Lightweight Heavy Duty Portable Winch Setup for anyone!
Putting a winch on your vehicle is like going ‘wheelin' with an old buddy, it's there when you need it most! While trying to figure out what to do with the two Nissan Patrols, GMC Yukon XL, Jeep Cherokee (car-b-q last July and is toast now literally) and my Project TJ AKA the “Mad Cow” (yeah TXJEEPER wouldn't sell it with the winch), I realized it was going to be pretty darn expensive to outfit each of them with a winch. That led to what normally happens when someone doesn't want to be pinched by the almighty dollar - you get inventive. More inventions have come out of necessity and lack of funds than anything else.
I figured the obvious solution was a portable winch setup, since I can only drive one of these vehicles at a time, anyway. I hit the Net and saw how much it cost to outfit a rig with portable quick-connect type cables front and rear. It would cost me over $200 per vehicle for those. That meant for the four 4x4's I still have left at home, it would cost me more for the wiring (over $800) than it would for the winch. Now that just doesn't seem right. So I got to thinking and came up with a better mousetrap.
The first thing I needed was a winch, of course. One that would work in the worst-case scenario of freeing my heaviest vehicle - a 2001 GMC Yukon XL with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 7,200 lb. So I used the rule of thumb to multiply the weight of the vehicle by 1.5 as a way to figure out how much winch I needed and that let me narrow the search down to only 12,000 lb capacity winches or stronger. I wanted a winch with a Series Wound motor, something that didn't weigh a ton so I could move it from vehicle to vehicle or front to rear and one that was affordable.
I found what I required with the Mile Marker E12000. It was the ONLY winch that met all these requirements. The Mile Marker E12000 weighs in at a mere 94 pounds (only 9 lb. more than a Warn XD-9000 winch), while the other 12k winches available weighed over 40 lbs more than the Mile Marker. This knocked them out of the “portable” category for me. The E12000 was also very affordable with a street price of around $600 today. As far as speed goes, a 12,000 lb. pull is very slow for all winch brands at less than four feet per minute, so that really wasn't a deciding factor.
The second item I needed was a portable winch plate and a front receiver to mount it on the Mad Cow out of the path of destruction. My current Bulletproof bumper has a front receiver but it is positioned down very low where it would put the portable winch in harm's way if I installed it there while hitting the trail.
In searching for a solution, I found a few receivers but I noticed one thing that was very impressive with the Draw-Tite product. It's portable winch plate uses a 2” square SOLID bar of steel welded to the mounting plate instead of the typical 2” by 0.25” thick wall tubing used on other brands. To top that, it has a welded-in skid plate up front in case you were to make contact with Terra Firma while on the trail.
When the Draw-Tite portable winch plate arrived, I was initially bummed when I noticed that it is only rated for 9000 lb. at a pull angle of 45 degrees left or right from straight ahead and 15 degrees up or down from horizontal. Then I figured out that a straight pull equivalent of a 9000 lb. 45 degree pull is over 12,000 lb. I went and checked the specs on the winch and the Mile Marker E12000 winch develops 12,000 lbs of pull only on the first wrap on the drum. Based on that, I have two choices. I need to either limit my cable usage to all but the last wrap on the winch (the last wrap is normally only 15 feet or so and the winch manufacturer's recommend that you keep a certain number of wraps on it anyway to prevent it from coming off during operation) or limit my pull angle to straight ahead when I'm actually pulling 12,000 lbs (not very often even with a 7,200 lb. vehicle that rolls on wheels).
I decided that I would limit the cable usage to all but the last 15 feet (last wrap) since I do not want to exceed the manufacturer's rating for the winch plate. If I need more cable length, then I will add a strap between the cable and the vehicle. The Draw-Tite front-mounted receiver for the Jeep TJ is perfect for keeping the winch up high and clear of trail obstacles. When the portable winch plate is installed into the above frame rail receiver, it doesn't change your angle of entry, either. The going price for a Draw-Tite portable winch mount is around $80 (less than a lot of the hard mounts) and the front receiver for my TJ goes for about $120.
The third item required was a set of portable-type cables for the winch to provide electrical power. I searched online and found a set of Goodall Start All Plug-to-Plug cables from BatteryMart that would work perfect for this application. They are originally intended for starting vehicles and they have a plug-to-plug type connection. This was exactly what I was looking for. I picked up the 2 gage Duplex welding cable version from BatteryMart since they are rated for 500 amps. One cable is 5 ft long and has normal lug terminals for hard-mounting to the winch in this case and a plug on the other end. The other cable is 15 ft long and has heavy-duty booster cables at one end and a matching plug at the other end. These cables allow the owner of the winch to get power from ANY functioning 12/24 Volt source - not necessarily the vehicle with the winch, either! I'll go into this further a little later. BatteryMart stocks these for about $115. This alternative is much less expensive and more user-friendly than individual quick-connect cables on each vehicle.
One of the last
items needed to help accomplish the “lightweight” portion of this
system is a synthetic winch line and aluminum fairlead. I chose Off
Road Only's X-Line Combo pack from LMT 4x4 Outfitters in Colorado
Springs. It consists of 100 feet of 3/8 inch X-Line synthetic rope,
an X-Line aluminum fairlead and an X-Line Protector sleeve. The
weight difference between the standard steel 3/8 inch x 100 ft cable
and the X-Line synthetic line is huge. It saved about 20 lbs off the
total weight of the system. That 20 lb difference could make or
break you when trying to relocate or add the winch system on your
Most people with any knowledge of winching will
agree that synthetic winch line is much safer and easier to work
with than steel cable. It doesn't fray, kink, conduct heat or cold
or create enough kinetic energy to cut you in half when it breaks.
That's why the major rockcrawling competitions now require it. We
got our X-Line Combo Pack from LMT 4x4 Outfitters and it is well
worth the money.
recently (end of 2003) revised it's X-Line synthetic rope from a 12
strand braid to a 24 strand braid to make it more durable. I picked
up the older 12 strand version and it's been great so the new 24
strand version should be even better.
handle up to 450F degrees before it loses half of its strength. So
just to make sure the X-Line synthetic winch rope doesn't melt to or
get weakened by the heat of the Mile Marker E12000 winch drum, I
picked up a XV Fire Sleeve from XtremeVehicles Inc. The sleeve is
made of high temperature resistant Fiberglass braiding and is rated
for over 700 degrees F. It's installed just like a rock
protector/wrap onto the synthetic rope. It slides over the metal tab
end and covers the synthetic rope for the first wrap on the winch
drum. By doing so, it provides an excellent thermal barrier while
still allowing the metal tab at the end of the rope to be attached
to the drum.
with the XV Fire Sleeve are two pieces of 3M high temperature
aluminum tape. It's the same stuff used for radiation shielding on
rockets. Use the aluminum tape to wrap each end of the XV Fire
Sleeve from unbraiding AFTER it is installed on your synthetic winch
line. The XV Fire Sleeve is relatively cheap insurance to protect
your high-dollar synthetic rope from melting to the drum or being
weakened by the long-term effects of heat from the winch drum brake.
Inc sells twenty feet the XV Fire Sleeve for only $20. Twenty feet
will provide about sixteen feet of coverage over 3/8 inch diameter
synthetic rope due to the expansion of its diameter to conform to
the rope. It will provide more coverage for for a 5/8 inch diameter
Starting the XV Fire
XV Fire Sleeve taped in
place and ready to go
Now that I had
gathered all the components for this system, it was time to assemble
and install them to see the results.
together just as a normal winch would, except you have to remove the
ground and positive cables attached to the Mile Marker solenoid and
attach the 5 ft portion of the BatteryMart plug-to-plug cables. This
requires opening the cover to the solenoids, removing the red power
cable from the solenoid and installing the red power plug-to-plug
cable, then reinstalling the cover.
Inside the Mile Marker
When ready to use, simply
connect the cables
Then I attached
the Draw-Tite front receiver to The Mad Cow. I replaced the grade 5
fasteners it came with, with grade 8 (see why in my previous article
the Grade”). I had to do a little grinding on the front
receiver to make it fit, but otherwise it is exactly what I was
I attached the
Mile Marker E12000 winch to the Draw-Tite portable winch receiver
and slid it into the Draw-Tite front receiver mount. It fits nicely
and looks even better, and gives my current bumper a kind of
Winch attached to the
The whole setup installed
on the Jeep and ready for use.
removed the 3/8 inch diameter standard heavy steel cable from the
Mile Marker winch and put it in my winch bag as a backup to the
synthetic rope in case it gets damaged or cut. I had to remove the
roller fairlead and replace it with the X-Line aluminum fairlead
from LMT 4x4 Outfitters before installing the synthetic rope. The
Mile Marker roller fairlead fasteners are too large in diameter
(1/2”) for the X-Line aluminum fairlead so I had to hit the road to
the hardware store for some 7/16” x 1” grade 8 fasteners. After
installing the XV Fire Sleeve over the correct end of the synthetic
rope, I wound up the X-Line onto the winch. It looks sweet!
of this winch system is it only weighs about 100 lbs TOTAL so it can
be moved from front to rear to pull yourself out of something you
got yourself into over your head (didn't bother to check the depth
of the mud bog maybe?) or it can be moved from vehicle to vehicle
with relative ease. It can be taken off and left at home while your
using your vehicle as a daily driver, as well, thus protecting it
from strangers with bad intentions in local parking lots or the
weather and road grime and chemicals like we have here in Colorado
(Mag-Chloride is nasty stuff).
It can be
mounted on your buddy's rig, as well, if needed. In some cases, it
can be installed on a non-winch-ready vehicle that is out of reach
of other vehicles due to a roll or other mishap like sliding off a
road or trail. No vehicle requires special wiring like with previous
portable systems. All they need is a good battery and a receiver
hitch (front or rear) which qualifies a large number of trucks and
SUVs built today. Even the battery of another nearby running vehicle
could be used to winch your non-running vehicle (i.e. ingested a
little water into the engine during a crossing) to safety. Try that
with a hard-mounted winch or any other portable setup!
For those of us
with multiple vehicles, be it either 2x4, 4x4 or 6x6, a single
lightweight heavy-duty portable winch system that can be used on any
of them at any time is a huge advantage over all other options
today. You don't have to spend more on winches and wiring for each
vehicle than what you spent on any one of your vehicles to begin
with. It would have cost me three times as much to outfit all four
of my current 4x4's with a winch but with this system, it cost me
only around $1200 and my setup can be used on any of my vehicles at
any time or someone else's vehicle, if necessary. With the money I
“saved” (rationale used by my wife), I can pick up something cool
for The Mad Cow like a supercharger or finish off my last Nissan
Patrol restoration project.
For safety sake,
note that the Draw-Tite portable winch plate restricts you to not
exceed a pull angle of 45 degrees horizontally or 15 degrees
vertically when winching 9000 lbs. With that said, this system is
probably not for the extreme wheeler. For us semi-hardcore and
moderate wheelers, it's a perfect match.
Again, you do
need to follow the manufacturer's recommendations and limits at all
times. Other than the capacity restriction, which shortens the
overall usable cable length by about 15 feet, it's a great
lightweight, heavy-duty, portable winch system designed for the
‘wheeler with multiple off-road vehicles - regardless of whether you
have more money than sense.
ROCKCRAWLER 4x4 and Off-Road Magazine