Choosing a Winch for your UTV or Side-by-Side

Have you ever been out blazing some trails or trying to cross that last thing off your to do list, when you come across an obstacle in your path or even worse, you end up literally stuck between a rock and hard place? 

If you answered yes to that, then it may be time to add a winch to your UTV before you must admit defeat and ask your buddy to come and pull you out.  If you are anything like me, that is something your friends will never let you live down.  Today we’re going to cover how to choose the right winch for your UTV and take a look at a few different models that are available for purchase.

If you are a longtime winch user, feel free to skip on down to the “choose your winch” section where we talk about available winches. 

If you are new to winches, we are going to walk you through what you need to know to successfully choose the right winch for yourself.  Don’t fret though, it’s a short and sweet process. But before we jump into that, let’s go over the basic components of a winch, so we are all level set to the same place.  There are seven parts to a typical winch: a motor, gear train, clutch lever, winch drum, braking system, rope, and the fair lead.

  • Motor– this is what gives power to the gear train
  • Gear train– this is what determines the pulling power of the winch
  • Clutch lever– this is what you use to release to freely unspool your rope
  • Winch drum– this is what the gear and motor are spinning to roll up your rope
  • Braking system– this keeps the drum from spooling the rope out while it’s under a load 
  • Rope– this is your braided cable or synthetic rope that is wound around the drum
  • Fair lead– this is the piece that guides the rope onto the drum

Now that we know the different components, let’s jump into what we need to know to pick the right winch.

Sizing your winch

The first, and in my opinion, most important step, is sizing your winch.  To do this you need to know the approximate dry weight of your machine.  After you have that, you are going to multiply it by 1.5.  For example, a Polaris Ranger 1000, has a listed dry weight of 1,527 pounds.  Multiplying that by 1.5 gives us an adjusted weight of roughly 2,291 pounds.  This is a great starting point for the minimum winch capacity you will need.  If you routinely max out the carrying or hauling capacity of your UTV, bumping up the winch capacity might not be a bad idea.


Now it’s time to choose the type of rope that is best suited for your needs.  You only really have two options in this category and that is wire rope or synthetic rope. 

Wire rope is a braided metal cable typically made of aircraft grade galvanized steel.  This helps it resist corrosion which will definitely come in handy if you find yourself stuck in the mud.  Over time, as the cable frays it can develop sharp burrs. Therefore, you always want to wear heavy-duty gloves when you are working with this type of cable. 

Synthetic rope is a much lighter and typically easier to work with material.  But, if you think that being a lighter material would make it weaker than its metal competition, you would be wrong.  Synthetic rope typically has 20 to 40 percent more tensile strength than wire rope.  

Each has its place, depending on what you are trying to accomplish and the environment you are in.  Synthetic rope is all around easier to use but doesn’t resist fraying the way wire rope does.  So, if you need a winch to pull yourself out of the mud, you may want to consider synthetic. If you are going to be using your winch to haul or drag debris out of the way, the wire rope may be a better option for you.  

Choose your winch

Alright, by now you should have at least some of idea of what you need to look for in your perfect winch.  Let’s not over complicate things and take a look at what everyone’s favorite online retailer can offer us in the winch category. But first, let me mention that any winch you buy should come with all the wiring components and mounting hardware you need to install it. Just be sure to check the recommended battery and mounting requirements your machine has.

Superwinch 1135220 Terra 35

In the box you get the winch, 50 feet of cable, a heavy duty latched hook, a hand saver strap, roller style fair lead, and two remote controls.  This winch boasts 3500 pounds of towing capacity and weighs just 20 pounds.   The reason for two remotes is one is made for mounting, and the other is a wire fed controller for use while not in your machine.  The towing capacity isn’t the highest, but what it lacks in power it makes up for in speed.  It turns out an impressive 8.75 feet a minute under a full load.  This would be a great medium duty winch and is Amazon’s choice for best UTV winch.

Smittybilt GEN 2 XRC Winch

In the box you get the winch, 94 feet of cable, a hook, solid fair lead, and one remote.  This winch has a staggering 9500 pounds of towing capacity and comes in at a hefty 78 pounds.  This is sure to be able to pull whatever you need and then some.  This would be a great heavy-duty winch for some of the bigger machines out there. 

Zeak 2500

In the box you get the winch, 50 ft of synthetic rope, clevis hook, solid fair lead, and a mountable rocker switch(control).  This winch offers a reduced towing capacity of 2500 pounds but the winch itself comes in at weighing only 13 pounds.  I would prefer to see a roller style fair lead when using synthetic rope.  But the real reason to go with this winch is its light weight and small price.  This would be a good light duty winch, probably more for someone who is just worried about occasionally needing to pull themselves out of a tight spot.

SuperATV Electric 12V 3500lb Black Ops

This winch has a powerful, permanent Magnet 12-volt 1.2 horsepower DC motor. The synthetic fifty-foot rope is rated at 3500 pounds of pull. The winch does mount to most ready bumpers or mounts, with a 3.0” by 4.87” bolt pattern (this winch’s mounts are sold separately). A wireless remote is included (receiver is waterproof), allowing the operator to winch within a fifty-foot radius. It also has brakes to hold the line on inclines and a one-year warranty.

SuperATV 6000lb Black Ops

With its 3.0” x 6.6” mounting bolt pattern, this winch by Super ATV is ready to bolt on to a winch ready bumper or mount. The synthetic rope is fifty-foot-long and is rated at 6000 pounds of pull. The winch is powered by a permanent magnet 12v, 1.9 horsepower DC motor. The winch conveniently comes with a waterproof, wireless remote to provide more recovery options, up to a fifty-foot radius. Automatic brakes will provide reassurance that the spool will hold taut on inclines.

FIERYRED 12V 4500lb

This winch pulls with a 1.9 horsepower motor with a full metal three stage planetary gear system alongside it’s permanent magnet motor. These three components offer the operator a reliable strength against harsh conditions, ensuring a fast line speed under a heavy load. This winch’s wireless remote gives the owner great control with a little over eighty foot of wireless control. Its synthetic rope is more than ten times more durable than others on the market. The Fiery red winch is constructed rainproof with a matte black textured finish, sealing the motor offering resistance against moisture and rain. This winch also comes with a one-year warranty. 

RUGCEL 5000lb

Built for durability to withstand corrosion and moisture, this outdoor winch comes with a synthetic rope that is fifty foot in length; it is crush and abrasion resistant. The 12-volt motor with a 1.5 horsepower is rated at a 5000-pound capacity. It’s three stage planetary gear system and free spooling clutch offers a smooth operation. This winch does not have a wireless remote, it has a wired switch. 


This winch by WARN is ideal for large UTVs and pulls with its 5500-pound pull capacity. This model is being claimed to be a “game changer”. WARN has made some technical advancements to their winches, like clutch design. The clutch design is based on WARN’s 4WD hub lock “know-how”. Along with technical advancements, the winch is durable and powerful.  This product offers a digital control, to better regulate load and temperature information. Durable, full metal construction is black powder coated and waterproofed to help keep elements out, providing corrosion resistance. A fifty-foot-long synthetic rope is rated at a 5500-pound pull, operated with a dash-mounted control switch and a corded remote for operator’s preference. 

You should have a good idea of the kind of winch you are looking for now so go out there and get stuck, or should I say unstuck!