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Updated: May 6, 2020


Although some off-roaders will tell you that their best 4x4 memories involve a long and arduous recovery, others feel that getting bogged down is something to be embarrassed about. And so, many 4x4 enthusiasts tend to rush the recovery process and invariably make the situation worse before it gets better.

This also explains why so many recovery tools are considered dangerous to operate; but a more accurate statement would be that these devices are dangerous only because they’re misused and impatiently operated.

The High-Lift Jack has a particularly bad rep in the fear-factor department, and as a result, some folks tend to favor the Air Jack as a safer alternative. But aside from its presumed safety aspect, an Air Jack has other benefits, too: it’s fast-acting (when used with the exhaust-pipe attachment), requires no recovery points, and is incredibly stable on soft ground.

However, Air Jacks aren’t entirely free of risk. As mentioned before, an Air Jack can be inflated using a portal air compressor (it will have to be a powerful one), or via an exhaust-pipe attachment. If you use the exhaust-gas method you need to keep a close eye on the jack during its inflation, as the speed of its operation (time taken to raise the vehicle) is surprisingly rapid − and depending on your vehicle’s centre of gravity, there is a risk of toppling your 4x4 if you inflate the bag too far. You may also be worried about the bag bursting under extreme pressure, but a more likely scenario is that the exhaust-pipe attachment will shoot off the vehicle’s tailpipe.

The other disadvantage of an Air Jack is its bulky construction – particularly when packed away. Even when rolled up and fully deflated, the Air Jack occupies a lot of boot space, and on top of that, you’ve also got a thick rubber hose to find space for. Ironically, most folk will pack their Air Jack where it’s least accessible, thinking that they’ll seldom need it. Invariably, they’ll attempt countless recovery shortcuts before they finally commit to unpacking the Air Jack.

In contrast, a High-Lift Jack is readily available, whether it is bolted to the side of a roof-rack, in front of a bumper, or mounted on a spare wheel at the rear. What’s more, the greatest benefit of a High-Lift Jack is its incredible versatility – it’s the Leatherman of recovery tools.

The High-Lift Jack was first invented in the late 1800s and has remained largely unchanged in its mechanical operation and design. It can be used to lift, push, pull and topple a 4x4 from an obstacle; in some instances, you can even use it to move a rock or tree trunk off the road.

The High-Lift Jack is considered by some to be a dangerous tool to operate; and these claims are often related to the jack accidentally shifting, falling, and/or crushing the user’s fingers. For this reason, the most important tip when operating a High-Lift Jack is to be absolutely sure that the vehicle’s tyres are securely chocked and unable to roll backwards or forwards. The other thing to remember is that the jack’s footplate must be placed on level ground. You should also wear gloves when operating a High-Lift Jack; and most important of all: Don’t hold the jack’s stem with your free hand! In the event of the vehicle shifting and the jack toppling forward, you don’t want your fingers caught between the jack stem and your 4x4’s bumper.

Both recovery tools have their merits, and are worthwhile purchasing, but if you have to chose, a lot can be said about the High-Lift Jack’s simplicity, versatility, and the fact that it’s been around (unchanged) for more than 100 years.


They are fast acting

Require no jacking points

Are stable on uneven ground

Are ideal for soft surfaces – sand and snow

Are relatively safe to use for the operator

There is little risk of damaging the vehicle


They are bulky and cumbersome

They require lots of packing space


They are incredibly versatile – pull, push, lift and shift

They require very little packing space

They are easily accessible when mounted externally

They boast a bulletproof construction and straightforward design

Their access and set-up is quick


They require jacking points

They can be dangerous when used incorrectly

They can damage the vehicle when used incorrectly

They may require additional components and/or attachments

They require a relatively flat surface

Remember to book your 4x4 Recovery Training course with SA Adventure to learn how to use both a Hi Lift and Air Jack in a practical and safe environment!

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