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The pickup truck market is changing. New models like the Ford Maverick Hybrid, Hyundai Santa Cruz, and hell, even the Tesla Cybertruck (if it ever comes out), are rapidly changing the way the market looks, and as such, the people who are buying trucks. With these new styles of less-traditional trucks, new buyers are getting trucks for the first time. There are some folks out there with a truck but none of the ancillary truck skills. One of the most important truck skills is knowing how to securely tie down a load. The best way to do that is with properly lashed ratchet straps. Here’s how to use a ratchet strap the right way. 

How to put together a ratchet strap

One of the most confusing parts of using a ratchet strap for many people is simply putting the thing together. A ratchet strap comes in two pieces. There is usually one end that is just a long strap with a hook on one end. The other piece will typically be shorter and have the ratchet mechanism. 

A Screen shot of a man showing how to use a ratchet strap
The windlass | YouTube: Essential Craftsman

This is far easier than it might seem at first glance. All you need to do is close the ratchet using the release handle. Once the ratchet is closed, find the axel, or more accurately, the “Windlass,” in the middle of the ratchet with a slot cut into it and feed the tail of the long woven fabric through the bottom of the axel up through the top. Once you’ve done this, you can ratchet the piece a few times to lock the strap around the axle. Now you are ready to work. 

How to use a ratchet strap

The reason why people prefer ratchet straps is because they are easy and very secure. Once your load is in a stable position, find the anchor points. There are normally plenty scattered around the bed and top rails on a pickup truck. If you are using a car or SUV with roof rails or a roof rack, these anchor points might just be tubing on the mounted rack. 

Secure the hook on the best anchor point and make sure you keep the strap flat against any surfaces. Then attach the other hook on the ratchet end to the far anchor point. The idea is to pick two anchor points that will create the strongest grip on the item(s) you are trying to secure. Once both hooks are placed, the strap is flat, and the mechanism is facing in a way that you can easily access the handle, you are nearly ready. 

The last step before cranking down on the ratchet is to remove any excess slack from the strap. This is key because that axle is where the strap will wind around to keep tension. As you may have noticed, the axel is quite small and, as such, can get overloaded easily. So always make sure you pull the access slack out of the strap before cranking it down. 

How hard should you ratchet things down in a truck bed? 

As with bungee chords or even plain rope, ratchet straps have a max amount of force they can take. However, there are many different types with a wide range of capacities. Always be sure your strap is the appropriate size for the load you are securing. They can and will break. This is how you can make a dangerous mistake securing things in a pickup truck.

Unlike rope or bungee chords, straps can exert a massive amount of force. As you begin to crank your strap down, pay close attention to aged anchor points and the item you are strapping down. Ratchet straps can easily damage fragile goods. 

How do you loosen a ratchet strap? 

Screen shot showing how to loosen a ratchet strap
How to loosen a ratchet strap | YouTube: Essential Craftsman

Once you have successfully hauled your load, it’s then time to unload. To loosen your strap and disconnect it, you might need to look around for a release button. Most straps have a lever in the middle of the mechanism, often above the axle. Pushing or possibly pulling the lever (depending on the strap) and opening the ratchet up until it’s flat will immediately slack the strap. Be careful during this part because you could have shifted in transit, and releasing all that tension at once could cause the item(s) to fall over and hurt you. 

Once the tension is let out, you can continue to hold that lever in place and pull as much slack as you need. Then simply unhook from the anchor points, and you are home free. 

What are the best ratchet straps to buy? 

As with most things, the best ratchet strap for you and the job you need it for might differ from someone else. We’ve included a list of some popular choices to help you get started.

  • Mac’s Custom Tie Downs Ratchet Strap Utility Pack
  • Rhino USA Ratchet Tie-Down Strap Kit
  • Horusdy Ratchet Straps
  • Cargo Control 1.5”x15’ ratchet straps
  • Augo Soft Loop Tie Down Straps