The Off-Roaders Guide to Properly Using a Winch

The Off-Roaders Guide to Properly Using a Winch: How to Use a Winch

Written by Pierce Bryant
March 7, 2023

Nothing beats a long, scenic, off-road drive with friends and family – especially when your vehicle is performing exactly how it should be. Until you get stuck. Sometimes a pit of mud, sand, or rocks can curb your adventure. We know it happens, but often come unprepared. Fortunately, there are a few different solutions. If you are off-roading with other vehicles, a recovery kit is essential. If you are off-roading alone – a mounted winch system is what you will need.

What is a winch used for?

what is a winch used for

A winch is a mounted mechanical device for your vehicle, that allows you to wind-up or wind-out the tension of the cable used for pulling vehicles unstuck. A high-quality winch can be relatively pricey, but a necessary investment if you take your vehicle off-roading alone often. Typically, the working load limit of a winch entirely depends on the equipment it is combined with. Additionally, extra equipment – like a recovery snatch block – will drastically improve the overall working load limit.

With that said, mounted winches are considered a “godsend” in the off-roading community. You can combine them with a tree saver strap to safely wrap your winch line around a tree or rock and gently lift yourself out of any sticky situation. Alternatively, you can use a winch to safely recover another vehicle without the “tugging” motion that could potentially damage your vehicle.

So, how do I use a winch?

how do I use a winch

Winches are technical and using one to recover a vehicle may seem more intimidating than it really is. The guide below will walk you through step-by-step and give you confidence the next time you will need to use one. To get started, you will first need to properly rig your winch in-order to recover the vehicle safely. Learn how to rig your winch with the below guide.

Once your winch is properly rigged, you may continue to the next steps to learn how to use a winch. Be sure that you followed the steps to rig your winch. Without rigging it correctly, you risk unnecessary damage to your vehicle, yourself, or another.

MUST READ: Instantly Increase the Pull Power of Your Winch

Rigging the Winch

rigging the winchImage depicts a snatch block. If you do not own one, use a single d-ring shackle.

  1. Connecting the remote control.

Find the remote control (attached to a long cord). Once you have the remote control in hand, take the end of the cord – the plug – and attach it to the matching outlet. Once it is plugged in, place the remote control in your driver’s seat. You will be needing this for another step.

  1. Finding a secure anchor point.

You will need to find something secure to anchor to. A thin tree may seem sturdy enough, but you do not want it breaking during your recovery. The ideal anchor point would be a large tree trunk, heavy boulder, or another vehicle (if possible). Look for an anchor point that is directly in front of your vehicle to pull you in the direction you need to get unstuck.

  1. Release the winch cable and pull it to the anchor point.

Your mounted winch should come equipped with a disengage lever. You can typically find this located on the outside of the winch. Turn the lever to either “free spool” or “disengage”, this will allow you to manually pull your winch cable out from the winch.

Now, pull your winch cable to the anchor point. Avoid creating slack and only pull what is needed. If the cable does not reach, look for a closer anchor point to attach to. Set the cable down and prepare for the step below to continue.

  1. Connect the Tree Saver Strap and a Snatch Block.

A tree saver strap is like a recovery strap but shorter in length. A recovery snatch block is the most effective connection to your anchor point and even provides additional pulling ability for your winch. If you do not have a snatch block, a d-ring shackle is what you will use to connect the two loop-ends around your anchor point (like the provided image). If you do not have these pieces of equipment you can order them from our online store.

Wrap the tree saver strap around the anchor point and connect the loop-ends with your d-ring shackle. Now connect the winch hook to the d-ring shackle.

  1. Switch the winch back to “engaged” and remove slack.

Remember that lever you switched to “disengage”? You will need to flip that back to “engaged” before continuing. Once this is done use your remote control to gently pull the winch line tight.

Recovering Your Vehicle

how to use a winch

Now that you have successfully rigged your winch using the steps above, you are ready for the recovery. Before you begin, make sure that everyone has cleared the area. Use a winch damper to weigh down your winch line – this will prevent the winch line from snapping back at your windshield on the off-chance that it breaks. Protecting you and others from harm.

  1. Start your vehicle’s engine.

With the winch remote control in hand, sit in your driver’s seat, and start your engine.

  1. Gently winch your vehicle.

Using the remote control, start pulling your vehicle out. Work slow and steady. Pulling your vehicle out too quickly is dangerous. It should begin moving your vehicle forward as it slowly becomes unstuck. You can gently give the vehicle some gas but do this very carefully.

Once your vehicle is on unstuck, stop winching. You will know when your vehicle becomes unstuck as you will be able to give it gas without the help of the winch. Now, unrig the winch carefully, and congratulations – you now know how to properly rig and use a winch.

Featured Product: Rhino USA Recovery Snatch Block


 A recovery snatch block is one of the best winch accessories and essential pieces of off-road recovery gear, to have in your arsenal. It can almost double the pulling power of your winch and also provides for a safe connection to your tree saver strap anchor point. Rhino USA's heavy duty recovery snatch block has a 13.5 ton max breaking strength and comes with a lifetime warranty!