What Is A Winch Fairlead: Things You Need To Know

Winch fairleads are pretty darn important. It’s an essential part of your winching equipment. You need to know what is a winch fairlead for choosing an appropriate one to keep your winch rope in order and safe from damage during a winch pull.

So in this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about this crucial part of your winch system.

Let’s get started.

What Is A Winch Fairlead?

I know it’s a common question what is a fairlead, especially since everyone who has used a winch wants to know how it works or what are the functions of a fairlead.

A fairlead guides the rope or cable to the winch drum safely. It provides a smooth pull from your winch, by allowing the rope/cable to move along the line without any slip or friction. 

Their primary function is smooth feeding of the winch cable and protection from any potential damage. You can find heavy duty winch roller fairlead or steel hawse fairlead and many more in the market to serve this purpose.

The winch fairlead dimensions vary depending on the brand and the model.

Do I Need  A Fairlead On My Winch?

Yes, it’s important to have a winch fairlead. Without a fairlead, there is a risk of breaking the winch cable as it will scratch against sharp edges of the vehicle causing the line to damage over time.

Also, a fairlead guides the winch cable into the spool smoothly.

What Does A Winch Fairlead Do?

A fairlead prevents the winch cable from wear and tear by protecting it from scratching against the sharp edges of the bumper. It stops your winch cable from winding completely on one side of the spool.

When you need to hook up to something at an angle to winch yourself out, it serves as a pivot point for the cable.

Types Of Fairleads

 There are three different types of winch fairleads that you can choose from:

  1. Roller winch fairleads
  2. Aluminum hawse fairleads
  3. Steel hawse fairleads

Hawse fairlead vs Roller fairlead

As we can see, fairleads are primarily of two types, Roller fairleads and Hawse fairleads. Here in this segment, we are going to learn what roller fairleads are and what is a hawse fairlead.

Roller Fairlead: 

Roller fairleads are common fairleads that have been in use for a while and come with a lot of winches. It uses two horizontal and two vertical rollers, allowing the winch cable to be spooled smoothly. These are usually made out of steel.

Roller fairleads are heavier and contain quite a few moving parts. These can be used for both synthetic and steel winch cables. They are around 10lbs-13lbs and bulge 3.5-4″ from the fairlead mounting surface.

Hawse Fairlead :

These simple fairleads are crafted from a single piece of machined aluminum or cast iron. Hawse fairleads have no moving parts and thus won’t break under normal abuse.

With a steel hawse fairlead, you can use both synthetic and steel winch cable. However, if the hawse fairlead is made of aluminum, you should use a synthetic winch cable. They are lighter than roller fairleads and weigh around 2lbs-5lbs depending on the material.

Due to the slim appearance it offers, this type of fairlead is becoming more popular today.

Are Winch Fairleads Universal?

Yes, winch fairleads are universal. Both types of them are mounted with 2 bolts that are 10” apart. Center opening is usually 1” wide. This is the standard winch fairlead dimensions.

However, it can vary depending on the manufacturer, a bigger hole such that on a Factor 55 fairlead may be necessary for some larger synthetic rope thimbles.

If you don’t have a mounting surface for the fairlead, then you will have to buy an aftermarket winch fairlead bracket. Check out this winch fairlead mount, it will work with most warn winch fairlead or another common aftermarket roller or hawse fairleads.

For protecting the fairlead from any damages during offroad ventures, you can use a high-quality winch fairlead cover. Unfortunately covers are mostly vehicle-specific, so while buying one be sure to carefully check if it is suited for your fairlead.

How To Get A Winch Hook Through A Fairlead?

Getting the winch rope through the fairlead is pretty simple. If you already have a hook attached to your winch rope, then first take it off.

Remove the pin that connects the hook to the rope and then simply slide the rope through the central opening of the fairlead. It’s that simple!

If the rope isn’t passing through the central opening of the fairlead then you will need one with a bigger hole such that on a Factor 55 fairlead. 

Here’s a video you can watch to see how it’s done:

Winch Fairlead For Synthetic Rope

If you have a synthetic winch rope, then you should know that it is better to use a hawse style fairlead. You can use a roller fairlead with synthetic rope but it is not preferred by professionals.

Compared to roller fairleads, a hawse fairlead is lighter and smaller. Regular inspections and installation are simple. It all comes down to your personal preference.

Which One Should You Pick?

When it comes to selecting a fairlead for your winch, the choice ultimately comes down to the type of winch you have and how you plan to use it.

For steel cable wire winches, a roller fairlead is the recommended option. On the other hand, if you have a synthetic rope winch, a hawse fairlead is the best choice.
It’s worth noting that in most cases, a fairlead is included in the winch package, but if you are buying a used winch or one without a fairlead, you can determine the type of fairlead needed based on the cable wire type being used.

Additionally, you can choose between aluminum or hard steel fairleads based on your winch type.

Can you use a roller fairlead with a synthetic winch rope?

The simple answer is yes. But there are some things you need to take into consideration while opting out for this setting. Make sure that the winch fairlead rollers are free from scratches and scuffs because these can cause damage to the synthetic rope.

Can you use an aluminum fairlead with a steel cable?

No. Aluminum fairleads are specifically made for synthetic winch ropes. A steel winch cable will tear through a typical aluminum fairlead because aluminum is softer than steel. So, you need to use a fairlead made of steel if you own a steel winch cable. 

How far should the fairlead be from the winch?

The fairlead bolts to the front of the winch. If you are using a fairlead mount, then it usually sits between the winch and the bumper surface. There is no minimum distance that needs to be maintained while mounting. 

Final Thoughts

From guiding the winch rope to protecting it from sharp corners, all of this is done by a fairlead. With so many choices, it can be hard to choose the right one that fits your needs. I hope that this guide helps you decide which type will work best for you.

Good luck, and happy winching!

Ricardo Vaughn
Ricardo Vaughn

Vaughn is a seasoned off-roading expert and professional winch specialist. When he's not out on the trails, he shares his knowledge and experiences through his writing as a blog author in the off-roading and outdoor lifestyle space.

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