Winch Use Tips & Tricks

It’s the time of year when the weather can’t decide if it’s going to melt or snow from day to day. The trend is warming from here out though so the snow will vary from frozen/icy conditions in the morning and shaded sites and progressing to sloppy wet snow in the afternoons which means you’re gonna get stuck and need your winch!

How well do you know your winch?

Good question right, the manual that came with your winch was one of the first casualties when you tore into the packaging to see your fancy new winch. You’re in luck though because most manufacturers make their manuals available for download via their website. Grab your manual or hop over to the manufacturer’s website and download it then give it a good read, there’s a surprising amount you’ll learn about your winch.

Download Warn’s Basic Guide to Winching Techniques – PDF

Winch Safety

Life saver or life taker, it’s all in how you use any tool. We seldom use our winch unless someone is stuck or in a precarious position so there’s always a heightened amount of risk when using a winch.

  1. Understanding how our winch works – we found the manual and read up on our winch so we know how the switch works, how to engage/disengage the clutch, and how long we can run the winch before we need to give it a break to cool before further use.
  2. Brought our bag of winch accessories – so we can connect to trees or other machines without damaging, gloves to protect our hands and extra rope/cable/strap because you’ll always be stuck exactly 6″ further than the nearest solid object your winch line can reach.
  3. Assess the situation – to determine if we need to act quickly to prevent a machine from rolling or if we have time to plan how to extract the machine from the prickly predicament you’ve positioned yourself in.
  4. Communicate the plan – if you’re riding alone or with others you want to think and talk through your plan to ensure it’s a good plan and that everyone understands how to proceed. 
  5. Time to rig up for the pull – employing all the gear you’ve brought get everything hooked up for the big moment. Remember to place a jacket, bag, tree branch over the cable to suppress the energy of the cable recoiling back at you should the cable break.
  6. Final checks – everyone reviews the plan and makes sure we’ve covered all the possible things that could go wrong. Now it’s time to get your wheeler back on the trail.
  7. Success!

Winch Horror Stories

Unfortunately we’ve all probably heard or seen our share of winching horror stories, here are a few so you can avoid them yourself:

  • Pinch Zone Danger! – winches exert amazing force and they love the taste of fingers. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS hold the strap, not the hook when reeling in your winch. Take it slow when you get near the fairlead and even just let it go, it’s not worth getting your finger or hand crushed.
  • People Pulling Midspan – we’ve seen people grab the cable just as tension is coming up resulting in the cable pulling the person to the ground or pinning them against an object. Just stay the heck out of the way when winching is underway.
  • Pulling the Wrong Direction – be aware of where your machine is going to go as it’s pulled out and avoid pulling on an angle because it can pull your machine on its side or roll it.
  • When the Cable Snaps – you’ve gone through all the work of getting your machine almost all the way back to the top then snap, it’s off on another adventure back down the hillside. Check your cables, look for obstacles that are going to create resistance in your pull and consider having a second strap securing your machine should the main pull cable break.


2021 Resilient Rider Challenge

We’re challenging all riders to take the off season (for most riders) to become a more resilient rider for 2021. Being prepared every time we head out riding means being able to repair small break downs, navigating your way home after getting turned around, being able to get a message to family from far outside cell coverage and having the supplies necessary to stay warm and dry should you become stranded. 


Many of us take the winter off to pursue other forms of recreation or just hunker down to stay warm. Winter is the perfect time to prepare our machine, safety gear and emergency supplies so when spring rolls around we’re ready to hit the trails.

  • Your Machine – no one wants to be towed home from a ride, or worse yet, stranded a long way from anywhere. Now’s the time to be giving your machine a good once over. It’s often possible to catch small problems before they become big issues by taking a good look ourselves or by have it checked over at our amazing local dealers. Don’t forget that trailside repairs are sometimes required, assemble a toolkit with the right size wrenches for your machine.
  • Riding Gear – a helmet, eye and face protection, gloves, long sleeve shirts or a jacket, long pants and good boots are going to improve your comfort on rides and provide extra protection should you be bucked off. Depending on your ability, terrain you ride and how you ride you may want to look at additional protection like a chest/back protector, knee and elbow pads

    If you’ve owned your helmet a long time or if it’s taken a spill or two it’s definitely time to look at a new lid. Helmet technology has progressed rapidly in the last decade as result of all the research into concussion and brain injury. Top end powersport helmets now feature an amazing array of technology to protect your grey matter in high speed, low speed and rotational impacts. It’s recommended you replace your helmet every five years or if it’s ever sustained a major impact. Visit your local shop and bring your helmet for a quick inspection.
  • Chainsaw or hand saw, what if you ride up a trail with no exit and find a freshly downed tree blocking the trail on your return? Without a saw you may be SOL. A good handsaw will get you through many of the trees we encounter on rides and a chainsaw will increase the size of trees you can deal with and speed the process. Remember to check fuel and oil levels, know how to start your saw and learn how to sharpen your chain or carry spare chains. 
  • Emergency Supplies & Survival Gear – should you be stuck in the bush, whether it’s for a couple of hours or overnight, it’s important to have emergency supplies to improve your outcome. Rides often take us higher into the mountains where weather is more extreme and can change quickly. What started as a sunny ride can quickly turn into a dash to find shelter when a mountain storm erupts. Having good water and wind proof clothing, bug spray, fire starter, extra food & water, emergency blankets, warm clothing, sunscreen, a knife and a first aid kit can make an enforced night in the bush much more survivable.

Communication Devices

  • The cell phone, it’s changed so much in such a short time. It’s an amazing tool and can be a great resource in the backcountry but it also has severe limitations. Not far off the beaten path cell coverage typically disappears and in cold weather your phone’s battery may discharge at a much faster pace than you’re used to. Most of the places the club rides do not have cell coverage, relying on your cell phone in the backcountry isn’t a solid plan.
  • Satellite Communicators like SPOT, inReach and ZOLEO massively improve your chances of getting a message out when there is no cell coverage. It’s still possible to end up in a dead zone due to local geography but these devices give you a much better chance of being able to send a message to loved ones or send a SOS if you’re in trouble and some provide two way messaging. A monthly/annual subscription is required, for example Garmin inReach starts at $14.95 per month.
  • Radios like FRS, GMRS, HAM and others can play an important in safely navigating forest service roads and may help you reach others when in trouble. Check with local radio shops or the North Okanagan Radio Amateur Club to learn more about how to properly use a radio.

Navigational Aids

Whether you’re exploring new trails or have a preplanned ride, knowing where you started, being able to follow your track back or find an alternate route back to staging is critical. Preplanning your route on Google Earth or one of the many online trail tools can help you find new trails and make you aware of other routes around trail obstacles.

  • Paper maps have largely been supplanted by GPS navigation but a good map and knowledge of how to use it is still a great backup and in the right hands is still effective.
  • GPS devices from Garmin, Magellan and Lowrance are the most accurate, most reliable and most popular nav tools on most ATVs. A dedicated GPS device will provide accuracy and long battery life but many riders don’t know how to use most of the features. We suggest taking a few hours to familiarize yourself with the interface and how to start and stop tracks to record your rides, create waypoints, navigate to waypoints and create routes. 
  • GPS apps on smartphones are quickly gaining popularity due to the ease of use of the smartphone interface, overwhelming number of app choices and diverse feature set. Leading names in the app space include Backroad Mapbooks, Polaris Ride Command, Gaia GPS, Alltrails and Trailforks. Most apps have a free trail, it’s important you compare a few apps before signing up for premium subscriptions because the features vary greatly, coverage in Canada may be missing and not all GPS apps are created equal.
  • Clues on the trails, whether they be road signs, the amount of brush/blowdown across a trail, clear or muddy water in mud puddles and tracks on a trail (or a lack of tracks) are all there to help you. If you are trying to trace your track back from unknown territory but haven’t seen any tracks in or out of mud puddles on the road you’ve likely taken a wrong turn somewhere. 

Having a Plan & Sharing It

Having a plan and communicating it to someone will help people know when and where they should start looking for you if you don’t arrive home on time. Search and Rescue often starts their searches with very little information which means critical time is spent searching a large area, if you’ve had an accident this could be the difference between life and death.