Rescue ATV from mud

Winches: How to Choose

Rescue ATV from mudMore than once in my life, I’ve ventured into a mud hole that I should have avoided. Admit it. So have you. That innocent puddle can let way to a swamp in no time flat, swallowing your truck up to the axles.

As outdoorsmen (and women) we are prone to finding ourselves in uncharted territory. From back roads to marshy fields, our trucks are the chariots that deliver us to the promised lands of hunting, fishing and other outdoorsy fun. However, once your rig is entombed in mud it’s time to make a plan to get ‘er back on the road again.

Winches are the ideal tool for those of us that have a tendency, or relatively good probability of ever getting stuck. Or, as I prefer to call it, “temporarily motion impaired.” When you finally do find yourself in a sticky situation, (and trust me, if you drive off-road for long enough, it will happen) equipping your rig with a quality winch will give you a reliable way out


Simply put, a winch won’t do you any good if it’s not strong enough to tug your truck out of a tricky spot. The strength capacity of winches is described in “Rated Pull Line,” or “RPL.” This rating combines the mechanical ability of the winch system with the tensile strength of the line to determine how much weight the winch is capable of pulling. Ideally, the RPL of a winch should be 1.5 times the gross vehicle weight (GVW) of the vehicle that it’s mounted on.  If you’re unsure of your rig’s GVW,  check the door sticker and remember, that the GVW is what you’re looking for, not the truck’s curb weight, which will typically be less.


The length of the line spooled on the winch has to be enough to allow the line to reach a reliable mounting point. While it initially seems like this is a “more is better” situation, too much line leaves too much opportunity for tangling, kinking and otherwise undesirable messes. Most folks find a happy compromise in a 100’ length of line on the winch. Meanwhile, an extension of 50’ to 100’ can be carried in your truck’s toolbox or under a seat in case it’s ever needed.

Winch Gearing

Winches work by steadily spooling a cable that has been attached to an anchor point, back onto the spool attached to the vehicle. As the cable re-spools to the winch, your vehicle is, ideally, drug along back with it. However, waiting for winch line to spool back can take awhile. The average electric winch will re-spool at a rate of 5 to 7 feet per minute under a load. That means patience is a virtue when it comes to winching. Although winches with higher gears will provide faster re-spooling speeds, they will also provide less torque, which means less pulling power. Winches geared lower are the ticket to high torque, although you’ll need to hold your horses while the cable re-spools.

Power Source

A winch won’t work without a reliable power source. While many owners choose to use their rig’s starting battery as a winch power source, there are variables to consider. Starting batteries typically aren’t designed to be discharged. Thus, drawing amperage from them over a reasonable period of time and then expecting your truck to start right up may be asking too much. One option is to equip your vehicle with a spiral cell battery that is intended for both starting and discharging or choosing a heartier marine battery that matches up with your application. However, some owners still choose to take a surer route and install a separate battery specifically to provide winching power.


After you’ve found the perfect winch for your rig, you’ll need to attach it. Securely. The winch mounting options available on today’s market are endless. First, you’ll get to select the mounts that meet your style requirements. Next, you’ll need to make sure that the mount is capable of handling the line pull rating of the winch that you’ve selected. Weight of the mount is another factor to consider, as too much heft will cause undesirable sagging in the front end and require modification to your truck’s front springs to ensure that they’re able to support the weight of the winch mount.

And when it’s all said and done, you’ll need to test it out. So call up your buddies, find a spot you’re “sure you can get through” and put that winch to the test!