Off-roading should be fun. If it isn’t, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Even when things take a turn for the stuck-in-the-mud, or for the axle-halfway-up-a-bank, you shouldn’t find yourself flustered and lost as to the right course of action. Just break out your trusty winch, haul your vehicle back to where it should be, and on you go.
The thing about winches is that 95% of their time, they’re just an add-on. 95% of their time, you won’t need them, and you might question why you bought them in the first place.
But when you need a winch, you really need a winch. You need one that works reliably. You need one that’s strong enough to move what you need to move. And you need one that’s easy to deploy and use, rather than a set of 50,000 instructions in your moment of need.
Wanna know which are the best ATV winches on the market?
We thought you might.
Sit right there, and let’s wind them in.
In a hurry? Here’s our top pick.
Top 5 ATV Winches
OUR TOP PICK
There’s a scene in all the popular spy movies where the villain has a mysterious, earth-shattering device, and flicks a switch to begin its operation. There’s swelling, dramatic music, there’s a maniacal laugh. And the uber-machine kicks into life, as unstoppable as it is impressive.
We’re not going to suggest you’d actually get yourself into trouble just so you could have that moment with the Smittybilt GEN 2 XRC Winch.
We’re just saying if you did, we wouldn’t blame you. No winch-shaming here. It’s the sort of machine that should come with its own dramatic soundtrack and maniacal laugh.
Coming in with a supersized 9,500 pound load capacity, this is the superhero winch that sweeps in to rescue you at the climax of the movie. It’s got a 6.6 horsepower amphibious motor and a three-stage planetary gear system, so it not only has all the power you need in its muscles, it has the flex to deliver that power where, when and how you need it.
Amphibious is not a word to use in vain. The Smittybilt is entirely waterproof. It laughs at rain. It chuckles good-naturedly at watery environments, and then keeps on going. Water, humidity, you name it, the Smittybilt will work through it.
There’s no ‘batteries not included’ pain with the Smittybilt, either. It comes with a mounting place, a hook strap and all the necessary wiring. Its steel cable is strong as…well, steel, and it’s coated in powder to keep cable-fray to a minimum.
Despite its higher pound capacity, it also winds notably faster than most other winches on the market too.
We know what you’re thinking. “If it winds faster, with a higher pound limit, and something unforeseeable goes wrong, it’s going to crush me like a bug under a bootheel,” right?
Wrong. The Smittybilt comes with a remote control, so you can winch away to your heart’s content, while standing all the safe distances away.
Now, it’s worth you knowing this before you press the ‘Buy’ button, but the powerful Smittybilt winch is power-thirsty. That means you’ll have to feed it gently, in gulp after gulp from your vehicle’s battery, rather than all in one long, power-draining swallow. Forget that and you might well winch yourself clear only to leave your vehicle limping home with its power low and its lights on the fritz.
But as a winch, which correctly used can get you out of any kind of trouble you can find yourself in, the Smittybilt GEN 2 XRC 9,500 pound behemoth is the can-do, will-do winch for all seasons. If you are looking for one of the best ATV winches on the market - this is it!
- Serious 9,500 pound load capacity
- 6.6 horsepower engine
- Remote control for safety
- Waterproof for year-round, multi-environment use
- Powdered steel cable to minimize fraying
- Thirsty winch, meaning it needs to be fed power in bursts
Coming sharply down the power range, the Superwinch 1135220 Terra 35 3500 nevertheless has plenty of pulling power. You’d have to work extra hard to get too stuck for the Terra 35 to pull you out.
It’s mid-weight and compact, pulling anything up to 3,500 pounds. It comes with a 50 feet winch spool, which gives you plenty of room to pull. And while its 1.6 horsepower engine would be an enormous come-down if you’d been winching with the Smittybilt all day, it’s still plenty powerful enough for most imaginable uses. And of course, if you’d been winching with the Smittybilt all day, your vehicle would be dead, its battery begging for mercy. With the Terra 35, you can winch for longer because you’re drawing less juice directly from the battery.
The Superwinch needs a separate winch mount kit, but it’s compatible with most straightforward kits, so it gives you options on how you attach it. Its planetary gear is solid steel and larger than most of the Superwinch’s competitors’, so you can use it every day without worry. Arguably of course, if you need to use your winch every day, you’re either running a business winching vehicles out of bogs, or you have bigger problems than the size of your planetary gear.
The Terra 35, like the much more powerful Smittybilt, comes with a remote control and while it’s not entirely waterproof, the circuit breaker is weather-protected, so it can be used in more inclement environments.
The Superwinch Terra 35 is a great winch for every day, more than powerful enough to get you out of any trouble smaller than a monster truck or a bull elephant, while being less thirsty than the uber-winches like the Smittybilt.
- Powerful 3,500 pound load capacity
- Low horsepower engine which doesn’t drain your battery
- Remote control
- Weather-protected circuit-breaker
- Large planetary gear
- Separate winch mount needed
- Not fully waterproof
The less powerful cousin of the 3,500, the Superwinch 3000 is a step-down and a purposeful one, but it’s still an enormously reliable winch.
The point about the 3,000 is that it still packs quite a punch of winching power, but it’s a more compact prospect all round than either of our two list-leaders.
It uses a permanent magnet 12V motor to power its winching action, and it takes up only a small amount of space in your ATV, so it’s more of a grab-and-go winch than an almighty force to be reckoned with. It’s more Clark Kent than the Smittybilt’s Superman.
Never, under any circumstances, underestimate Clark Kent.
The Superwinch 3000 gives you all the reliability you could need unless you’re using your ATV to pull bears out of creeks (NB Don’t do that. Bears aren’t stupid. If you see a bear in a creek, it probably wants to be there, and won’t take kindly to being winched out). It has a performance that satisfies those who may need an occasional winching, but aren’t addicted to every day winding.
It brings smooth spooling to your ATV with its roller fairlead system, and to make sure you stay safe when you’re winching with this box of tricks, it comes with a handlebar remote, a circuit breaker and a dynamic brake system.
It might not have the pull you’ll need if you get regularly into trouble or if you’re an every day wincher. But as a grab-and-go option, it will pull like a bullock in mating season, and it’ll keep you triple safe when you need it.
- Compact winch for casual use
- 3,000 pound load capacity
- Smooth roller fairlead system
- Triple safety system
- Too underpowered for every day winching
You know how sometimes, it makes good sense to have a back-up? If you’re going to creep around a haunted house in the dark, take a flashlight, sure. But also a lighter and a box of matches, just in case Plan A goes awry and you fall through an unseen hole in the floor and die. Always have a Plan B. A handy, maybe-not-your-first-choice, reliable, accessible Plan B.
Sticking at the 3000 pound winching weight, the Champion Kit is the equivalent of your lighter and your box of matches when it comes to ATV winching.
Its 1.3 horsepower DC motor probably doesn’t make all comers swoon at its awesome power. But if you switch on your primary winch and it just gurgles, sparks and dies an indignant death miles from anywhere in the middle of the woods, you’ll be glad you thought to bring your Champion along. 49 feet of steel winch cable on a roller fairlead gives you a smooth, fast option from a small motor.
The Champion’s efficient planetary gear delivers reasonable control when you’re winching, and a handlebar-mounted remote control means you can stay safe while it does its thing.
While it might not be your first choice in any world in which the first three winches on our list exist and are packed in your ATV, it’s a cast iron solid back-up for those moments when you need it. Packing a surprising punch from its underpowered motor, and acting as a light-use support act for your main winch, the Champion will make you say good words when things go wrong and you have to rely on it to get you home.
- 49 feet of steel cable on a roller fairlead
- 3,000 pound winching weight
- Surprising power from the 1.3 horsepower motor
- Excellent as a back-up winch
- The motor feels underpowered for a main winch
Moving into the world of smaller ATVs, you need smaller winches which still have the durability to play a strong and useful winding game.
You need the WARN 89020 Vantage 2000.
Full disclosure – WARN makes higher powered versions of this winch for those with bigger, more rip-roaring ATVs – there’s a 3000 and a 4000 version, should you decide to trade up.
But the 2000 becomes a rare case of the perfect product for the perfect place and time when you carry it on a smaller ATV.
As the name suggests, you get 2,000 pounds of pulling power in the Vantage 2000, and with 50 feet of wire cable on a roller fairlead, the Vantage has come to play. Differential planetary gear and a dynamic brake make for a less automatic feel, with more hands-on transfer of power from the motor to the winding gear. It’s a step away from 21st century slickness, but it brings a rugged rawness to its offering that translates as growly, can-do enthusiasm.
To keep you safe when you use the Vantage 2000, it comes with a handlebar-mounted mini rocker switch and a corded remote control.
Put the Vantage 2000 in a larger ATV and you’d be highly disappointed because it would be absolutely underpowered for the likes of snow plowing. Its growl would become a whine and it would struggle.
In a smaller ATV though, the power and the zip feels absolutely right for the environment. It’s worth noting that the Vantage 2000 weighs in at just 20 pounds, so it can work either as a backup winch or your main winch of a smaller ATV. Either way, if you have a smaller ATV and feel the need to add a winch to your set-up, you can do a lot worse than the can-do power of the Vantage 2000.
- 2,000 pounds of pulling power
- Solid safety equipment, including a handlebar-mounted remote
- 50 feet of wire cable on a roller fairlead
- Perfectly suited to smaller ATVs
- Would be severely underpowered in anything other than a smaller ATV
Your Complete Buying Guide
Buying a winch for your ATV is an investment in turning your vehicle into something a lot more useful than a simple transporter of people. With a winch, you have a safety tool, a path-clearer, a snow plow accessory. You name the task, there’s a winch out there that makes it easier for you on your ATV.
But in a crowded and highly specific market, there are a handful of things to consider before you pick the right one for you.
One of the biggest things that divides the market is the power level of each winch.
How big is your vehicle? How powerful? What sort of jobs do you need your winch to do?
If you’re in a smaller ATV, you don’t need the Smittybilt. In fact, it will weigh down your vehicle, and won’t be supported by the power of your vehicle’s energy. For smaller ATVs, go for smaller winches, like the Vantage 2000. For larger ATVs, you have choices from 3,000 pounds of pulling power upward, right up to the 9,500-pound Smittybilt. Match your winch’s power to the ATV you drive, and the things you need the winch to do.
Winching in an ATV setting, you need a winch with adequate safety features. Look for a winch that has a remote control, so you’re not in close proximity if and when the winching goes wrong. If you’re going to be riding and winching in wet environments or bad weather, make sure you have a winch with adequate weather or waterproofing. And look for the right sort of brake for your ATV riding needs.
Understand how you’re fixing your winch to your ATV. Some will come with kits to attach the winch to the vehicle. With others, you’ll have to buy mounting kits separately. If you need to buy a mounting kit, be sure you know whether your winch can use standard mounting kits, or whether there are specific criteria you need your mounting to meet.
There’s almost nothing in life more frustrating than getting your winch kit and realising it’s not as complete as you thought it would be, and you need to order a separate mounting kit. Think kid on Christmas morning, wide-eyed, reading the “Batteries Not Included” notice you didn’t see.
Winch-Christmas – ruined!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is more power better in winching?
Not necessarily. If you weigh 80 pounds, would wearing clothes made for someone weighing 280 be better? No. Sometimes, more is not better. Sometimes, it’s just more. Choose a winch that’s powered for a combination of your size of ATV and the kind of work you want it to do. Put an overpowered winch on a smaller ATV and you’re winching nothing. Put an underpowered winch on a larger ATV, and you’re still winching nothing. Go with Goldilocks and pick the winch that’s perfectly powered for your ATV.
Why do I need one?
People experienced in off-roading will tell you that the keynote of off-roading in unpredictability. At some point, it’s as likely as breathing that your ATV will find itself in awkward territory. When that happens, your winch can save you from a long trudge back from the middle of nowhere, and can save your vehicle from damage. Get a winch and you buy safety in the event of trouble. Always go for a high quality option - you will want to have the best ATV winch when you are in a situation where you are going to need to be using it.
What’s a roller fairlead system?
Ever seen what happens to cables in a drawer? Or fishing lines left alone? A roller fairlead system is something that stops your winch cable following that rule of interminable tangling. That means your winch cable is always untangled, so it runs smoothly when you need it.