First, I want to thank all of you who have contributed to this post.
One of the most difficult problems with wheeling in unknown places is that it is unknown. It's nearly impossible to predict what you will run into. Because of this we must plan for the worst case situation. It is for this that a great winch is important.
If you choose to limit yourself to known trails with obstacles that are not severe enough to challenge your rig, or are always traveling with others, then one can get away with lesser equipment. To say that you always make sure you never get into a situation that would get you stuck is too great of a limitation for me. I want to go where I want to go. If I get stuck I want the capability to get unstuck. This, I believe, defines the differences to our approaches to the back country.
Please don't misunderstand. I'm no hero or backwoods expert. I just want to go where I want to go without limitations. Or at least, very few. But I have been on trails where it is obvious that my Jeep can't do the obstacles. Some trails at Moab come to mind. So, rather than be stupid and beat my Jeep up or, worse, break it, I turn around. Having good judgement is a big part of the wheeling experience. And judgement only comes with experience.
Excellent point, about different driving styles. I am one of those who limits myself only to known situations. Reason why, is because my jeep is almost bone stock, and I don't have a winch. I don't want to be that guy they have to call emergency services for. It does happen on a regular basis around here, where some tourist gets lost or stuck. They call out for airlift a few times a year here.
I do know the area well enough to be a guide, but that doesn't mean my rig is unstoppable, nor does it make me a hero.
I would like to get a winch someday, and beef up my jeep a bit. But until then I have to go easy on it. Money is the main issue for me. I always insist on getting the best possible or don't do it at all.
Based on my work experience, I decided on either a hydraulic PTO worm gear winch, or an 8274... just getta save up some large $$$ to do it. Places I used to work had a lot of $$$ (heavy equipment recovery and repair).