Fit to be tied: Tie-down torture tests the metal of Expeditionware Transport Loops

I’m never sure which alarms me more: a vehicle loaded with completely unsecured cargo and equipment, or one loaded with cargo and equipment secured poorly. After all, the former implies simple ignorance on the part of the owner, and ignorance can be overcome with education. But the latter implies some rudimentary level of awareness—and then a complete failure to do the simple arithmetic that will tell you what will happen to the 30-pound Hi-Lift jack bungeed to your front brush guard should you be, say, rear-ended at a stoplight. No, I am not making this up, and yes, I checked. Two neatly wound bungee cords comprised the total attachment of that jack to that brush guard. I’ve seen another Hi-Lift bungeed to a very well-constructed internal roll cage (talk about Manichaean reasoning), and uncounted tool boxes, fridges, and Pelican cases all held down by what are, let’s be frank, glorified rubber bands.

Bungees have their uses, but heavy cargo in an overland vehicle should be secured with ratchet straps capable of withstanding the forces generated should you experience an unplanned encounter with Isaac Newton. Anything much heavier than a sleeping bag can cause injury or worse in an accident or rollover. (Come to think of it, I wouldn’t want to be clobbered by my 18-pound Butler sleeping bag . . .)

Decent ratchet straps are available at any hardware store. But very few, if any, vehicles come from the factory with tie-down points strong enough and numerous enough to anchor those straps. It’s almost always up to the owner to add proper loops or eye bolts. The conundrum of where to locate them is rarely solved permanently. A few items such as the fridge might have a more or less permanent location, but the distribution of other gear is subject to change, and to the addition of new gear. Bolt in too many tie-down loops and they can be almost as much a hindrance as a help to properly securing stuff. Adjustable rails such as those from Mac’s Custom Tie-Downs add versatility; the anchor plate systems from the same company, which leave only an unobtrusive rounded base when not needed, are useful as well. But both of these need a fair amount of space to install.

A few years ago, while looking for tie-down loops for the rear of my FJ40, I found the Ring Products Transit Loops at Expedition Exchange. The stainless-steel loops were originally designed to be attached to motorcycles to provide easily accessible points on which to hook tie-down straps when transporting the bike on the trailer or in a truck. Lightweight and unobtrusive, they obviated the need to loop cinch straps awkwardly around handlebars or luggage racks. However, with my FJ40 in mind, I realized they looked just the right size to bolt down on top of the join between the body tub and hardtop, using the numerous existing 10mm bolts.

Indeed, such proved the case, and a half dozen of the rings gave me a solid perimeter tie-down system. I added a few more on the wheel wells, then started looking at our other vehicles and realizing there were a nearly infinite number of places the little rings could be utilized to secure a nearly infinite number of  items. They could be installed in very tight spaces, and needed only a single 1/4-inch hole to mount. Visually, a pair didn’t look like overkill when securing something as small as a pack of road flares (with a bungee—a proper use for one), but four of them would lock down an Engel immovably.

And then the company went out of business. Damn.

I moved on to other tie-down systems for other projects—but how I missed those versatile little rings. 

The fellows at Expedition Exchange apparently shared my thoughts, because after trying in vain for years to track down the Ring Products company or principals, they decided they’d exercised due diligence—and had a leftover reproduced at a local machinist. Skimming the EE website a few months ago, I noticed the newly introduced  Expeditionware Transport Loops. Woohoo! I immediately ordered some to look at, and found them to be apparently exact copies. Excellent.

However, as I examined the new loops I found myself, for the first time, wondering about the ultimate strength of such a compact fitting. I’d always assumed that, since four of the originals were designed to hold down a motorcycle during road transport, they were certainly strong enough to secure a fridge or a Pelican case full of tools. But now I was curious about their limits.

With a loop in hand, I looked around our shop and carport for a way to put it to the test. I had neither a strain gauge nor a scale sufficient to register the several hundred pounds I assumed the loop would take before it failed. Bolt it to one of the steel roof beams in the carport and hang successive weights off it? Perhaps, but how to suspend 400—or 600 or 800—pounds in successive increments? Hook one between two Land Cruisers and try to pull it apart? But that wouldn’t tell us what the failure point was, and sounded like a procedure that would wind up either as an object lesson at the next Overland Expo, or a feature on YouTube.

But, hmm . . . the Land Cruiser. I looked at the rear bumper/tire carrier on the FJ40, specifically at the stout, one-inch-thick shackle mounts on either corner. Then I looked at the Hi-Lift jack nearby. That might do . . .

Using a grade 8 bolt and some graduated washers, I affixed the ring to the shackle mount via the smaller of its two holes. Then, with a steel quick-link connector through the larger hole, I attached the ring to the slot on the bottom of the Hi-Lift’s tongue, which I’d position just above the shackle mount.

Now I had a mechanism, but I still didn’t have a means of measuring the stress on the ring. Given that my FJ40 weighs a bit over 4,000 pounds, I decided rather arbitrarily that if I could lift one rear wheel off the ground—or even come reasonably close to doing so—the Expeditionware Transport Loop would have proved its mettle as far as I was concerned. I donned a heavy Carhart jacket, gloves, and safety glasses in case the ring exploded and flung bits of stainless steel hither and yon.

I began working the Hi-Lift’s handle and the loop took up strain. The assembly started to emit ominous metallic creakings, and for the first time I begin to wonder if this was a good idea. How could I expect a tiny ring a few millimeters thick to lift a corner of a 4WD vehicle?

The bumper rose, and the right rear leaf spring started to flex. Now, if I peaked around the Hi-Lift’s main beam, which I was keeping between me and the poor little ring, I could see the latter flattening. Was there some stretching going on as well? The sidewall bulge came out of the right rear tire as the bumper continued to rise with each stroke of the jack handle, but it remained planted on the ground. Now I could clearly see the large hole in the Transit Loop elongating. More creaking, and a ping or two from somewhere in there.

But then—the tire was a few millimeters off the ground. I could spin it with a boot. A single Transit Loop had successfully lifted the corner of an FJ40 off the ground—and one equipped with a massive Stout Equipment bumper/tire rack at that. 

I have no way of knowing exactly how much strain the loop was withstanding at the end, but I’m certainly convinced that, employed in suitable numbers, the Expeditionware Transit Loops are more than up to the job of safely locking down the heaviest fridges, tool boxes, and equipment cases. 

At nine bucks each you can afford to buy a bunch. I guarantee you’ll find uses for as many as you have.

Unless you’re still convinced a bungee or two will suffice. Expeditionware Transport Loops