Off-Road Winch & Winching Basics

by AJ Deysel

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.


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.

Stay safe on the trails!

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