Choosing a Winch
When it comes time to select a which there is no shortage of opinion on which is best. The main focus of this article will be how the rating capacity of a winch shows up in the real world. I'm talking about how to interpret the rated line pull, amp draw, and line speed of a winch and how they show up when you use it. I'm sure the results will surprise and enlighten you. Lets's go over these three ratings:
Line Pull is the maximum pull your winch can produce before it stalls. For example a 9,500 lbs. winch can produce a line pull of 9,500 lbs. before it stalls. This measurement is taken from the first winding on the drum (when almost all the line is paid out) and the winch has the best leverage bacause the pulling is occuring very close to axis of the drum. Usually the winch will have a chart available showing the maximum pull the winch can produce at the various layers of wrap on the drum. As the cable builds up and the pulling portion of the cable moves away from the axis of the drum leverage is reduced. Here is the line pull chart for the Warn 9.5xp.
As you can see the maximum pull of this winch at the outer-most wrap is 6,940 lbs., or 73% of the 1st wrap maximum. At 6,940 lbs. on the 5th wrap the winch would be drawing it's maximum amperage as if it was pulling 9,500 lbs. on the 1st wrap. The motor has no idea what wrap the cable is on, it's just pulling as hard as it can.
Amp Draw is the amount of electrical current the winch will draw depending on how hard the winch is pulling. Usually the winch will have a chart available showing the amp draw the winch will produce at increasing increments of pull up to it's maximum pull rating. Here is the amp draw chart for the same Warn 9.5xp. Keep in mind these are 1st wrap values, as the wraps on the drum build up and leverage is lost the amount of pull developed at the amp draws will be reduced.
|Line Pull||Amp Draw|
Line Speed is how fast the winch winds the cable onto the drum at various loads, it is usually given as in feet per minute here in the USA. As with the other ratings you can usually get a chart showing the line speed at various line pull increments. Here is the line speed chart for the same Warn 9.5xp. As with the other data these are 1st wrap values, as the layers build up on the drum the line pull will drop but the feet/minute value will stay the same.
|Line Pull (lbs)||Line Speed (f/m)|
Don't be fooled into thinking the winch can maintain a certain RPM and that line speed will increase as the diameter of the wrap increases, that is not the case. It's a question of power, you can either maintain the line speed and reduce the pull or maintain the pull and reduce the line speed, but you can't maintain both speed and pull as the wraps build up and the winch loses leverage.
Efficiency and AMPFEET
Let's combine a couple of data points, amp draw and line speed and come up with a value I'm going to call efficiency measured in units of ampfeet. (Technically I could convert the amp draw into wattage (amps x 12 volts) but that is an unnecessary step for my comparison. I'll still get the same comparative results using "ampfeet" without the extra work of converting to wattage.) To come up with ampfeet you divide the amp draw by the line speed at any given pull. Lets take the Warn 9.5xp as an example.
As you'd expect as the load gets heavier, the motor works harder, and the electrical cost to pull the cable goes up. With no load the winch only draws 1.89 ampfeet to draw in the cable, at maximum load that number jumps to almost 78 ampfeet. Below is a table that compares the efficiency value of the Warn 9.5xp with other winches. Keep in mind this is a measure of how much power your spending to pull the cable in, the LOWER values are BETTER.
|The Superwinch X9 is a 9,000 lbs. max pull winch, I couldn't find a 9,500 by Superwinch.|
This data is easier to compare in a graph.
As you can see there are some outliers. I would avoid the Ramsey REP9.5E and the Superwinch X9 as they're far more inefficient than the rest. Also, you can see that you don't really need many data points to make a judgement here. Superwinch's web page for the X9 only provides two data points, the no load (38.2 f/m @ 73A) and full load (2.5 f/m @ 420A) but from those values I can calculate that the Superwinch X9 is crap. To add insult to injury the Superwinch X9 is only a 9,000 pound winch, so that horendous 168 ampfeet value only nets you 9,000 lbs of pull, not 9,500 like all the rest, it's actually worse than the chart shows. (If you work for any of these companies please get in touch with me about this, I'd love to talk about what's going on here!)
Long Pulls vs Short Pulls
How often have you unraveled 90ft of cable during a recovery? My guess would be as seldom as possible. I think most recoveries are short pulls, under 40ft of cable. This means that most of the times that you use your winch you're not seeing the first layer performance but rather the 3rd or 4th. Lets look at the max pull values for theses same winches with 35ft of cable reeled off.
|Warn 9.5xp||Warn 9.5cti||Smittybilt XRC Gen2 9.5||Ramsey Patriot 9500||Ramsey REP9.5E|
|* Warn doesn't provide cumulative cable capacity per layer so this value is estiamted based on the drum size of 2.5"x9" with 5/16" steel cable.|
|** As above this value is estimated, however the Warn 9.5cti comes with 125ft of cable, at least 20ft more than the others so this winch will be pulling from the 5th layer before the rest move up to their respective next layers. The Warn 9.5cti has a 5th layer pull of 6,940 lbs.|
Performance in a Real-World Scenario
Now that we know the efficiency of these winches, lets apply this data to a theoretical recovery scenario. Lets say I'm stuck in 36" deep mud and firm land is 25 feet away. My anchor point for winching is a tree 35ft away. How hard does my winch have to pull to get me thru the mud? Well figuring that out is actually trickier than it sounds. For one thing we don't know how hard the winch has to pull to move my Jeep, so lets assume it requires 5,700 lbs of pull to move my Jeep. Second, all the data points about line speed and amp draw are given from the first wrap on the drum, where the winch has the best leverage. I am only pulling from 35 feet away, not far enough to get down to the first wrap on the drum, not even the second wrap. That means I'm going to have to apply the efficiency curve we have to the pulling numbers of the outer layers. In real life you'd probably end up moving up a layer as the cable reels in but for this exercise we are going to ignore that and run the calculations on just one layer. Let's use the Warn 9.5xp as our example. The 4th wrap has a max pull rating of 7,400 lbs. or about 78% of the first wrap. However we don't need the winch's maximum pull, we only need 5,700 lbs. of pull to move my Jeep. Let's find the closest value percentage wise to determine the approximate line speed and amp draw at 5,700 lbs. of pull on the 4th wrap. Here is a chart showing amp draw and line speed scaled to 78% for the 4th wrap on the drum.
|1st wrap||4th wrap (78% of 1st wrap)|
|Pull||amp draw||line speed||Pull||amp draw||line speed|
Looking at the chart we can estimate the current draw at about 385 amps and line speed around 8.4 at 5.700 lbs. of pull. The winch's efficiency (amp draw divided by feet per minute or 385÷8.4) works out to about 45.83 ampfeet. Running the winch for a 25ft pull equates to 25x45.83=1,146 ampfeet.
Lets run the same scenario with the Ramsey REP9.5E.
|1st wrap||4th wrap (60% of 1st wrap)|
|Pull||amp draw||line speed||Pull||amp draw||line speed|
Based on Ramsey's data the REP9.5E only produces a maximum pull of 5,700 lbs. on the 4th wrap (60% of the 1st) so my scenario would be right at the limit of what the REP9.5E can muster without snatch blocks or finding a winch point farther way to get some cable off the drum, The Ramsey numbers work out to 482 amps divided by 3 feet per minute, giving us an efficiency of 160.67 ampfeet. Running this winch for a 25 foot pull requires 4,016 ampfeet.
Let's compare the power requirements of these two winches doing the same job.
|Warn 9.5xp||Ramsey REP9.5E|
The REP9.5E requires 3.5 times the power of the Warn 9.5xp to do the same job. Lets compare the more efficient Ramsey Patriot 9500. Like the REP9.5E the Patriot 9500 has maximum 4th wrap pull of 5,700 lbs. so it will run at it's amp draw limit of 430 amps, however it's line speed will be a snappy 7.8 feet per minute. Lets calculate efficiency, 430÷7.8=55.13 ampfeet. Running this for a 25ft pull equates to 55.13x25 = 1,378.25 ampfeet. The Ramsey Patriot 9500 is a much better winch than the REP9.5E.
Part of the reason the REP9.5E goes thru so much power is that it will run for a much longer time to reel in the 25ft of cable. The 9.5xp will pull at 7.4 feet per minute, the Patriot 9500 at 7.8, but the REP9.5E is struggling along at just 3 feet per minute.
|Ramsey Patriot 9500||Warn 9.5xp||Ramsey REP9.5E|
Here the Patriot 9500 looks pretty good. Sure it was marginally harder on the battery than the Warn but you got something for the extra power, speed.
12,000 Lbs. Winches?
Lets apply these same calculations to a larger capacity winch and see how it compares in my imaginary recovery scenario. Here is the data for the Warn VR12 12,000 lbs. winch. I've included the efficiency values from the 9.5xp for reference.
|Warn VR12||Warn 9.5xp|
|Line Pull||Line Speed||Current Draw||Efficiency||Efficiency|
As you can see the efficiency numbers are all a little worse for the VR12 becuase of the added gear reduction to get a 12,000 lbs. pull capacity. There is no free lunch here, there is a limited amount of current you can get from a battery so to increase the winches pulling power the gearing in the drivetrain. Let's bring the VR12 into my imaginary scenario from earlier in this article. With a 12,000 lb capacity producing a 5,700 lb. pull is child's play, even on the 4th wrap. The 4th wrap maximum pull is 9,770 lbs. or 81% of the 1st wrap. Here is a the VR12 data scaled 81% to show 4th wrap performance.
|Warn VR12 4th Wrap|
|Line Pull||Line Speed||Current Draw||Efficiency|
Using this data I'd estimate the VR12 can produce a 5,700 lb. pull using about 320 amps with a line speed of 6.4 f/m giving me an efficiency of 50 ampfeet. The total power requirement for the VR12 to pull for 25ft is 1,250 ampfeet. At 6.4 feet per minute it would take 3:55 to reel in 25ft of cable. Lets compare those number to the 9,500 lb winches we looked at earlier.
|Ramsey Patriot 9500||Warn 9.5xp||Ramsey REP9.5E||Warn VR12|
Lets add one more factor to this comparison, duty cycle. All of these winches I've mentioned are rated for "intermittent" use, meaning that they can't dissipate the heat they produce and therefore would meltdown under continual use. When that meltdown would occur is something only the manufacturers know but the closer to 100% you run the winch the shorter it will live. As we discussed earlier, both of the Ramsey models are at 100% of there capacity in my imaginary scenario, however the Warn 9.5xp is only around 77%, and the VR12 has barely broke a sweat at just 58%.
Now we don't know the designed duty cycle for any of the winches listed above (I have reached out to these companies for duty cycle ratings and I'll update this page when I get some information) but let's imagine they are all the same, rated to survive 100% amp draw for 5 minutes before they fail. The Ramsey REP9.5E would look like Chernobyl running at 100% for 8:20. The Ramsey Patriot 9500 was also at 100% but only for 2/3 of it's survival time, and would require some cool-down time. The Warn 9.5xp took 5% longer than the Patriot but ran at only 77% of it's maximum, so it could survive longer than either of the Ramsey's. When we compare the Warn VR12 to the 9.5xp it drew 9% more power, took 10% more time, but was running almost 20% less duty cycle than the 9.5xp and almost half of the Ramsey's at just 58%. The VR12 just has more capacity for work because it's not working as hard to do the same work as a 9,500 lb. winch.
How about something really cheap?
OK how about the Badlands Winches item 61256 12,000 lbs. winch from Harbor Freight? It was only $399 at the time of this writing. Lets look at the numbers. Unfortunately they don't supply data at the same increments as their competitors but here they are squeezed in. You can directly compare the 0, 6000 and 12000 values, the others you have to use your imagination a little.
|Badlands Winch 61256||Warn VR12||Warn 9.5xp|
|Line Pull||Line Speed||Current Draw||Efficiency||Efficiency||Efficiency|
The Badlands 61256 only comes with 61ft of cable with 35ft on the 3rd wrap so it fits nicely into our imaginary recovery scenario. As you can see by the values for the 3rd layer this winch drops to 67% of it 1st layer pull strength. Lets recalculate the performance data at 67% and see if we can estimate the values for my 5,700 pound pull.
|Line Pull||Line Speed||Current Draw||Efficiency|
I can estimate that the Badlands 61256 pulling 5,700 pounds on the 3rd layer will use about 235 amps at 5.5 f/m giving me an efficiency of 42.73. When applied to my imaginary pull of 25ft it would take 4:33 and consume 1,068 ampfeet.
|Ramsey Patriot 9500||Warn 9.5xp||Ramsey REP9.5E||Warn VR12||Badlands 61256|
Did I mention duty cycle? Badlands does provide the duty cycle for this winch, it's just 5% at full pull, thats :45 seconds of full pull then 14:15 cooling down. To perform my 25ft pull it's at 71% for 4:33, six times the 45 seconds allowed for 100% pulls. I'd say that my recovery would put this winch well into the red, requiring a couple long cool down periods. This winch perfroms no better than a 9500 winch duty cycle wise yet took longer than most of them (exceot that inexplicably bad Ramsey REP9.5E).
How about the cool stuff?
Enough of the cheap made in China stuff, lets look at the good stuff! I'll start with the legendary Warn M8274-50. This winch has epic line speed (79.3 with no load), a disc braking system, and spur gear drivetrain, it's a totally different beast than all the rest in this article. It's only an 8,000 lbs. winch but even with 150ft of cable it can produce a 6,290 lbs pull on the 5th layer, that's no slouch! Here is a chart with the 1st wrap data and it's 5th wrap data along with the calculated efficiency.
|1st Layer||5th Layer (78.6%)|
|Line Pull||Line Speed||Amp Darw||Efficiency||Pull||Efficiency|
In my imaginary scenario where I require 5,700 lbs. of pull to move my Jeep this 8,000 lbs. winch can do it even on it's outer most wrap, that alone is impressive. Using the data above I estimate an amp draw of 435 and a line speed of 9.8 f/m giving me an efficiency of 44.39 ampfeet. Running this winch for a 25ft pull requires 1,110 ampfeet and only take 2:33 making it the fastest and least taxing on my Jeeps electrical system.
Warn Zeon 10
Let's move on to a modern Made in America winch, the Warn Zeon series. By my estimates the Warn Zeon 8 would still be on it's 4th wrap in a 35ft pull and with 5,189 4th layer maximum it can't produce our required 5,700 lbs of force. This isn't really a knock against the Zeon 8 but it shows how amazing the M8274-50 is.
Let's look at the Zeon 10 (I wanted to look at the Zeon 10 Platinum but I can't find the performance data for maximum pull by layers). Here are the numbers fo the Zeon 10.
|1st Layer||3rd Layer (70.2%)|
|Line Pull||Line Speed||Amp Darw||Efficiency||Pull||Efficiency|
The Warn Zeon 10 comes with only 80ft of cable on 4 layers so I think at 35ft you might spend the bulk of the pull on the 4th layer but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and go with the 3rd layer numbers. Using the data above I estimate an amp draw of 365 and a line speed of 6.4 f/m giving me an efficiency of 57.03 ampfeet. Running this winch for a 25ft pull requires 1,425.75 ampfeet and takes 3:54. Nothing special here, especially when I think a fair bit of that pull would end up on the 4th wrap that is only rated at 6,103 lbs., 61% of the 1st layer.
The surprise best performer?
Rugged Ridge 15100.05
If these specs can be believed the Rugges Ridge 15100.05 9,500 lbs. winch has a 4th layer pull of 7,086, or 75% of the 1st layer. Scaling down it's ratings 75% I estimated the amp draw at 350 and line speed at 9.5 for an efficiency of 36.84. To make our 25ft pull required only 921 ampfeet and took only 2:38 at 80% duty. That's very impressive. At the time of this writing it was $340 at Amazon.
Here are the number applied to my scenario.
|Warn VR12||Warn 9.5xp||Ramsey Patriot 9500||Rugged Ridge 15100.05||Warn M8274-50|
That is the lowest calculated load of any of the winches I've looked at and nearly as fast as the Warn M8264-50. This looks to be an amazing winch. Somehow I think it's too good to be true so buyer beware.
Look at the data before you buy. Even big brands like Superwinch and Ramsey make some of the worst winches. After doing the research for this article I can see why Warn is so popluar, all of their winches that I looked at had solid performance number. The Rugged Ridge 15100.05 9,500 lbs. winch should be an amazing performer based on it's ratings but I have my doubts about the honesty of those numbers. If you've got the money the Warn M8274-50 is awesome, otherwise buy a winch that's bigger than you need. By operating in it's comfort zone your winch can run longer and be no bigger a burden on your electrical system than a small winch, possibly even less.
All the technical stuff aside, you can't tell the build quality of a winch from the spec sheet. Workmanship, grade of materials, corrosion resistance, water resistance, durability, and a host of other qualities don't show up here.
If you can't back it up with a reference it's just rumor. Here are my data sources for this article. Some of these documents I made from data copied and pasted from the respective company's website because they don't offer a downloadable PDF version of their specs (I'm looking at you Warn). I don't like relying on links to webpages for references because websites change and before you know it my references are gone.
Specs for the Warn 9.5xp (copied from their website)
Specs for the Warn VR12 (copied from their website)
Warn 2017-2018 Product Guide
Specs for the Rugged Ridge 15100.05
Smittbilt XRC 9.5 Gen2 product information
Specs for the Ramsey Patriot series
Specs for Ramsey REP9.5E
Specs for the Badlands 61256
© Mike Riley 2016.