I used to have a friend who lived to ride her Jeep 4X4 off-road. The uglier the spot, the more fun she thought it was.
She dragged me along once swearing I would love it. I admit it was fun until we got caught in a bog. We had to wait for someone to haul us out after our pathetic excuse of a rope broke.
This is where I discovered the difference between a plain old rope and a synthetic winch rope.
There is nothing like a sturdy winch rope to pull you and your rig out of a jam (or a bog, as it might be).
We were lucky because this was just for fun. But imagine if you were in an emergency. What if you needed to haul someone or yourself out of a tough situation?
Don’t learn from bad mistakes, folks. Keep a quality synthetic winch rope on hand at all times.
I did some real research on synthetic ropes after that weekend. You can benefit from what I discovered and pick up the best synthetic winch rope, wheels down.
What Are The Types Of Synthetic Rope?
If you haven’t thought much about synthetic ropes before, join the club. A rope is a rope, right? That’s what I used to think as well.
There are a lot of different types of synthetic rope, including Vectran, Zylon, and Dyneema. But ask anyone that does some offroading. You will find that Dyneema is considered to be the top of the line or gold standard that all other ropes are judged by.
Without boring you with too much technical stuff, Dyneema is made from an Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene. In the same way that trucks are measured by how much weight they can handle, Dyneema ropes are measured by different grades. They are in an easy to read number format, such as SK65, SK75, SK80, etc.
All grades are considered to be super tough. They have one drawback though.
They aren’t very heat resistant.
With a low melting point of 140 Celsius, but I doubt you intend to haul something in that type of heat.
Steel Cable vs. Synthetic Rope
I love to see real world tests of gear and equipment. This is the ultimate test. Words only mean so much until you can see something in action and see proof for yourself.
In this video the steel cable holds more weight than the synthetic. But the steel cable snaps more violently and can throw shards of steel wire in either direction. This could harm whoever or whatever is in the path.
I prefer the synthetic rope which doesn’t backlash or send any steel shards back to the driver or any onlookers.
Is synthetic winch rope better?
This is a matter of opinion and preference. But ask a group of 4X4 off-roading fans. I believe the majority of them prefer synthetic winch rope to a steel cable.
These types of ropes were introduced sometime in the 1990s. Their two main selling points were that they were lightweight and their inability to store energy. This lack of energy is what prevents synthetic rope from breaking. A rope with stored energy can turn into a projectile that can cause serious damage or even death if it breaks.
Synthetic ropes can break. When they do they can often be repaired right in the field if you know the proper way to re-braid them or to reattach the hook. This is something you can’t say about steel cable.
Synthetic rope is not perfect. Exposure to the elements, chemicals, and abrasion can cause them to become weak. These things barely make a dent in steel cables.
Most synthetic ropes are water-resistant. But they can hold water and even a tiny bit of water means that it can freeze up the line, making your winch a huge block of ice. Synthetic ropes should be washed occasionally to remove mud, dirt, and small rocks. This helps to prevent friction and degrading the quality of the rope.
Synthetic rope has far more advantages than disadvantages. This makes it the preference of many drivers.
What is synthetic winch rope made of?
There are dozens of synthetic fibers a synthetic rope can be made from.
As I mentioned earlier, Dyneema is considered to be the gold standard when speaking of winch rope. But others are made from Kevlar, the same fabric used in bulletproof vests. Vectran, Spectra, and Technora are the other names that come to mind.
The Vectran and Technora lines are super resistant to heat. But this makes them a bit stiffer and susceptible to fatigue from bending. This makes them a bit unsuitable for most off-road winches since these are repeatedly bent around the drums.
Spectra is a well-known name that is similar in makeup to the Dyneema fiber. But it is not as enduring or reliable, nor is it as tough as Dyneema.
The actual fibers used in synthetic ropes include:
Some synthetic ropes use a mixture of these fibers. All have different properties with weaknesses and strengths.
Synthetic ropes are stronger than natural ropes by 20-30 percent. But natural ropes need to be much thicker to even match the smallest diameter of synthetic ropes when it comes to breaking strength.
How long will synthetic winch rope last?
A synthetic rope needs to be carefully maintained. Wash it to prevent abrasion from debris. Also cover it to prevent degradation from sunlight.
10 years is a fairly typical lifespan.
The rope might look fine after those 10 years. But you will find that most experts suggest that you retire that synthetic winch rope to prevent rope failure or breaking.
It’s impossible to see the breakdown of fibers due to exposure so it is recommended to replace the rope after 10 years. You should definitely inspect the rope regularly for signs of abrasion, fraying, or other problems to avoid breaking in the future.
Can I use a roller fairlead with a synthetic rope?
Not only can you, but you should, although you might need to change the type of fairlead you are currently using.
Steel or metal rollers on most fairleads are not compatible with synthetic rope. This will cause friction and abrasion to the rope, which will wear it out quickly.
Most synthetic rope manufacturers recommend that you use an aluminum Hawse-type of fairlead. This is best to prevent issues like the ones above. The problem with many Hawse-type fairleads is that they won’t mount on some trucks or off-road vehicle bumpers.
If you have found that the Hawse-type of fairlead won’t work for you, there are also polyurethane rollers that will work well with synthetic ropes.
Does synthetic winch rope stretch?
Yes, they do stretch, but not very much.
Synthetic ropes have a small amount of stretch which means that they store very little energy. This prevents them from snapping back if they should break. This alone is a huge selling point.
Synthetic winch ropes can’t kink like steel cable and don’t retain “memory.” That means that the rope pulls out in a nice straight line, not curled up in a tangled mess on the floor.
Some synthetic winch ropes are pre-stretched to prevent even a minor stretch from causing the rope to snap even a bit. But if the rope hasn’t been pre-stretched, nothing is stopping you from doing it yourself.