What makes a great bungee cord? What makes a great ratchet strap? Cam buckle? Steel hooks? Rubber vs nylon? Long, short, wide? Kilotons vs pounds? Its amazing how many choices are out there when it comes to securing your precious cargo. The purpose of this article is to walk you through the advantages and disadvantages of each of the 3 core cargo control tie downs - bungee cords, cam buckle straps, and ratchet strap.
First up, the all too classic, bungee cord. Bungee cords come in a variety of elastic materials but the main driver in each of the variations is rubber. We've included images of various styles below.
Flat Heavy Duty Rubber
There is also a specialty option of you're looking for an easy way to cover a wide and uneven load - the cargo net bungee.
Cargo Net Bungee
When choosing a quality bungee cord it's important to make sure your bungee cords have a steel core in the hook. Sometimes if they look like plastic, they are just plastic, and that can be a recipe for disaster when your hook cracks and your 30 rack of PRB goes bouncing down the trail on your way to the backcountry cabin.
Bungee cords tend to be the strap of choice when hauling small, low weight, pieces of cargo. The bungee cord is also ideal when in a hurry or when strapping things such as tarps to help keep material from the flapping in the wind as you drive 60mph down the highway.
If you're in a hurry and your cargo isn't overly large or heavy then bungee cords are your go-to. Here are the pros and cons.
Bungee Cord - Pros vs Cons
- Less durable
- Won't work for heavier loads
- Flexible (yes this is both a pro and a con)
It should be obvious when it's time to step up from a bungee cord to a cam buckle strap. When your load is too heavy, or too valuable, it's time to step up. Now, with cam buckles it's important to be paying attention to weight capacity. Cams are often used to strap heavier loads such as dirt bikes, 4 wheelers, mountain bikes, or smaller loads of wood. Be sure to check the packaging for KN strength before purchasing your cam buckle strap.
Light Duty Cam Buckle Strap
Medium Duty Cam Buckle Strap
Heavy Duty Cam Buckle Strap
Motorcycle Cam Buckle Strap
I personally prefer the cam buckles that have wrap webbing for handle bars because they can be used as a normal 2 hook strap or have extra webbing to wrap around a fixture rather than the hook to avoid scratching it. Again this is exceptionally handy for things like handlebars and axels.
Cam Buckle Staps - Pros vs Cons
- Faster than a ratchet strap
- Easy to pull tight when compressing suspension
- Handles significant weight capacity while still being fast and easy
- Perfect for use with handlebars
- They can become loose on longer trips
- Sometimes hard to get really tight
Once you've determined the cam buckle is no match for your cargo, now you've graduated up to the big leagues and the ratchet strap will be your weapon of choice. Ratchet straps come in a very wide range of lengths and weight capacities from small units at ____lbs all the way up to commercial size units capable of ____lbs of torque and _____lbs weight capacity.
Light Duty Ratchet Strap
Medium Duty Ratchet Strap
Heavy Duty Ratchet Strap
Commercial Ratchet Strap with Chain
You really have to use your best judgement when deciding when to use a cam buckle vs a ratchet strap. My general rule of thumb is when in doubt, ratchet it out. Why risk valuable cargo? Just take the extra 2 minutes and control your cargo properly with a more beefy and capable strap.
Ratchet Straps - Pros vs Cons
- Mechanical advantage for tightly securing loads
- Has the greatest weight capacity
- Won't loosen during longer trips
- Sometimes just absolutely frustrating! (haha)
- Easy to pinch a finger and loose some skin
- Easy to over-tighten and possibly damage a cargo load
- Be aware of scratching cargo
The reality is, if you're trying to haul a semi size load of PVC pipes to the job site, you should probably use a commercial size ratchet strap. Be thoughtful about what you're hauling, how valuable it is, and keep in mind there are other drivers on the road. You might loose your cargo but they could loose a windshield. Be smart with your cargo and get the right strap!