Synthetic Rope VS. Steel Cable – Which One Is Better?

When it comes to choosing between steel cable vs. synthetic rope, there seems to be a major divide amongst off-road enthusiast. You often hear the pros and cons of both types of rope which makes it difficult to make the right decision. So, you need to understand them before making a choice between the two rope.

For the past two decades, synthetic rope’s popularity has skyrocketed. But is it the ideal choice for you?

Most probably, Inherent safety is the biggest difference between synthetic rope and steel cable. Though we’re fans of synthetic rope, we think a comparison between steel cable and the synthetic rope will help you to choose the right rope for your winch.

I’ve put together the pros and cons of both ropes to make your choice a little more clear and easy!

I’m pretty sure that, you will able to make the right decision after reading this article. To pick the right winch for you, you’ll need to consider some other factors such as winch capacity, winch gear types, motor types etc.

Synthetic Rope VS. Steel Cable

Steel Cable

Since the beginning of winching, steel cable has been the industry standard for decades. They’re made of strong, aircraft-grade steel cable. They’re perfect for use on highly abrasive terrains like mud, sand and rocks because they are less prone to abrading and fraying.

Steel cable is also more affordable than synthetic rope and requires less maintenance. They’re good for both recovery and utility work. While using a steel cable, the user should wear heavy gloves to protect his hand while handling the rope.

Some wheelers keep the line coated with chain oil or WD-40. This protects the steel and disperses moisture, preventing rust. Steel also tends to kinks which makes it difficult to spool up on the drum correctly.

The major downside of them is the wear and tear a steel cable can place on your winch if it were to become burred, rust or frayed. Using a damaged still cable will erode and damage your winch.

A damaged steel cable can break while using and can cause a serious accident to you and your vehicle. It’s a good rule to inspect your cable for damage periodically to avoid this accident.

Pros and Cons of Steel Cable


UV stable, Strong and durable


Last for a longer time

Less Expensive

Require less maintenance


Doesn’t float

Difficult to handle

Heavy, Can Rust

Can create wear and tear on your winch.

Frays or burrs, steel splinters

Prone to kinks

Harder to fix a break in the field.

Synthetic Rope

The synthetic rope was first introduced in the 90’s. That time, it was introduced as a safer alternative to the steel cable. Nowadays, the popularity of synthetic rope is becoming greater and much more widely available.

It is constructed from hi-tech polyethylene and proven to be 15 times stronger than the first one. They’re considerably safer than the steel cable.

The less weight and high flexibility make it much safer and easier to handle the rope than the steel cable. Also, it won’t develop the burrs, which make it safer to handle without gloves. But if you use it without care, this will cause knots.

Synthetic rope is even mandatory in many big sanctioned off-road events. They’re 4 times lighter in weight than steel cable and doesn’t store energy like the steel cable. So, if the cable break, it’s not projectile like the steel cable.

Though the synthetic winch rope has a higher breaking strength, it is breakable. But if a rope break, you can repair it in the field with proper braiding techniques.

So, if synthetic rope offers you a lot of excellent features, why would you run for steel cable? Well, it has some downsides too.

All the synthetic ropes are not made equal. They can be weakened by heat, chemicals and UV exposure. But high-quality ropes come with a protective coating to prevent these kinds of damages. This rope can also hold water which could add extra weight and make the winch difficult to use.

Synthetic rope also requires special maintenance than the steel cable. You should wash the rope after every use especially after using in sand or muddy situations.

Pros and Cons of Synthetic Rope


Stronger, Lightweight

Doesn’t store energy

Flexible and easier to handle

Can be repaired in the field if it breaks

No kinks or permanent coiled shape

Great for snow plow applications

Resist Rust

Floats in mud/water


Subject to internal fraying by sand and dirt

Can retain water and freeze

Requires extra UV protection

More expensive

Needs to be washed regularly


That’s all. I’ve stated almost everything you need to make the right choice. Now it’s up to you make the decision.

If you know which one will be good then you can check our x bull winch review or smittybilt winch review or warn winch review.

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