Do You Need a Winch for Overlanding?

Do You Need a Winch for Overlanding?

Getting stuck in the mud is always going to be a part of overlanding. It’s frustrating, but getting out of it is obviously necessary. Winches are some of the most common tools used to get yourself out of a sticky situation, and you don’t even need a helping hand in most cases.

So, do you need a winch for overlanding? Yes, winches are definitely recommended for Overlanding. However, you don’t need one if you’re not going to a place that requires serious off-roading. There are also quite a few other alternatives, but none of them are quite as handy as a winch.

Throughout this article, you’ll also learn the following info:

  • Different reasons and situations to get a winch
  • Alternative options to save money and space
  • Common mistakes associated with using winches while overlanding

Should You Get a Winch for Overlanding?

Using a winch while overlanding can be a life-saver. You’ll save money and time from having to call a tow truck, especially since most of them refuse to go far out into the mud.

Most people who’ve gone overlanding for a long time would recommend getting a winch. They’re invaluable if you prefer to go solo since they’re one of the few tools that don’t require additional assistance.

Let’s examine five reasons that you might consider getting a winch below.

  1. To paraphrase Exploring Overland, you can use winches on all sorts of anchors. For example, you can bury a spare tire in the sand, hook your winch up to a tree trunk, or use a boulder to hold it in place. If you know you’ll be overlanding near anything with such anchor points, it’s a good idea to get a winch.
  2. As mentioned above, those who go overlanding by themselves should always have a winch. You can use a shovel and a few other tools, but nothing comes close to the ease of use and quickness of a winch. Not only that, but sometimes shovels simply won’t dig deep enough to make a difference.
  3. If you’re going overlanding in dangerous situations, such as near cliff edges or a beach during high tide, then winches can be useful. Hook your vehicle up to an anchor point and pull it out without having to manually push it in neutral. Winches can prevent damage to yourself and your truck.
  4. People who travel with friends can use winches as well. They’re obviously not exclusive to solo overlanders. Hook the winch up to your vehicle and theirs, using their vehicle as an anchor point. Make sure their vehicle is in park. It works even better if they have a winch kit built into their vehicle.
  5. If you’re going deep into an area where you’ll be several hours away from civilization, then winches are an essential tool. You could literally end up saving your life by getting your vehicle unstuck. In those situations, it’s smart to bring multiple alternatives. Proceed to the next section for more info.

Winch Alternatives

Most overlanders agree that winches are near the top of the list of necessities. However, they’re not always readily available. Whether you didn’t purchase one or you forgot it back at home, don’t worry. There are plenty of alternatives to winches that will give you a perfect safety net.

Here’s a list of replacements for winches:

  • A shovel is the first and foremost essential tool to have when you’re overlanding. Winches can be a bit over the top for some situations. You might be lucky enough to hop out of your vehicle, dig a few holes, and jump back in to get going. Get a lightweight, durable shovel that’ll last you several years, such as the HARVET Portable Shovel.
  • Maxtrax is another excellent solution. In fact, some people combine them with winches for the ultimate removal tool. They’re textured to create a grip between the tires of your vehicle and the surface of the Maxtrax. They’re compact and fairly lightweight as well, so you can store them anywhere.
  • If you’re in a pinch, use a hydraulic jack and a few blocks of wood. It’s a bit challenging if you can’t establish a solid foundation in sinking mud, but it works most of the time. Jack the vehicle up, place the wooden blocks underneath, lower the jack, and start driving out of the area.
  • Recovery towing straps are also worth looking into. If you’re overlanding with a friend, you can attach a tow strap to a recovery point on their vehicle. Put it in neutral, and let them pull you out slowly. Even if you’re solo, it’s not a bad idea to have one in your vehicle in case someone else happens to drive by.
  • Finally, you could try to use a hand winch. They don’t work as often as regular winches, but you can get your vehicle out of all sorts of bad situations. Yes, they’re considered a winch, but they work completely differently than traditional winches that require an anchor point.

As you can see, there are numerous alternatives to using a winch. That being said, it’s still one of the best overlanding tools around.

If you’ve never used a winch before, you might be a bit intimidated by the way they’re designed and how they function. The next section will analyze a few common mistakes to avoid along the way.

Common Mistakes

Using a winch can result in serious injuries if you’re not careful. Once you get it down, you’ll have no problem staying safe. It’s always smart to know about common mistakes, so let’s dive into a list of them below.

  1. Don’t overcomplicate the process. There are only two connection points on a straight pull when you’re using a winch. Never try to connect extra hooks to double the security, you’ll only be creating extra weak points. Wrap the hook around the rope, and you’ll be good to go.
  2. Never use a winch on a hollow tree. Even if it’s the only tree in sight, using a winch on a hollow or dead tree can be disastrous. You could end up pulling it down and crush your vehicle. The best-case scenario would still end up pulling down the tree and ruining your anchor point right away.
  3. Use enough weighted blankets for the winch line. If you’re not using weighted blankets and the hook comes undone, it’ll spring all the way back to your vehicle and destroy it. You could hurt yourself, break a headlight, or crush the hood of your truck. Always use one or two weighted blankets.
  4. Check the tonnage of the winch before you use it. Winches have all sorts of different weight capacities. Needless to say, you shouldn’t ever use a winch that’s not suitable for your vehicle. Always get a winch that’s far over the weight capacity rather than too far under.
  5. Don’t forget to put your vehicle in neutral before you start to pull it. If you leave it in park, you’ll wreck the transmission. Switch it over to neutral to free up the wheels for the winch to pull it out at an even pace.


Winches are essential when you’re overlanding alone. Even if you have people with you, it’s smart to have a winch on board in case of an emergency situation. You never know when you’ll need to pull a vehicle out of the mud or sand when you’re several miles away from any other towing vehicle.

Remember that you can also use shovels, hand winches, and other alternatives in a pinch. That being said, winches are just about as good of a tool that you’ll find anywhere.


Jeremy Hoxie

Born and raised in beautiful Northern Michigan, I've have spent two decades enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer. When not working on RigForge, I spend my time Overlanding and tackling off-road trails while sharing my experiences and testing gear along the way. My current rig is a 2013 Jeep JKU Moab.

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