How To Winch Without Trees (Dead Man Anchor)

| Last Updated: April 21, 2021

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If you’re an avid off-roading enthusiast, you may come across a situation where you get stuck. But no problem, you just find a tree or a rock to attach your winch to. But what if these anchors aren’t available?

Well, you’re in quite a pickle. Fortunately, you have another alternative: the dead man anchor, also known as a ground anchor.

If you ever have to winch without trees, this could be a potentially disaster-saving technique. Here’s how to do it.

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Quick Questions Before Starting

Before you create a dead man anchor, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. In most cases, you’re probably miles from civilization, so you’ll have no other option. But here’s what it entails.

How Difficult is This to Complete?

If you’re in decent shape, a dead man anchor isn’t outrageously difficult. The only problem is that you’ll need to shovel quite a distance into the ground. If you’re out of shape, you may have to work in short bursts and take a break as necessary. As a result, this technique lies somewhere in the medium to hard difficulty range.

How Long Does it Take to Complete?

Depending on the terrain and the hardness or softness of the soil this could take anywhere from three to 10 hours. 

How Much Do Materials Cost?

The only things you really need to execute a dead man anchor are a shovel and some sort of anchor to put in the ground — typically a spare tire. That brings the cost to around $130 to $250.

You may also want to consider the Deadman, which is a product made specifically when you need a dead man anchor. This product retails for about $250.

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Items Needed to Winch With a Dead Man Anchor

To winch with a dead man anchor, you don’t need many items: just a spare tire or heavy object and a shovel will do. Just make sure you always have a shovel in your vehicle when you’re off-roading for these scary situations.


If you buy a small telescoping shovel, it may cost you around $30 whereas a quality full-size shovel maybe around $50.

Spare Tire

If you’re off-roading, chances are you already have a spare tire that’s the same size, make, and model as your current tires. In this case, it probably costs around $200. But if you’re working with a donut-style spare, you probably only spent around $100.

Note: Since you may have these items already, the cost is negligible. However, you should spring for the shovel as soon as possible and make it part of the emergency survival kit for your vehicle.

How to Winch Without Trees

Winching without trees is quite the undertaking. It requires patience, resilience, and perseverance. But desperate times call for desperate measures. So here are the steps to take to ensure your hours of digging aren’t in vain.

1. Exhaust Every Other Resource

Before you decide to try a dead man anchor, try reversing, accelerating, or digging out the tires as much as possible. With some luck, this may help your vehicle become unstuck.

2. Start Digging

If your attempts to extricate your vehicle don’t work, it’s time to start digging. But before you start to dig, make sure the hole is in a straight line with your vehicle, if possible.

You may also want to pull the cable out to where the hold should be, giving yourself plenty of length in the process.

The soil is a huge factor in how deep you’ll need to dig. 

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In soft soil, you’ll need to dig deeper while hard soil doesn’t require as deep of a hole (although the digging might be far more strenuous). Make sure to dig straight down because if you angle the holes, the anchor could slip out.

3. Select an Anchor

Search for the heaviest item you can find to serve as your anchor. This is usually a spare tire, but if that’s not a possibility, look for a larger-sized rock or a log.

4. Attach the Cable and Bury the Anchor

Once you’ve dug the hole and selected the anchor, hook your cable around the anchor.

If possible, angle it away from your vehicle, as this will make the anchor more steady and durable. Fill the hole back up with soil and pack it down as tightly as possible.

5. Engage the Winch

After putting the dead man anchor in place and packing the soil, engage your winch. This should pull your vehicle out of its stuck position.

But if the anchor comes out, you’ll need to start back at the beginning. This time, bury the anchor even deeper than before.

6. Retrieve the Anchor

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After you’ve pulled yourself out, don’t forget to retrieve the anchor that’s buried in the ground. This may take some extra effort, but when you can look back upon the situation with a smile, you’ll be glad you grabbed your spare tire.

Tips and Safety Considerations When Winching With a Dead Man Anchor

As with any winching, you’ll need to follow proper safety considerations unless you want to make a dreadful situation even worse.

Stand Clear of Danger

When you’re engaging the winch, don’t stand near the winch itself. If the line snaps or the anchor becomes uprooted, it can hit you with enough force to do some serious damage.

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Take Breaks While You’re Digging

Digging requires you to exert a ton of energy. If the temperatures are hot or humid, this can exacerbate the problem and put a lot of stress on your body. Plus, this digging will probably take a minimum of three hours. As a result, you should take frequent breaks while you’re digging. If you’re traveling with a partner, switch every five to 10 minutes or whenever one of you starts to tire. And like with any type of strenuous exercise, drink plenty of fluids and eat food to replenish your energy levels.

Always Tell People Where You’re Going

To avoid having to create the makeshift dead man anchor, take precautions before you go off-roading. Always tell someone where you’re going and when you intend to return home. If you aren’t home by that time, this friend or family member can sound the alarm and get help on its way.

Wear Gloves

When you’re winching, especially with a steel cable, you should always wear thick, durable gloves. This will prevent you from metal splinters or jagged edges on the cable. 

Besides, wearing gloves is a necessity when you’re shoveling that much dirt.

A cubic yard of dirt, which is roughly how much you’ll have to dig out, weighs 2,200 pounds. When you’re shoveling out a pound or two of soil at a time, that means you have to repeat the motion 1,000 times.

Such a repetitive motion can cause blisters on your hands in no time at all, making a bad situation even worse. That’s why you should always have a pair of gloves in your truck or SUV.

Don’t Be a Dead Man; Practice Ahead of Time

Like the Boy Scout slogan says: “Be prepared.” When you’re off-roading in remote areas, these are words to live by. Not only should you always keep a shovel, gloves, water, and provisions in your vehicle, but you may also want to practice the dead man anchor. By attempting it ahead of time, you’ll know just what you have to do. Without the added worry and panic, you can get back to civilization and have one crazy story to tell your friends and family.

People Also Ask

Used almost exclusively in life or death situations, the dead man anchor raises a lot of concerns. So if you’re feeling inquisitive, and you probably should be, here are some of the questions people also ask about how to winch without trees.

What Are Dead Man Anchor Stakes?

Dead man anchor stakes are a type of metal or wooden stake that can be driven into the ground to act as an anchor. Some of these may also be an auger, which you can twist into the ground for an even sturdier anchor.

Should You Wheel Alone?

As a general rule, you should never wheel (off-road) alone. But sometimes, you just want to get out there by yourself. If you decide to wheel alone, just make sure to tell your spouse, friend, or family member where you’ll be and when you decide to come back.

I used to work in construction and landscaping, so I've seen my fair share of ratchet straps, winches, and similar rigging gear. I started Winch Central because I've seen some nasty accidents due to crappy rigging or poor practice. I wanted to be able to recommend good equipment that's SAFE and also provide resources for how its used. I handle the research side of things here as well as product selection for gear reviews.