What Size Winch Do You Need For Your 4×4?

So you are wanting to put a winch on your 4×4?  Awesome, a winch is a very important  accessory,  because even with the best lift kit, and tire upgrades.  You can still get stuck, but what you’re really wondering is,


What Size Winch Do I Need?

That is the question of the day, right?  Trying to find out which size winch you need could be over whelming.

Ok, so lets start with the maximum, winch pulling capacity rating. This number doesn’t exactly tell you everything. There are a few variables to consider.

Winch line pull ratings are the maximum capacity of the winch in a ideal situation. For example, winches work best when cold, with a single line, and straight pull setup.

Having only one bottom wrap (layer) of winch line on the winch drum. Also, having a properly setup electrical and charging system in pristine perfect shape.


Just keep in mind, a

Full Spool of Cable Causes a Weaker Winch.

A winch has the most power (unless other wise noted) with only one wrap (layer) of winch line (synthetic rope steel cable) on the drum.

So with each additional wrap (layer.) It could lose roughly around 10 percent (+/-) pulling capacity. This figure can vary roughly from 8 to 15 percent with different factors.  It gives the basic idea and gets you some where in the vicinity.

So you could see roughly, a 40 percent (+/-) decrease in winch pulling capacity. Having a full spool of line, on the drum. (steel cable or synthetic rope).

This loss is mostly a mechanical factor. Do to the gearing of the winch becoming less beneficial, (changing the gear ratio) as the spool size increases.

Kind of like putting bigger tires on your 4×4. Leaving the stock rear gear ratios. You lose the get up and go grunt, and pulling power.

To remedy this, you will have to pull your winch line all the way out.  Hook to an anchor point in the distance.

Making sure, to leave at least (5 wraps of wire rope or 10 wraps of synthetic rope) on the drum. To maximize, the most winch power.

Or, if your anchor point is to close.  Use a snatch block, in a double line pull configuration.  Which will not only increase the pulling capacity, by almost two times.  It will also, allow you to roll more line off the drum.  Helping increase pulling power as well, but….


since we are talking about snatch blocks. I should mention off angle pulls, and…

Winch line Redirects Reduce Pulling Power

Fairleads, and snatch blocks, are needed for winching.

A fairlead helps guide the cable onto the winch drum.  When you need to pull off at a slight angle during a recovery.  It Keeps the cable from riding up and over the drum, and wrapping around damaging other parts of the winch.  Or even gouging into other parts of your 4×4. Though, they are needed.  It will reduce winch pulling power.  When you have the resistance, of a loaded winch line dragging across it.

While a snatch block is used to redirect your winch line, and almost double the pulling power of the winch.  Just keep in mind it doesn’t completely double it though.  Due to the forces of friction involved.  You will lose roughly 10 percent efficiency.

In reality it’s nearly impossible but, if you can.  You should always try to keep the winch line as straight a possible.   Going onto the winch drum through the fairlead.  To reduce the friction of the line on the fairlead for one.  Also preventing to much side stress on bumper and winch mounts.

Two: To help the cable spool up neat and evenly, preventing the cable from bird nesting (winch line criss crossing over it self).  Which can cause damage (kinks) to a loaded steel cable winch line, and also reduces pulling power,

Third: It keeps it from building up to much line on one side of the winch drum.


Now, lets talk about,

Poor Electrical Creates Power Problems

If your electrical system isn’t up to speed you will have poor winch power.

Old batteries that don’t hold a good charge or even to small of a battery could leave you stranded. So very important, to keep the battery (s), in tip, top, shape.

For, just winching occasionally, upgrading your battery to the largest cold cranking amp with the highest reserve capacity you can (that will fit in your application). Would be a good start.

Though if you do a lot of winching all the time. Having two batteries, would be ideal.  If you have the room.

Having plenty of battery power is import.  Though it’s worth a mention. A winch can actually still drain a battery. When a vehicle is running and charging the battery.

Due to the fact, a winch can pull a lot of amps under peak load, and some stock alternators have very low amperage.  The charging system just can’t keep up with the continual use of a winch.

If you need to improve your battery charging. You could always consider looking in to a larger amperage alternator for your vehicle.

Though, keep in mind it’s always best to winch in short increments giving the winch a break to cool down, and to prevent it from over heating for one.

And two it gives the charging system a chance to recovery your battery.  Repeatedly, over  draining a battery will ruin it.

Having proper gauge cables and connectors coming from the battery. Keeping all connection clean and free of corrosion.

Corrosion can create bad connection. Creating high resistance and heat. Causing poor performance and or premature problems with your winch..

 Summing it up when the winch builds heat while pulling, and drawing the battery down. It all correlates to reduced pulling capacity.


Finally let’s figure out…

What Winch Pulling Capacity do You Need?

The industry standard when it comes to line pull capacity for a 4×4 winch.  Is it needs to have at least 1.5 times more pulling capacity than weight you need to pull.

So when it comes to your 4×4 you would take the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) or sometimes referred to as GVM (gross vehicle mass)

The GVWR is a constant number,  and it doesn’t change.  It’s a fixed figure set by the vehicle manufacture,

The GVWR is the maximum rated weight your vehicle can handle.  When it’s fully loaded.  Which would include the weight of the vehicle full of fuel,, driver, passengers, and all the cargo.

The GVWR is located on a label.  Usually in the driver side door  jamb.

For example if your GVWR is 6000 pounds you multiply it by 1.5. (6000 x 1.5=9000). So you would need a minimum of a 9000 pound capacity winch, and then you always can size up from there.


The GVWR times 1.5, is the industry standard.

Though sometimes, if you have a truck.  With a really high GVWR, and you don’t plan on ever, maxing out the payload.  Hauling, heavy loads, down the trail.  On, your off road adventure.

You, may need to customize your calculations.  Based on the GVW (gross vehicle weight). The GVW is a changing number.  As you add weight or take weight off the vehicle.

So, you will have to find a scale, some where around town.  To weigh your rig, fully loaded.  Full of fuel, all passengers,  gear, and accessories,.  With everything and anything you are going to be traveling with.  Or think you might travel with. Then multiply that figure by 1.5 to get your minimum. (Don’t cut yourself short)

Just remember, with winches is always best.  To round up and…..

Go Bigger (Up Size)

While, the minimum winch pulling capacity.   Should be at least 1.5 times more.   And, like mentioned above about the loss in pulling power. Due to different factors. Moving up bigger would be beneficial.

So, in some cases, having up to at least 2 times the line pull capacity of the gross weight of the vehicle.  For serious mudding, or if you are tackling steep grades, and tough terrain.   Or, you do a lot of winching all the time.

While, winching on gradual slopes, or level hard surfaces. May not put as much strain on a winch, because the vehicle is able free wheel, or roll easier.

It’s when you venture out, and whined up, having to tackle some gnarly terrain. Winching the dead weight, of a 4×4.  Up really demanding, steep grades.

Dragging your rig off, when its high centered, or bogged down, mired in the mud.  The forces, to unstick yourself, from the mud suction, mixed with, plowing a bow wave of goo with your bumper. Is a tremendously tough task for a winch to tackle.

(Always use a snatch block on heavy pulls)

Having a winch with plenty of power will pull a load easier, last longer, and is less likely to overheat and or stall on you.   When you are counting on it to bring you out of a bind.

Also, lets face it, some of us can really load down a 4×4 with gear.  Pushing the max out of the payload.  You really don’t want to come up, under par, on pulling power.  When you are in a pinch. That’s probably why you might need to step it up a notch.  To the next size winch.


Now, that we got all that out of the way.  You can..

Pick Your Line (Steel Cable or Synthetic Rope)

The big debate steel cable vs synthetic rope.  So They both have pros and cons.

Some prefer, the synthetic rope.  For its light weight, and flexibility.  Making it easy to handle.  So no kinks, barbs (burrs) to cut your hands.(like steel cable).   While others like  steel cable for its abrasion resistants.  Doesn’t need as much maintenance, and durable.


Don’t forget about a..

Winch Mount or Winch Ready Bumper

Just keep in mind, before you purchase a winch.  You will need to consider, how you will mount it. A winch without a mount, is well, not much good.

So, you will have to have a winch mount.  Or a winch ready bumper.  Before, you can install, and use your winch.   Check some options (here)