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Best Winches for Overlanding and Off-Roading

When you get stuck in the boondocks, a winch can be your superpower, pulling your vehicle free from mud, sand, snow, or whatever pesky obstacle has halted your progress. But success and safety depend on knowing how to use a winch and choosing the best winch for your vehicle and your style of adventure.

Here, we will offer tips on choosing the right winch and our recommendations for the best winches on the market, taking into consideration a range of features and price points.

How to Choose the Best Winch

There is no one winch that’s ideal for everyone’s needs. 

One that’s right for a Jeep Wrangler might not be the best choice, for instance, for a heavier Ford F250. If you only go wheelin’ on the weekends and travel light, you might need a different model than someone who’s planning a self-supported 6-month overlanding trip.

Cost often plays a big role as well. While it’s recommended to buy the best quality vehicle recovery gear you can, not everyone has the budget for a best-in-class Warn that can be controlled with your smartphone.

Here are some common factors that come into play when choosing a winch:

How big of a winch do I need?

When choosing a winch, a good place to start is figuring out what pulling capacity you need to extricate your vehicle when it gets stuck. Winches are rated according to their maximum pulling capacity, a number given in pounds or kilograms, depending on what country you’re in. For more details on the practical implications of this rating, read our article on basic winch usage.

The typical rule of thumb is to get a winch rated to pull at least 1.5 times the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of your vehicle. This is a rating from the manufacture of how much the unloaded vehicle weighs (its curb weight), plus how much payload it can carry.

For instance, our a 4-door Jeep Wrangler JK has a curb weight of 4,522 pounds and a maximum payload of 1178 pounds, giving it a GVWR of 5,700 pounds. Going by the 1.5x rule of thumb above, this Jeep would need a winch rated to pull at least 8,550 pounds.

On many off-road and overlanding rigs of this size, you’ll find winches rated in the 9,000-pound to 12,000-pound range, as these sizes are common winches recommended by manufacturers and are readily available.

If you are planning to do a lot of overlanding and beefing up your rig to carry more payload, it’s worth taking that into account when choosing a winch. Additional gear such as rooftop tents, heavy bumpers, extra fuel and water, and other equipment can add significant extra weight to a vehicle.

But also keep in mind that bigger isn’t always better. Winches are heavy. Carrying more weight than you need adds stress to other parts of your vehicle, including your engine, suspension, and tires. Keep in mind that a snatch block can extend your winch’s pulling power, so can potentially pull larger loads than your maximum winch pull rating.

Synthetic Winch Rope vs Metal Winch Cable

Not that long ago, winches mostly used metal cables. As plastic rope technologies have advanced, however, many off-road and overlanding enthusiasts are switching to synthetic rope for winching. 

Synthetics offer several advantages: They are lighter than metal cable, they don’t develop burrs that can give you a nasty cut, and they are less likely to injure someone or damage vehicles in the event one snaps.

The downsides to synthetic winch lines are their high cost and their vulnerability to damage from the sun and sharp objects. Abrasion sleeves can be used to prevent damaging ropes, but it’s more gear to keep track of and adds a step to the winching process.

Generally speaking, given the advantages, we’d recommend getting a winch with synthetic rope if you can afford it.

Now that you have some parameters for choosing a winch, below are our recommendations for winches to fit a variety of applications and budgets.

Will the winch fit your bumper?

Before you purchase a winch, make sure it will fit on your bumper. Some bumper comes with the winch plate built-in, while others will require you to buy winch plate to attached the winch. Figure all of this out before you buy your winch to save yourself a lot of hassle. Call the winch manufacturer/retailer if you have question about compatability.

Our Pick

Warn VR EVO Winch

Ever since Arthur Warn began producing locking hubs for surplus World War II Jeeps in 1948, Warn has developed a reputation in the off-road industry for high-quality products. The VR EVO line of winches carries that badge of honor, offering a winch you can trust at a price that’s within reach for many overlanding and off-road enthusiasts. Yes, they will run you nearly twice what a Badland winch from Harbor Freight will run. But in the long run, it’s worth the extra cost for durability, ease of maintenance and repair, and peace of mind.

The VR series features waterproof construction and a highly efficient motor that pulls quickly while putting less strain on your battery. They come with a 2-in-1 remote that lets you control the winch with a wire or through a wireless connection. The winch comes in three models with 8000-, 10,000- and 12,000-pound pull capacities. You can get it with a metal cable or synthetic line. Synthetic rope costs a couple of hundred dollars more. Here are the different sizes of the VR EVO, and info on what model works on what type of vehicle.

WARN VR EVO 8 Winch – 103251

Warn VR EVO 9 Winch

Good for:
2-door Jeeps and lighter SUVs

Pull rating:
8,000 pounds 

WARN VR EVO 10 Winch – 103252

Warn VR EVO 10 Winch

Good for:
1/2-ton pickups, 4-door Jeeps, and larger SUVs

Pull rating:
10,000 pounds 

WARN VR EVO 12 Winch – 103254

Warn VR EVO 12 Winch

Good for:
3/4 and 1-ton pickups and all types of large frame rigs that require longer and heavier pulls

Pull rating:
12,000 pounds 

Runner Up

Superwinch Tiger Shark Series

Tiger Shark 9500 Winch

Based in San Dimas, California, Superwinch has been around for more than 40 years and is another company known for making high-quality winches. The Tiger Share Series winches aren’t as sleek as the Warns, and the switch can’t be used wirelessly, but they cost a bit less, are reliable, and will get the job done. Like the Warn above, the Tiger Shark comes with either a metal or a synthetic rope (for an extra couple hundred bucks).

SUPERWINCH TIGER SHARK 9500

Good for:
1/2-ton pickups, 4-door Jeeps, and larger SUVs

Pull rating:
9,500 pounds 

SUPERWINCH TIGER SHARK 1150

Superwinch Tiger Shark 11500

Good for:
3/4 and 1-ton pickups and all types of large frame rigs that require longer and heavier pulls

Pull rating:
11,500 pounds 



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