When Trouble Finds You: Good question. For starters, hunters and fishermen who routinely venture into rough country should never assume that the vehicle, no matter how well equipped--won’t get stuck. At some point, trouble will find even the most careful drivers. That said, a wise approach for the intrepid outdoorsman is to plan for trouble by installing an electric winch. Reduced to essentials, an electric winch is a motorized drum that unspools and spools a length of heavy-duty wire rope. Once the rope has been attached properly to a secure anchor, the winch can draw a 4x4 out of deep mud or off a steep talus slope.
A generation ago these helping hands were bulky accessories that were permanently mounted in massive replacement bumpers. Nowadays you can opt for a detachable quick-mount platform that slides a compact winch into a receiver (front or rear). When the winch isn’t needed, the mount and winch slide out for storage in garage or tool shed.
Picking the Winch: Choosing a winch may seem confusing, but it’s really fairly simple. Electric winches are classified by duty ratings, which are based on line pull, gearing system, and motor. Let’s look at each, in order.
In engineer-speak, Rated Line Pull (RLP) is the weight the winch can pull perpendicular to the ground with a single layer of wire rope on the drum. (Translation: RLP determines the total weight the winch can handle.) The RLP of most winches runs between 5,000 to 12,000 pounds. That’s a broad range. How do you know which RLP is best for your vehicle?
In general, winch manufacturers recommend that you choose a winch with an RLP that is at least 1.25 to 1.5 times greater than the total weight of your vehicle. That’s because the rated line pull of the winch must be high enough to pull the weight of the vehicle while overcoming the very considerable resistance of mud or a steep slope. To ensure the winch has enough gumption, always round up to a higher rating. You’ve heard the phrase “less is more?” Well, that doesn’t apply to winch capacity. In this case, “when in doubt, oversize.”
The key to choosing the proper RLP is knowing exactly how much your vehicle weighs when fully loaded. That means curb weight plus the weight of your hunting and fishing gear, a full fuel tank, and the weight of your buddies--none of whom are on low-carb diets. Fully loaded, the truck could easily weigh 2,000 pounds more than curb weight. If you buy on curb weight only, you won’t have enough winch.
The best way to get an accurate weight reading is to load the vehicle, round up your buddies, then take it to a sand and gravel pit, grain elevator, building and supply company, county waste disposal site, or moving company. These facilities have large drive-on scales, and for a nominal fee you’ll get an accurate read on your truck’s total weight.
Now let’s consider cable length and diameter. In general, cable diameter increases with the RLP. Typically, you’ll find 1/4-inch cable on lighter RLP winches and 3/8-inch cable on heavier-duty models.
Cable length is a little more complicated. Actual line rating will vary depending on how many layers are wound on the drum of the winch. You can expect a 10 percent drop in rating for each layer of wire rope that remains on the drum.
In other words, a 9,000-pound winch reaches full rating with one layer of line on the drum, but drops to 5,400 pounds with four layers on the drum. Say you have a 9,000-pound winch with 95 feet of cable. Manufacturers say that the average amount of line pulled out is 40 to 50 feet. That means that the real line rating is closer to 6,200 to 7,300 pounds, which can still handle the hypothetical example above. (Don’t work yourself into a lather about this. Manufacturer catalogs explain line rating in easy-to-fathom charts.)
Most manufacturers recommend a minimum of 75 feet of cable. If you do most of your hunting, fishing, and camping in the East, Midwest, and South, where trees are easy to find, 75 feet of cable is usually all you need. But if you four-wheel in high-desert sage flats or the prairie grassland, where trees are few and far between, go with at least 150 feet of cable.
Winch motors are either series wound or permanent magnet. Series-wound motors are more suited to longer duration use; permanent-magnet motors require a lower amperage draw. For high-traction applications with full-size trucks, I’m partial to series-wound motors.
The multiple gears found in a planetary-gear winch mean greater pulling speed; the cylindrical worm and round gear of a worm-gear winch, on the other hand, offer significantly greater gear reduction. In this case, you get brute strength but oh-so-slow operation. In general, outdoorsmen will find the faster-working planetary gears best for their applications.
In addition to selecting the winch, you also need to know about accessories, most of which come with the winch. Generally, the accessory kit includes recovery straps, tree protector strap, clevis (which allows you to connect the wire rope to the tree protector strap), optional remote control system, snatch blocks (also known as pulley blocks), tow hooks, and heavy gloves.