Kinesin and dynein motors transport intracellular cargos bidirectionally by pulling them in opposite directions along microtubules, through a process frequently described as a 'tug of war'. While kinesin produces 6 pN of force, mammalian dynein was found to be a surprisingly weak motor (0.5-1.5 pN) in vitro, suggesting that many dyneins are required to counteract the pull of a single kinesin. Mammalian dynein's association with dynactin and Bicaudal-D2 (BICD2) activates its processive motility, but it was unknown how this affects dynein's force output. Here, we show that formation of the dynein-dynactin-BICD2 (DDB) complex increases human dynein's force production to 4.3 pN. An in vitro tug-of-war assay revealed that a single DDB successfully resists a single kinesin. Contrary to previous reports, the clustering of many dyneins is not required to win the tug of war. Our work reveals the key role of dynactin and a cargo adaptor protein in shifting the balance of forces between dynein and kinesin motors during intracellular transport.