Almost nothing ruins a day faster than getting stuck. The situation compounds itself if you're traveling solo (you should've known better) or if nasty weather is hastily approaching or if there's a dearth of munchies and everyone's hungry. Make no mistake, there are several tactics you can use to avoid getting stuck in the first place, but sooner or later every off-roader will find him- or herself immobile on the trail. The only sure way to never get stuck is to stay home - not an option.
We've assembled a collection of winches and winch-related accessories for your consideration, but first, we'd like to talk about the care and feeding of the recovery gear shown hereafter.
Care and Feeding of Winches
"Clean" and "dry" are the conditions in which your winch will live the longest and be the happiest, but the conditions in which a winch is called upon to rescue you are often dirty and wet. What to do? Some post-ride maintenance, that's what. Many winches feature sealed internal mechanisms, but still have external parts that are prone to weather and dirt damage. If you've got mud in your winch or winch cable, scrub or hose it off to prevent the corrosion created by caked-on mud. If your electrical connections got wet, prevent corrosion with a shot of WD-40. If your cable wound itself lopsided back onto the drum, un-spool the line and reel it back in straight ahead and under light tension.
Care and Feeding of Winch Line
There are two flavors of winch line these days: steel and synthetic. Steel lines are more abrasion-resistant but are prone to getting kinked. Synthetic lines can be crumpled into all sorts of funky shapes and suffer no ill effects. On the flip side, synthetic lines are prone to abrasion damage so most are equipped with a protective sheath over the load-bearing portion of the line. The best thing to do with either type of winch line is periodically inspect its entire length. Kinked steel lines should be replaced, and the same goes for abraded synthetic lines. The saying about a chain only being as strong as its weakest link counts for the weakest strand of a winch line. You'll never find the weakness if you don't look.
Care and Feeding of Recovery Straps
This is a lot like caring and feeding a winch line. Inspect your recovery strap for abrasion and general condition and replace it if it's damaged. Most of the time a recovery strap gets randomly stuffed back into the rig. When you're home from your adventure and neatly winding up your recovery strap for storage, take a look and see whether the strap is still good.
A note about recovery straps: they aren't the same as a typical nylon cinch strap. Recovery straps are designed to stretch out and then "spring" back. This characteristic makes them ideal for pulling vehicles out of sticky situations.
What about tried-and-true steel chains? Steel chains cannot stretch and are very, very heavy. Today's nylon recovery straps are the way to go.