The Basics of Tie Down Straps

There’s a local morning radio show that plays a special call-in feature before every major holiday, “Where Ya Going, Whatcha Taking?” Listeners phone in with colorful tales of mothers-in-law, great uncles and green bean casserole. But sometimes the “what you’re taking” part is much more complicated than holding a delicious raspberry fluff on your lap.

Say you are headed out for a weekend camping trip, helping your best friend move every one of his worldly possessions or picking up Grandma, who gets around best with the help of a power scooter. Whether you are trailering, loading into the bed of a pickup truck or have a handy hitch-mounted carrier, you need to secure the items being transported in the most safe, dependable way. What kind of tie down straps will best do the job?

First, understand there are much better options than using a length of rope or a bungee cord you dug out of the garage. Not using the proper equipment and techniques puts you, other motorists and your possessions at risk. You also need to consider the size of the job at hand and make sure you have straps that are the proper length, width and strength.

There are many lengths of tie downs available, from just a few feet to upwards of 40 feet for commercial trucking applications. The same holds true for strap width, typically ranging from one to four inches wide. Just remember that when it comes to tie downs, “more” is, generally speaking, better. In other words, better to be safe with heavier straps than sorry with tie downs that are not strong enough for the job.

Tie down straps come with two ratings to indicate overall strength. While the Break Strength rating tells you the minimum weight it would take to cause the strap to totally fail, it’s the Working Load rating that you really want to pay attention to. Working Load is the maximum amount of weight that a tie down can support with regular, day-to-day use and without damaging it. Working Load is calculated as 1/3 of the Break Strength.

Once you determine what you need for a tie down strap in terms of the length, width and load limit, you have more options to consider. The two main strap “styles” are Cam Buckle Straps and Ratchet Straps, and there are advantages to both.

Cam Straps are generally lighter-duty than Ratchet style and create tension through the metal teeth in the buckle to hold the strap taught. They are easy to tighten and release, an advantage for someone who may not have great hand strength or dexterity. However, if the load you are securing is a solid or dense item, such as a refrigerator or other appliance, it may be more challenging to get a Cam Strap tightened. Something like an ATV or dirt bike, however, that has “give” because of its suspension will be easier to get a secure hold with the Cam Strap style.

Ratchet Straps typically have a higher strength rating than Cam Straps and can create a tighter, more secure strap tension. However, they tend to be slightly more complicated to use and release, so they might not be ideal for all users. The Ratchet Straps also tend to be the more expensive option.

Beyond the strap styles of Cam and Ratchet, tie down straps have many different options available in terms of the hook end varieties. S hooks, J hooks, flat hooks, snap hooks and more all have advantages in particular applications; this discussion may be addressed in a future posting.

Finally, a note about overall quality. Be aware that there is a significant difference in the tie down straps available in the marketplace! The material of the strap itself, along with the quality of the metal used in the buckle and hook ends, can create significant differences in the tie down’s performance and length of life. Cheap, soft metal in a buckle will wear teeth down more quickly and lead to a strap slipping or loosening. Some ratchet handle styles are designed without an opening for an easy-to-grip handle, making them more difficult to use. Invest in a good quality set of tie down straps, and they should, with normal use, last indefinitely.

In addition to the many sizes, strap and hook end styles, there is a multitude of tie down accessories and specialized tie downs available. You can check some of them out here.

So with your quality tie down straps in hand — where are you headed next, and what are you taking?

Click here to return to the Knowledge Base