Derrek Sigler 02.02.21
A few years ago, a buddy called me up and asked for help. He was out cruising trails in his truck when he found out that what looked like a snowy trail in front of him turned out to be a barely frozen over swamp that he was now stuck in, and by stuck, I mean stuck! It was made worse by the fact that when he realized his mistake, instead of surveying things, he stomped on the gas and tried to power his way out. He made it a little further into the swamp, all the way to the big, jagged rock that shedded his sidewall on his tire. He had to call for help and, lucky for him, I was not that far away and I have a winch on my truck.If he’d had his own winch, he could have gotten out on his own, or at least I’d like to think he could have. If so, he’d never be forced to hear the endless amount of ribbing he still gets from me to this day. And yes, this story serves as a little added fuel to that fire. Winches come in handy for all sorts of situations, so it really comes down to a few deciding factors when picking the best winch for your truck.You don’t want to wind up like my buddy, so get a winch for yourself. Every serious outdoor enthusiast should have one.
Table of Contents
1. Warn ZEON 10-S – Editor’s Pick
When I went looking for a winch for my tacoma, I pretty much started and stayed with the top – a Warn winch. Why Warn? In my years of testing ATVs and UTVs, I used a lot of winches and through trial and error, the Warn winches held up to the most extreme conditions. The Warn ZEON has automotive-grade busbars that replace unsightly wires for greater electrical efficiency, superior connection, and a cleaner look. They have full metal armor that protects the vital components from impact and damage. They are waterproof and have twice the corrosion resistance of entry-level winches and are rated to 408 hours in Warn’s salt-spray tests – very important if you live near the ocean, or in the northern regions where roads are salted in winter. The ZEON has 33 ft/min no-load line speed, which is much faster than most, a big plus when recovering line.
Pros/Premium components with a lifetime mechanical warranty
Cons/It’s not the cheapest option for sure
Bottom Line/If you want the best unit for the money, get a Warn
2. Smittybilt XRC 17.5K GEN2 – Heavyweight Champ
There is a case for wha I call super winches, ones that can pull a tremendous amount of weight. This winch from Smittybilt is one such winch. It is rated for 17,500lbs. of pull. Why would you need that amount? There’s a couple of scenarios that are actually quite common. One, you drive a very heavy rig, like a 3/4 ton truck with a camper on the bed. The shear weight of everything loaded on the vehicle makes a bigger winch a necessity. Two, you routinely get into situations, like serious mud, where the weight of your vehicle is compounded by the suction and drag the mud adds to the situation. Again, if you want to go home, you need to go big. The XCR GEN2 winch has a 6.6HP amphibious motor with what Smittybilt claims is the highest torque in the industry, and it is connected to a 3-stage Planetary Gear System for increased pulling power and line speed. It also has an integrated wireless remote control for ease of use and maximum versatility.
Pros/17,500 lbs. of pulling power!
Cons/Can be overkill for some
Bottom Line/A great winch at a great price
3. Traveler 12,000 – Best Deal
I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical of Traveler winches at first. I saw them in my local Tractor Supply Co. store and thought that there was just no way that a winch that cost so little would work. Then I checked out some buyer’s ratings and reviews and started to change my mind. My father-in-law then bought one for his tractor. He uses it when he cuts firewood, and hauls some massive trees out of a ravine with the winch. He also used it to pull the tractor out of a quagmire last spring. These 12,000-pound capacity winches come with a rubberized remote for weather resistance and just under 84 feet of steel cable. You can opt for synthetic rope for more money, but the smoking price of the cable model is too good to not pass along.
Pros/Performance for the price!
Cons/Keep an eye on the cable
Bottom Line/A great deal for the money!
4. Superwinch Tiger Shark 9.5
Superwinch is redefining the affordable winch in the market with the new Tiger Shark 9.5. Its standout features include stainless steel roller fairleads and hardware, and a sealed submersible contactor solenoid. The winch has a severe-duty textured finish that resists the harsh outdoor and off-road abuse. It also has an ultra tough 3-stage planetary gear box that handles stress and torque on demand, and the “lift and pull” ergonomic free-spool lever that stops trail debris from activating your winch when you get deep back in the woods and other fun places.
Pros/Durability and price
Cons/Better for lighter duty use
Bottom Line/An economical winch with steel cable
5. Warn Epic Sidewinder
One accessory that I highly recommend is the Warn Epic Sidewinder. This replaces the normal hook at the end of your cable or synthetic rope. Since I use various straps as anchors, this lets me have a solid hookup to that strap. Where a hook might slip off if there is slack, and I’ve had that happen, this ensures a perfect hookup to the anchor point. If you’re working by yourself, this is a must have product.
Pros/Best way to anchor your winch line
Cons/None – it’s worth the extra money
Bottom Line/Best insurance against a slip of the hook
6. Rhino USA Snatch Block for Winch Recovery – Double Power!
You need a snatch block. Period. This is the most effective way to double the pulling power of your winch. (See below for more details on how that works.) Rhino USA makes some of the best truck accessories on the market, and their 13.5 ton rated snatch block is no exception. Made in the US by a family-owned business, these durable, heavy-duty blocks handle synthetic rope and Steel Cable up to 3/8 in. in size, and common 3/4 in. shackles.
Pros/Quality, affordable snatch block to add pulling power
Bottom Line/Get one. You need it.
Other Truck Accessories to consider
Synthetic rope vs. steel cable
Synthetic rope is lightweight and easy to handle. It is incredibly strong being made of a blend of fibers designed for strength. Once properly stretched, and that is key, synthetic rope is nearly perfect for winching. Synthetic rope needs to be stretched according to the manufacturers’ guidelines. What’s the catch? Synthetic rope is more prone to abrasion, and needs to be inspected for frays or other damage caused by UV, chemicals, and usage. That’s why these ropes come with an abrasion sleeve.
Steel cable is extremely durable, and is good for both vehicle recovery and utility work, such as moving trees, rocks and more. It resists abrasions better than rope and doesn’t show ultraviolet wear. If you don’t do much winching, cable can be a good option. Cable is heavier than synthetic and can develop rust and sharp burrs. If you use cable, always wear gloves and watch out for breakage, as a steel cable under load can snap back due to the stored energy, and cause harm. Some users suggest throwing a blanket over the cable to help protect should the cable snap.
Determining winch size
Picking the right size winch for your truck or SUV isn’t as daunting of a task as you might think. The basic rule is to double the rolling weight of your vehicle, so if you’re driving a Toyota Tacoma, a 9,000lb. to 10,000lb. Winch is fine. Full size trucks should go up to 12,000 or more pounds of pulling power. The bigger you go vehicle-wise, the bigger winch you need. Now, you can go smaller, if you want or need to.
The bare minimum would be to multiply your vehicle weight by 1.5 and get the closest winch to that. This is a situation where you see a smoking deal on a winch, but aren’t sure if it’ll work with your ride. Remember, the winch pulling power is measured with only one layer of cable/rope left on the spool. With a full spool, you don’t get the maximum pulling power of the winch.
There are a few things that every winch operator needs to know. Let’s say you get stuck and your winch just doesn’t have enough oomph to overcome the situation – like say, you’re buried in a sloppy mud hole and the vacuum under your truck isn’t letting go. Since a winch is simply a pulley, you can actually double your winch’s pulling power by using a snatch block set-up. This is basically adding a second pulley to the equation, which, if you remember physics correctly, doubles the power. This also allows you to let out more line from your winch, which also increases the pulling power.
You should also be prepared to anchor using a tow strap. This works better than simply wrapping your winch cable around a tree, as that can damage the tree and it can take away from your leverage. A longer tow strap can also allow you to anchor to more than one tree, rock or other object.
These are the basic accessories you need to go with your winch:
Which is better, steel cable or synthetic rope?
It’s a matter of personal choice, but the basic idea is if you use your winch a lot, go with synthetic rope. If you work in rough conditions, steel cable will fray less and work better.
How big of a winch do I need?
The most important factor in deciding winch size is simple – you need to know the weight of your vehicle and what will likely be in it when you need to use the winch. Multiple your vehicle weight by 1.5 and that is the starting point for your winch needs.
How can I increase my winch’s pulling power?
A snatch block will increase your pulling capability. Loop your line back to your vehicle and attach it to a shackle – instant extra power.
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