Steel Cable vs Synthetic Winch Rope

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Last Updated on June 16, 2022

Winches are essential for many different activities. If you need to pull a heavy object up a slope, a rope winch is what you need. The rope comes in various lengths and strengths so that it is suitable for the task.

Steel cable winches are powerful machines used to pull heavy loads. These machines come in different sizes and strengths too. So, which one do you need? Steel cable winches may cost less, but they are heavier, more prone to wear and tear, and require more maintenance. On the other hand, synthetic winch ropes are lighter, strong, and long lasting. However, they cost more.

Let’s examine the pros and cons of synthetic winch ropes and steel cable winches. And by the end of the discussion, you will know which one is ideal for you.

Synthetic Rope vs Steel Cable

Steel Cable vs Synthetic Winch Rope


Strength is the first and foremost topic to look out for before making a decision about steel cable and synthetic rope. In comparison, synthetic rope is equal to (or sometimes stronger) than steel cable. Synthetic rope can haul more weight than steel cable. Because it is made of advanced polyethylene, synthetic rope is 15 times stronger than steel cable.

The problem with synthetic rope is that it breaks down when it slides or rubs against a rough surface. That is why synthetic rope is supplied with sleeves.


Steel cables are heavier than synthetic rope, rope fibers remove at least an extra 20 lbs of winch line weight and do not retain energy in the same way that steel cable does. As a result, if it breaks, it will become less of a projectile. Even so, you must exercise caution and use proper gloves.

Weather resistance

Rust is the most common adversary of steel. While it is less vulnerable to harm from the weather, you will need to examine the cable regularly to verify that rust has not damaged any of the strands. A WD-40( a water-displacing spray) soaking now and again can also help a steel cable.

Heat and direct sunlight are the deadliest enemies of synthetic rope. UV rays can cause fibers to dissolve, causing the rope to fade and become fragile. Regular hauling in dirt and sandy soil can also cause the rope to deteriorate, so cleaning it after more severe journeys is necessary. The rope may also hold moisture and freeze in the cold.


Although synthetic rope has a better breaking strength than steel cable winch line, it is not permanent. Unlike steel cable, if a synthetic rope breaks, it can be mended using correct braiding procedures.

The synthetic line has the added benefit of swirling, which may help with recovery in a drainage ditch or water source. Steel fibers do not require much maintenance.


Winches with synthetic rope are somewhat more costly than those with steel rope. If money is an issue for you, you may choose to go with the less expensive steel arrangement. Keep in mind that depending on usage and sun exposure, you may need to change the synthetic rope of your winch every few years.

However, I’ve reviewed some budget friendly winch with synthetic and steel rope. This might help you to make a decision.


A synthetic cable is unquestionably the safest of the two winch cable alternatives, which is a big reason why synthetic wins the discussion. Many off-road competitions now mandate the use of synthetic winch cables, with steel cables being prohibited due to the safety danger they represent.

Steel cables maintain strain, therefore if the steel cable breaks, the steel cable will most certainly snap back, causing significant damage to everything and everyone in its way.

However, while synthetic rope is typically safer, it can potentially have severe snapback consequences, which are less common. In most cases, safety is what gives the Synthetic winch line the advantage over the Steel winch line in the discussion.


Steel cables are more resistant to abrasion than synthetic rope. Negligent use might shorten the life of synthetic ropes.

Conclusion: Which One is Better for Winch?

After examining the majority of the issues, we can conclude that the steel line is occasionally superior to the synthetic winch line and vice versa. As a result, you must select based on your personal preference and intended application. Whatever type of line you use, be sure you are using a safe winching technique.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much winch rope do I need?

A few considerations must be made while determining the length of your winch line.

To begin, all winches are measured by the first wrap of the drum, where the winch’s pulling force is highest. The winch’s pulling strength reduces with each successive drum wrap since the winch needs to work extra to revolve the drum as the size rises.

Second, if you believe that jamming the drum with a winch line would make it simpler, you are simply wrong. Because excessive angle pulls will destroy the winch or winch line.

It is quite difficult to thread the winch line equally when removing a car. This can cause the line to thread on one end of the drum and come into contact with the spreader bars on the winch, causing both the winch and the winch line to be damaged. Using a shorter winch line reduces the possibility of pushing the winch and harming both the winch and the winch line.

It is sometimes preferable to use a shorter winch line than the wire cable or synthetic that comes with the winch. This should be 10′ – 20′ less for most off-road winches. Not only will your winch function more effectively, but it will also reduce the possibility of damaging the winch or winch line due to wrongly spooling the line during complex winching operations. In that scenario, a winch line extender can be carried.

About winch line strength, it is advised that you use a safety factor of 1.5:1 to 2:1 with the winch that you are placing the winch line on. This implies that the winch line should have a breaking strength that is 1.5 to 2 times the winch’s pulling force. For reference, if you have a winch with a 9,000 lb pulling capability, the line should have a breaking strength of 13,500 to 18,000 lbs or greater.

It is always desirable to use a bigger length winch line for more strength, but take into account that as the diameter of the winch line grows; the length of the line must reduce for it to fit on the drum.

Does synthetic winch rope stretch?

About the Author: Brian Silvestro

Brian Silvestro is the founder and chief editor of OffroadersArena. He spends his free time tending to his BMW iX SUV and explaining its merits to anyone who'll listen.

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