Jeeping 101 : Winching safety and techniques

Sooner or later, every wheeler will need to winch themselves or someone else out of a difficult situation. While I highlighted extraction techniques and tools if you don’t have a winch in an earlier blog, nothing replaces the real thing. Three main facets of winching are: proper selection of equipment, safe usage, and situational techniques.


Winch Selection:

Safe winching starts with selecting the proper winch for your vehicle. An under-rated winch can be worse than nothing at all. The general rule of thumb is your winch should be rated for 1.5 times the GVW of your vehicle. So a 6,000 lb. vehicle should have a winch rated for 9,000 lbs. Don’t forget to take into account the accessories you’ve added like bumpers, armor, and cages, as these can add hundreds of lbs. to your vehicle’s stock weight.

Cable type:

Winches come with one of two types of cable: steel or synthetic. There are clear advantages and disadvantages of both, depending on use. Synthetic cable has been gaining in popularity lately, due to its light weight and the fact that it doesn’t store energy like steel, so it is safer in a breakage situation. Steel still has advantages over synthetic: it lasts longer, is more resistant to abrasion, and is not susceptible to damage by UV rays. Overall, I still believe that steel cable is the best choice for the average wheeler who rarely pulls line, while synthetic is the better choice for the more extreme wheeler who is more likely to use it more frequently.

synthetic linemile_marker_winch_cables


Safety is a reoccurring theme here at Jeep with Kids, and in few areas is it more important than when winching. Some of the worst off-road accidents have happened while winching; lives have been lost.

  1. Know how to properly use your winch, practice using it a little before hitting the trail
  2. Use shackles to connect the cable to the anchor rather than just the hook
  3. Weight down the center of the line with a carpet or floor-mat to absorb energy in case of cable breakage
  4. Tension the cable before winching
  5. Drive and winch simultaneously. Do not rely on the winch alone to move the vehicle. Use it to help the vehicle drive.
  6. Always use heavy duty leather work gloves when handling steel winch line.
  7. Never, EVER use a hitch ball as a recovery point (A broken winch ball can make a perfect projectile than can be deadly)


One of the most important things to understand is the proper use of a snatch-block. This little gizmo is used when the anchor point is not directly in line to the direction you need to be winching. The snatch-block can be used to redirect the line and pull in the correct direction.

So what do you do if you don’t have anything to winch to? The simple answer is to use a land anchor. These can actually be purchased, but in the case that you do not have one, common solutions include burying a log or even your spare tire deep enough that it will hold the tension of the vehicle being winched.

Another important piece of equipment to remember is a Tree Strap. Trees are great winching anchors, but hooking a cable directly to one can cause irreparable damage. The strap is wide and just long enough to wrap around a tree trunk. Not damaging trees is an important way to help ensure our trails stay open.



Having the right winch and knowing how to use it safely can expand your horizons when wheeling. It can allow you to tackle more difficult trails and is one of the most essential tools when wheeling alone. Having the right winch for your vehicle, the right accessories, and a little know-how will keep you safe, and is simply an extra measure of peace of mind on the 4X4 Trails.


Here’s some more tips from our friends at Pirate Jeep Productions



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