If you enjoy off-roading with friends, the odds are good that one of the people who takes on Mother Nature in a specially-prepared vehicle has a winch mounted on their rig. Even the most capable off-road machines will occasionally get into a situation from which they cannot escape, so they need to be pulled. In some cases, another vehicle can just hook up a tow strap and drive away, pulling the stuck vehicle free, but there are situations in which an off-roader may not have the space needed to pull another vehicle free. When that happens, the only option is to pull the stuck truck with a winch.
There are many different brands of winches on the market and many of them offer the same basic features and functionalities. If you have never used a winch before, it may be hard to tell which winch is right for you. Winches have a wide range in capabilities, different mounting designs, different types of cable, and different types of controls. They also have a huge range in price, so which winch will best fit your needs? In this article, we’ll go over our top picks for the best winches, detailing their features and specifications so you can choose the right one for you.
For more information on the best winches, refer to our table of contents.
Table of contents
1. Editor's Pick: WARN VR EVO 12-S
WARN is arguably the biggest name in the winch world, so we start with its VR EVO 12-S Standard Duty unit. The 12 in the name signifies that it will pull 12,000 pounds and it does so with a 3/8-inch, 90-foot synthetic cable that will not rust or corrode when it gets wet and dirty. This unit uses a series-wound electric motor with a planetary gear train for fast, smooth operation with low amperage draw. It features an IP68-rated case that keeps dirt and water out with an aluminum mounting plate and control packs that can be relocated for different installation layouts.
The WARN VR EVO 12-S comes with a unique two-in-one remote that can be used with a wired connection or wirelessly. The wired connection allows a driver to operate the winch from behind the wheel or someone can be standing next to the vehicle doing the pulling. The wireless function allows the person operating the winch to walk away from the vehicle carrying the WARN winch, such as when applying tension to the vehicle being pulled.
Of course, with the WARN name, you know that you are getting a Grade A product, but that doesn’t come cheap. It’s one of the most expensive winches on our list, but it comes with impressive specifications and a legendary brand name.
2. Best for Quick Mounting: Champion Power Equipment Winch Kit with Speed Mount
If you are looking for a winch that you can easily move from vehicle to vehicle or if you want to conveniently store it when it’s not in use, the Champion Power Equipment Synthetic Rope Winch Kit with Speed Mount is your best bet. This 12,000-pound winch is mounted in a convenient carrier that attaches to your vehicle by means of a common two-inch hitch receiver. Since it does not bolt to the vehicle, it can easily be removed to use on another vehicle or stowed in the cab for safe keeping. Also, for those off-roaders who have a hitch receiver up front, this hitch can quickly be moved to the other end of the vehicle. This allows the owner of this winch to pull a vehicle that is stuck in front without turning around on the trail.
This recommendation comes with an 11/32-inch, 85-foot long polyethylene cable that floats, should you lose hold of it in deep water. That cable is retracted by means of a 6-horsepower series-wound electric motor, a three-stage planetary gear, a braking system, and a free spooling clutch that all work together at the rate of 2.3 feet per minute when loaded or 15.7 feet per minute when unloaded. The unit is operated by a wired remote with a 12-foot cable, allowing off-roaders to operate the winch from the driver’s seat or standing next to the vehicle.
3. Best on a Budget: FieryRed Electric Winch
If you are looking for a winch that that pulls big weight with a small price, the FieryRed Electric Winch is a great option. This winch is capable of pulling 13,000 pounds, but it does so with a price that is less than half of other options on our list. The FieryRed Electric Winch features an IP67-rated heavy duty steel case that keeps dirt and water out of the motor, while the powdercoated exterior prevents the rugged case from rusting. The 6-horsepower series-wound motor works with a three-stage planetary gear system to pull a full load at 4.1 feet per minute while retracting an empty line at 21.3 feet per minute. It also features an 85-foot synthetic cable that will safely pull more than 23,000 pounds without any risk of fraying or rusting.
The FieryRed Electric Winch comes with a remote control that works with both a wired and wireless connection, with a range of 30 meters of wireless access. This setup allows the driver to operate the winch from behind the wheel with both wired and wireless connections, while the wireless feature allows you to operate the winch from the full length of the cable.
4. RUGCEL Synthetic Rope Winch
The RUGCEL Synthetic Rope Winch utilizes a 6.6-horsepower series-wound motor with a three-stage planetary gear system and free spooling clutch, all of which are mounted within the waterproof, dustproof case. It features a control pack that can be mounted in a variety of ways, allowing for different placements on the vehicle. This winch uses a 3/8-inch, 86-foot nylon cable to pull up to 12,000 pounds at the rate of 4.6 to 5 feet per minute when loaded.
Combining big capabilities with supreme convenience, this recommendation features a remote system that is controlled by a pair of included key fobs. Those key fobs are what make this winch unique. Once the unit is mounted to your truck or SUV and the fobs are attached to your keys, you won’t need to worry about connecting a controller whenever you need to rescue a stuck off-roader.
If you are playing in the woods and a friend gets stuck in a spot where you don’t have room to tow them out, all you need is your keys. Park your vehicle, extend the cable out to the other vehicle, hook it up, then use your key fob to begin pulling the vehicle to freedom. There is also a wired controller, but the integrated key fob system allows wireless control while pulling 12,000 pounds.
5. VEVOR Electric Winch
If you are looking to equip your truck or SUV with a winch that will pull just about any of your off-roading buddies when they get stuck, but you are working with a very limited budget, the VEVOR Electric Truck Winch is worth considering. This winch costs a fraction of the others on the list, but there is a catch; with an 8,000-pound rating, it isn’t as strong as the other winches on our list. However, the vast majority of the trucks and SUVs you will find stuck on the trails weigh less than 8,000 pounds, so this VEVOR winch will work in most situations.
This recommendation uses a series-wound electric motor mated to a three-stage planetary gear and a free-spooling clutch with a sliding ring gear. It features a powdercoated stainless steel case that is waterproof and dustproof, protecting the internal workings in harsh conditions. Unlike the other winches on the list, this unit comes with a steel cable, but at 94-feet long, it has a greater reach than the others. However, the steel cable doesn’t tend to last as long as synthetic cables, but with this winch being about a quarter of the price of the most expensive product on this list, it is a great bargain piece.
The VEVOR unit comes with a wireless remote control, but the unit can also be hardwired for connected control.
What Does a Winch Do?
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Say that you and a group of friends are off-roading in dense woods, rumbling along a muddy path between rows of trees. As your group reaches an area of the trail that has been washed away by rain water, one of your friends slides off of the path and down between two trees. The vehicle is stuck on a steep bank between two trees, unable to move under its own power.
If you were in a big, open area, you could simply hook a tow strap to the rear bumper of your friend’s vehicle and the front bumper of your vehicle, backing along the trail to pull your friend back to safety. Unfortunately, with the dense woods around the stuck vehicle, there is no room to use another vehicle to tow it out. You need to pull your friend out without moving your vehicle, making a winch the only option.
A winch typically bolts to the front bumper of the vehicle, with an electric motor that retracts a long cable that you connect to the stuck truck or SUV. After positioning your vehicle with the winch pointed towards the stuck vehicle, you connect the end of the cable to a tow-safe point and use the remote to begin dragging the vehicle up the steep hill.
Most trucks and SUVs weigh less than 8,000 pounds, but many winches have a higher capacity. This is to accommodate heavier vehicles that may have larger tires or aftermarket components that drive up the curb weight. At the same time, if a vehicle is sunken into deep mud, your winch will effectively be moving more than the weight of the vehicle, also fighting the drag of the sloppy footing. That is why many premium winch systems have ratings in the 10,000- to 13,000-pound range, leaving plenty of room to pull the biggest heavy duty trucks from the worst situations.
What to Consider when Shopping for a Winch:
When shopping for a winch, you want to take several things into account. If you find that you hardly ever use it and all of your off-roading friends drive smaller, lighter vehicles, a less-expensive, lighter-duty winch will likely suffice. On the other hand, if you spend lots of time playing in deep mud or on steep hills with big, heavy duty pickups, you will be wise to buy a higher quality, higher strength winch. Finally, if you want to be able to move your new winch between vehicles, or place it in different points on one vehicle, it is best to find a winch that comes with a hitch-based mounting system. This style also allows you to remove it and store it in your vehicle when not heading off-road, or leave it at home in the garage while the bolted-on units are always in place.
December 17, 2021: Removed promoted product recommendation.
May 17, 2021: Updated with a promoted product recommendation.
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