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If you are setting up your first 4×4 vehicle for the off-road trails, you may be overwhelmed by the accessories you can choose from. You can lift your suspension, improve your tires, upgrade your axles, add front and rear lockers, jacks, and even a roof rack. Here’s why a winch is the first 4×4 accessory you should invest in.

Patience and a winch can get you out of a sticky situation

A young man deploys the winch from the front bumper of a 4x4 Jeep SUV, an off-road trail visible in the background.
Jeep Wrangler with winch | Paul C via Unsplash

Having a 4WD vehicle with locking differentials capable of maintaining traction on slippery ground is great. Owning a 4×4 with beadlock rims that can grab even the worst surfaces is fantastic. And having a huge lift kit and skidplates, so you rarely have to think twice about ground clearance is fun. But if you are starting with a single modification, consider a winch for your 4×4.

If you are driving a stock 4×4 with no lockers (also known as “open differentials”), a little rain can make an off-road trail too slick to navigate. Sliding down a steep trail is a recipe for body damage–or worse. Winching your vehicle up a slippery incline in the trail may sound inconvenient, but it is a sure way to get to the top–according to 4WheelParts.

Furthermore, if you find the limits of your ground clearance, and must circumnavigate some ledge or logs, a winch may make it possible to scale the banks of a seemingly impassable trail.

Of all the 4×4 accessories you could invest in, a winch is probably the one that can get you out of the widest range of sticky situations. You can think of it as the Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman of off-roading.

A winch will help you learn the limits of your vehicle

Closeup of a Warn 12 winch in front of a red Ram 2500 Power Wagon 4x4 pickup truck.
2017 Ram Power Wagon winch | Stellantis

If you want to learn the limits of your vehicle and your own skills as an off-road driver, you will have to get stuck. And if you are moving slowly and safely and fully equipped for a self-recovery, this isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds. Knowing you can easily winch yourself to safety means you can take on difficult obstacles and learn all the while.

As an added bonus, learning the limits of your truck or SUV will help you choose what accessories to invest in next. Do you often have to winch yourself around obstacles too tall to get over? It might be time to consider a lift kit. Or do you have open differentials and have to unspool your winch whenever one tire loses traction? Perhaps invest in locking differentials.

While you are pushing the limits of your vehicle, and winching yourself out of trouble, you will also learn to quickly and safely complete a self-recovery. This is an important skill to master as you go out in more challenging conditions.

With a winch, you can help other off-roaders

Photo of a Land Rover Defender SUV outfitted with a winch, mountains visible in the background.
Land Rover Defender | Peter Schulz via Unsplash

The best locking differentials, lift kit, and tires may be little help if you encounter a fellow off-roader stuck on the trail. Throwing them a tow strap and pulling them out seems great in theory, but it does not always work in practice.

Perhaps you cannot get to the stuck vehicle. Or maybe they are stuck in such a way that getting them out will require the steady inputs of a winch. Often, you will find it is easier and safer to recover another vehicle with the help of a winch.

Next, find out the benefits of locking differentials or see an off-road winch in action in the video below:


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