Almost nothing ruins a day faster than getting stuck. The situation compounds itself if you're traveling solo (you should've known better) or if nasty weather is hastily approaching or if there's a dearth of munchies and everyone's hungry. Make no mistake, there are several tactics you can use to avoid getting stuck in the first place, but sooner or later every off-roader will find him- or herself immobile on the trail. The only sure way to never get stuck is to stay home - not an option.
We've assembled a collection of winches and winch-related accessories for your consideration, but first, we'd like to talk about the care and feeding of the recovery gear shown hereafter.
Care and Feeding of Winches
"Clean" and "dry" are the conditions in which your winch will live the longest and be the happiest, but the conditions in which a winch is called upon to rescue you are often dirty and wet. What to do? Some post-ride maintenance, that's what. Many winches feature sealed internal mechanisms, but still have external parts that are prone to weather and dirt damage. If you've got mud in your winch or winch cable, scrub or hose it off to prevent the corrosion created by caked-on mud. If your electrical connections got wet, prevent corrosion with a shot of WD-40. If your cable wound itself lopsided back onto the drum, un-spool the line and reel it back in straight ahead and under light tension.
Care and Feeding of Winch Line
There are two flavors of winch line these days: steel and synthetic. Steel lines are more abrasion-resistant but are prone to getting kinked. Synthetic lines can be crumpled into all sorts of funky shapes and suffer no ill effects. On the flip side, synthetic lines are prone to abrasion damage so most are equipped with a protective sheath over the load-bearing portion of the line. The best thing to do with either type of winch line is periodically inspect its entire length. Kinked steel lines should be replaced, and the same goes for abraded synthetic lines. The saying about a chain only being as strong as its weakest link counts for the weakest strand of a winch line. You'll never find the weakness if you don't look.
Care and Feeding of Recovery Straps
This is a lot like caring and feeding a winch line. Inspect your recovery strap for abrasion and general condition and replace it if it's damaged. Most of the time a recovery strap gets randomly stuffed back into the rig. When you're home from your adventure and neatly winding up your recovery strap for storage, take a look and see whether the strap is still good.
A note about recovery straps: they aren't the same as a typical nylon cinch strap. Recovery straps are designed to stretch out and then "spring" back. This characteristic makes them ideal for pulling vehicles out of sticky situations.
What about tried-and-true steel chains? Steel chains cannot stretch and are very, very heavy. Today's nylon recovery straps are the way to go.
Care and Feeding of Snatch Blocks
Snatch blocks are simple creatures, but perform a vital role by making it possible to winch around a corner or by doubling the pulling capacity of your winch depending on how they're hooked up to the vehicle and the winch line. Check for general pulley wear, the condition of the pulley bearings, and the condition of the side plates or the housing. Just as with winch lines, it's best to replace a damaged pulley.
Care and Feeding of Batteries
This could be a whole story in itself. First, make sure your battery is securely fastened down. One time, my ground cable kept popping off of the negative battery terminal. The battery hold-down was in place and everything looked OK. I put my hand on the hold-down and was grateful that the cable had popped off of the terminal instead of breaking the post off of the battery. The hold-down looked fine but was actually loose enough for the battery to shift around on the tray. Check the hold-down with your eyes and with a wrench. Next, keep the terminals clean and free of corrosion. Make sure there's enough water in the battery if you've got a conventional lead-acid battery. Finally, it's better to replace an aging or questionable battery sooner rather than later. Your battery warranty won't help you in the backcountry.
Care and Feeding of Fairleads
Don't use steel cable with an aluminum Hawse fairlead because the steel cable will chew its way through the aluminum. If your aluminum Hawse fairlead gets nicked or gouged, you can smooth it out with fine-grit sandpaper or a Scotchbrite pad. It's important to keep the sliding surfaces of Hawse-type fairleads smooth because the winch line slides directly on them and can get gouged or nicked by a chunked fairlead. Steel Hawse fairleads are used with steel winch cable and can be smoothed out with sandpaper. Roller fairleads should be inspected to make sure the rollers are in good condition and to make sure the rollers turn freely. Replace as needed.
Warn Industries is synonymous with premium winches as well as premium lockout hubs. No surprise then that Warn would come up with an innovative solution to the overheating problems that often shorten the duty cycles of electric winches. Warn's Endurance 12.0 uses a remote-mounted fan that automatically turns on when the winch motor reaches a certain temperature. The fan blows the air through a hose, which is routed into the electric motor. The Endurance 12.0 has 12,000 pounds of pulling capacity combined with the longest duty cycle of any electric winch available today. If you've ever had to wait for your electric winch to cool down in the middle of a long pull, the Endurance 12.0 is calling your name.
Black Mountain Winches by Collins Bros. Jeep
Collins Bros. Jeep offers two models in its Black Mountain winch line. Rated at 8,000 and 10,000 pounds respectively, Black Mountain winches come with cables, hooks, and controllers right out of the box. These winches are value priced and well within the budgets of most 'wheelers.
Collins Bros. Jeep Bulldog Winch Company Quadratec Quadratec Optima Yellow-Top Batteries Optima Batteries Odyssey Batteries Odyssey Batteries Master-Pull Master-Pull Recon Recon Mile Marker Mile Marker ARB 4x4 Accessories ARB 4x4 Accessories Tiger Hitch Tiger Hitch Smittybilt Smittybilt Daystar Daystar Rugged Ridge/Omix-Ada Rugged Ridge Viking Offroad (818) 506-9789
Quadratec is one of the best sources for all things Warn, from the 9.5ti seen here on the front of Steve Hallin's TJ Unlimited to the multi-tasking PowerPlant Dual Force, to utility winches that are often used to limit axle droop during steep climbs and descents. Steve's hood latches just fine, by the way. We'd just lowered it, and I snapped this photo before it was latched.
If your winch doesn't have enough battery power to run, it's just a bumper ornament. Optima's Yellow Top batteries do dual duty with up to 830 cold cranking amps as well as deep cycle capability to stay functional after extended winching sessions. There are six models to choose from in the Yellow Top series. Optima's spiral cells are maintenance free, incredibly vibration-resistant, and completely spill-proof. Optima Yellow Top batteries can be mounted in any position.
Odyssey batteries use AGM (advanced glass mat) technology as part of their dry cell system. Gasses are recycled internally, so no external vents are required or used. As long as it's securely mounted it's safe to mount inside the passenger compartment. This Odyssey PC-1500 battery offers 880 cold cranking amps as well as deep cycle capability. Typical service life is six to eight years.
Master-Pull is synonymous with staying un-stuck. The Superline XD synthetic winch line features a high breaking strength wrapped in a heavy-duty protective cover. Master-Pull's Super-Yanker recovery rope uses the power of kinetic energy to yank stuck vehicles to solid ground.
Recon offers two winches: the 10,500-pound Pro Performance Waterproof Series and the 17,500-pound Brute Force model. Both feature fast line speeds, three-stage planetary gear trains, and automatic in-the-drum clutches. The Pro Performance model comes with synthetic line, while the Brute Force is equipped with traditional wire rope.
Mile Marker's V-10 winch has some slick, innovative features. Solid state controls mean no mechanical solenoids to potentially fail, and users can enjoy the luxury of variable-speed line control. It's sealed against the elements and is further readied against trail abuse with stainless steel hardware and a dual-compound black polyurethane coating. The V-10 has a 10,000-pound rating and if you need more, Mile Markers V-12 is rated at 12,000 pounds.
ARB's offerings go well beyond its popular Air Lockers. ARB's recovery straps are available with different weight ratings so you can match the strap to the size of the stuck vehicle. ARB's recovery straps are now color-coded so it's easy to pick the right strap out of a crowded gear bag. All ARB straps feature a red internal safety flag that shows through when the strap has worn down far enough. Seeing red? Replace the strap. ARB has a line of snatch blocks, of which the snatch block 9000 is the heaviest hitter. Constructed with 6mm-thick cold-rolled steel side plates and a pulley made from a special self-lubricating polymer, the snatch block 9000 has a whopping 38,500-pound breaking strength.
Tiger Hitch offers its billet recovery hitches CNC machined out of either 6061-T6 aluminum or alloy steel. The recovery hitches come with 5/8-inch shackles and can be equipped with an optional tow hook. There is also a combo pack available which includes a 20-foot heavy duty recovery strap.
Smittybilt has some new offerings for the winch world in their XRC 8, 10, and 12-series winches. The XRC 10 HD boasts a high-quality air compressor and comes with a 2.5-gallon air tank for filling tires fast or running air tools on the trail. Three-stage planetary gear systems bring fast line speeds and durability on board the XRC series winches.
We're Daystar fans for a couple of reasons. First, they make many of their products in-house in Phoenix, Arizona. Second, Daystar's stuff is innovative, affordable, and solves problems. Daystar's polyurethane Rope Rollers take the place of steel rollers in a conventional roller fairlead, making it compatible with synthetic winch line. Steel rollers can abrade synthetic lines, so aluminum Hawse fairleads are usually recommended. If your bumper isn't compatible with a Hawse fairlead or you're looking for a more economical alternative, Daystar's Rope Rollers are the answer. Daystar's D-ring isolators snap in place on standard 3/4-inch D-rings and eliminate annoying knocking noises. They also protect the bumper's finish from steel-on-steel contact. Daystar's winch isolators provide a cushioned home for the winch hook when it's stowed. Winch hooks and cables should be stored with a slight amount of tension to prevent rattling and snagging on trees, brush, etc. The Daystar winch isolator is easy to install and provides the perfect home for your winch hook. Available in several colors or in camouflage.
Rugged Ridge offers a complete line of winches and accessories. The 10.5 and 8.5 winches are rated at 10,500 and 8,500 pounds respectively. The 8.5 winch comes with synthetic rope and an aluminum Hawse fairlead, while the 10.5 winch comes with wire rope and a roller fairlead that's compatible with up to two lights for after-dark extraction. Both winches offer multiple mounting positions for the solenoid, making them easy to configure for your trail rig. Rugged Ridge also carries a handy winch accessory bag filled with a snatch block, a recovery strap, gloves, a cable weight, D-rings, and a tree trunk strap.
Viking Offroad has a range of products to help you out of the mire. The 350 series aluminum Hawse fairlead has more surface area and a gentler radius to place less stress on synthetic winch lines. The Rockline tree strap is made not to stretch like a recovery strap and provides a solid anchor point to winch to. It does not twist under use. The recovery rope is designed to stretch and spring back, and is available with strength ratings from 7,400 pounds all the way to 74,000 pounds, which is stout enough for a semi truck!
Bulldog Winch Company
Optima Yellow-Top Batteries
ARB 4x4 Accessories
ARB 4x4 Accessories