If you don't BELONG
there you shouldn't BE
there. I don't mean hitting obstacles that your Jeep or experience level can't handle, (though doing that when wheeling alone is plain dumb, regardless of how much recovery gear you have). I mean wheeling on restricted state/federal land or without permission on private land. Eco-fascists have been successful in getting thousands of acres of previously legal wheeling trails closed for environmental concerns, often using our own photos and videos as evidence against us.
As for winches, I'm no expert, but I've been using them off-road on-and-off for 20 years, and have done some research on the topic that I'll share, and hopefully someone who knows more than me can fill in the gaps.
Winch manufacturers uniformly recommend a selecting a model with at least 1.5x your vehicle weight. This is usually good advice, but make sure you check all the winch specs before making a decision:
- Winch maximum capacities are rated for the first layer of wire/rope. Each layer of line you spool off the winch reduces its maximum pull capacity.
- Many winch manufacturers recommend using a double-line pull via a snatch block (pully block) if you will be pulling more than 50% of the winch's rated capacity.
- The closer you get to the winch's capacity, the more current (Amps) it draws and more heat it generates. On long pulls at full capacity, a winch can shut-down (or burn-up!) in as little as a minute or two. Higher capacity winches will run longer than lower-capacity pulling the same load.
- Different kinds of "stuck" will result in different amounts of force being required for recovery. Sticky mud and wet sand are usually the worst. Off-angle pulls also puts more load on a winch.
Now for some specifications, all from the winch manufacturer's websites.
There some things you should note about this data:
- The Milemarker winches have consistently low current (Amp) draw at 8,000 lbs. This should result in the winch motor generatring less heat, allowing for longer duration pulls before resting to cool-off.
- The Milemarker winch capacities fall-off more steeply than others as you pul-off layers of line.
- By the fourth layer, (about 90' line pulled), several models drop below the weight capacity of a loaded JK. Even at the third layer, the Ramsey and Milemarker 8000-Lb winches are marginal at best.
Here's a chart showing how pull capacity decreases as you play out layers of line off the drum:
Above you can see where Warn shows its reputation for quality. Other than the Rugged Ridge 8500, only the Warn winches are able to reasonably ensure a successful pull at the 4th-layer (about 90-feet).
How much capacity is enough? The curb weight of a JK varies from 3,785 for a 2-door sport up to 4,341 for a 4-door Rubicon. Vehicle occupants, gear and upgrades can easily add another 1,000 pounds, as show below:
If you follow the 1.5x rule, the minimum winch capacity must be 8,100 pounds. And any of the above winches should be sufficient in most situations with pulls up to 40-feet long, most up to 70-feet. But remember that many manufacturers recommend using a snatch block (pulley block) if you're trying to pull more than half the rated winch capacity (though in real-world use, I've rarely used a snatch block except for extreme off-angle pulls).
Capacity not only determines how much weight it can pull, but also how long it can pull between rests to cool-off and how well it can deal with sticky situations. Other specifications such as how fast it can winch (line-feet per minute) and the amount of force needed to pull-out the line when free-spooling are usually academic. Unless you're competing in timed events or the type of moron who can't help but get stuck every 15 minutes, speed is not as important as Reliability.
And there I said it, the infamous R word, Reliability. Some brands are known to have it, others to lack it. Warn has the reputation for being the most reliable brand of winches. Others swear by other brands. Do your own research here and elsewhere and form your own opinions. But remember statistics don't apply to individuals; it is still possible to get a lemon even from the most reputable manufacturer. Also, how you use and care for the winch will have an impact on how long it lasts (maybe that snatch block is a good idea after all?)
Personally, I've owned Superwinch and Warn, but have been running with the Rugged Ridge 8500 for the past year. Its a bit stubborn to pull out line when free-spooling, and I don't expect it to last 10 or even 5 years like I'd expect from a Warn. I've done a fair amount of pulling with it, including an F350 sunk past its bumper in thick mud, and it's never complained. The long-pull capacity and $300 to-my-door price (Amazon) were what sold me when I couldn't afford the $1,500 Warn I really want. I figure someday I'll replace it with a PowerPlant HD.
All that talk about winches and it's only part of the recovery gear one should carry on the trail. In fact, it's not even the most important item. One thing you absolutely cannot do without is hard recovery points, (frame-attached tow hooks, loops or shackle tabs), front and rear. Without recovery points you have nothing to safely attach a strap or winch line from another vehicle to get a tug. Bumpers, bull bars and stingers frequently bend or just come off under load. Axles can also bend or get yanked off their mounts. Spend some time browsing YouTube for winching disasters.
Winch or not, you should have a recovery strap. A strap is often faster and safer than using a winch. You can use a strap to extend your winch line or as a tree strap. 30' long, at least 20k-pounds and without permanently-attached hooks is recommended. Throw in at least two 3/4" D-shackles (5-ton rating).
To safely use a winch you'll need some accessories.
- Leather work gloves to protect your hands
- Two tree straps to protect trees (one might not make it around a big tree)
- Some kind of weight to dampen the winch line if it or the hook fail under load. A blanket, jacket or dedicated winch weight will work.
- At least two 3/4", 5-ton D-shackles (mentioned above)
- 10k minimum, 30k recommended Snatch Block (pulley block) suggested
- A bag to keep it all together, strapped-down so it doesn't bean you if you flop
- Common sense, awareness for safety and basic instruction on winching properly
Sometimes you can winch off an obstacle (rock, log, pipe) because it's stuck between components under-chassis. A Hi-Lift Jack is worth carrying to deal with these situations. Also bring either a jack base or a 12"x12"x3/4" or larger piece of wood to support the jack on soft terrain. It's also handy for changing tires on lifted vehicles.
A heavy-duty ratchet strap can be used to keep your axle and wheel from drooping as you jack-up the frame or chassis. Saves a lot of unnecessary jacking and helps keep the rig lower and safer.
A shovel, and not a cheap folding shovel. In a worst-case scenario, stuck alone with no anchor point, you can dig a hole and bury your spare tire to anchor your winch line.
A good quality folding saw, 15" or longer, to deal with large branches or small to medium trees across the trail. I carry a 24" Sven Saw and have used it several times.
Two fire extinguishers: one mounted within easy reach of the driver's seat, and a second easily accessible in the back for when the first one runs out. If you've ever seen an gasoline-fueled engine fire, you will know that there's no such thing as too much fire extinguisher.
A first aid kit with some consideration for traumatic injuries, such as sprains/fractures and bad wounds.
If you're wheeling alone and will possibly be more than a few hours walk back to pavement, it's good sense to bring extra food, water and possibly a sleeping bag. I also usually carry a change of clothing, rain gear and a jacket just in case.
4x4Training on YouTube has several good videos on winches. The first is at http://www.youtube.com/user/4x4Train.../9/6YscTH3JF68
. You can find the others from there.