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Choosing your Winch Cable - Synthetic or Steel?

Choosing your Winch Cable - Synthetic or Steel?

What is better, steel winch cable or synthetic winch rope?

While many enthusiasts have a personal preference over steel cable or synthetic rope, over the last few years synthetic rope has been adopted as the preferred choice, and is often mandatory in most major sanctioned off-road events. 

The decision often comes down to what you’ll be using the particular winch and rope or cable for. Your circumstances will very much determine your final decision.

Most winches today come pre-packaged with either synthetic rope or steel cable. Depending on which will often determine the price difference as synthetic is usually more expensive than steel.

Below is a general list of synthetic vs steel pros and cons. It’s important to note that not all synthetic and steel cables are the same, and some will have different features and capabilities. 

Synthetic Rope Pros

  • Strength: Dyneema rope is up to 15 times stronger than steel.

  • Weight: Synthetic rope is much lighter than steel, and easier to carry and handle.

  • Handling: Synthetic rope doesn’t develop sharp burrs over time, which can be dangerous.

  • No rust: Steel cable can rust and in turn weaken if not kept dry and maintained.

  • Safety: Synthetic rope doesn’t store up as much energy as a steel cable does, which means if it breaks it won’t become a lethal projectile and cause injury to you or damage your vehicle.

  • It’s flexible: Steel winch cable is prone to kinks which in turn makes it harder to spool up on the drum, further decreasing strength. It is to be noted that synthetic rope, if not handled carefully can knot.

  • It floats: If you get stuck in a mud-hole or body of water having this advantage can be a great help.

  • Repair: if it snaps it can usually be repaired in the field with proper braiding techniques.

Synthetic Rope Cons

  • Can be susceptible to UV exposure, heat, chemicals and abrasion. If the rope’s going to be dragged over jagged rocks and other harsh terrain it can get damaged.

  • Can hold water: this can add weight, and if you’re in a cold environment, can even freeze.

  • Needs to be properly maintained. Grains of sand and dirt can bury themselves in the rope’s core and weaken it’s integrity. If you’re out in the mud and dirt it’s important that you take time to spool it out and wash it occasionally.

  • Expense: Synthetic cable is often the more expensive option.

Regardless of which option you choose, always make sure you use a winch cable dampener when winching. If a winch cable snaps (synthetic or steel) it can become a dangerous projectile and cause significant harm to those nearby and other vehicles.

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