Whether I'm at the trailhead or just gassing up my Jeep in town, I usually hear some variation of this question: "Is synthetic winch line worth the extra cost over steel cable?"
I have heard arguments for both sides, but from my experience, and what I run on my Jeeps, synthetic wins every time.
For starters, the weight savings is huge. On my XJ I've replaced the front bumper with a Smittybilt steel front bumper and bull bar. That alone is 140 pounds or so in front of my tires, before I even bolt on a winch. Then, when I look at the difference between the Q9500 with steel cable vs the Q9500 with synthetic, the synthetic saves me about 20 lbs. If you are keeping score, that is about a 10% weight savings. Now this may seem like a small number at first, but if you consider the front of your Jeep is where most weight is, you'll definitely want to save some weight where you can.
But that is only one small part of the story. The truth is, weight for weight, synthetic winch line is 11 times stronger than steel cable which makes another check in the win column. In fact, the 3/8th inch Quadratec Dyneema Synthetic Line is rated for 18,000 lbs which far exceeds most of the winches on the market.
Another advantage is the safety aspect of synthetic line. After years of use, steel cable can fray and rust, and that makes handling quite a bit more dangerous. Even when using gloves, those strands can easily puncture whatever protection you have and chew up your hands. When I am pulling line on the trail, I'd certainly rather be winching with a much more flexible and lighter line. As much as we might not like to admit, sometimes winch lines or cables break. When a synthetic line breaks, it drops to the ground because it's not storing kinetic energy like steel cable. I know I have seen several videos of steel cable snapping under load and whipping back toward the people standing on the side of the trail, or even the person operating the winch. I don't know about you, but I would hate to be on the business end of a flying cable.
I could go on for days about why I prefer synthetic line, but in my mind, it's well worth the investment. If you are looking to buy a new winch, the price difference between the two isn't drastic. If you already have a steel cable on your winch, you can buy just the Quadratec Dyneema synthetic line in your choice of 4 colors. In this video Rob explains a bit more about about the Synthetic winch line:
If you need to replace your steel cable with a synthetic winch line (and why wouldn't you?) - no sweat. We also have a video showing how to replace and pretension your new line: