Let's say you're having a great day out on the trails. It's beautiful out, maybe the first day of spring, and suddenly your UTV or Jeep dips into a treacherous pit that, up until a week ago, was a melting puddle of snow. Suddenly, you're up to your axles in intractable mud. This is one of those moments where you realize the need for a good winch.
If you've made it as far as this page, it's likely you already have a winch and are looking for the best available winch rope. Or maybe you've had one of those sudden accidents while off-road that illustrates so well why winches are necessary. Either way, you're here and aware enough to know that not all winches⎯or winch ropes⎯are created equal.
We'll hope that you settled on buying a synthetic rope because you've only heard about the sudden destructive power of a metal winch rope and don't want it to happen to you. That's as good a reason as any to investigate and read up on the best synthetic winch ropes. In this article, we'll review all of the best cables available on the market today and answer a few questions and concerns about winch ropes in general.
But if you haven't bought or learned anything about winches or ropes yet, let's say you've made the right choice to go with synthetic. The main reason to get a synthetic winch rope over metal is safety and durability. Metal winch ropes are extremely heavy and difficult to maneuver and operate, and when they snap, they do so in dramatic and dangerous fashion.
Some of these winch ropes can get fairly pricey, so when considering which one to buy, think about what sort of things you intend to do with your winch rope or experiences you've already had. Also, consider the weight of your vehicle. It's generally a good rule of thumb to select a rope with a weight load of 1.5 to 2 times the weight of the vehicle to prevent sudden disruption.
WARN 88468 Spydura Synthetic Winch Cable
If you’re one of those people who doesn’t feel the need to mess around with calculating the weights and measuring your needs, you can do no better than the WARN Spydura Synthetic Winch Cable. Warn makes this cable out of ballistic quality nylon⎯essentially the stuff they make body armor out of⎯so it’s incredibly durable. The Spydura cable supports loads up to 10,000 pounds, so it should handle almost anything you can throw at it, including navigating mud pits and rivers, or moving trees out of the way.
One of the only problems synthetic ropes have is a vulnerability to UV rays, which is why Warn coated this one in a urethane treatment to help prevent UV light from disintegrating it. The coating also helps protect it from chemicals, giving your investment a much longer life and increased durability over time.
Finally, Warn covered the first few feet of this cable in a high-temperature resistant sleeve to help preserve the rope from overheating during winching. The entire cable is 80 feet long and made of high-density polyethylene, making it abrasion resistant, so you shouldn’t have to worry much about fraying.
Cable Length: 50 feet
Weight Capacity: 10,000 lbs
Weight: 7.28 lbs
Urethane coating prevents UV degradation
Ballistic quality nylon sleeve prevents overheating
Expensive compared to competitors
Smittybilt 97712 Synthetic Winch Rope
Another excellent option if you want to make sure you’re getting as much bang for your buck as possible is this excellent winch rope from Smittybilt. Smittybilt is one of the most popular names in the winch business, with years of experience building the best winches and ropes around, so you know you’re getting quality. This cable is no exception.
This winch rope is a little heavier than others, possibly due to the steel braids woven into the mesh, making it incredibly durable, but also giving it the possibility for metal fraying, so you may want to be careful when handling it. At 88 feet, it’s long enough for most jobs wherever you happen to be, and it is weight rated to 12,000 lbs, making it one of the strongest ropes we’ve reviewed.
Smittybilt treated this rope with a special coating to help prevent slippage on the winch drum, which often generates heat and prevents proper operation. They’ve also included a high-quality stainless steel hook with a reinforced eyelet for added strength when pulling.
The Smittybilt winch rope is on the more expensive end of the winch rope spectrum, but you should have no trouble with durability or weight load when using it. Like the Warn Spydura listed above, it’s also UV and abrasion-resistant, so you shouldn’t have to concern yourself much with UV decay over time.
Cable Length: 88 feet
Weight Capacity: 12,000 lbs
Weight: 7.45 pounds
Super durable with steel woven in
Special treatment helps prevent slippage
Long length, but not so long to cause strain
Very expensive compared to competitors
FieryRed Synthetic Winch Rope
If you’re looking for something without the hefty price tag, but with most of the features, the FieryRed Synthetic winch rope may suit you well. FieryRed constructed this cable out of 12 densely packed strands of super-durable nylon, giving it enough strength to tow up to 25,000 lbs without breaking. It’s also been coated with UV and chemical protection to prevent long term disintegration from UV rays.
The FieryRed cable is waterproof, so it floats on top of any water it comes into contact with, making it less likely to snag on unseen branches or rocks, and it comes with a UV and chemical resistant sleeve at the terminal end, protecting it against slippage, UV, abrasion, and overheating.
But the best thing about the FieryRed winch rope is that it won’t break the bank. For the features included and its impressive strength, it’s one of the most affordable winch ropes in its class, making it a fantastic addition to any UTV, Jeep, or off-roading SUV.
Cable Length: 85 feet
Weight Capacity: 25,000 lbs
Weight: 4.65 lbs
Very affordable compared to others
UV and chemical resistant nylon sleeve protects it from degradation and sun exposure
Water-resistant and floats on top of the water
Some complaints about faulty products
Offroading Gear Synthetic Winch Rope
When you’re thinking about synthetic winch ropes, you may not be considering a large vehicle or towing a lot of weight with it. Sometimes, you simply need something to get a fallen branch out of the way or dislodge your ATV from a tricky spot. When it comes to lighter jobs, you don’t need to buy the biggest and the best, but you still want a winch rope with reliable features.
Offroading Gear designed their synthetic winch rope with ATVs and lighter vehicles in mind, though you can buy a version that pulls up to 18,500 lbs. Offroading Gear offers three different widths depending on how much weight you plan on carrying: 1/4 inch by 50 feet, 3/8 inch by 95 feet, and 3/16 by 50 feet. All of these come with several additional features not usually carried by the less expensive winch ropes.
Each winch cable comes with an easy to install terminal end that works with most winch systems. Each cable also has a protective sleeve to prevent slippage, abrasion, and overheating. But the real selling point is the included heavy-duty snap shackle, rated for loads even more substantial than the rope can support.
Cable Length: 50 foot
Weight Capacity: 4,400 to 18,500 depending on rope width
Weight: 2 lbs
Comes equipped with heavy-duty snap shackle
Perfect weight and weight capacity for ATVs
Easy to install with a removable terminal end
Not as strong as some competitors
HOOAI Synthetic Winch Rope
Coming in at the most affordable end of our reviews is this extremely lightweight, yet still sturdy, winch rope by HOOAI, designed for UTVs, ATVs, Jeeps, and boats. It has a respectable load weight of 7,000 lbs and a decent length of 48 feet, making it an excellent addition if you don’t want to spend too much money.
Even though it’s less expensive, HOOAI doesn’t skimp on the features. Each winch rope comes with a reinforced heavy-duty nylon eye guard and a five-foot protective sleeve to prevent abrasion and overheating. To guarantee satisfaction, HOOAI offers a 90-day money-back guarantee as well as a lifetime warranty.
It may not be as strong as you might like if you’re offroading vehicle is bigger than an ATV or UTV, though, so make sure you understand the loads involved before you purchase. It also only comes in one bright blue color. Otherwise, it’s a terrific option if you want some peace of mind without breaking the bank.
Cable Length: 48 foot
Weight Capacity: 7,000 lbs
Weight: 13.8 oz
Five-foot protective sleeve not usually found on less expensive winch ropes
Respectable 6,000 lb breaking strength
Not ideal for large trucks
The rope isn’t as strong as some competitors
Synthetic Winch Rope FAQ
Why should I buy a synthetic winch rope over a metal cable?
Most people who don't know much about winches likely assume that a metal winch cable is better than synthetic simply because it is more reliable. This isn't true. Metal winch cables aren't as flexible and don't stretch at all, meaning it stores up all of the kinetic energy when pulling a load. If that snaps, metal cables can explode violently, possibly sending off shards of dangerous metal.
Furthermore, metal cables are prone to fray under strain, leading to nasty burrs of metal sticking out and requiring operators to use gloves to prevent cuts. They also can rust, are prone to slipping on the winch drum, and conduct heat much better than the standard nylon braids of most synthetics.
Due to these safety concerns, and the fact that synthetic rope is more durable than metal for most things, you should choose synthetic when you can, even though they may cost more than metal.
Will heat damage my synthetic rope?
Heat is a big concern with nylon winch ropes, which is why so many of them come equipped with a protective sleeve or other coatings on parts of it. But the heat on the winch drum only becomes a factor if you’re using the motorized function on the rope release. This is because most winch motors have a brake that engages in the power out feature.
If you use the free release function on the winch, rather than the power out function, you don’t generate as much heat. Also, most synthetic winch ropes use different materials on the drum rope, which helps dissipate or mitigate any damage from overheating. In some cases, companies even coat a portion of the cable with a sticky material to protect against slippage, which reduces friction on the drum.
How much pulling power do I need?
If you've been offroading for a while, or have previous experience with winches, you probably already know the answer to this. Beginners or people just learning about winches should be aware that you're not just hoisting the weight of your vehicle but also any obstacles you're encountering. Estimate the weight load you require at roughly 1.5 to 2 times the total weight of your vehicle.
What’s the difference between synthetic rope and cable rope?
Synthetic rope may not seem like it, but it’s more durable than metal cable because it isn’t dependent on the metal strands staying together. Metal cables store the kinetic energy of a heavy load in rigid tendrils of metal braided together which can fray, causing minor failures that aren’t easy to notice. Synthetic, on the other hand, generally gives and stretches enough to disperse kinetic energy, making it stronger and more durable in the long run.
However, synthetic rope, like many nylon-based products, is susceptible to UV rays, which degrade the polymers of the plastics over time. But when you take into account a metal cable’s propensity for rust, the long term durability of synthetic comes out on top, particularly with the UV protection coating many manufacturers add.
Weight hands the most obvious advantage in winch cables to synthetic rope. As you would imagine, metal is extremely heavy compared to synthetic winch cables and can be much harder to maneuver and operate because of it. Some synthetic cables are even designed to float on water, leading to less chance of them fouling up on stumps or hidden obstacles.
Metal weighs a lot more than synthetic, as you might expect. Metal also tends to be more rigid and harder to work with in the field.
Synthetic is better because it’s usually lighter, but equally strong. Metal cables can weigh a lot more, can be maneuvered easily, and stored easily when not in use.
Safety marks the biggest difference between the two materials. When metal cables fray and reach their weight limit, they fail dramatically, sometimes exploding and often sending sharp edges of metal flying out in an arc. It’s no mistake to say the failure of a metal cable can cause serious injury.
Synthetic rope never fails as completely as metal or in such a demonstrable way. Instead, it will likely disintegrate, fraying as the braids come apart.
Synthetic wins. Metal cables, when they snap, tend to explode dramatically. Synthetic failures are a lot less dangerous and dramatic, but you can usually spot weaknesses on a metal cable easier.
Cost may be the one area where metal beats synthetics, which tend to be much more expensive on average than their metal competition. Fortunately, many synthetic brands can be repaired or rebraided, whereas a metal cable can’t. You may save some with getting a metal winch cable, but you should really weigh that against the advantages you’re sacrificing.
Now that you’ve read through all of this information, you have the knowledge and tools you need to make a smart decision on which type of winch rope best suits your needs. Hopefully, you’ve also forgotten the notion that metal cables are superior simply because they’re made of metal and therefore more durable.
Synthetic winch ropes are generally more expensive than metal cables. Still, you get a lot more peace of mind out of them, not to mention a longer lifespan because of their UV treatments and the fact that you can rebraid them should something unfortunate happen. Metal cables often add several pounds to the front of your vehicle, tend to sink underwater, but are still useful for most tasks requiring a winch.
No matter which winch rope or cable you choose, however, make sure you take all the precautions recommended while using it. Even if a synthetic rope is less dangerous, that doesn’t mean it’s perfectly safe either, so make sure you abide by the recommended weight limit. Also, don’t forget to use gloves whenever you operate a winch, as the line sometimes moves much faster than you think possible.