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A winch mounted on the front of your 4×4 is like off-road insurance. It can get you (or someone else) out of a jam when your vehicle becomes stuck between rocks, bottomed out in the mud, or hopelessly mired in a swamp. But that winch can become nothing more than an expensive bumper adornment if it’s not right for the job at hand, or for the conditions you’re driving in. Here’s a three-point checklist for ensuring that you get the right winch.

Top Pick

The IP68 rating on this model means it will withstand dust and sand and can be 1.5 meters underwater from 30 minutes with no damage. WARN

If you frequently go off-road in wet areas or through water, a waterproof winch is a must-have item. On the other hand, just because you don’t drive in wet areas doesn’t mean your winch doesn’t have to be waterproof. For example, normal driving in rain and snow will expose that winch to water. Also, a winch that resists water will keep out dust and grit. The last thing you need when you’re stuck miles from the nearest pavement is a winch that won’t work because the electrical connections are corroded. Your winch should have a rating of IP68, which means it will withstand dust, dirt, and sand, and resist submersion up to a maximum depth of 1.5 meters underwater for up to half an hour.

Great Value

This model comes loaded with abrasion-resistant line. Smittybilt

Many winches come with synthetic rope, which is much easier to handle than steel cable, the most popular tether spooled on most winches. Synthetic rope is just as strong as steel cable, and much easier to handle because it’s flexible. It won’t get burrs (which can penetrate your skin if you’re not wearing gloves), and it won’t kink or fray. But if you’ll be doing a lot of rock climbing, or using it anyplace where the cable would be exposed to abrasion, or if you’ll be using the winch to haul timber or other heavy items, steel is the better choice. It’ll stand up to rough use.

Easy to Use

There’s 98.5 feet of synthetic rope on the drum of this model. WARN

It doesn’t matter how powerful your winch is if the nearest anchor to your stuck truck is ten feet farther than the length of your cable. Also, if you’re going to be using a snatch block to get your or someone else’s vehicle out of a jam (which doubles the pulling power of your winch), you’ll halve the effective length of your cable. Make sure that your winch has a cable long enough to get the hook where it may have to go.