When your 4x4 is in near-rollover mode standing on end with the left rear tire jammed between two rocks, it is not the time to learn how to operate your winch. When your vehicle is teetering on a tree after sliding down an off-camber slope and is looking at pinballing 30 more trees on its way down the remaining 200 feet of slope, it is not the time to learn how to operate your winch. The time to learn how to operate your winch is in a safe and controlled environment before you need it, so that when "it" hits the fan you'll be ready for it.
Using a winch isn't all too difficult or hard to learn, but we still consistently see misuse that could easily result in injury or death. In two years of fairly consistent wheeling, I've used the winch on my rig just once for self-extraction and two other times to aid others who required recovery on the trail. However, I've also used it two times to help instruct friends on proper winch use, as well as to practice snatch-block pulls from awkward angles just to be ready for when I need to perform such a recovery.
Don't wait until you need it. Spend a few hours familiarizing yourself with your winch and other recovery equipment. Many 4x4 clubs require such knowledge before participating in club runs and activities. Even if you've used your winch and consider yourself a pro, take the time to perform a few practice pulls per year just to make sure everything is still functioning as it should.
To help us shed some light on proper winching and vehicle recovery practices, we looked to ARB 4x4 Accessories. The company offers a good deal of vehicle-recovery equipment and accessories designed for overland adventures where the nearest help is days, if not weeks, away. In order to display some basic winching skills for this article, ARB supplied us with its latest winching and recovery equipment, which included a heavy-duty canvas storage bag to keep the items stowed securely in the vehicle. Examine the following photos and captions for all the details on safe winching practices and get out on the trail and practice what you've learned so you'll winch like a pro in real-world situations.