The 10 Best Winches
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in April of 2015. Whether you're pulling a bulky off-road vehicle out of a ditch or lowering a jet ski into a lake, the right winch will make the job considerably safer and easier. There's a wide variety to choose from, in a range of capacities, with different types of brakes, clutches, and cables. These are some of the strongest, most reliable, and well-priced units suitable for a number of tasks. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
October 15, 2020:
Replaced the Engo 9000 with the Mile Marker H12000.
We added the Mile Marker because we felt that hydraulic winches represent an upgrade from electric winches and they are the trusted system for high-use applications. Hydraulic winches are built to operate reliably over continuous use. Electric winches require close monitoring of heat accumulation and therefore require cool-down periods to ensure that you don't burn out the motor or solenoids. Since they rely on the power steering system, there is no battery drain and they can operate for as long as your engine is running your power steering pump so there is no need to upgrade to a higher-capacity battery and alternator. Since electric motors are air-cooled, it is inherently difficult to make electric winches waterproof. On the other hand, hydraulic winches are completely sealed and can be used even while submerged. Specific to the Mile Marker is its two gear transmission. On light to no load, the high gear can be used to very quickly spool the line while the low gear will provide you with a slower spool speed but with much higher torque.
As with most winches, there will probably be some modifications and fabrication that go into installation. Slightly more so for hydraulic winches since you'll need adaptors to run line to the power steering box. This process is quite involved and is not recommended that you try it yourself unless you have experience in this sort of work.
May 05, 2019:
Winches can be used to accomplish a wide range of objectives, and there's commonly a vehicle of some sort involved. If you're working with smaller things like jet skis and four-wheelers, the Bravex Electric may be all you need. Bravex also makes a dedicated marine model whose powered lowering function makes it safe and easy to get a boat in the water. If you're okay with a little elbow grease, the Fulton will also make a great accessory to your boat trailer.
If you'll be in the mud or the canyon in a built-up Jeep or FJ, or if you're planning on using the unit in a professional setting, you'll need something considerably more beefy. If you don't want to spend a lot, you may be able to get by with the SmittyBilt XRC, though it's not ideal for full-time commercial use. The same can be said for SuperWinch products. SmittyBilt's X2O, on the other hand, is built to withstand a little more abuse, including submersion in creeks or other water sources. The Engo has been lauded by a number of dedicated off-road enthusiasts, and it's known to hold up to absurd levels of wear. At the end of the day, though, users and experts alike rave about nearly every offering from Warn. Their VR series is one of the most widely varied and highest quality, though you really can't go wrong with any of their products.
Remember, though, when you're working with heavy objects, safety is of utmost priority. One reason you may want to shell out a bit more money is for a synthetic rope setup. Most synthetic cables are not only as strong as or stronger than metal cable, they also don't build up energy as they're put under stress. That way, in the unfortunate event they should break, there's very little risk of dangerous whiplash. It's hard to overstate just how dangerous a snapped winch line is. Aside from that, make sure that you're adhering to all other safety protocols, and be very careful when introducing pulleys or snatch blocks to the system to increase capacity. Be certain that every part has a high enough working load limit, because again, it's incredibly dangerous to have pieces break when there are thousands of pounds of pressure involved.
Practicality And Power
You'll need some way to lift and drag the car out of this situation.
Many people dream of becoming the next Superman, capable of lifting, pulling, and moving incredibly large and heavy objects without breaking a sweat. However, the fact is that ordinary people need help and tools to get the job done.
Imagine you've encountered an abandoned car on a dirt road whose tires are half buried into the soil. You'll need some way to lift and drag the car out of this situation. Your car would be the recovery vehicle, the one equipped with a hauling or lifting device that includes a rope, cable, or chain wrapped around a horizontal, rotating drum and powered by either a crank or motor. This hauling device will create tension along the rope or chain to pull that abandoned car out of its sticky situation. The hauling device on this recovery vehicle is called a winch.
Practically speaking, the winch offers a degree of versatility that supports tow trucks and large vehicles. The major components of a winch include a cable wire, drum, motor, and gear train. A winch's cable wire ranges in length between forty and one hundred feet and is usually made of steel or some type of synthetic wire. The winch drum is circular in shape and allows the wire to wrap neatly around it, thanks to a built-in spool that rotates and winds the cable wire either in or out.
A winch's motor drives the power behind the turning of the drum so that it can wrap the wire around itself. Although not all winches have built-in motors (some have cranks), they are more commonly included with vehicle winches to help speed up the towing or recovery process. The gear train represents the torque that converts power from the motor to actual pulling power so that the winch can pull in heavy materials.
The vehicle being recovered by the winch typically has a recovery point, an area onto which the winch can be attached or hooked to pull the stuck vehicle out. Recovery points have different ratings depending on the type of car and the amount of weight they can withstand. Recovery points are either built into the design of a car's anatomy or attached as an after-market solution.
The application of a winch goes beyond simple towing. The capstan, for example, is similar in design to a winch with the exception of not storing the rope on its drum. Capstans are used by sailing ships and yachts to apply force to rope. During line trimming on sailboats, a crewmember will turn the winch's handle with one hand, while pulling on the loose tail end of the rope with the other in order to create tension during turns.
Winches are also invaluable to the backstage mechanics of moving scenery associated with theatrical plays. If we revisit our Superman analogy and imagine someone is playing the character on stage, the actor will not be able to move the heavy background objects needed to convince the audience that he is Superman in the first place. You can see the irony, but that doesn't negate the importance of the work performed by the winch.
Why The Winch Matters
If you own a fairly heavy-duty truck and provide a lot of roadside assistance and recovery, then weight capacity is one of the key aspects to consider when investing in a winch. Not every vehicle you encounter will be the same weight, so you need to ensure that the winch you choose is powerful enough to accommodate a range of load capacities to safely pull stranded or stuck vehicles out of difficult situations.
For that reason, knowing what kind of ropes and cables the winch comes with is also important, since it's the cable (or winch line) that will be doing a majority of the work. Additionally, finding an electric winch with a powerful enough motor is an absolute given. If your winch's motor isn't powerful enough to safely wind and unwind its cables around the drum, then that stranded car won't be going anywhere.
Having a winch made from water and rust-resistant steel will also come in handy when performing recovery jobs in bad weather conditions.
A Brief Winch History
The use of the winch dates as far back as the fourth century BCE when they were used to tighten cables for supporting pontoon bridges. The yacht named Reliance was the first racing boat to be fitted with a modern-style winch in 1903.
In 1948, Arthur and Sadie Warn founded Warn Industries, which was based on the idea of converting World War Two jeeps into useful road vehicles. Thanks to this collaboration, the pair introduced their first recreational winch in 1959. This winch became one of the most well-respected brands for off road racers and ranchers among others. Decades of engineeiring would lead Warn Industries to create a winch market for ATVs and UTVs in the 1990s.
In 2008, Warn Industries released their XL product line for use on trailers and in the recovery market with hydraulic winches delivering twenty to thirty thousand pounds of torque and pulling power. Additionally, the fan cooled electric winch was also released for recreational users.