Winch comparison, Part 1: Premium winches

One of the most substantial investments you’ll make in the life of your Jeep is the winch.

These powerful electronic (or hydraulic) drums must live up to some very high expectations. They have to be powerful enough to get us out of whatever we get into, must be unquestioningly reliable for a lifespan measured in decades and shouldn’t drain the kids’ college fund in doing it. Oh, and some of us would like our winch to look attractive — or, at least, not garishly unattractive — to boot.

And, with a seemingly endless variety of winches from which to choose, what is a Jeep enthusiast to do?

We’ve compiled the features and specifications of more than a dozen models from nine manufacturers for a feature comparison. The 15 models listed will be broken down into three price categories — premium, mainstream and economy — to produce, hopefully, the most realistic apples-to-apples comparison possible.

Ground rules

With one exception, all the winches in today’s group come loaded with synthetic line. Given its safety and weight savings over steel cable, it’s simply difficult to recommend a winch with wire rope to anyone who isn’t the most extreme rock crawler or a competitive racer. Some, like the winches in today’s selection, boast a name-brand synthetic rope, while a few of the less costly drums in subsequent reviews utilize more generic synthetic fibers. A properly outfitted winch should have a pulling capacity 1.5 times the weight of the vehicle on which it’s mounted. With a modified two-door JK coming in around an average 5,500 pounds (much higher for four-door Jeeps), we’ll examine devices with a pulling capacity of 9,000 to 10,000 pounds.

Let’s get started. There’s no better place to start than the top. Our premium winches all carry manufacturer’s suggested retail prices north of $1,000.

Here are the contenders:

9_5xpWarn XP-s

The Oregon-based manufacturer bills the XP-s as an “extreme performance” winch, targeted at users to punish their equipment. It boasts the fastest line speed of any Warn winch under load and a motor that Warn claims is the strongest and most durable in the industry.
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Cost: $1,749.99
Rated line pull: 9,500 lbs.
Weight: 68 lbs.
Rope: 100′ of 3/8″ Spydura synthetic
IP rating: N/A
Controls: Contactor
Geartrain: 3-stage planetary
Ratio: 156:1
Clutch: Sliding ring gear
Brake: Auto mechanical cone
Drum diameter/length: 2.625″ / 9.0″
Battery leads: 2 guage, 72″
Finish: High-gloss powder coat over primer
Warranty: Limited lifetime
Dimensions: 22.7L x 6.3D x 7.7H
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PowerPlant-9Warn Powerplant 9.5

The Warn Powerplant line combines a traditional winch with an onboard air compressor to provide maximum utility. Unavailable with synthetic line, the Powerplant is the only winch in this comparison to use steel cable. While it remains a popular choice, Powerplant is a love-it-or-hate-it object among enthusiasts, some of whom fear losing the functionality of both devices if either the winch or compressor were to fail.
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Cost: $1,690
Rated line pull: 9,500 lbs.
Weight: 100 lbs.
Rope: 125′ of 5/16″ steel cable
IP rating: N/A
Controls: Contactor
Geartrain: 3-stage planetary
Ratio: 156:1
Clutch: Sliding ring gear
Brake: In-drum
Drum diameter/length: 2.5″ / 9.0″
Battery leads: 2 gauge, 72″
Finish: Flat powder coat
Warranty: Limited lifetime
Dimensions: 24.3L x 6.7D x 13.46H

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9_5ctiWarn 9.5cti-s

Ever popular among Jeepers, the 9.5cti is a strong thermometric winch that delivers breakneck line speeds and capacity to handle long duty cycles. Its contactor control offers longer life and superior moisture survivability compared to a more traditional solenoid design. The cti-s includes a redesigned remote control with a 12-food lead.
.
Cost: $1,599.99
Rated line pull: 9,500 lbs.
Weight: 66 lbs.
Rope: 100′ of 3/8″ Spydura synthetic rope
IP rating: N/A
Controls: Contactor
Geartrain: 3-stage planetary
Ratio: 156:1
Clutch: Sliding ring gear
Brake: Auto mechanical cone
Drum diameter/length: 2.625″ / 9.0″
Battery leads: 2 gauge, 72″
Finish: High-gloss powder coat over primer
Warranty: Limited lifetime
Dimensions: 23.1L x 6.3D x 10.4H
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Patriot9500-w-SyntheticRamsey Patriot 9500

Among the oldest names in American winch makers, Ramsey’s Patriot 9500 is everything off-road enthusiasts have come to expect from the storied brand, with all of the modern features they demand. The Patriot 9500 comes loaded with 100 feet of Technora synthetic rope in 3/8-inch diameter, attached to an oversized half-inch clevis hook with built-in safety latch.
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Cost: $1,329.99
Rated line pull: 9,500 lbs.
Weight: 80lbs.
Rope: 100′ of 3/8″ Technora synthetic rope
IP rating: N/A
Controls: Solenoid
Geartrain: 3-stage planetary
Ratio: 138:1
Clutch: Semiautomatic
Brake: Auto mechanical cone
Drum diameter/length: 2.5″ / 9.0″
Battery leads: 2 gauge, 72″
Finish: Grey powder coat
Warranty: Limited lifetime
Dimensions: 22.66L x 6.12D x 9.94H
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ZEON10-SWarn Zeon 10s

Easily the most stylish — and among the largest — designs in the bunch, Warn’s Zeon series boasts serious pulling power and a weatherproof IP68 ingress rating. Its cast-aluminum housing differs from most winches, in that it centers the drum rather than offsetting it to one side. Zeon’s large-diameter drum reduces wear on its Spydura rope and features an integrated rope anchor for easy installation.
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Cost: $1,199.99
Rated line pull: 10,000 lbs.
Weight: 75 lbs.
Rope: 100′ of 3/8″ Spydura synthetic rope
IP rating: 68
Controls: Contactor
Geartrain: 3-stage planetary
Ratio: 216:1
Clutch: Rotating ring gear
Brake: Auto mechanical cone
Drum diameter/length: 3.15″ / 9.0″
Battery leads: 2 gauge, 72″
Finish: Satin powder coat
Warranty: Limited lifetime
Dimensions: 24.25L x 7.15D x 10.52
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For those who regularly venture off the beaten path, serious-duty winches like those above are worth the investment. Still, that doesn’t lessen the fact that it is a very significant sum to invest in any single product that will potentially face scorching heat, water, mud, ice and more. That all but one of the competitors in today’s self-imposed “premium” category come from the same manufacturer, Warn, only highlights the primary complaint lodged against them by enthusiasts — price. Are Warn and Ramsey worth the premium their iconic nameplates and domestic production demand, or are today’s inexpensive Chinese-made units just as serviceable?

The debate rages on, with no end in sight.

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Up next:

Mainstream winch models from Engo, Mile Marker, Rugged Ridge, Smittybilt and Warn.
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