There’s a good chance that at some point in your campervan career, you will get stuck in the mud. It’s a rite of passage for campervanners and something that you will make a serious effort to avoid after the first time it happens to you. In this article we look at some tips to help you avoid getting stuck in the mud and some things you can do to help you escape if you do get stuck.
If your campervan is stuck in the mud, keep calm, think it out and go slowly. Avoid spinning the wheels as much as possible as you will just dig yourself in further. Pulling away using a higher gear can help. You may need to increase traction by putting a high friction surface under the wheels. Once you start moving, don’t rev, just keep rolling at the same pace until you are on firm ground again.
Don’t get stuck in the first place
Sounds a bit obvious but, strategically speaking, this is by far your best option. It’s worth a few minutes of extra effort to find a good pitch for your campervan rather than having to deal with escaping soft or muddy ground the following morning.
Pick the right pitch?
Always park on a hardstanding pitch, if possible. Beware grass pitches that look firm but turn out to be anything but, especially if your campervan is heavy. It’s disheartening to park up on what appears to be firm grass but after a few hours, find your wheels have sunk a few inches into it.
If you are at a campsite with no hardstanding pitches or at a festival, you may have no option but to pitch up on grass. If this is the case, make sure you carefully check out your pitch before you pull on to it.
Test the Ground
Inspect and test the ground where you want to park. Make sure it’s firm enough to support the weight of your campervan and not, for example, in a dip where water will collect. If you are in any doubt, look elsewhere.
Drive on to your pitch slowly and if you feel the campervan sinking, stop and back off very slowly.
Plan for an easy escape. If possible, make sure you are facing in the direction of the quickest route to hard ground.
Get advice from site owners
If you are on an official campsite, ask the site owners about where the best ground is for campervans. It’s in their interests for you not to get stuck so will usually be happy to help.
Check the weather
Check the weather for the area you are going to camp in. If it’s likely to rain, the ground will probably get softer the more it rains. If it does rain then check the ground frequently. If it’s soaking the water up and getting softer, rather than draining, move your campervan sooner rather than later.
Spread the load
After you have parked up, the weight of the campervan plus your movement inside the van can cause the wheels to start sinking into the soft ground, little by little. Standing the wheels on something flat, like waffle boards or tyre mats will help to prevent you sinking into the mud.
We’ve seen lots of good options including; tyre traction mats, sand ladders or homemade versions made from cut-out plastic bread baskets or planks covered in non-slip material.
Anything that spreads the load and stops the tyres from sinking will help. If you also have a grippy surface on top of the boards or mats, it will help you move forward when it’s time to move on again.
The right tyres can help
If you know you will be travelling in snow and bad weather, we would recommend fitting winter tyres. They are possibly one of the best ways to deal with slippery ground. They are made from slightly softer rubber which grips better in wet conditions. The tread pattern is also designed for gripping slippery surfaces.
Winter tyres are compulsory in some countries in the winter but not in the UK and they can be an expensive option. They cost more than regular tyres and can wear quicker.
Some tyre fitting specialists offer a service to store winter tyres so that you only use them when the conditions require it. There will obviously be a cost to change them though.
What if you are Stuck in the Mud?
If, despite your best efforts to pitch in a good spot, you find yourself stuck in the mud, what do you do? First of all, stay calm and go easy on the gas pedal or you’ll just dig yourself a bigger hole. Once you are in a deep hole it’s going to be a lot more difficult to get out.
How to drive out of soft ground and mud
The key thing is to try to prevent the wheels from spinning. You could try and pull away in second gear. The higher gear can help to prevent spinning. You’ll need to bring up the clutch slowly and carefully to prevent stalling. Also try and keep the revs low, if you can. It’s a difficult balance.
If your van has enough torque, you could try pulling away just on tick-over, i.e. without touching the gas pedal. It stops you accidentally giving it too many revs. You may need to be in first gear to do this.
If that doesn’t work try the same thing in reverse, in case there is more grip or more of a slope in that direction. Reverse gear is normally a low gear so bring the clutch up slowly and keep the revs low.
Important – Once you start to move, keep rolling nice and steady until you are on hard ground. If you don’t keep going, you can just end up back at square one.
Get more traction in the mud by using tyre mats
If the wheels still spin after trying the three options above, you have a bit more of a problem. You will need to try to do something to get more traction.
Tyre traction mats can be useful to help you get more traction in muddy ground. They’re inexpensive and made from lightweight plastic and usually hinged or rollable so easy to store and use.
Tyre mats are going to work best, if you are already parked on them as described above. Otherwise, you may need to some digging to get the tyre mats under the drive wheels.
If the van is of the lighter variety, and there are enough people, you may be able to rock the van side to side and, at the same time push the mat under the drive wheels enough for them to get some grip.
Your tyres will normally grip to the mats pretty well. However, one potential problem is that the mats may grip the tyre but not mud underneath and can just shoot out of the back, leaving the van where it was. Make sure you, and anyone else, is standing well clear of the campervan and the possible trajectory of the tyre mat before attempting to pull away.
The method we have had most success with is digging behind the drive wheels so the mat fits under the back of the wheel and then carefully reversing out.
Bread baskets, sand ladders and waffle boards
Cut down bread baskets have been a standard method of creating a homemade tyre mat for some time. It’s a cheap option if you can find a couple of bread baskets nobody wants but a set of tyre mats is not very expensive anyway.
Sand ladders and waffle boards are excellent alternatives to tyre mats and preferred by some. Like tyre mats, they are basically a plastic or metal strip that you place under the driving wheels to give them something to grip. They’re designed for sand but also work well in mud. They sink into the mud allowing your tyres to grip on the top of the sand ladder whilst the sand ladder holds firm down in the mud.
We actually prefer sand ladders and waffle boards to the foldable tyre boards as they’re a bit more solid and less flexible and, therefore, less likely to shoot away.
They are mostly a little heavier than traction mats and, because they’re not usually foldable, can take up a bit more room. They can be a little more expensive than the basic tyre boards but we’re still not taking big money and a pair of these will be worth every penny, if you ever need them. Carrying two pairs would be even better, if you can spare the storage space.
Try carpets and rubber mats
If you don’t have any of the equipment mentioned above in your locker, you many need to improvise with other items in your van such as carpet, rubber mats or wooden planks. Campervanners have successfully escaped from mud by improvising in this way but please be aware that whatever you use will most likely be damaged in the process and are more likely than purpose-built equipment to come flying out from the wheel as previously described. Be particularly careful with wooden planks as these can kick up and cause damage to your campervan.
Some campervanners carry snow chains which is very wise, if you are winter campervanner but snow presents a different problem to mud. Some campervanners claim to have had success with this method but using snow chains to escape mud may just turn your spinning wheels into very effective excavators. If your chains can’t get a good grip, they will just dig a deeper hole very quickly.
Try letting air out of tyres
Important – Only attempt this as a last resort and only if you have a reliable pump with you so you can pump the tyres back up again immediately after escaping the mud. You do not want to drive anywhere with low tyre pressure in a heavy vehicle.
Letting the tyres down until they are squishy allows them to spread out, presenting a wider surface area to the ground. Hopefully, this will improve your grip on the mud. Try and drive out slowly as described above.
What if you can’t get enough traction in the mud
If you have tried everything and you can’t get enough grip in the mud to drive out, your only realistic option is to get towed out.
If you’re wild camping you could have a long wait. A roadside recovery service like AA/RAC/Green Flag etc. may be able to help.
If you are on a camp site, the owners may have a tractor or big 4×4 that can pull you out. Some well equipped festivals may also have a tractor available – see https://festivalvanlife.com/extreme-campervan-conversion-big-yellow-bus/
Carry a tow rope
A tow rope is an essential bit of kit to carry in a campervan. Having one means you are not relying on someone else to have one if you need a tow. Make sure you know where the tow points are. There will be one at the front and some campervans also have one at the back of the vehicle.
It’s a good idea to locate the tow points before you need them, so do it now – check your handbook. It will save a lot of searching around in the mud when you actually need to be towed.
Try to avoid getting stuck in the first place, a little planning goes a long way. If you think you are starting to sink into the ground, move the van before it gets any worse. Try to move away slowly from soft ground and avoid spinning the wheels, if you can. If your wheels are spinning, use tyre mats, sand ladders or waffle boards to give you more grip. And, if all else fails, make sure you have a tow rope handy.
Good luck and always travel in style and comfort.