Synthetic Winch Rope Trail Trial

For what we ride and where we ride, a winch is considered a necessity. We enjoy testing the limits of our equipment in the deep and gnarly stuff but once you stick a machine this heavy, you’re machine is going to be there a long time without a winch, especially if you happen to be riding alone. We have our own preferences for winch brands but this article is about something they all have in common, winch rope.

All winches we’re aware of come standard with wire rope, sometimes referred to as cable or aircraft cable. No matter what you call it, if you’ve had the opportunity to use it on more than a few occasions you know how stiff, stubborn and downright dangerous it can be. And it only gets worse with use. Its stiffness and memory make it tough to use in some situations and it’s always difficult to re-spool properly. In our experience it’s impossible to get it back on the drum in that nice, even “factory wrap” which leads very quickly to damage from pinching. Once pinched it will fray, and those tiny frayed wires will pierce all but the thickest leather gloves as you tension it on a rewind, making puncture wounds to the hand a common occurrence. Because wire rope stores energy when under tension, to use it safely requires you drape something over it when it’s stretched out so if it should break it doesn’t become a potentially lethal whip. Since we’re usually sitting on our ATVs running the throttle and the winch switch at the same time we’re right in line with where the “whip” would do the most damage, so don’t kid yourself about this potential hazard.

For a long time wire rope was our only choice for this application but not anymore. Synthetic winch rope is here and offers huge advantages over wire. After a year of field testing we can say without reservation we’ll never go back to wire winch rope. As strong or stronger than wire, synthetic winch rope is soft, flexible, lightweight and cooperative, all things wire has never been. While you should still apply some tension on the rewind and attempt to spool it evenly, an uneven wrap won’t render the cable nearly worthless with a pinch resulting in a permanent kink and eventual fray. And you can tension it with your bare hand without fear of a puncture wound; very nice! Its extremely light weight doesn’t store energy under tension either, so there are no worries about it becoming potential weapon. Because it’s so flexible you can wrap it directly around a tree trunk without the use of an additional tree strap. And yes, you can use it with a snatch block just like wire, providing the pulley is free of burrs that might damage the rope.

What’s the downside you ask? As with most purchases, you get what you pay for. All these advantages come with a price higher than wire but if you can afford an ATV with a winch, $39 to upgrade your rope probably won’t bankrupt you. For another $50 you can upgrade your fairlead too, to one designed for use with synthetic, although you can use your existing fairlead if it’s free of burrs. Synthetic winch rope will abrade or fray if dragged across an abrasive surface so a smooth fairlead is important, just as much as your careful use of the rope if you want it to last. It comes with a thimble on one end for your hook, an eye terminal on the other end for spool attachment, and a 10’ abrasion sheath to protect it from potential damage from rocks, tree bark, etc. The sheath “floats” meaning you can slide it anywhere along the length of the rope to the spot that needs protection. While this might be an advantage in rocks where you may have to run the rope across a rough surface between your anchor point and the winch, the sheath easily bunches up on rewind which is a bit of a pain.

Trail Tip: Where we ride our winch anchor points are usually trees so the abrasion sheath is always used at the end near the hook to protect the rope and the tree. If you slide the sheath all the way to the hook then stretch it out along the length of the rope to where it stops you can stitch the sheath to the rope with heavy thread at the end opposite the hook. That way when you’re tensioning it on rewind you can tension the sheath as well as the rope and the sheath won’t ball up at the end.

Trail Tip 2: It’s recommended that you pull with a minimum of eight wraps of the rope around the winch drum. After winding up eight wraps, we “painted” about a two inch area of the rope with black magic marker as a reference point so we’ll easily know when we’ve reached this limit.

Although the synthetic material is not absorbent, the weave pattern is such that it will hold water or mud. Mud can be abrasive and damage the rope over time. We recommend you clean the rope occasionally which is very easy to do by freewheeling out the dirty portion into a bucket of soapy water, then rinse water. You can rewind it wet.

Synthetic winch rope gets five out of five mud balls for a perfect score in our trail trial. For the best prices and advice on Synthetic Winch Rope contact our friends at