Which Winch is Which? We’ll Pull You Through the Winch-Selection Process
Which Winch is Which?
Getting your 4x4 stuck is easy. One flippant stomp of the gas pedal and it’s door handle–deep in mire, or high-centered on that boulder you swore you’d checked the clearance on. You’re also wheeling solo. And your three friends with trucks are busy. And night is falling, wolves are circling; you know the drill. Bottom line: You’re getting out of this one alone. With what, you ask? Hopefully a winch, if you came prepared. The usefulness of a winch does not end at self-recovery. We’ve seen winches wrestle trees from across trails, overturn turned-over rigs, and provide the mechanical muscle to straighten trail-damaged tie rods. Not saying we advocate all these activities, but the moral of the story is that winches are powerful and versatile tools when bolted to your 4x4.
Using This Guide
Like any other tool in your toolbag, you need the correct tool for the task at hand. Your hex-key is no good if the fastener you’re removing has a Phillips head. Likewise, your choice of winch should reflect the challenges you plan (or oftentimes don’t plan) on throwing its way. First, consider what you’re pulling. Will the workload include dragging a fully loaded, heavy overland rig through mud bogs, or will the winch be a weekend warrior of sorts that’s only responsible for an occasional tug to help your rig over an obstacle? Consider the type of cable. Braided-steel cable can handle abrasion from things like rocks, but it’s heavy and can become a lethal weapon if it snaps. Synthetic line is lighter in weight and has a higher breaking strength than steel cable, but is more susceptible to damage if run over rocks or through roller fairleads.
To pull you through the winch selection process, we rounded up a number of winches, from a number of winch manufacturers, from all corners of the market, across the price spectrum, and with the strength to tug anything from lightweight 4x4s to army trucks.
No Country Too Rough
Who: Rough Country
What: No longer is Rough Country known only for suspension lifts and body armor; now the lineup includes tools to get your 4x4 out of the muck. The PRO winch systems are powered with 6hp series-wound motors, which are more efficient at high speeds and less susceptible to overheating during a heavy pull. The IP67 rating means the winch is built to ward off whatever elements you’ve gotten yourself stuck in, while the 265:1 gear ratio gives you the torque necessary to get out.
Range of Products: 9,500- to 12,000-pound electric winches, recovery accessories, lift and leveling kits, and most anything else on your 4x4 wish list
Info: Rough Country, 800/222-7023, roughcountry.com
No Ridge Too Rugged
Who: Rugged Ridge
What: Rugged Ridge is a brand operated by Omix-ADA, one of the leading manufacturers of replacement Jeep parts. The Nautic 9,500-pound winch has a 5.5hp series-wound motor, three-stage planetary gearbox, and solenoid all protected from the outside world by an IP67 rating. The winch tugs 100 feet of synthetic cable (there’s also a model with steel cable available) smoothly with the 172.8:1 gear ratio, and the drum is safely held during pulls with an automatic braking system. To protect the synthetic line during recovery, an aluminum hawse fairlead is included with each Nautic Series winch. Also included in the package is a remote control with 12-foot cable, rugged as the winch itself.
Range of Products: 2,500- to 12,500-pound electric winches, recovery gear, and Jeep accessories
Info: Rugged Ridge, 770/614-6101, ruggedridge.com
JEGS Made a Winch
What: Starting in the ’60s as a small racing shop in Ohio, JEGS has turned high-performance with racing, retail, and…recovery gear. JEGS has winches that are ready for anything, from getting a race car back on the trailer with its 3,000-pound winch, or getting a mudding rig back onto dry land with the 9,500-pound winch (shown here). The 9,500-pound winch has a 5.5hp motor, 92 feet of tough steel cable, and a wired remote to control the recovery process.
Range of Products: The second largest selection of mail order automotive equipment including race apparel, tools, and 3,000- to 9,500-pound electric winches
Info: JEGS High Performance, 800/345-4545, jegs.com
What: Deep within the Jeep parts bible we know as the Quadratec catalog, lurks the Q9500i. The covert color scheme on this winch includes a black aluminum hawse fairlead, 90 feet of charcoal grey synthetic Dyneema winch line, a black winch controller, and a black powdercoated hook. The 4.8hp motor pulls 19 feet of cable per minute, keeping the recovery speedy, while the integrated heat-dissipating solenoid keeps the internals cool.
Range of Products: 9,000- to 11,500-pound electric winches, recovery gear, and one famously hefty catalog of Jeep parts
Info: Quadratec, 800/743-4927, quadratec.com
Who: Mile Marker
What: If it’s good enough for U.S. Military Humvees, it must be good enough for us, right? The folks at Mile Marker must think so, because they claim the SEC15 (ES) winch is the lightest 15,000-pound winch in the industry. With the synthetic cable option, this machine tips the scale at 63.5 pounds, a 25 percent weight reduction when compared to other winches in its class. The 6.8hp series-wound motor, 500-amp solenoid, and three-stage planetary gearbox are all fully submersible and earned an Ingress Protection (IP) rating of 68 thanks to 19 rubber seals throughout the winch assembly.
Range of Products: 2,500- to 18,000-pound electric and hydraulic winches, recovery tools, locking hubs, winch mounts, and replacement parts
Info: Mile Marker, 800/886-8647, milemarker.com
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, Its…
What: Ever used a synthetic winch line? You can thank the founder of Superwinch, Frank Tolsdorf for that. He took a project abandoned by Ford Motor Company and spun it into a marine supply company that would years later become the winch maker we know today. The new EXP Series winch is packed with innovative goodies covered by eight patents, including LED task lighting, auxiliary power outlets, and an auto-off feature to save battery power. The EXP winch received the IP69K rating, meaning this winch is not only sealed from dust, but also from high-temperature, high-pressure jets of water. Customizable options include 8,000-, 10,000-, or 12,000-pound pulling strengths, integrated or disconnected solenoids, and 100 feet of steel cable or synthetic rope.
Range of Products: 1,000- to 18,000-pound electric winches, winching equipment, winch mounts, and locking hubs
Info: Superwinch, 800/323-2031, superwinch.com
Gettin’ Out With ENGO
Who: ENGO Winch
What: ENGO was founded by innovators who take pride in patenting unique winch solutions for the entire winch market from the 4x4 community to the military. The XR10s is a testament to this innovation. The 5.6hp series-wound motor, three-stage planetary gearbox, and automatic load-holding brake all work in unison to create the finest balance of speed and power. The winch has good looks too, with polished stainless-steel fasteners and aluminum hawse fairlead, along with the proper black finish.
Range of Products: 2,000- to 16,000-pound electric winches, LED lighting, and custom 4x4 bumpers
Info: ENGO Winch, 360/573-0882, engoindustries.com
Pulling for You
Who: Pierce Sales
What: Pierce Sales has grown from a father-son venture on the side of the road to the respected supplier of farm, ranch, outdoor gear, and towing equipment. The PS9000 winch is a culmination of 40 years’ worth of experience pulling things where they need to go. The winch has a three-stage planetary gearbox, 265:1 gear reduction, and a 5.5hp motor to pull the steel cable 24 feet per minute. All winches in the PS lineup come with a snatch block, roller fairlead, heavy-duty steel hook, and a wired remote control.
Range of Products: 4,000- to 20,000-pound electric and hydraulic winches, winch accessories, hoists, and various industrial and outdoor products
Info: Pierce Sales, 800/658-6301, piercearrowinc.com
What: It says so right on the company’s website. This winch will promote and inspire your off-road adventures. The TG10000, claimed to be amongst the toughest winches available, is powered by a 6.6hp series-wound motor and has a three-stage planetary gearbox, which creates a 265:1 gear reduction. Heavy loads will be no trouble here thanks to the automatic load-holding brake. Trail-Gear built this winch to survive punishment from sand and water. How do we know this? The big sticker on the winch told us. Feel free to command the winching operation from the comfort of the driver seat thanks to the rugged remote at the end of a 10-foot cord.
Range of Products: Recovery gear, winch accessories, and anything else that can be bolted or welded to a 4x4
Info: Trail-Gear, 877/494-8697, trail-gear.com
The Naked Seal
What: The folks at ComeUp stand behind their winches 100 percent. To prove the mettle of the SEAL Gen2 9.5 series, they hoisted a fully loaded Jeep 10 feet off the ground. We’re not saying to go try this at home, but we are saying that the patented Cone Brake Structure does one heck of a job. The new “naked” option from ComeUp gets you a SEAL Gen2 winch at a smokin’ price, granted that you provide your own rope, thimble, and fairlead. But you were going to customize those parts anyway. The Seal is powered by a 12V series-wound 5hp motor which turns the three-stage planetary gearbox, delivering a 159:1 reduction ratio. The winch package includes a wireless remote and a 17-foot cable remote, both waterproof, for the gnarliest winching conditions.
Range of Products: 650- to 30,000-pound hoists, electric and hydraulic winches, and winch accessories
Info: ComeUp USA, 503/783-6142, comeupusa.com
Bilt to Last
What: Did Basil “Smitty” Smith know his ’50s garage-based machining business would turn into the 4x4 giant it is today? We don’t know. But we do know that Smittybilt winches are “bilt” tough. The Smittybilt Gen2 X20 Comp winch (part 98510) can tug 10,000 pounds of stuck truck out of the quagmire thanks to the amphibious 6.6hp motor and the three-stage planetary gearbox. The Dynamic Braking System keeps the winch drum from overheating, while the integrated wireless remote allows you to winch from afar. This Gen2 X20 Comp winch is spooled with synthetic rope, carries an IP68 rating, and comes with a competition aluminum fairlead.
Range of Products: 2,000- to 17,500-pound electric winches, winch accessories, and a full line of truck and SUV accessories
Info: Smittybilt, 877/695-7810, smittybilt.com
When All You Can Think of is a Four-Letter Word…
What: What started as a military Jeep dealership in the ’30s has turned into one of the biggest names in winching industry. Warn’s ZEON Platinum is as sophisticated as it is smart with the addition of the wireless remote, which not only controls the clutch, but also auxiliary gear like air compressors or LED lights. The remote also delivers instant feedback on winch temperature and battery charge. The 10-S sleek, black satin winch is designed to fit snugly into modern bumpers and comes spooled with 100 feet of Spydura synthetic rope. Beneath the powdercoat lies an updated motor with stronger gears revving the line speed up to 44 feet per minute.
Range of Products: 100- to 30,000-pound electric and hydraulic winches, winch mounts, winch accessories, bumpers, body armor, locking hubs, lights, gloves, and more
Info: Warn Industries, 800/543-9276, warn.com
Who: Warrior Winches
What: The British military trusts Warrior winches, so why wouldn’t we? Hailing from across the Atlantic, Warrior tells us they offer the most competitively priced premium winches on the market. The 9500 Samurai short drum is narrower than other winches so it can be tucked away neatly into any bumper. The Samurai features a double-sealed 4.6hp series-wound motor, made entirely of brass to fight corrosion. A 230:1 gear ratio and automatic load-holding brake come standard, along with both a cable and wireless remote, and three-stage planetary gearbox.
Range of Products: 2,500- to 20,000-pound electric winches, hydraulic winches, and hoists
Info: Warrior Winches, 888/277-6960, warriorwinches.com
Baja Tested and Approved!
Who: Tuff Stuff 4x4
What: This winch has been bounced and beaten through 500 miles of the Baja 500 race, so you know it is “tuff” enough for your wheeling adventures. The XTREME 12,500-pound waterproof winch is just as it sounds: extreme and waterproof. The 6.65hp motor, three-stage planetary gearbox, and 88 feet of rope are ready for the stickiest of recovery operations. The XTREME waterproof winch has additional seals to make sure the mud, snow, and dust stay out of the motor.
Range of Products: 3,000- to 17,000-pound electric winches, overland gear, and off-road accessories
Info: Tuff Stuff 4x4, 866/220-0171, tuffstuff4x4.com
Get Back on Good Land With Badland
Who: Badland by Harbor Freight
What: We know we can trust Harbor Freight to have that pesky 10 mm socket that disappeared from the tool kit; now we can also trust the in-house Badland ZXR 12000 winch to get us out of trouble. The Badland winch was given a makeover with a black and chrome color scheme and now has BADLAND stamped across the front. Its signature cable tensioner keeps the 65 feet of steel cable untangled, while the automatic load-holding brake keeps all winching participants safe. Both the series-wound motor and integrated heat sink keep things cool during long pulls, and the internals are fully sealed against the elements. Included with the winch is a heavy-duty roller fairlead, all necessary mounting hardware, and a wired remote.
Range of Products: 440- to 18,000-pound electric hoists, winches and winching accessories, and every imaginable addition to the toolbag
Info: Harbor Freight, 800/423-2567, harborfreight.com
A Pull From Down Under
What: A little wallaby told us the conditions get rather extreme in Australia, making winching a staple of the 4x4 culture in the land Down Under. The folks at T-Max swear up and down that the 12,500-pound EW series winch is waterproof, with the solenoid and gearbox both fortified against the elements. T-Max also boasts a class-leading line speed of 6.2 feet per minute while under load. This winch comes standard with a three-stage planetary geartrain, 6.6hp motor, and spooled with 89 feet of Dyneema synthetic rope.
Range of Products: 2,000- to 18,000-pound winches for industrial, 4x4, and ATV needs
Info: T-Max Australia, t-maxwinches.com.au
Recover Your Rig With Red
Who: Red Winches USA
What: Though they might present themselves as artfully crafted bumper ornaments, Red winches are formidable beasts when it comes to yanking 4x4s out of the mud. Or just about anything else for that matter. The Cobra can pull cable at nearly 80 feet per minute, hold loads in place with a patented air brake, and still keep mud and water out of the vital parts. Red’s other noteworthy creation (shown here) is the Storm 8274 dual motor kit for supercharging your Warn 8274.
Range of Products: 6000- to 10,000-pound electric winches, hydraulic winches, and recovery accessories
Info: Red Winches USA, 801/298-1008, redwinchesusa.com
The Lead Dog
Who: Bulldog Winch
What: The folks at Bulldog have a dog in the winching fight. The Alpha winch comes in 9,300-, 12,500-, and 15,000-pound breeds and features premium tech throughout. The series-wound motors, overheat protection, and fast line speeds have pulled this winch to the finish line in Ultra4 National Championships, W.E. Rock National Championships, and the 2015 King of the Hammers.
Range of Products: 2,000- to 15,000-pound winches, winch accessories, and assorted off-road goodies
Info: Bulldog Winch, 855/327-1835, bulldogwinch.com
Who: Summit Racing Equipment
What: Another Ohio-based shop in the off-road world, Summit Racing Equipment built a 12,000-pound winch ready to roll with a 4.8hp motor, 295:1 gear reduction ratio, and 100 feet of steel cable. The wired remote and roller fairlead come standard in this screamin’ hot winch package.
Range of Products: The world’s largest selection of mail order automotive equipment including 1,000- to 12,000-pound electric winches, OEM off-road gear, and anything for your toys that go vroom
Info: Summit Racing Equipment, 800/230-3030, summitracing.com
Who: Ramsey Winch
What: Ramsey tells us the QM9000 carries the title of “finest winch available in its service class,” but we’ll let you decide. This winch is detachable, and designed to be easily attached to the front or rear receiving hitches, expanding its utility. The winch features a three-stage planetary gearbox, cam-action clutch, and a 4.4hp series-wound motor—all pulling 100 feet of steel cable, and your stuck rear, out of trouble.
Range of Products: 2,500- to 130,000-pound industrial, electric, and hydraulic winches, oil field equipment, and more
Info: Ramsey Winch, 918/438-2760, ramsey.com