Pulling Power: Recovery Winch Buyer’s Guide

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No matter what type of rugged terrain you and your rig choose to take on, there’s always a possibility that your vehicle will need a bit of help to get through it. Equipping your truck with a winch is a prudent move for obvious reasons. The combination of a nearly impassible surface, combined with (or even without) unfriendly weather, could spell an end to your off-road exploits if you aren’t equipped and capable of getting yourself or a buddy out of a tough situation.

Winches can pull your vehicle out of major ruts, get you moving out of deepening, loose sand or—knock on wood—even get your ride sitting rooftop, facing up, again. As avid off-road enthusiasts, we understand the basic concept of why we would want a winch. But how much do we know about selecting the right winch for our needs? It’s a complicated topic with many variables, for sure, but let’s keep it simple for now, and delve into this topic from a general standpoint.

Battery and Alternator

Though often overlooked when discussing winches, the electrical system of your rig does matter. The act of winching causes major drain on your truck’s battery. For this reason, it’s important to be aware of your vehicle’s battery capability, and to upgrade it as needed.

The battery that came with your vehicle, known as a starter battery, is made to start your truck’s engine, and that’s it. Your alternator powers the rest of your auxiliary usage, such as the lights and radio, all while your engine is running. Powering a winch on a stock battery, even with a running engine, may cause it to rapidly discharge or overheat, leaving you stranded—as well as stuck. Talk about being kicked while you’re down.

For this reason, it is highly recommended that you upgrade your battery to one made for dual purposes, such as a deep-cycle or a marine battery. Deep-cycle batteries are designed to be deeply” discharged, and are capable of using up much of their capacity, powering electrical accessories between charges, without causing many ill effects to the battery itself.

These types of batteries are better suited for high-draw activities, such as winching, though it is still recommended to keep your engine running when winching. Those who want to take it to the next level can opt to install a second, accessory-only battery for even more worry-free capability—but that’s an article for another time.

As mentioned before, your vehicle’s alternator helps keep electrical systems powered while the engine is on. It also helps top off your battery, keeping it charged and ready for the next engine start. Extended winching sessions have been known to overheat some alternators, though we find that to be a rare occurrence. In any case, if you find your vehicle’s alternator gets hot while powering a winch, you might want to look into installing a high-output alternator with upgraded electrical cables.

Capacity and Cable Management A spec you constantly see when shopping for winches is its rated line pull capacity. It will typically appear in units of thousands of pounds. It’s a common mistake to simply use the weight of your vehicle as the equivalent of how much winching power you need. In other words, a 5,000-pound vehicle does not mean that you can settle for a 5,000-pound capacity winch.

The generally accepted conversion rate for determining how much pulling power you need is actually 1.5-times the gross weight of your vehicle. So, a 5,000-pound truck will require a minimum winch rating of 7,500-pounds. Of course, the more pulling power you have, the better.

That said, it’s also important to note that, as cable or rope becomes unwound from the winch’s drum, winch-pulling power will deviate. A 7,500-pound rated winch doesn’t consistently pull at 7,500 pounds. Whether it has three feet of cable out, or 90, its pull strength varies the entire way.

 

The most powerful winching comes when there’s a single layer of cable on the winch drum. That’s when it’s running most efficiently. This first layer would give you the rated 7,500 pounds of pulling power. With each successive layer on top of the first, you’ll lose about 10-percent more power. So, if you have enough line to wind a second and third layer, your pull power will be 6,750-pounds and 6,000-pounds, respectively.

This is where deciding how much cable you want on your drum comes into play. Choose too much, and you’ll find your winch underpowered when pulling at close distances. Too short, and you might not be able to get in a good position (or be completely out of reach) to winch. Word to the wise, the most common length that off-roaders choose is about 100 feet, which we find is usually sufficient.

Be careful, winch pull power can also be lost if the cable or rope isn’t properly spooled on the drum. Spooling it properly on the drum will increase the winch’s efficiency, and keep the cable from snagging or crimping itself.

Steel Cable or Synthetic Rope

Steel cable was standard-issue on winches for decades, until recently. Synthetic rope has rapidly gained popularity over the past few years for various reasons. Each have their pros and cons, and we’ll name a few.

With steel cable, you have an extremely durable line that can pull duty beyond just vehicle recovery. Due to the tough abrasion-resistance of its woven steel lines, cable works well for other uses, such as the pulling of tree stumps, roots and all. It also won’t be susceptible to UV wear, if left sitting in the sun, day after day. If you don’t use your winch much, this can be a benefit. The cons to steel cable are that it’s much heavier than synthetic rope, and it’s much more capable of cutting your hands if you’re handling it without heavy-duty gloves on. If it does snap under load, it can be more dangerous than rope. Steel can rust, too, so periodic inspection is required.

Synthetic rope is much lighter (better for your vehicle’s dynamics), easier to work with, and doesn’t cut you the way steel cable can. It doesn’t store as much energy under load, either; if it were to snap, it would be less dangerous than if a steel cable snapped. (That’s not saying that it’s not dangerous, because it still is.) Synthetic rope, however, is vulnerable to abrasion, and requires frequent inspections for frays, damage or general wear. It can also be damaged, over time, by exposure to UV light, chemicals, and abrasion from sand, dirt and other gritty substances. It’s a good idea to wash rope that has been exposed to sand, dirt and grit, prior to re-spooling it.

It’s worthy to note that synthetic rope can be vulnerable
to abrasion, and requires inspections for frays and damage.

Safety is Key

Regardless of which type of winch or line you chose, it is essential to observe safety protocols when winching: Wear heavy-duty gloves, keep your hands away from the winch drum during operation, use a winch-line dampener to prevent a snapped line from whipping, and stand clear of the winch cable when it is tightened. There are more rules for winch safety than space allows us to cover here. If you’re unfamiliar with them, be safe and look them up online.

Safety is key for a successful recovery.

We recognize the struggle to find the right winch is real, but now that you’re armed with cursory winch knowledge, you’re better informed to look for one that is right for your usage and your rig.

Below you’ll find a selection of the latest and most popular winches from the best in the game. Go reel one in!

WARN ZEON 10-S PLATINUM

RATED LINE PULL:
10,000 pounds

MOTOR:
12V DC

REMOTE CONTROL:
Wireless

BRAKE:
Automatic mechanical cone

WINCH DIMENSIONS:
24.3 x 7.2 x 10.5 inches

DRUM DIAMETER/LENGTH:
3.2/9.0 inches

ROPE:
Spydura synthetic, 3/8 inches x 100 feet

FAIRLEAD:
Hawse

The ZEON 10 Platinum is built for those who push the limits, with double the durability, 20-percent faster line speed and extreme IP68-rated waterproofing. The Advanced Wireless Remote controls the winch, clutch and other accessories. With a 10,000-pound pulling capacity, high-performance motor package and Spydura Synthetic Rope, you’ll be equipped to go places others only dream about.

OTHER MODELS:
ZEON 10 Platinum, ZEON 12 Platinum, ZEON 12-S Platinum

MRSP: $1,750

 

WARN VR8

RATED LINE PULL:
8,000 pounds

MOTOR:
12V DC

REMOTE CONTROL:
12-foot remote switch

BRAKE:
Automatic direct-drive cone

WINCH DIMENSIONS:
20.7 x 6.3 x 9.8 inches

DRUM DIAMETER/LENGTH:
2.5/9.0 inches

ROPE:
Steel wire, 5/15 inches x 94 feet

FAIRLEAD:
Hawse

The new WARN VR8 offers enhanced styling, upgraded performance, and reliability that you can trust. The new convertible control pack allows upright or low-profile mounting configurations. A waterproof Albright contactor provides the most reliable winch control available. The one-piece tie plate replaces multiple tie bars for increased strength, and a best-in-class cone brake holds the full-rated load. The VR8 also offers the fastest no-load line speed in the VR family.

OTHER MODELS:
VR8s, VR10, VR10s, VR12, VR12s

MRSP: $500

 

 

RAMSEY PATRIOT 9500 UT

RATED LINE PULL:
9,500 pounds

MOTOR:
12V

REMOTE CONTROL:
Wireless

BRAKE:
Yes

WINCH DIMENSIONS:
22.7 x 6.1 x 9.9 inches

DRUM DIAMETER/LENGTH:
2.5/9.0 inches

ROPE:
Steel wire, 5/16 inches x 105 feet

FAIRLEAD:
4-Way Roller

The Patriot 9500 UT is built rugged and strong with 9,500 pounds of line pull, using Ramsey’s proven and Efficient three-stage planetary gear system. A unique feature that saves time for self-recovery is Ramsey’s Patented Semi-Automatic Clutch. Simply rotate the disengagement handle, pull out the cable and attach it to an anchor point; then, press the wireless remote from the anchor point, and the winch automatically engages the clutch and begins pulling in the cable.

OTHER MODELS:
Patriot Profile 9500 UT, Patriot Profile 1200, Patriot 1500

MRSP: $1,362

 

 

TJM TORQ WINCH 9,500LB SYNTHETIC ROPE

RATED LINE PULL:
9,500 pounds

MOTOR:
12V DC

REMOTE CONTROL:
Wireless

BRAKE:
Automatic load holding

WINCH DIMENSIONS:
20.8 x 6.3 x 7.9 inches

ROPE:
Synthetic Rope, 3/8 inches x 98 feet

FAIRLEAD:
Hawse

Get unstuck fast with TJM’s 9,500lb electric winch. The Torq comes standard with high-quality synthetic rope for easier handling and improved performance. Tested to meet Australian standards, a TJM winch will provide the right amount of ‘grunt’ in any situation, thanks to carefully engineered balance of power and speed. For those who enjoy a challenge, owning a TJM winch provides you with the freedom to visit more places. It includes a wireless remote for added safety—a much better way to successfully recover your vehicle.

OTHER MODELS:
12,000LB Synthetic Rope, 9500LB Steel Cable

MRSP: $800

 

 

SUPERWINCH ALON 9.5 SR

RATED LINE PULL:
9,500 pounds

MOTOR:
12V

REMOTE CONTROL:
15-foot sealed ergonomic hand-held with coiled cord

BRAKE:
Automatic

WINCH DIMENSIONS:
24.2 x 6.2 x 11.0 inches

DRUM DIAMETER/LENGTH:
2.5 / 8.8 inches

ROPE: Synthetic Rope, 3/8 inches x 85 feet

FAIRLEAD:
Hawse

The Talon is engineered for synthetic rope, and features a hybrid spur and planetary gearbox, capable of producing amazing torque while it pushes a rated load. To counter load increased on drum flanges, and the drum tube from the use of synthetic rope, Superwinch fabricates the Talon’s drum from steel, with increased wall thickness for added strength. When your winching falls after dark, you’ll be glad that the Talon’s remote is equipped with LED lighting to help guide the way.

OTHER MODELS:
Talon 9.5, Talon 9.5i, Talon 9.5i SR

MRSP: $950

 

 

SUPERWINCH TIGER SHARK 9500

RATED LINE PULL:
9,500 pounds

MOTOR:
12V

REMOTE CONTROL:
12-foot rubber-sealed hand-held

BRAKE:
Mechanical, automatic load holding

WINCH DIMENSIONS:
20.8 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches

DRUM DIAMETER/LENGTH:
2.5 / 9 inches

ROPE:
Steel wire, 21/64 inches x 95 feet

FAIRLEAD:
Heavy-duty 4-way roller

As the most affordable winch in this guide, the Superwinch Tiger Shark was created to be a next-generation, entry-level winch. Featuring rust-resistant stainless-steel hardware, tie bars and fairlead rollers, it is not only built for value, but is also built to last. Its motor is completely sealed for weatherproof operation, and the pull-and-turn freespool control—designed to prevent accidental freespool—requires only two motions to unload the gears.

OTHER MODELS:
Tiger Shark 9500 SR

MRSP: $360

 

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2016 print issue of Tread Magazine.

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