Stuck in the Sand: How to get Unstuck and Back on the Road

Are you living the van life and finding yourself stuck in the sand while traveling in Baja, Mexico? Don’t panic! With the right equipment and a few tips, you can be back on the road in no time. In this post, we’ll discuss what equipment is necessary to get unstuck and how to use it correctly. So keep reading to learn how to get your van out of the sand and back on your journey.

Table of Contents

What To Do If Your Van Gets Stuck in the Sand

If your van is stuck in the sand while traveling in Baja, Mexico, you’ll want to assess the situation first. Take a look around and see if you can move the van even a little bit. If so, determine if the van is stuck in deep sand, or just sitting on top of a soft patch. You can also take a look for any nearby objects such as rocks or trees that could be used for leverage.

Once you have a good understanding of where your van is stuck, it’s time to prepare to get it unstuck. You’ll need some equipment like a shovel, a set of tire traction mats, and possibly a winch. Be sure to have all these items handy in your vehicle when traveling in Baja. 

Blog: Driving in Baja: 15 Essential Products to Bring for a Safe Trip

Step 1: Clear the Sand Away

Using the shovel, start digging around the tires and clearing away the sand from underneath. This will help give the tires more traction and make it easier to drive out. 

  • Avoid spinning your wheels, as this can cause you to dig deeper into the sand.
  • Start digging by hand before using a shovel, as it can be easier to identify the source of the problem.
  • You can wet down the sand around the tires with water. This makes the sand harder, which helps the tires get out of the sand.

Step 2: Air Down Your Tires

Another trick is to air down your tires. Air downing your tires allows to tire to grip and have more traction with the sand. In a lot of situations, this simple act will help you get unstuck. Just make sure you air your tires back up when you get to the pavement.  

I normally air down my off-road tires to 25psi in the front and 35psi in the rear. You might have to air down your tires a little more. I use a tire deflator kit like this one from RINO USA.

Step 3: Use Traction Pads

If there are nearby rocks or trees, use them as leverage points to help pull your van out. Place the tire traction mats near the wheels and slowly drive over them to increase traction. 

Step 4: Call/Seek Help

If you still have trouble getting unstuck after following these steps, it may be time to call for help. Professional tow truck companies in Baja can help quickly get you back on the road. You can also ask locals if they can winch you out or use a tow strap. 

Step 5: Don’t Stress Out

When traveling in Baja, Mexico, getting stuck in the sand can be scary, but it’s actually a rite of passage. Every person who goes down to Baja at least once gets stuck. The people who live there are very friendly and will always help you get out.

If you plan in advance, With the right equipment and a bit of know-how, you can get yourself unstuck in no time. Make sure you keep the necessary items with you when traveling off-road, and don’t forget to upgrade your tires if needed.

Make Weight Your Advantage

You can put more weight on the back end to help it move if you have a two-wheel-drive camper van. Most 2WD cars are made so that most of the weight is on the back tires. Good news for you! You can get your van moving again by putting the right amount of weight on the front and back.

Investing in Off-Road Tires

I use the BF Goodrich K02 Tires and love them. These tires are one of the best things I’ve ever bought. Not only do they drive very smoothly on the highway, but they are also tough enough to handle dirt roads and other slightly rough terrains.

The Equipment You Will Need

When you get stuck in the sand, it’s essential to have the right equipment on hand. Here’s what you’ll need:

A Shovel: A shovel is the most important item for getting your van unstuck from the sand. You can use it to dig out the sand around your van’s tires, helping to create a better angle of attack for extraction. A shovel is easy to use by one person and is compact. Never leave home without one. 

A Traction Mat: Traction mats are designed to provide grip in situations when traditional tires just don’t cut it. A traction mat is placed underneath each of your van’s tires and provides a more reliable way to get unstuck. They are not heavy and easy for someone traveling alone to handle.  

A Tow Strap: Once you’ve dug out the sand around your tires, a tow strap is an essential item for getting your van unstuck. It provides extra leverage and allows you to pull your van out with another vehicle. Make sure you use a tow strap that’s rated for the weight of your van.

If you don’t have these items with you, you may be able to find them at a nearby gas station or convenience store. However, it’s always best to be prepared and have the right equipment on hand before you head out into the desert.

How to Use the Equipment

Using a shovel:

When your van gets stuck in deep sand, use the shovel to dig out a path for the wheels to follow. Start by clearing out any rocks, roots or other obstructions that are preventing the vehicle from driving through. Then, start digging away the sand until you create a shallow ramp that the tires can roll up and out of the hole.

Using traction mats:

If your van is sitting on top of a soft patch, try placing the traction mat under the wheels for added grip. The traction mat will provide more grip for the tires to move forward, allowing you to get back on the road. It’s important to ensure that the mats are placed securely, so they won’t slip while driving.

  • Clear the area around the stuck tires of rocks and sand.
  • Put the traction mats under the wheels and make sure they are pointing in the right direction. the right way to go (the angle is important, too, the mats should be angled upwards so that the tires can actually use them as support).
  • Deflate your tires to get a better grip and a better chance of getting back on the road.
  • Give small amounts of power in first gear if you step on the as the mat might go flying.

Using a tow strap:

If you have a tow strap, you can attach one end to the van and the other end to a solid object such as a tree or a rock. Be sure to use a knot that won’t slip, such as a double fisherman’s knot. Make sure to keep tension on the strap at all times, as sudden jerks can cause it to snap. Slowly pull the vehicle forward until it is free from the sand. Once free, make sure to stop and check the condition of the tow strap before continuing.

When to Call for HELP!

If you’ve exhausted all options, it’s time to call for help.

  1. If you have roadside assistance, call them right away and let them know the exact location of where you are stuck and what the issue is. Most roadside assistance companies will send out a tow truck or another vehicle to help you get unstuck.
  2. If you don’t have roadside assistance, try calling local tow truck companies in the area and see if they can help you out.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from locals as well. In Mexico, you will be surprised at how many people will be willing to help you get unstuck out of the kindness of their heart.

No matter what, make sure you are always safe and prepared. It’s best to have the proper equipment with you to try to free yourself before calling for help. That way you can save yourself some time and money.

Getting Off-Road Tires

Tires with bigger sidewalls and deeper treads are best for driving on sand. Investing in high-quality tires such as BF Goodrich K02 tires will give you the best performance for driving on sand. Not only are these tires smooth on highways but they are also aggressive enough to tackle dirt roads and slightly rough terrains. Additionally, make sure to get your van’s suspension checked before hitting the sand. This will help you navigate sandy roads more easily and prevent getting stuck in the sand.

Extra Tips

  1. Always carry a shovel and a sack of cat litter in your van in case you get stuck. Shoveling out the sand from underneath the tires and laying down the cat litter can help give you more traction and make it easier to get unstuck.
  2. If you have 4WD, try switching it on and off to see if it helps with traction.
  3. You can also try using wooden planks or rocks as a makeshift ramp to help drive the van out of the sand.
  4. If there are other people around, recruit them to help push the van. Make sure everyone is in a safe position before attempting to do so.
  5. Make sure your tires are adequately inflated. Low tire pressure can cause your vehicle to sink deeper into the sand.
  6. Lastly, keep calm! Panicking won’t help you get out of the situation any faster. Take a deep breath and go through each step carefully and methodically to ensure you get out safely.


Getting your van stuck in the sand can be a frustrating and stressful experience, but with the right equipment and a bit of ingenuity, you can get yourself out of a sticky situation. Just remember to stay calm, assess the situation, and use the tools at your disposal to extract your van from the sand. With a little bit of effort, you’ll be back on the road and on your way to new adventures in no time.



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