A synthetic winch rope is a device used in place of the traditional steel cable used on winches. Commonly made of nylon and other materials including Kevler®, the synthetic winch rope is marketed as a much safer alternative to the traditional steel cable. Unlike steel cable, synthetic winch rope does not store energy, which is dispersed as a snapping and flying cable when broke. Other features of the non-wire alternative are the lack of loose frays that cut and injure hands, as well as the kinks and bends that make pulling the material off of the winch spool difficult at best.
Many off-road enthusiasts that employ a winch on their trail rides are beginning to change over from the traditional steel wire cable to a synthetic winch rope. The synthetic winch rope does not produce the injuries that are so common with the older steel cable. Steel cable frays and creates small razor-sharp strands of wire that can penetrate heavy leather gloves and cut hands deeply. The frayed cable is accentuated by the kinks and bends that make pulling on the cable a necessity, often leading to increased injury by forcing the frayed ends through a user's hands. The synthetic rope will not fray and injure the user in this manner, regardless of its age.
One of the most dangerous factors of using a winch stems from broken winch cable. When a steel cable is stretched too tight, it stores the energy of the stretched cable within the wire strands of the cable. When the cable breaks, the broken cable will typically snap back towards the winch like a rubber band. The cable will have the power to injure or kill anyone that it strikes while snapping back, making this a very dangerous condition. Another risk factor with this is that the steel cable typically gives no notice or warning sign that it is about to break.
With a synthetic winch rope, there is no stored energy in a broken rope. The broken end of the synthetic winch rope will commonly simply drop to the ground instead of flying through the air. Often, a loud snapping sound is all that will accompany a broken synthetic winch rope. As an added safety precaution, however, it is often recommended that a weight or a heavy blanket be placed over the taut synthetic winch rope to aid it in dropping quickly to the ground if it should happen to break.