Winches are, without a doubt one of the unsung heroes of the overlanding/off-roading community.  These compact powerhouses patiently ‘ride-along’ for thousands of kilometres until they are called upon to recover a stranded vehicle from a dire situation.  Winches have saved many an Overlander by purely applying brute force to pull a stuck/bogged vehicle or vehicles free from the grips of mother nature.

One thing that cannot be denied is the value that a winch adds to both solo or convoy travelers, and should be seen as essential equipment for any off-road vehicle.  There are some common misconceptions when it comes to not only selecting the correct winch for your vehicle, so join us as we take a closer look at some critical factors when choosing a winch for your off-road build.

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choosing the right winch for your rig

Understanding your vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) is the key to selecting the appropriate winch for any off-road vehicle.  GVM is the maximum operating mass of a vehicle as stipulated by the vehicle manufacturer when the vehicle is fully loaded.

Do you intend to tow a trailer during your overlanding or off-road adventures?  If so, the weight of the trailer or campervan should be added to the overall weight of your vehicle to calculate the correct winch rating for your Overlanding needs.  After you have determined the GVM of your vehicle (including trailer GVM if you are planning to tow), choose a winch that is rated 1.5 or 2 times more than the GVM rating of your vehicle.

The GVM of a Ford Ranger, for example is 3200kg, (3200kg x 1.5 = 4800kg/10 582lbs), thus a winch rated at 12000lbs will be more than adequate. This is the industry standard and in doing so will ensure that you will easily recover your vehicle in cases of self-recovery.

Winch ratings are based on the line pull capacities on the first layer of cable/rope on the winch drum.  The cable/rope is spooled out, with only a full bottom layer rolled onto the drum.  Effectively by the time you have winched in three layers of cable/rope on the top, your 8000lb (3600kg) rated winch’s capacity is only 5200lb (2350kg).

Other factors that can influence a winch’s performance includes current drainage from your vehicles primary/cranking battery when winching for prolonged periods.  Environmental conditions such as the incline, angle and surface (mud, water, snow and or vegetation) where the vehicle is being recovered from will place further strain on a vehicles winch.

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mounting options

Like many an overland/off-roading enthusiasts, I associate winches with large steel bumpers; but truth be told, it is merely one way of securing a winch to your overland/off-road vehicle.  Winches can be fitted to most OEM bumpers with a frame-mounted plate that ‘hides’ the winch behind the front bumper.  These low profile installations provide a ‘clean’ look to a vehicle without sacrificing the added weight associated with large steel bumpers.

The third and least popular method is to secure a winch via a hitch-mounted plate.  As the name implies, the winch would be fitted to a detachable tow hitch receiver mount as fount on many new vehicles.

This mounting method would require some modification to an off-road vehicles frontal OEM/steel bumper.  The advantages are that the winch can be removed and stored in the vehicle when not in use, thus assisting in decreasing the overall weight over the vehicle’s front axle.

Hitch receiver mounts have an ace up their sleeve; the winch can be utilized on either the front or rear of the vehicle (providing the vehicle has a detachable tow hitch mount on the front and rear of the vehicle).

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synthetic rope vs steel cable

There have been numerous debates as to whether synthetic rope or steel cables are better for vehicle recoveries, both types of winch ‘cables’ have their advantages and disadvantages.  Personal preference and application play a significant role in ‘cable’ selection.

Let us take a closer look at the Pros and Cons of both synthetic as well as steel cables spools.

Steel cable – Pros     

  • Greater durability
  • Less expensive
  • Last longer
  • Requires less maintenance

Steel cable – Cons

  • Difficult to handle/manipulate
  • Greater kinetic energy creating severe whiplash during failures
  • Very heavy
  • Difficult to repair in the bush
  • If not under load the winch will unspool
  • Need regular cleaning, lubrication and maintenance
  • Develops barbs and can kink
  • Oxidation can occur and corrode the cable

Synthetic – Pros

  • Easy to handle
  • Lightweight
  • Strength
  • Does not rust
  • Easy to repair in the bush
  • Floats

Synthetic – Cons

  • Degrades with ultraviolet light
  • Subject to abrasions
  • Requires maintenance (cleaning of sand, mud and debris)
  • Cost
  • Can freeze in subzero temperatures when wet
concluding thoughts                  

A winch is like an insurance policy.  Some people dread forking out their hard-earned money for something that they will most likely never utilize under normal offroading conditions.  There is always that one situation whether you are in the Okavango Delta or the mudbaths of the Democratic Republic of Congo when all forward motion is halted by mother nature.

This is where your winch becomes the most valuable piece of off-road equipment that you own, effortlessly dislodging your vehicle allowing for further exploration of the roads less travelled.

Contributor:  Chris Blatherwick

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