Off-Road Winching Basics & Winch Buyers Guide

by AJ Deysel
best off road winch buyers guide

Always make sure you are more than one vehicle when wheeling, especially in remote locations. Even then, getting stuck off-roading in snow, sand, or something worse, make sure you have the right 4×4 winch with you. It will make recovery easier to carry on, or possibly be a life saver if you are stuck there alone without food or water. Without our best off road winch buyers guide and winch comparison below, and then the winching basics guide below that teaching how to use your best off road winch, you should be able to get your 4×4 out of most sticky situations

Best Off Road Winch Buyers Guide

Looking for the one that meets your 4×4 vehicle and needs isn’t just a simple story, but needn’t be too hard either. With our best winch for off road comparison below, we’ll help you lay out your priorities with vital considerations along the way, and find the best Jeep winch, best truck winch or best winch for the money.

Overview

Smittybilt 97510WARN 86260 Champion 12,000-lb. Superwinch S102743 EXP8 WARN 97740
Price:$379.49$907.67$540.00$784.55 $2,185.65
Pulling Capacity:10,000 lbs12,000 lbs12,000 lbs12,500 lbs 16,500 lbs
Integrated or Non-IntegratedIntegratedNon-IntegratedNon-IntegratedIntegrated Non-Integrated
Warranty:Limited Lifetime WarrantyLimited Lifetime WarrantyTwo-Year Limited WarrantyLimited Lifetime Warranty + Three-Year Electrical Warranty Limited Lifetime Warranty
Wireless Remote Included?YesYesYesNo Yes
Wire Cable or Rope?Wire CableRopeWire CableRope Rope

Smittybilt 4×4 Winch

Smittybilt X2O

When it comes to affordability and usefulness, the Smittybilt 97510 Gen2 Wireless Winch takes the trophy as the best recovery winch, especially if you’re using it on a Jeep as it’s one of the most popular choices for best winch for Jeep Wrangler owners.

Believe it or not, this 4×4 winch is waterproof with an IP68 rating. This means it won’t get damaged, even if it’s submerged in water. And because of its pulling capacity of 10,000 lbs, it can get your vehicle out of any tight spot, whether in mud or any similar obstacle.

This 4×4 winch measures an overall length of 22.3 inches. It also comes with a limited lifetime warranty in terms of replacements. Since a lifetime warranty grants you the protection against product defect costs that has no time limit and doesn’t refer to the product’s life span, the same principle applies to a limited lifetime warranty. But this time, the product defect costs protection is only valid until a certain period.

For the electrical warranty, it pertains to your protection against product defect costs (like faulty wiring, electrical malfunction, etc.) which entitles you to a free product repair or replacement.

If you are looking for the best winch for Jeep JK or best winch for Jeep TJ, this is the winch for you as Smittybilt specializes in Jeep Wranglers and has built a name for dependable Jeep Wrangler equipment.

ProsCons
– Waterproof
– Has a strong pulling capacity.
– Includes the necessary parts for installation.
– Has a limited lifetime warranty.
– Best winch for Jeep Wrangler.
– Best winch for the money.
– Needs cable extensions.
– Mounting bracket has a traditional design that makes it easy to steal.
– Lacks a protective cover.
– Needs to be fully wind up to the solenoid.
– Not made in USA.

WARN 4×4 Winch

Warn off road winch

As far as pulling strength is concerned, the WARN VR12000 Winch is one of your leading options that’ll not leave you disappointed at all, Warn has long been regarded as one of the best recovery winch manufacturers. When you consider the price, quality, pulling capacity and reliability, this is our choice for the best winch for truck and Jeeps.

As our top rate best truck winch, with its pulling capacity of up to 12,000 lbs, this Warn VR12000 winch can easily handle a herculean task, as if it’s nothing but a piece of cake. Plus, its exclusive break design lets you execute proper winch control for safe and sturdy pulling, with a removable pack for your mounting preferences.

You won’t also have to worry about fitment issues because this 4×4 winch is compatible with almost all trucks and SUV models. It comes with a remote control and lead.

ProsCons
– With an incredible pulling capacity.
– With rubberized remote for steering in the desired direction.
– Control pack helps you easily mount it on your area of preference.
– Spydura synthetic rope has a higher breaking point than your usual wire cable.
– Very easy to install.
– Best off road winch.
– Pricey
– The wire rope easily rusts.
– Gear lever has a tendency to get stuck.
– The instruction manual can be confusing.

CHAMPION POWER EQUIPMENT 4×4 Winch

champion off road winch

Highly abusive terrains are a thing of the past, once you started using CHAMPION’s 100299 12,000-lbs Winch Kit. Thanks to the included speed mount, this is the best portable winch, and that also makes it the best trailer winch, if you do not want to permanently mount your winch on your trailer for security concerns.

Aside from its maximum pulling capacity of 12,000 Lbs which is similar to that of WARN’s, its 85-foot aircraft cable is highly resilient against fraying. In other words, it won’t be easily damaged regardless of how many times it comes in contact with rocks or any rough surface. Moreover, it includes a Speed Mount that’s comprised with three-position adjustable handles to secure it in place.

This 4×4 winch comes with a snatch block to improve winching performance when you need to. This is especially helpful when you have to pull your vehicle at an awkward, angular position.

ProsCons
– Pulling your vehicle at an angular position won’t be difficult.
– Also has a remarkable pulling capacity at 12,000 Pounds.
– The included adapter, remote control, and other accessories lets you safely pull your 4×4.
– No irritating rattle or other sounds some winches are susceptible to
– Best trailer winch.
– Best portable winch.
– Only has a two-year limited warranty.
– Doesn’t have a very fast line speed.
– The permanent magnet motor isn’t very durable.

SUPERWINCH 4×4 Winch

Superwinch off road winch

If you want to spare yourself from the dangers of an overheating equipment, then the Superwinch S102743 EXP8 12000 Lb Winch gets the job done and is our best 4×4 winch choice.

This best 4×4 winch is composed of a heat sink-styled motor cap that keeps temperatures in check. In other words, you don’t have to worry that you’ll accidentally destroy it because of pulling heavy loads. What’s also notable about it is its solenoid prevents snow, mud, and dust from eventually damaging it.

In terms of pulling strength, it boasts of 12,500 lbs that surely gets you out of a tough situation. It includes a roller hawse fairlead and a free-spooling lever action clutch.

ProsCons
– Doesn’t overheat.
– Waterproof, mud-proof, dust-proof.
– With a heavy-duty planetary gear train for a long usage period.
– Needs battery cable extensions.
– The synthetic rope needs to be frequently replaced.

WARN Heavyweight Series 4×4 Winch

Warn heavy duty off road winch

When it comes to extreme pulling capacity, the WARN 16.5ti-S Heavyweight Series Winch makes it on top of the list as the best heavy duty winch, and is also the reason we recommend it as the best truck winch as it can stand up to heavy duty truck and farm work.

This 4×4 winch has all the muscles contained in its jaw-dropping 16,500 lbs pulling strength. As a result, it can stand up to heavy loads effortlessly. As a matter of fact, it’s also equipped with a three-stage planetary gear train, for proper and continuous operation.

This 4×4 winch is made from a powder-coated material with an over primer undercoating, for an elegant finish and a long-lasting function. It comes with an aluminum hawse fairlead.

ProsCons
– Doesn’t get entwined.
– Easy to control.
– Anti-chafe sleeve’s easy to put on and remove on the winch line.
– With thermometric indicator for a clear winching feedback.
– Best truck winch
– You might encounter incompatibility issues, if you aren’t keen on the dimensions.
– Can move only about an inch when using a remote control.
– Has a tendency to fray.

What to Look For When Buying

Pulling your vehicle in a tight spot can be very difficult, especially when you lack the appropriate 4×4 winch. With this in mind, make sure you get your hands on the right one, through the following considerations.

  • Pulling CapacityPulling capacity depends on your 4×4’s weight. If you’re using jeeps or smaller vehicles like the usual ATVs, choose a 4×4 winch that has a pulling capacity of about 2,500 to 4,500 Pounds. If you’re into pickups or bigger ones, automatically select something that’s around 8,000 to 18,000 Pounds. Obviously, this is because the bigger the vehicle, the heavier it is.
  • Rope Type – Ask the seller if you could have the rope on your 4×4 winch replaced. Do you prefer a wire cable or a synthetic rope? As what was mentioned in a previous article, a wire cable is more resilient to abrasion and elemental factors than a synthetic rope. However, a synthetic rope is known to float on water and has a higher breaking point than a wire cable. While there are many factors to consider in buying either of the two, again, your preferences and winch usage still play a primary part in your rope type selection.
  • Installation Level – When it comes to installation level, of course, pick a 4×4 winch that only takes a few minutes to install. But since not all winches are like this, see to it that your 4×4 winch comes with an installation manual that’s easy enough to understand (re: wiring diagrams). It’ll also help if it has all the important parts that you need to mount it in place. These include; a wireless remote, electrical cables, a winch hook, a mounting plate, a winch rope, and a hawse fairlead. If you find 4×4 winch installation to be a daunting task, despite the provided materials, never hesitate to ask for a professional’s assistance
  • Winch Recovery Kit – Your winch is actually just one part of the recovery equipment chain needed to get you out of most situations. Also having the best winch recovery kit to complement that winch, is just as important to ensure you have the added gear to attach the winch safely to obstacle without damaging them, your vehicle or your winch, and for you own safety.

Remember

Although wheeling alone in remote locations is never recommended, if you do, and you get stuck in an bad spot, it can be a hassle or even life-threatening. Stay calm, as panic never helps. If you have the correct 4×4 winch, with enough pulling power, rope type, and correctly installed, you should easily and safely be able to winch yourself out if there is a sufficient anchor point


How to Use Your Winch Off Road Safely

When you come across a hill or incline that is very steep and you happen to have a short wheelbase, you will tend to find yourself in some extreme angles. You can possibly even get to the point of rollover.

How do you winch up a hill like this? And how to do it safely so you don’t end up in a predicament that you don’t want to be in.

When you notice your vehicle nearing the tip over point or fighting against gravity to stay on the wheels, it is best to just play it safe and move ahead with the help of your winch.

In this brief guide, we cover exactly what you need for an off-road winch and how to use it correctly.

Always remember before going out on any off-road trip or trail, be sure to check and prepare your winch and winch kit so as to avoid disappointment when you need it most. Remember, winches are still electrical equipment, and do not like standing outside in the sun, rain and elements without being used for a long time and without receiving some maintenance. Most winch failures we have come across on the trails, have been from winches that have not been used by their owners in a long time.

Here are the steps to get you winched out of a tough situation:

Secure the vehicle

Put it in gear.

Put the handbrake on.

Make sure the vehicle is staying right where it is.

Get out and if possible, put wheel chucks behind both the back wheels.

Now you are in a situation where you can actually start setting up the winch and equipment for the winch.

Set up a winch

What you need:

  • Bow Shackle


  • Winch Cable Dampener or Winch Safety Blacket


  • Tree-Trunk Protector


  • Remote Control

Now that you are in this situation, you are ready to winch.

How will you winch your four-wheel drive when stuck on a hill?

1. Decide an anchor point

The first thing you need to do is to decide an anchor point. Usually, when on a hill you will find heaps of healthy trees. If you don’t happen to find a good tree, use a spare tire, a rock or another vehicle. Basically, anything that is strong enough to do the job and make sure the recovery is safe.

2. Use a tree trunk protector

If you are using a tree you will need a tree trunk protector. The main reason why we use this is that we four-wheel drivers are greenies. We don’t wish to destroy trees.

If you put your cable straight around the bark of the tree it rings back the tree and the tree dies. That’s not cool. So, use a tree trunk protector and protect the environment.

Put your tree trunk protector around the base of the tree because that is the strongest point of a tree. Make sure you take all of the twists out of your tree trunk protector.

Off-Road Winch & Winching Basics
Source: Amazon

3. Use a bow shackle to knot things in place

I would recommend a bow shackle with a working load limit of 6.25 tons which is more than strong enough for this job.

Put your tree trunk protector straps in the bow section of the bow shackle. These are designed for the straps as opposed to a ‘D’ shackle which is a different device.

Off-Road Winch & Winching Basics
Source: Amazon

4. Hook the winch up

Now that we have all of that setup, it’s time to hook the winch up. Put the winch on a free spool which means you can pull the cable out by hand.

What’s really important when you put your winch hook on the bow shackle is to make sure the clip engages in the bow shackle so that the hook can’t come off.

5. Set up the air damper

Now, we come to what is probably the most important piece of safety gear in any four-wheel-drive. It’s a winch line or cable dampener or safety blanket.

An air damper is designed to act as a parachute. If something in the recovery line should fail, the cable breaks, for instance, it’s going to grab the cable and bring it to the ground.

Off-Road Winch & Winching Basics
Source: Amazon

Put the air damper in the middle-third of the cable run.

6. Put the winch into engaged position

This is the last step before you actually start winching. Put the winch into engaged position, ready to drive and start winching.

Take Precautions

When you are in this situation, there is no urgency. Take your time, think it through and be safe.

Safety is the most important thing. Get everyone out of the car, well and truly away from the recovery.

Say, you have an 8-meter recovery going on, have people move away – a minimum distance of 16 meters. It’s safer that way.

Time to do some winching

Start off by charging the batteries and winch in, just a little bit, until you feel the weight of the winch.

Take the handbrake off while you are in your first gear.

Now, you start winching. When you are doing a winch like this, you are not necessarily going to use power.

When on rocks power will be uneven and it will jerk the winch. But if you are in a slippery or muddy situation, you might need some power.

Only winch in for about a minute and then let the batteries recover. Everything gets mighty hot when you are doing a heavy winch.

Turn the steering slightly towards the anchor point to make sure that you spool the cable on just nice.

That’s probably about it. You will, hopefully, be up by now. Easy, wasn’t it?

I hope that this off-road winching basics guide gives you the confidence to go out in the bush and have a really great time knowing how to use your winch safely.

Recommended:

We highly recommend this Warn Winch Accessory Recovery Kit, as it already contains most a tree trunk protector, two shackles, a snatch block and a few more of what you might need when using the winch out on the trail. We keep one in our trail Jeep permanently.

We hope you enjoyed our winch guide and found our winch comparison helpful. Stay safe on the trails!

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