A great ATV is a must-have for the avid outdoorsman. ATVs are equally as useful for recreational riding and getting some heavy pulling done.
If you need to move something hefty, your ATV can do all the work for you. By using the best ATV winch, you’ll be able to pull heavy loads without putting stress on your back.
An ATV winch is an absolutely necessary accessory.
If you’ve ever found yourself stuck in a mud puddle, watching your tires spin and spin, you were probably wishing you had a winch in that moment.
A winch could pull you out of the mud quickly and easily, making it just as useful to carry as a spare tire.
If you buy the best ATV winch the first time, you won’t find yourself buying another one in the near future.
Best ATV Winches of 2018
|Superwinch Terra 45|
|4500lb||1.6||Low amp draw|
Perm. magnet motor
|4000lb||1.4||3x Planetary gear|
Mini rocker switch
|Warn ProVantage||2500lb||0.9||Fairlead Plate Incl.|
|Superwinch Terra 35||3500lb||1.6||Dynamic brake|
|VIPER Midnight||4500lbs||1.6||50ft Steel Cable|
Superwinch – Best ATV Winch for the Money
The first thing impressed me about this winch was the weight. I could tell that the winch is made of heavy duty metals just by holding it.
I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with winches made of aluminum parts. They always seem to break on me before I can really get use out of them.
I was also shocked at how quiet it was. I find a lot of winches to be really noisy, because all of the parts are clanging together. That clanging around will eventually break the winch, especially when you need it for a lot of heavy pulling.
Obviously, the capacity of a winch is really important. You’re not going to be able to move anything, much less a stuck vehicle, if your winch can’t handle a lot. This one is rated for up to 4,500 pounds, which is about the weight of a typical sedan or two hatchbacks.
Though you can’t pull two hatchbacks at once (and I can’t really think of what kind of comical circumstances would require you to), it’s more than enough comfort knowing that you could.
I’ve found that it can pull several thousand pounds at about ten feet per minute, which is really satisfying when you’re as impatient as I can be.
This winch almost over-performs. There’s nothing you can’t do with it. If you need a one-and-done ATV winch, you’re not going to be disappointed. It’s well worth the money, and I’m really impressed.
Warn Vantage – Best ATV Winch for Snow Plowing
You can also choose between synthetic rope or wire rope graded for aircraft use, making this winch great for people who have a preference one way or another.
The first thing I noticed about this winch is that it doesn’t really look like much. It has a very industrial appearance, and it’s not branded or designed the way some other winches are.
Even though the synthetic rope that comes with most winches is amazingly strong, I really love the wire rope that the Vantage winch uses.
It’s not going to rust or fray. It’s very tightly woven, and it’s really heavy. If it scrapes up against rocks or trees, you don’t have anything to worry about.
The old model of this winch didn’t have one of the most important features this winch has – the powder coated hawse fairlead. This feature is a huge improvement. It actually reduces the stress on the steel rope, helping it last even longer.
It comes with a mini rocker switch that’s handlebar mounted, and a corded remote control. You don’t have to get too up close to use it, and it can handle up to 4,000 pounds. I tested it on about 3,250, and definitely didn’t feel like I was close to pushing it too far.
Warn ProVantage – Best ATV Winch on the Market
This is a compact winch designed to pull about 2,500 pounds, so it’s great for pulling one ATV with another ATV, or retrieving things like golf carts or go-karts.
I really love the way this winch is designed. It’s very compact and sturdy. It’s sleek looking, and it isn’t very complicated.
This is definitely a winch for someone who just wants a great winch – it’s not fancier or more complicated than it needs to be in order to get the job done right.
This winch comes with Warn’s steel rope, which I am personally a huge fan of.
I’m never worried anything bad is going to happen to it if I need to pull something out of rough terrain where synthetic rope might get caught up or snag on something.
I don’t really have a problem putting my trust in the wire rope.
Even though the ProVantage is a simple winch, it comes with all of the Warn features that I love.
You’re getting their patented roller disc brake combined with their three stage planetary gear train.
It comes with the fairlead plate, a dash switch, and a corded remote.
I used it with the dash switch, since I was only doing a small pull and I didn’t feel the need to supervise things too closely. While I wasn’t doing a long pull, I was still shocked at how quickly the winch worked.
Superwinch – Best Small ATV Winch
It’s very affordable for a winch that’s rated for up to 3,500 pounds, so I was skeptical. That’s how I knew I needed to try it.
It came packaged neatly, and it had everything I needed to set it up, including the mounting hardware. I was surprised how quickly I was able to hook it up to my ATV.
I really love how safe this winch is built to feel.
It has mechanical load holding and dynamic braking to serve as a backup in case the power fails, which I think is awesome.
Of course, I don’t want to experience a power failure just to have to use that feature, but it’s really comforting to know that it’s there if I need it.
It feels like this winch is equipped with every failsafe you could ever use, and that’s what makes me feel like this winch will never go wrong.
It’s almost shocking how strong this is for such a small winch. I tested it five times, and with how seamlessly it runs, I wouldn’t be surprised if it could actually pull more weight than the listed maximum.
This winch is like clockwork, and it doesn’t even tick. It’s got a lot of power in a relatively small case.
The size of this winch makes it great for even the smallest ATVs. Mine is average sized, but I can easily see it working on something like an Apache that’s more for casual riding out on property.
VIPER – Best Cheap ATV Winch
First and foremost, it’s probably the cheapest high capacity winch I’ve ever seen. Cheap usually means something isn’t good, but I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong. And I’m wrong.
This winch is flat black, and it kind of looks like any piece of equipment you would use to hitch a trailer to. It doesn’t really look like most other winches in its size and design.
I didn’t feel like it was going to get dented or pull apart if I really tried to test that 4,500 pound weight rating.
This is a fully sealed winch with a limited lifetime warranty, so I wasn’t really worried about trying to hold it accountable. I could pull a compact car with this winch, no problem at all.
I’ve tried a lot of winches, and I was really surprised by what a great value this one turned out to be. It fits perfectly on my Polaris, but I needed to use a special mount rather than the universal mount included in the kit.
I was able to easily pull a car with this winch, so I think it’s safe to say that with the right mount, it performs exactly the way it should.
If you’ve never bought a winch before but you know you need one, it can be difficult to figure out what all of the specifications mean. No two winches are exactly alike, and you’ll need to do some research before you can figure out which ATV winch is going to work for you.
How to Use an ATV Winch
Every manufacturer is going to give you different instructions on how to use your ATV winch. It’s important to do exactly what they say, because their products are built differently.
What works for one winch might actually be harmful with another.
Generally, a few parts of the process are going to be the same for all winches. You need to mount and install your winch to your ATV.
Some winches come with their own mounts, and others require you to buy one separately.
Before you go out and try to pull something heavy right away, test the winch with a few lighter things to make sure it’s working right.
You don’t want to find out that you didn’t install it properly or you missed a part of the instructions while you’re in the middle of trying to drag thousands of pounds out of a marsh.
Consult your owner’s manual. Make sure you’re always doing things safely, and no matter what you do, never touch the winch or the rope while it’s running.
Don’t think that understanding one winch is the same as understanding them all – I’ve made that mistake a few times and it gets very expensive.
How Do I Know What Size Winch I Need?
Selecting the right size winch is just a matter of math.
The capacity should be proportional to the weight of your ATV.
There are small, medium, and large ATVs, and winches for each one.
Putting a 4,000 pound capacity winch on a 250cc ATV isn’t going to get you the results you want – that winch is excessive, and it’s not going to work correctly.
Those kinds of winches are best suited to 800cc ATVs. I use a high capacity winch on my 800cc ATV, but I definitely wouldn’t put it on my mini – that would just be asking for trouble.
If you aren’t sure, your ATV manufacturer probably has winch size recommendations listed on their website or in their manuals.
What is The Gross Vehicle Weight?
Another way to determine the best size winch to get for your ATV is by using the gross vehicle weight rating.
It never hurts to stay on the safe side and make sure you know your numbers before you make a purchase.
Multiply that number by 1.5, and this number is your ideal winch rating.
What is Fairlead on a Winch?
You’re probably familiar with the kinds of fairleads used on giant sailboats.
The fairlead on a winch does the same job, but it needs to do it a lot differently. Boats and winches don’t have an awful lot in common.
It’s a device that tells the rope (either synthetic or wire) where it needs to go. It keeps the rope from wrapping around itself in ways it isn’t supposed to, which can damage your winch or stop your pull.
When things start grinding together, they wear down much faster. Make sure you’re choosing a winch with a great fairlead, or that winch won’t last for very long.
What is Fairlead Mount?
A fairlead mount is a smaller mount you can use to secure your fairlead. These mounts work for hawse or roller winch fairleads, which encompasses most winches.
A fairlead mount will generally have a big opening in the middle that looks like a rectangle with rounded corners. These serve as lateral edge returns, helping your rope run smoothly.
Some winch bumpers already have fairlead mounts built in. If yours doesn’t, you’ll want to purchase a separate fairlead mount (if the winch you choose doesn’t come with a similar accessory).
They’re easy to install. You can weld it on if you have the tools, but you can also buy bolt on models that take just a few minutes to set up. Welding is too much work for me, and I’ve never had a problem with bolts.
What is ATV Weight Rating?
When ATV manufacturers refer to the weight rating, they’re usually talking about one of two things: the racks, or the tow rating.
The racks are for how much gear or what kind of accessories you can install, and the tow rating is what your ATV can tow without any extra help (like help from a winch).
The weight rating on an ATV isn’t always as important as the weight rating on a normal vehicle.
Most ATVs will put their tow rating somewhere between 1,000 and 1,400 pounds, but these are usually hopeful suggestions. I’ve found that those numbers usually aren’t trustworthy.
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. You can eat a fistful of dirt, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend that you try.
If you plan to pull the maximum amount or more, don’t rely solely on your ATV. You’re better off getting the most powerful winch you can get for your particular model of ATV.
The Two Main Types of Winch Cable
Winches will come with either synthetic rope or steel cable. Some winches are designed to be used with either kind.
Some people really swear by one kind or the other, but the truth is that they’re both great for different things.
What you choose should depend on how you intend to use your winch.
For lighter loads in muddy environments, which is what most casual ATV riders will need a winch for, synthetic rope is usually fine.
It’s surprisingly tough, it’s lightweight, and it’s a lot stronger than you might believe it to be.
A lot of people feel that synthetic rope is safer, because it doesn’t develop sharp burrs that can slice your hands up, like steel cable might.
The biggest downside to synthetic rope is that, like all synthetic materials, it breaks down over time.
A few snapped fibers can turn into a lot of snapped fibers with regular use. Leaving it out in the sun, letting it get hot, or even letting it get wet can damage it over time.
A wet synthetic rope can become frozen solid in the winter months, and if your rope is frozen to the drum, you can’t use your winch.
You shouldn’t stand too close to it while it’s pulling, because if it breaks, those flying strands of steel will really hurt.
Many people prefer the steel cable simply because it’s not as vulnerable as synthetic rope. It’s not necessarily a matter of initial strength, because they both start off very strong.
It’s that steel cable is more likely to hold up over time. It won’t freeze, snag, or start to break down when exposed to the elements.
As long as you remember to treat it with a little WD-40 once in a while, it won’t rust and it’s less likely to kink up.
What is a Winch Mount Plate?
A winch mount plate is a metal piece that you use to hook your winch up to whatever kind of vehicle you’re driving.
It’s usually a boxy bracket that you bolt down, and ATV mounts are designed a little differently from the universal truck mounts you’ll find at the auto parts store.
A lot of companies that make winches for ATVs either include or separately sell specific winch mounts.
They’re usually pretty simple to put on. They bolt right onto the front bumper of the ATV, and it shouldn’t take you more than a couple of minutes.
Installing the winch itself will take a little bit longer. Most of the time, you just bolt the winch to the mount.
The wiring is really what takes the longest. The whole process is pretty simple.
I’ve bought and installed dozens of winches, and my mind is made up about which ones my favorites are.
That having been said, the winch you choose to buy is up to you.
Make sure the winch you buy is going to work with your ATV, and you’re considering the way you intend to use your winch before you make a purchase.
For example, don’t buy a winch designed to pull firewood and attempt to use it to pull a school bus out of quicksand.