwrapped toy valued at $10 or more to the meet up. You get a raffle ticket for your contribution. PLEASE NOTE: For every 5th toy you donate you will receive an additional raffle ticket. Check out everyone's rigs, meet new people and see some you already know. Food will be providing lunch on site. Hotdogs, chips and sodas.
On Saturday check in starts at 9am. We'll start grilling around NOON and start the raffle about 2pm. The rest of the time, you can drop off toys (if after the raffle, you won't get a chance to win anything), meander around and ogle the rigs and meet fellow off road enthusiasts from all over the www. On Sunday, for those who've camped there may be a trail run up to Alamo Mountain. More information on this as it becomes available. The trail run will be a scenic and simple route. Nothing hardcore.

For more information check out the facebook page:

November/ December Schedule

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November 24-25 T&T Rail Road Adventure
December 01 Getting Started Off-Road Driving - LA area
December 02 Advanced Beginner Clinic - Mojave CA
December 08 Getting Started Off-Road Driving - San Diego area
December 09 Basic to Advanced Winching Clinic - San Diego area
December 15 Starting Rock Crawling Clinic

T&T Rail Road Adventure in November

Our goal is to cross through Johnson Valley, enjoying what it has to offer, and making our way North along the old Tonopah & Tidewater (T&T) Rail Road bed to the Rasor OHV, Afton Canyon and the western edge of the Mojave Preserve. On the way we will skirt the Rodman Mountain Wilderness and cross I-40. This adventure is 2 days of scenic, historical, light wheeling and a night ( 2 if you prefer) of primitive camping under the stars. We can plan a Dutch Oven pot luck for our evening meal.
Check out the details and sign up on the website:

You can register directly at


Getting Started Off-road Driving Clinic - LA December 01, 2012

The clinic is held in Hungry Valley State Vehicle Recreation Area near Gorman CA. This clinic is specifically designed to meet the needs of novice off-highway drivers or someone with a bit of experience who is looking for a more complete understanding. This is a one-day session. The session includes classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction. More Details...

You can register directly here


Advanced Beginner Clinic December 02

There is no Advanced Beginner Clinic scheduled in November. Your next shot at it is December 2nd in Mojave, CA. Next year, we have scheduled a few Advanced Beginner clinics for Borrego Springs.
The clinic is held in the El Paso Mountains near Mojave CA. The goal is to help you get a "better feel" for tire placement and to visualize the obstacles as they move into your blind zone. You will gain more behind the wheel experience combined with picking lines. The difficulty level is one step higher than the basic class and you can expect some pin striping. More Details...

You can register directly at


Getting Started Off-road Driving Clinic - San Diego December 08, 2012

This will be the second class since we announced the additional sessions in Borrego Springs, CA which is about 90 miles east of San Diego.
You will receive the same instruction as the Getting Started Classes we have been holding in hungry Valley. This is a one-day session. The session includes classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction. More Details...

You can register directly here


Winch Clinic - San Diego Area December 09, 2012

This one day clinic starts with the basics. If you are considering installing a powered winch on your vehicle, or have one already but need training to learn how to get the best from it and do it safely, you need to take this class. The one day course covers: safety related issues, basic operation of the winch, simple and complex riggings, stuck assessment, winch capability, and minimizing environmental impact. This is a hands on class. By the end of the day you will be safely rigging some complex recoveries. More Details...

You can register directly at


Rocks Clinic December 15

The Class will be in Johnson Valley. This is an introduction to Rock crawling but it is not on "baby" rocks. We take out time and stress careful wheel placement. We use spotters for difficult sections. You learn by inspecting the obstacle and predicting the line; by watching others try their line; by experiencing it yourself; and by the coaching. We recommend you repeat the training several times. You will be much more relaxed the second time over the same obstacles and you will pick up on little details missed the first time. More Details...

You can register directly at


Easter Safari Moab, UT March 25, 2013

If you are thinking of attending Easter Safari next year (2013), it would be a good idea to book a room now and put your vacation request in. The motels are starting to fill up. Easter Safari starts March 23, 2013 and runs thru Easter March 31, 2013. Our plan is only to participate for Monday thru Friday (25-29). If you have the same idea, you need a room for 6 nights – arrive Sunday March 24 and depart the morning of March 30th.

Expect the rates to be higher for Easter Safari. You can try the Big Horn 435-259-6171 ($109 & $129 ). Motel 6 does not start booking until about January. They haven’t set the rate but it will be $129- $139 (435-259-6686). There are lots of hotels in Moab. These are just a few of the cheaper ones.

The Moab Information Center can help will lists of motels, condos, campsites, RV Parks, etc. 800-635-6622

This link of theirs is a complete list of motels.

If you want to join Badlands Off-Road Adventures, this link will take you to our plan and program.


The Badlands Off-road Adventures Store

Click here if you cannot see the full store


I hope to see you on the trails!
Tom Severin, President
Badlands Off Road Adventures, Inc.
4-Wheel Drive School
Make it Fun. Keep it Safe.
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Copyright 2012, Badlands Off-Road Adventures, Inc.

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