Off-roading is one of the great joys of life. Getting out into nature, bringing your beloved Jeep with you, and exploring new trails every time you go. But sometimes, you overestimate your abilities, and you get stuck, nose-first in a large ditch. Can your winch be used in reverse? Even if it’s on the front of your vehicle?
A front-mounted winch can be used in reverse, and there are many safe (and unsafe) ways to accomplish this task. A rear-mounted winch can be used to pull a vehicle backward without the risk of damage to your winch and vehicle that you have when using a front-mounted winch.
Below we will discuss the best ways to use your winch in those times that you need to reverse, and some tips and tricks you can use to stay safe while using a winch to get you out of sticky situations.
Can a Winch Be Used Both Ways?
Simply speaking, a winch can be used in both ways. But is this the best thing to do? Sometimes, winching backward is a necessity. But that doesn’t mean it should become a common practice when you’re out on the trails.
A winch is a great tool to use to help you out of situations that seem completely hopeless because a car is stuck, but when it comes to winching backward, you’ll find that doing so risks the safety of your winch, your vehicle, and even yourself.
As such, most experts recommend that if you have a front-mounted winch, you probably shouldn’t winch backward.
However, in some situations, winching backward is unavoidable, but this should be your last resort. However, there are many safe ways to winch backward, so if you do end up needing to winch backward, don’t fret.
A slightly unpopular recommendation from MotorTrend suggests that you mount a winch to the front and back of your vehicle, so you can be completely prepared to safely get yourself out of those sticky situations.
Now, you might think this would be expensive, but really, you can get two winches (one for the front and one for the rear) for about $650. (source)
Here’s a good video showing a technique for winching out using both directions:
How Does a Winch Reverse Direction?
The safest way to change the direction of the winch requires you to redirect the winch line a couple of times. To do this, find anchor points around your vehicle, and use tow straps (also known as tree-savers), D-ring shackles, and even a snatch block or two.
If you’re lucky enough, you won’t be out by yourself, so using your friend’s vehicle is also a great way to help you get out of the situation you are in.
If you or your car are stuck and you run your winch through a tree saver and snatch block, then over to your friend’s vehicle, this would be an example of using the single line pull method. This method is easy to execute and will help you to easily free your vehicle.
If you are alone, and you don’t have access to another Jeep, you can find another anchor point or two, and do the same thing.
Using multiple anchor points (and multiple snatch blocks) to reroute your winch’s direction will help the winch maximize its capabilities, with less risk of getting damaged in the process.
Here’s a good video showing how to change winch direction:
How to Winch Yourself Backwards
If you’re looking for a more detailed, step-by-step description of exactly how to winch your vehicle backward, then this is the right place.
To complete his method, you’ll need the following tools:
- 3 snatch blocks
- 3 D-ring shackles
- 3 tow straps (tree savers)
- A rubber mat (or just something heavy to lay over your winch line)
- Leather gloves
- Winch cable
Now, it’s uncommon to carry 3 snatch blocks, but it is worth it to start doing so, especially if you find yourself stuck without a way to get help.
Before you start unwinding your winch line, get out your gear and put on your leather gloves. This is a must as you can seriously injure yourself if you handle a winch line with your bare hands!
When you’ve done this, you can do the following:
- Pull out a lot of slack line from your winch. Remember, the more slack you have, the better. It’s easy to get rid of slack later. Adding it, however, is much more challenging to do.
- Find three anchor points: one in front of your vehicle, and two behind. (Tip: trees make great anchor points, if you’re by trees.)
- Use a tow strap/tree saver, D-ring shackle, and snatch block to run your winch from your vehicle to the first anchor point.
- Repeat this step from the first anchor point to the next one, running the winch line through the snatch blocks.
- Attach a snatch block to the back of your Jeep, and run your winch line through it.
- Use a tow strap/tree saver and D-ring shackle to connect your winch line to the last anchor point.
- Step back and check your work. You should see a sort of zig-zag pattern.
- Put something heavy (like a rubber mat) over your winch line. This way, if the line breaks, it won’t fly anywhere but into the ground.
Things to Think About Before Winching Backward
Sometimes, we get into a situation and we immediately go into problem-solving mode. This is great, but the problem is that we don’t usually think too much about the consequences of solving the current problem. Winching backward is a perfect example of this principle in action.
While winching your vehicle backward will solve the problem of your vehicle is stuck, it can come with some unhappy consequences. Damage to your winch, and even to your car, are very likely if you don’t do it safely.
- One example of an unsafe way to winch your vehicle backward is to run the line from your front-mounted winch under your vehicle, to an anchor point behind you.
- While this may prove effective in getting you unstuck, you may face problems with the underside of your vehicle.
- Additionally, the hard angle of the line from the winch may cause problems with your front bumper.
Of course, if you want to do this, it is your choice. Every driver should understand the risks and take responsibility for their choices if they choose to run their winch line under their vehicle.
To winch backward, you need to have a lot of gear with you, which adds a lot of extra weight to your vehicle while you’re out and about. This decreases your gas mileage and makes your vehicle ride a bit lower, which you don’t want if you are going off-roading.
If you don’t want to worry about these problems, and the potential damage to your vehicle, you could consider purchasing a rear-mounted winch.
More Winching Tips and Tricks
There are a lot of things to remember when using a winch. It can be overwhelming, especially if you are a beginner. Here are a few tips and tricks to remember when winching.
Consider using synthetic winch rope. It saves unnecessary weight when it’s not being used, and it spools extremely easily. Additionally, synthetic winch rope is less prone to damage when kinked or spooled the wrong way.
You do need to take some extra precautions when using these because they do break easier than steel cables. However, they work extremely well, so they’re a great investment, especially if you want to save weight.
- Re-spool your winch regularly.
- In contrast to many things you can buy to enhance your vehicle, a winch isn’t ready to use right when you buy them.
- Before you go and make loaded pulls on the trail, you need to re-spool it under a load to make sure that your cable or rope is tight and stacked properly.
- If this isn’t done, the outer layers of cable or rope could get pulled down in between lower layers, causing damage to the cable and winch.
- In a worst-case scenario, this can make your winch completely unusable.
Remember the difference between static and kinetic pulls. A static pull is one in which the puller doesn’t move. A kinetic pull is one that the puller does. A winch is supposed to be used with the pulling vehicle (or anchor) staying stationary. This is a static pull.
In other words, a kinetic pull, or hooking your winch up to another vehicle and driving backward to pull it out of a sticky situation, is bad. Don’t do it.
Use your tow strap/tree saver correctly. Use a wide strap around the base of the tree, with both ends attached to a D-ring shackle. The tree saver shouldn’t be able to cinch tighter around the tree. Make sure the strap is near the ground, where the tree is strongest, and ensure that it won’t slide around on the tree.
Put weight on your winch cable when winching. This will reduce the danger associated with a snapped steel cable or synthetic rope.
The weight will pull the cable down if it breaks so that it doesn’t hit people, or wreak some other form of havoc, like breaking the glass in your vehicle’s windshield. It will also absorb the potential energy stored in the cable. (Source)
Things to Avoid When Winching Backwards
Along with every list of dos, a list of don’ts follows close behind. It’s the same principle with winching. There are several things you need to avoid doing when winching backward, but these are just a few very important things that you need to keep in mind.
Don’t wrap your winch cable around a tree. This will kill the tree, and we don’t want to kill the trees.
We want the trees to be happy because that makes us happy. We want to be able to see trees on our trails because they’re beautiful; that’s the whole reason you went out on the trail in the first place, so don’t ruin it for everybody else by killing the trees.
Never use your tow straps/tree savers incorrectly.
You probably didn’t think that was possible, but it very much is. Normally, it’s fine to loop a tow strap/tree saver through itself, then to the next connection, but you can’t do this on a tree! This will damage the poor tree. And if that isn’t motivation enough, you’ll also damage your tow strap/tree saver.
Additionally, remember not to put the strap too high.
You could end up pulling the tree towards you and your vehicle, which will kill the tree, damage your vehicle, and may even injure you. So please, just don’t do it.
Don’t run your winch line over a sharp or jagged rock.
This could break your line! A steel cable is less breakable, but even if you have one of those, you still should avoid sharp rocks. If you must run your line over a sharp or jagged rock, your winch line will probably be fine once or twice (most have protective layers on them), but it isn’t a good idea.
Don’t rush. Don’t sideload your D-ring shackles because you can’t take the time to fix their orientation.
Take a breath, figure out what’s wrong, and take the steps to fix the problem carefully, and in a way that will prevent the creation of more problems. Your car, your winch, and your future self will thank you profusely.
Never grab a winch with your bare hands. Instead, use heavy-duty leather gloves.
Why? Because there are tons of things that can become embedded in your winch cable/rope. As you handle this rope with your bare hands, you can get those things stuck in your hand, which is never fun. It’s painful. (Source)
Speaking of pain, your hand could get pulled into the fairlead and around the drum of the winch. This is why we use those heavy-duty leather gloves when using a winch.