If you’re investing in a truck as capable and expensive as a Toyota Tacoma, then you want to make sure that your accessories are the best. A winch is a crucial piece of off-roading equipment, so you will want to choose the right one. The winch that is the best for your Tacoma will depend on your off-roading plans.
The best winches for Toyota Tacomas combine power, weight, and price. Warn winches are generally the top choice, but Smittybilt and Mile Marker make solid contenders as well. The Warn ZEON 10-S Winch is the perfect choice for a Tacoma in 2020, with a 10,000 lb capacity and a synthetic rope.
In the following article, we will discuss the best winches for a Toyota Tacoma in 2020. We’ll also go over what type of winch is best for a Tacoma and what to look for when shopping for a winch.
Warn ZEON 10-S Winch
Our top pick in this category for a 2020 Toyota Tacoma is the Warn ZEON 10-S Winch. This machine is a powerhouse when it comes to off-road retrievals. The ZEON series was created for SUVs, trucks, and Jeeps in extreme situations. The ZEON line has quickly risen to the top of Warn’s catalog, and for a good reason.
Some of the best features of this winch are:
- Electric winch
- A synthetic rope with protective coatings
- 10,000 lb capacity
- 100-foot cable
- Planetary gear system
- Cast-aluminum housing
- Seven-year warranty for electrical components
What we love about this device, other than being made by the top brand in the industry, is the quality and power of the piece. The machine offers a 10,000lb towing capacity, making it more than strong enough for even the most fully loaded 2020 Tacoma.
The winch also comes in a durable, cast-aluminum housing, which protects the inner workings and leaves extra room for the synthetic rope to extend and retrieve. The cable itself has a “temperature-resistant sleeve on the first layer, a ballistic nylon sliding sleeve, and a polished aluminum hawse fairlead,” according to the product description.
Warn also offers a limited manufacturer warranty and a seven-year warranty for the electrical components of the device. The best thing about this gadget is that it will not only save your truck from certain doom, but it will also look good while doing it. The satin-black powder-coated finish of the winch casing looks high end and lends a sort of Mad Max look to your truck.
This is our top pick on this list and it’s no small investment.
Smittybilt Gen 2 XRC Winch
For a much more affordable winch that will still get the job done, the Smittybilt Gen 2 XRC Winch will do. This electric winch features a 6.6 horsepower, waterproof motor with a planetary gearbox. The cheap winch has an impressive 9,500 lb capacity and comes with a wire rope.
While Smittybilt products are not at the same quality level as Warn, they aren’t at the same price point, either. If you’re just getting into off-roading, and only want to have a winch that you might use once or twice a year, this is a great option.
Smittybilt does offer a limited lifetime replacement for the steel components on their products, so you may be able to get an extra cable if it gets damaged. The winch also comes with the wiring kit necessary to incorporate it onto your Tacoma. The winch is quite large, however, and not as sleek-looking as the Warn ZEON.
The winch is one of the best buys on the market.
Mile Marker H-Series Hydraulic Winch
The first hydraulic winch on our list, the Mile Marker H-Series Hydraulic Winch is a great buy. This winch is extremely durable. It’s built for rugged terrain and all types of weather. The winch includes a 100-foot galvanized steel aircraft cable, and the entire thing is functional underwater. This machine is truly geared towards those in tough situations.
Things we love about this winch:
- 12 volt motor
- Integrated solenoid valve
- Corrosion resistant
- Stainless steel tie bars and fasteners
- 10,500 lbs capacity
- Water resistant housing
- Mechanical lock
- Planetary gear train
One of the only drawbacks of this product is its weight. With the steel cable, it will add 93 lbs to your bumper. Again, reinforcing your suspension will be imperative here, which will add even more onto the already high price tag.
If you think that you would prefer a hydraulic winch to an electric one, this heavy-duty beast may be for you.
Warn VR EVO 10-S Winch
If you are dead set on getting a Warn, but you don’t have the cash for the top of the line products, then the Warn VR EVO 10-S Winch is a great choice. This winch has a 10,000 lb capacity and offers the quality that Warn is known for.
The VR EVO line was created by Warn to reach a wider market and is more affordable. This may seem like a big leap from the Smittybilt Gen 2 XRC, but the quality difference is undeniable.
This Tacoma accessory features an IP68-rated waterproof housing, which protects the synthetic rope that it includes. The planetary gear drive provides faster line speeds under load, with a lower amp draw.
The winch is mounted on a one-piece cast-aluminum tie-plate, and it includes a two-in-one remote that offers wireless and wired control of the device. This is one of the easiest to install accessories on the list, as it comes almost fully put together.
You will need to purchase a separate install plate, mount, or compatible bumper to use the towing product; however, this is to be expected with every winch.
Superwinch Tiger Shark 11500 SR
Our last pick for 2020, the Superwinch Tiger Shark 11500 SR is a great option from a reliable name in winches. The Tiger Shark is an electric winch that can handle up to 11,500 lbs. This makes it a great option for self-recovery of Tacomas on the larger end, or of recovering friends in bigger vehicles.
The Tiger Shark is Superwinch’s best selling device, and they’ve upgraded it with a durable, synthetic rope and a redesigned brake. The new braking system has been moved to the motor, so the rope and drum stay strong and cool. When synthetic rope heats up, it’s vulnerable to damage.
This product also features a 6.0 horsepower motor that is weather sealed. The sealing is effective against rain, snow, and dust. There is also a heavy-duty 12-foot long hand-held remote, which has been tested and improved to react quickly to commands.
This winch is a great deal from a brand that has been in the business for over 45 years. For under $1000, you’ll get a fantastic product and reliable customer service.
An Introduction to Winches
When shopping for any gadget, it’s important to understand the function of the device. You can’t buy the right tool for the job if you don’t know what the job is. With a winch, the job is simple but imperative.
A winch is a cylindrical device that has a rope wound around it. When the winch turns, the rope extends out, and when the winch rotates in the opposite direction, the cable retracts. Simple winches are hand-powered, an example of this is the reel on a fishing rod, and more hardy winches are run by electric, hydraulic, pneumatic, or internal combustion devices.
Winches are the basis for elevators, tow trucks, and cranes. The powerful devices can be made more efficient by the use of pulleys and different types of cables. Winches can also be found in theatre works, helicopter rescue cables, and fishing net retrieval systems.
Different Types of Winches
There are a few different types of winches you will find in your search for a truck winch. There are two main categories the winches fall into.
Electric winches are the most common type of winch found in the off-roading community. This is because they are more affordable and easier to install.
What makes electric winches both simpler and cheaper is that they only need a connection to the vehicle’s battery to operate. The vehicle does not need to be running for the winch to work. The battery does need to have enough juice to power the winch, however, and this can cause its own issues.
The vehicle’s battery can be quickly drained by the use of an electric winch. Some people upgrade their battery or add in an additional battery just for the winch, but this adds cost and weight to the vehicle.
For the average weekend warrior, an electric winch will be totally fine. If you are going on longer excursions, you may want to look at a hydraulic winch, which we will explain below.
A hydraulic winch is much more expensive than an electric one, and it is more complicated to install. This is because the hydraulic system needs to be connected to the power steering pump of the vehicle. The power steering pump provides the winch with the hydraulic power needed to operate. A vehicle with a hydraulic winch has to be running for the tool to work.
These winches are a bit overkill for most people who 4×4 leisurely, but they are the superior product. They are more reliable and can perform for longer periods of time. Safety vehicles that use winches will opt for the hydraulic variety, which says a lot.
Winches’ Role in Off-Roading
So, what is winches’ role in off-roading? Winches are mainly used in two scenarios: self retrieval and retrieval of other vehicles. Retrieval is the common term for getting a stuck vehicle out of the place it is trapped.
- In self retrieval, the winch is attached to an anchor that is located within the vicinity of the truck and is solid enough to allow leverage for the winch. The winch is then activated, and the winding function of the winch pulls the trucks forwards and out of the ditch or mud.
- In retrieval of another vehicle, the winch is attached directly to the vehicle that is stuck. Then the winch is engaged and pulls the trapped vehicle forward until it gains enough traction to move of its own accord.
Winches can also be used as a sort of insurance policy when traveling up extremely steep sections of trail. The winch can be attached to a tree and engaged slowly to ensure the front wheels of the vehicle remain in contact with the ground as it climbs. This function is extremely handy in top-heavy vehicles that can roll easily, like Jeeps.
Another common use of the winch in 4x4ing is to prevent or fix rollovers. A well-placed winch can help to balance a vehicle as it skirts around a big rock or travels along an embankment.
What to Look for in a Winch
Now that we know the types of winches and what their purpose is in off-roading, we can discuss what to look for when buying a winch for your Toyota Tacoma. There are a few criteria that are important to consider.
The pulling capacity of the winch is perhaps the sole most important factor to consider when deciding between products. For a midsize truck like a Toyota Tacoma, a winch with 10,000 lbs is ideal. You can go with a little bit lower or a little bit higher, but around 10,000 lbs is preferred.
The gear system is what decides the speed of a winch. There are two types of gear systems available.
- Worm Gear. A worm gear system has low transfer efficiency. This type of system is a much slower, load-bearing system. Winches with this gear are commonly found on industrial sites.
- Planetary Gear. The planetary gear system has high transfer efficiency. These winches are much faster to operate but do not bear the loads. These systems are cheaper and are completely suitable for a recreational winch.
Type of Rope
Another important factor in choosing your winch is deciding on what type of rope to use. There is much debate about which type of rope is best, but there are two main options.
Steel ropes are extremely popular as they are strong and capable of carrying large loads. They require little care and are easy to wind and unwind. Steel cables are heavy, however, and putting a large amount of steel cable on the front of your vehicle will require severe suspension upgrades. To be fair, you are probably going to have to upgrade your suspension anyway, so this isn’t the end of the world.
Steel ropes can also be used in any condition and are cheaper to purchase and replace. However, one of the main drawbacks of a steel cable is the durability. Steel cables tend to wear and fray, which means dangerous metal splinters appear on your cable. Not only can they cut your hands as you thread the cable, but they can also get caught in the winch itself.
Steel cables also store a lot of energy. When your winch is taut, the steel cable is primed to snap. If this happens, it’s possible for the cable to swing around dangerously, or for shards of metal to erupt.
To see a comparison of steel and synthetic rope snapping, watch the video below:
The other option for a cable is a synthetic rope. These were skeptically received when they were first released, but have grown in popularity as their quality has risen. Synthetic cables are extremely strong, some even stronger than steel. These ropes are much safer to use than steel cables, as they don’t store the same dangerous energy when taut.
If a synthetic rope does snap, you can also retie the rope and continue to use it to get yourself out of the situation. Long term, you’ll still want to replace the rope, but there’s no chance of retying a snapped steel cable.
One of the shortcomings of a synthetic rope is that it is much more vulnerable to the elements than a steel rope. UV rays, frost, and abrasion are all things that will damage the rope over time. Many synthetic ropes come with protective coatings and should be stored in waterproof winches. Choosing a synthetic rope may be a safer option, but it will take more work.
Long or Short Cable
The length of the cable is another important consideration of your winch. You want the rope to be long enough to do the job, but not so long that it gets caught up in the mechanisms and causes issues.
Wired or Wireless Remote Control
Winches can have either wired or wireless controls. Wireless remote control is not only a handier feature to have, but it’s a safety precaution as well. It allows you to operate your winch from a safe distance. This is especially important if you decide to go with a steel cable.
You would think that because winches are most likely going to be used in muddy or snowy conditions, that they would all be waterproof. Unfortunately, this is not true. It’s important to choose the right winch for the area you live in and will be exploring, and usually, this will involve some sort of mud or snow.
If you live in a dry, rocky area, you may not need to invest in a waterproof winch. Sand dunes and desert steppes won’t benefit from a waterproof casing.
Top Brands in Winches
As you’ve seen from our picks, there are some brands that stand out in the winch industry. If you’re not going to go with one of the products on our list, you should consider shopping from the best brands below.
Warn is undoubtedly the top name in the Winch game. Having been in business for over 70 years, the history of the company alone proves that they know what they’re doing. Founded in 1948 by a man named Arthur Warn, the company was based out of Seattle, Washington.
Their initial product was a hub-locking mechanism for Jeeps in World War II. The company kept engineering new products, and in 1959, the very first recreational winch was born. Warn rose to the top of the market with their aggressive drive train and became the go-to for racers, off-roaders, and workers alike.
Throughout the 1970s, Warn expanded their line of products into electric and hydraulic winches, heavy-duty winches, and superb mounting systems. Warn became, and stands to this day, as the brand relied upon to provide off-road accessories for Ford, GM, and the makers of the Hummer.
Warn should be your first choice for winches if the price is no issue.
Mile Marker is a fantastic second contender to Warn. They have “been in business for over thirty years, providing high quality, highly durable, hydraulic and electric winches, mounting systems, locking hubs, snatch blocks, shackles, tow and rigging ropes, recovery kits, vehicle accessories and more to off-road motorists.”
With headquarters in Pompano, Florida, Mile Marker is a proud American company. They offer a 10% discount to veterans and boast the only winch approved for the US military’s Humvee (HMMWV).
Mile Marker winches are of extremely high quality and durability, and they may have the best hydraulic winches on the market.
Superwinch is a brand that has over 45 years of experience. They pride themselves in engineering, designing, building, and testing new innovations in the winch industry.
One of the companies with the largest product catalog, Superwinch, creates machines that can pull anywhere from 1,000 to 50,000 pounds. This makes Superwinch not just a leader in the off-road recovery genre, but also a leader in the industrial area. The first Superwinch products were designed for boats. Their 8,000 lb capacity was a leading tool in the fishing industry.
Always an innovative company, Superwinch was the first company to embrace the synthetic rope winches. The company designed specific winches that catered towards the unique load-bearing characteristics of synthetic rope and led the industry by selling winches with ropes included.
Today Superwinch has over 4 million winches in action and has four production facilities on four different continents.
The last on the list, but by no means the lowest level producer of winches, is Smittybilt. Smittybilt has a truly American story. What began as a small machine shop run by a man named Basil “Smitty” Smith, the company turned into a producer of off-road accessories when his son joined the team.
Smittybilt is credited with creating “the original “Nerf Bar” side step and tubular front and rear bumpers for Jeeps.” The company that had started in a garage now offers over 2,000 products and accessories. From bumpers and doorsteps to flashlights and top tents, Smittybilt is a diverse company that creates a product for every need.
The wide net that Smittybilt casts may be part of the reason why their winches are not up to the same standard as the other companies on the list. It’s hard to compare to a specialized brand when you are spread so thin.
Winch Accessories to Consider
While winches are the main event of the self-recovery circuit, there are many key players on the sidelines that can make or break a pull.
- Fairlead. Some winches will include a fairlead, but if they don’t, you should consider purchasing one, or even upgrading the one that it came with. The fairlead is the device that guides the cable at the opening of the drum. A good fairlead is smooth, so it doesn’t snag on the cord, and durable, so it doesn’t come loose in action.
- Hooks. The hook is the piece at the end of the winch that will be attached to something. This needs to be extremely sturdy for obvious reasons. The hook should also be anti-corrosive, as it will sit on the outside of the cover 24/7. You may want to invest in extra hooks in case one break or is lost.
- D-Ring shackles. These are metal closed hooks that are used in many different situations in off-roading. The rings allow you to create a closed-loop system at the end of your line, and they also let you attach your hitch to the tree saver straps below.
- Tree saver straps. These are a must for 4×4 recovery. They are a thick, flat cord that goes around a tree. You then attach the hook at the end of your cable to the D-rings at the ends of the tree saver and winch out from there. It’s imperative to have a tree saver strap and to not wind your cable around the tree, as that will create scarring in the bark and can even pull the plant over.
- Damper. This is not necessary for successful recoveries, but it is a useful safety device, especially if you choose to go with a steel cable. The damper is essentially a weighted bag that you place on your cable when pulling. The weight will force the cable to the ground if it happens to snap during use. It will also help prevent the snap-back effect that can happen when the cable breaks.
- Snatch block. A snatch block, also known as a block and tackle, is a pulley with mounting points for attachment accessories, like hooks or D-rings. Snatch blocks double the towing capacity of the winch and are important for angled recoveries.
A winch is no small purchase, and it’s important to know what you need the winch for before you begin to shop. Freezing, snowy locations will be better off with a hydraulic, steel-rope winch, while dry, desert areas are begging for an electric, synthetic-cord winch.
The all-around best winch for a 2020 Toyota Tacoma is the Warn ZEON 10-S Winch. If you’ve spent all that money on a midsize pickup truck, you don’t want to put its fate in the hands of a cheap accessory, do you?
- Wikipedia: Hydraulic
- Wikipedia: Pneumatic
- Wikipedia: Internal Combustion
- CJ Offroad: How to Use a Winch
- Mozaw: 2020 Best Truck Winch Reviews
- Four Wheeler: 4×4 Winching Guide & Winch Selection – Pulling Power
- Pierce: What type of winch do I need?
- Warn: ZEON
- Warn: ZEON 10-S
- Smittybilt: Home
- Mile Marker: H10500 – 10500 LB. HYDRAULIC WINCH
- Warn: VR EVO Winch
- Warn: Bumper Accessories
- Warn: Our History
- Mile Markers: History
- Superwinch: Corporate Overview
- Smittybilt: About Us
- Wikipedia: Fairbuilt
- Wikipedia: Block and Tackle