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On Location:

Lake Powell, UT

Off Road Recovery Winch

Getting stuck in the seemingly dry shores of Lake Powell.

Ah the trusty off road winch. An insurance policy you only have to purchase once. A lifeline to the solo 4x4 traveler and piece of mind to go just a little farther down that mushy road. A winch can really be your best friend in a time of need. When the stock front bumper of the truck was exchanged for a large steel bumper it was finally time to seek out a winch.

I knew straight off the bat I'd want a synthetic rope winch. While steel rope is tough as it resists abrasion well and isn't effected by UV damage the advantages synthetic rope offers were much more attractive. Synthetic rope is lighter, stronger and much easier to work with. It wont rust and it has less stored energy when stretched making it safer to work with. The major downside is it can be fragile. Dirt and UV light can wear the synthetic material down if proper case isn't taken. Realistically the winch on this truck won't be used that often and the small amount of maintenance and care has been easy to keep up with.

There are so many winches to choose from these days. Warn, Comeup, Superwinch and so many others. However a lot of the popular brands out there carry a large profit margin for what you get. Thankfully narrowing down the available products was not too hard since I knew I wanted synthetic line standard, 10,000-12,000lb load and a wireless remote which only left a few contenders.


After a little searching I came across the Smittybilt X20 Comp 10,000lb Winch. This particular winch checked all the boxes. Synthetic line, wireless remote and 10,000lb load. What really sets this winch out from others in its class is the price. On Amazon you'll regularly find it around $500 with free shipping. This is considerably less than all the other winches in it's category and after a few uses I can say it works great!

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Checking fitment of the winch in the bumper

Installing the winch into the bumper was a fairly straight forward process. Four bolts hold it down in place. Smittybilt makes the electrical easy to work with too. Each cable is color coded and labeled for super easy wiring. The only issue I had was fitting the control box into the bumper. I had to relocate the control box and make a small bracket to secure it to the inside of the bumper. I would think most installations you will not need to do this but thankfully it is available if you need to. Moving the control box worked out great as this winch has a wireless receiver on the control box and I was able to put the receiver in one of the windows of the bumper rather inside behind a large sheet of metal.


Custom bracket to relocate the control box

After getting the winch installed and the control box wired up all you have to do is run two large cables back to the battery. You'll want to run 3-4 AWG wiring as the winch is the largest load you'll have on your vehicle by far. The winch comes with wire to run back to the battery but I found them too short unfortunately and went down to our local electrical store to purchase some large lengths. Your mileage may vary.

Winch Inside Bumper

This winch comes with a wireless remote to spool the line in and out. After using it I can't imagine having to use a wired remote at this point. It really gives you the freedom to walk around the rig while using the winch and not having to worry about the wire hanging down. The range it has is also great. I can walk completely around the truck while still in range. I've tested it about 200ft from the truck before as well. Very impressive. What if you run out of batteries you might ask? Well the remote has a wired mode as well. Just plug the included wire from the remote to the control box and you're set.

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Wireless/wired winch remote

Well what experience do I have with this winch? I think the best example was in Southern Utah. While exploring the nooks and crannies of Lake Powell just north of the Arizona border we came across Crosby Canyon. A real neat canyon with some very interesting rock formations and erosion. The canyon ends at the lake. However the lake had receded a very large amount and had left what looked like dry lake bed.


Hard to believe this is a dry lake bed

I wanted to get a closer look at the water and maybe put my feet in the lake. So after a little while of driving closer and seeing the dry dirt beneath everything seemed fine. However about 20 minutes in the fine dirt started to bog the truck down somewhat so I thought maybe it's time to air down a little. As I pondered about stopping the truck and taking the long ritual of letting the air out it became obvious I was too late. As the truck started to sink into the sandy earth I kept the speed up and started to slowly turn 180 degrees back the way we came. Unfortunately I was loosing speed fast and the truck was feeling lower and lower.

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And just like that the truck was stuck up to the frame in gooey lake bed mud. We had been gliding over the dry lake bed successfully with enough time for me to get comfortable with driving on it. However once we got closer and closer to the lake that dry layer must have gotten shallower as we broke though into wet, gooey and smelly mud that stopped us in our tracks.

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The digging does nothing!

We didn't have any traction aids or sand ladders to put under the tires so we dug down into the ground, gathered the few sticks and logs laying around and tried to use them as traction aids. At the same time it started to sprinkle and we saw a large storm rolling in. I don't know if it was the stress of the situation or the buildup of living with someone on the road but all of a sudden we had this crazy idea that it was going to start pouring rain and we'd be stuck out here for days. With tensions high and the digging not helping I had to think fast for a better solution.  

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Burying the spare tire into the ground

With no trees or real anchors to connect the winch to I had almost ruled out the use of the winch. But with options running out I racked my brain on how we could use it. Of course! I had seen an old video of some Australians stuck on a beach and they buried their spare tire to make it into an anchor. The soil was soft but really heavy and dense. It made for some really hard work for our small shovel but eventually the hole was dug down to about 2ft and then buried in place. I'd like to note that the way we used the end of the winch was bad. You should not wrap the winch and tie off to the line. This can cause stress on the line and we should have used a tree saver or another rope. I have since purchased a tree saver and will not repeat this incorrect technique.

After spending a good amount of time digging and burying the spare tire it was time to see if this idea would pull us out! Well it actually didn't take long to get the truck moving forward and up onto dry dirt. What a relief it was to see the truck out of the mud and it being our first real winch use. After a grueling 2-3 hours these two noobs figured it out! Hopefully you're reading this article and the day you get stuck in a similar situation you'll remember back to this moment and not waste a bunch of time messing around.

The lesson learned here was be prepared. Just purchasing a winch is not enough. We should have had a tree saver and probably had some traction aids to get us out faster. I also need to invest in a larger shovel! More importantly keeping the stress levels low would have been much better. Personally I was pretty excited to get stuck but your passengers might not be on the same page. I think after an experience like this getting stuck again wont be as stressful for the two of us.

Lastly be aware of your surroundings. If your GPS shows you driving into a lake despite there not being a lake tread lightly! As always if you have any particular questions please don't hesitate to use the contact page. Thanks for reading.


Careful driving in dry lake beds!

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