Winch Hooks vs Shackles vs Thimbles – 2021 Guide

| Last Updated: April 26, 2021

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Using the standard hook that comes with your winch isn't always the best idea for off-roading.

Shackles and thimbles are excellent alternatives for your winch that offer better grip and utility in many situations.

Looking at the summary shows the best usage for each part.

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Best For

Winch Hooks

  • Quick to use

  • Strong and durable
  • Heavy

  • Cables can easily slip out of the hook
  • Ideally used on chains and not straps as commonly carried in off-road vehicles. Great for quickly wrapping the winch cable around and object and reeling the winch in.

    Winch Shackles

    • Great for almost any usage

    • Quick to remove and replace the pin

    • Secure and doesn’t let cables slip out

    • Lighter synthetic rope options float on water
    • Can slip inside the winching system without a safety thimble

    Useful in many situations as it is versatile.

    Excellent for off-road usage due to handling of straps and cables.

    Winch Thimbles

  • Prevents winch system from eating the cable

  • Rounded and light to ensure it doesn’t snag on anything
  • Doesn’t provide a suitable contact point for anything except a shackle
  • A must-have if you’re using a shackle on your winch system.
  • Relevant Specs: Winch Hooks vs Shackles vs Thimbles

    The following table lists the four most relevant specs for winch hooks, shackles, and thimbles. The list looks at the average weight rating, materials, connection points, and variations of each part. 


    Winch Hooks



    Average Weight Rating


    18,000 to 20,000 pounds



    Steel, Aluminum Alloy

    Steel, Synthetic Rope


    Number of Connection Points





    Clevis Slip Hook, Open Hook

    Bow Shackle, Soft Shackle

    Safety Thimble

    Winch Hook: What is it Best For?

    Winch hooks are a helpful tool if you prefer the ease of use over practicality as the part quickly opens and closes. The hook is perfect if you're attempting to wrap the winch cable around an object such as a tree while you're off-road. Additionally, the hook offers a larger inner area and can grip around thicker cables with ease.

    The Clevis Slip Hook is the standard that comes with your winch in most purchases. If you can't afford the upgrade or enjoy using the stock option, the hook is an ideal choice.

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    The Standard Clevis Slip Hook 

    The standard hook used between winches is the Clevis Slip Hook. The piece offers a wide area to hold cables and straps. However, due to this more extensive area, it's possible for the item you're pulling to slip out at an incorrect angle.

    Most versions of this hook feature a small snapping clip that seals the hook area, preventing cables from escaping. The clip makes it easy to quickly wrap your cable around something and snap it closed without escaping any part of the hook.

    Winch Shackles: What Are They Best For?

    Winch shackles are a reliable alternative to hooks as they offer a more secure grip on your cables and straps. However, as the method to secure these items requires a screw, it often takes a few seconds before you finish opening or closing the shackle. Due to the design, this part is also more robust than the standard hook.

    You should use a winch shackle if you want a more reliable grip on straps and cables. However, the shackle needs adjustment before you begin pulling to ensure that the part doesn't pull at the wrong angle.

    How Does a Winch Shackle Work?

    A winch shackle is a D-ring type of clip that uses a screw pin to keep your cables together. Once the pin is screwed in, it's hard to remove without unscrewing it. However, the pin is also its weakest point, where pulling at the wrong angle will bend the shackle's ring.

    The smooth edges and lighter material allow the part to float and won't damage your winch cable. 

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    Winch Thimbles: What Are They Best For?

    Thimbles are an ideal choice if you're using a shackle. Without it, you're likely to wind the end of your cable into the winch itself. This act will damage your winch and the item secured to your shackle. The thimble is usable with hooks as well if you want to add the extra security and ensure you never wind too far.

    Thimbles are also ideal if you want to add a clean and snag-free end to your winch when not in use. Without a hook or shackle attached, the thimble will hold the cable in place as you drive.

    What Does Winch Thimble Do?

    A winch thimble's primary use is to prevent the cable from winding into the winch and damaging your system and the item you're pulling. The item is often smooth as it prevents any object such as clothing from hooking onto it and ripping.

    Overall, the thimble is a safety measure for your winch that works exceptionally well with a shackle.

    Winch Hooks vs Shackles vs Thimbles: Key Differences

    There are a few aspects that change depending on the part you use on your winch. Grip, weight, and safety are essential to deciding which piece you'll use when going off-road.

    Why Does Grip Matter?

    Grip explains how well the part holds any cables or straps that you're pulling with the winch. The better the grip of the item, the more reliable the item. Poor grip is a bad quality as it influences safety and can damage whatever you're reeling in. Additionally, a lack of grip may result in personal injury.


    Hooks have an inferior grip as once you begin filling the hook with cables and straps, the clip no longer snaps closed. This result causes the straps to pull off the book and fall, damaging the object connected to the straps. 

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    Shackles have excellent grip due to the pin screwing into place after all the straps and cables are inside them. This security ensures that no cable or strap escapes from the shackle. 


    The thimble's only gripping item is the shackle, which it firmly holds onto. Thimble only has two connection points that connect to your winch and a shackle. Thimbles also provide perfect grip on shackles as they hold onto one point without angling it too far.

    Why Does Weight Matter?

    Well, weight isn't an overly essential aspect; it can make your winch easier to operate. The weight of your hook or shackle will impact reeling speed and how it acts within the water.


    As the hook is typically made from steel, it’s the heaviest of all three options and will drag through the water. Swapping your hook for an alternative will increase its reeling ability slightly.


    Shackles are often very light as they're typically made from synthetic rope, letting them float on water. However, there are steel versions that are almost as heavy as hooks.

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    Thimbles are typically made from aluminum, making them lightweight yet still weighted. The parts will typically sink in water but won’t impact your winch as much as a hook.

    Why Does Safety Matter?

    Safety is an essential aspect to consider if you travel offroad. The sharp corners of parts can hook on your clothing or potentially injure you.


    Hooks are pointed and are the most likely to snag on your clothing. As there is considerable weight to the item, you may injure yourself severely if you fall on it. However, hooks can’t wedge themselves within your winch mechanism.


    Shackles are a safer option with only a tiny part of their construction that could snag on your clothing. The pin is the only piece of the shackle that can hook onto your clothing, although the chance is less likely than a hook's odds. 

    However, a shackle is the only option from the list at risk of getting pulled into your winch's system.


    Thimbles are some of the safest add-ons to your winch system, especially if you're using a shackle instead of a hook. The thimble prevents your shackle from reeling itself into the winch system. Additionally, the part is typically smooth and curved, making it near impossible for it to snag on your clothing.

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    Winners and Losers: Winch Hooks vs Shackles vs Thimbles

    Overall, winch shackles are the best option to purchase out of all three parts for your winch. The thimble is the safest option, while the hook is the easiest to use. However, shackles are the best due to their strength, opening size, and versatility.

    Safety: Winch Hook | Winch Shackle | Winch Thimble

    Strength:  Winch Hook | Winch Shackle | Winch Thimble

    Opening: Winch Hook | Winch Shackle | Winch Thimble

    Versatility: Winch Hook | Winch Shackle | Winch Thimble

    Ease of Use:  Winch Hook | Winch Shackle | Winch Thimble

    Best For Safety

    Thimbles have the highest safety rating due to their smooth and cornerless design that lets them brush against you or the ground without snagging on anything. Additionally, the part's primary purpose is to prevent loose cables or shackles from pulling too far in and getting stuck within your winching system.

    Easiest to Use

    A hook is the most accessible item to use, thanks to its simple clip design. If you're only hooking into a sole cable or strap, the part snaps closed around it without issue. However, For more challenging tasks, the item fails as it's one redeeming feature becomes useless.

    Best Overall

    Shackles are the best product overall for your winch due to the strength, versatility, and opening size. The piece is as vital as a steel hook in many situations if you choose to use the bow shackles. 

    However, the soft shackles are far lighter but have a lowered strength as well.

    The shackle works by completely opening its inside and then tightly closing with a pin that screws in. The opening itself is large enough to hold plenty of straps and cables without the chance of them escaping the hold.

    The part is also versatile due to the chain-like structure that easily clips onto chains or straps within moments.

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    Now that you know the basic differences between winch hooks, shackles, and thimbles, you can decide which one is best for any given situation. Knowing which is best for various applications will allow you to make an informed choice when using your winch.

    No matter which one you go with, be sure to put safety first when winching and ensure your cable is secure to avoid damage and injury. For ultimate safety, a thimble will be your best option, while a hook is the most intuitive to use. If the job you’re undertaking requires additional strength, your best bet is the shackle. We hope this article has given all the info you need to make your choice. 

    People Also Ask

    The following five points are some of the most commonly asked questions. These cover why the items are expensive, sizing, and whether or not winches are dangerous. Additionally, we'll explain why winch hooks don't spin and the difference between soft and bow shackles.

    Why Are Winch Thimbles So Expensive?

    While winch thimbles are small, they’re certainly not cheap. Buying one of these pieces will often set your budget back by more than $50.  This is due to the requirement and demand for the product. Additionally, the part is often made from durable metal that is costly to form into the thimble's shape.

    What Size Shackle For Winch Bumper?

    The size of your shackle gets determined by the diameter of the steel in the bow. The pin will be ⅛" larger than the stamped size of your shackle. It's essential that you don't measure the pin's size when trying to find the shackle sizing you need.

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    Why Don't Winch Hooks Spin?

    Winch hooks don’t spin due to the overall design of the winch. The cable design aids the lack of spinning as they're minimum slack, allowing for the rope to twist. Without twisting, your regular winch hook won’t spin.

    Are Open Winch Hooks Dangerous?

    Open winch hooks are dangerous while you're operating the winch as they may twist slightly and grab onto other objects. This action is dangerous as it can trip you or another person. Additionally, an open hook may slip from the object you're pulling and damage it.

    A non-moving winch hook is as dangerous as a pointed corner on a table, and if you fall on it, you may end up bleeding.

    What's the Difference Between a Soft Shackle and Bow Shackle?

    Soft shackles are intended as safe and lightweight to standard steel bow shackles. These parts remove a heavy and dangerous piece of the winching system and replace it with a lighter, safer option. Additionally, synthetic fibers' soft shackles are more likely to be flat and won’t drag through muddy water.

    I used to work in construction and landscaping, so I've seen my fair share of ratchet straps, winches, and similar rigging gear. I started Winch Central because I've seen some nasty accidents due to crappy rigging or poor practice. I wanted to be able to recommend good equipment that's SAFE and also provide resources for how its used. I handle the research side of things here as well as product selection for gear reviews.