If you’re any self-respecting, serious 4WD enthusiast, you probably have an assortment of high tensile cords or rope, tow winches, carabiners and hooks lying around in the cab or in your garage. These, of course, signify your saving grace during times of hardship and getting bogged down in sand or mud while adventuring.
Among this pile of trusty tools should lie your 4WD Recovery Tracks. Also called “recovery boards” or the more commercial name, “Maxtrax”, these pieces of mobile traction are an indispensable utility in your offroad arsenal. Read on to find out Everything You Need to Know About 4WD Recovery Tracks.
What are recovery tracks?
Tire-width, platform boards that provide traction for bogged vehicles.
While the idea of towing a mobile anything has been around since even before automobiles, 4WD recovery tracks are a relatively recent consumer innovation. From Maxtrax’s website, the inception of this new-fangled invention came in 2001 to Brad McCarthy after a particularly frustrating day trying to save his precious 4WD from being swallowed by the incoming high tide.
4WD recovery tracks may come in a variety of different sizes and shapes, but typically share three features:
- The spiky, slightly-curved, traction side,
- A flat bottom, and
- Thick construction (to maintain structural integrity while supporting heavy vehicles)
The actual item looks a bit like a mini toboggan, with lots of protruding spikes and ribbing on one side and an almost completely flat surface on the other. While they look odd (and certainly intimidating to some), the design is purpose-built; each feature has its own function which we will describe next.
How do you use recovery tracks?
The flat bottom of the track is used as a shovel, while the spiky side is used for traction.
When bogged down in a trail, step out of the vehicle and assess the situation. Chances are, your tires have probably fashioned themselves a nice, deep impression on the uneven track and are spinning aimlessly in the muck.
Fear not. This is normal!
Steps to follow when recovering your 4WD using recovery tracks
- Using your recovery tracks, use the flat bottom as a shovel and clear the affected wheels of any obstructions or loose, mucky terrain (you may need to use full-length shovels, depending on how deep your wheels have receded).
- Once you have cleared enough space for your wheels to move forward, flip your recovery track over and wedge the traction side in between your wheels and the trouble surface. Make sure that the tracks are aligned with the wheels and are placed in the direction you want to move (the rear tires if you want to go in reverse, and the front tires if you want to move forward).
- At this point, keep your 4WD in low gear and very carefully rev on the accelerator. The last thing you want to do when you’re at this stage is to floor on the gas, spin your wheels against the recovery track and cause unnecessary damage to your equipment. If you feel like your wheels are spinning, stop, reposition the track, and try again. Slowly accelerate when you feel that your wheels have “bitten” into the track and continue this momentum until your vehicle is free!
- Step out of the vehicle when you have fully recovered and store your recovery tracks.
Remember; whether or not you are 4WD’ing alone or with company, make sure people are a safe distance away from your vehicle when attempting a recovery.
What kinds of recovery tracks are there?
There are a wide variety of recovery tracks that each operate a little differently.
Several recovery track types include:
- Traction mats: stackable, soft, traction treads best used for recoveries on soft terrain
- PillowTracks: inflatable “pillow” with high-friction treads, useable for most surfaces
- Muputrax: a solid board that looks like a grate; can be used as a ladder or ramp if needed
- Fiberglass boards: fiberglass treads (not recommended as they have a tendency to break)
- MaxTrax: top-of-the-line recovery tracks with lots of utility; not recommended as a ramp
Recovery tracks should not be confused with “bridging ladders”, “ramps” and “jacking plates”; these pieces of kit are used exclusively to get your 4WD out of ruts and slogs. While ladders and ramps may be used for recoveries, their main functions are different; they are used as tracks to cover gaps in rocky, uneven terrain. Jacking plates are used as base plates for hydraulic or press jacks for repairs.
Keep in mind that ladders are usually made of less durable material, and may break or warp if you decide to use them as recovery tracks. Use recovery track substitutes at your own peril.
What are the best brands of recovery tracks?
Muputrax, TRED tracks or MaxTrax are reliable tracks to purchase.
As stated previously, there are a myriad of choices when it comes to selecting what kind of recovery tracks are best for your 4WD off-roading purposes. However, these three brands take the cake for the most useful and reliable recovery tracks:
(Multi-Purpose Tracks), are a good choice for individuals who are looking for more versatility in their recovery tracks. The overall construction on Muputrax is tough, solid and rugged, which makes them a perfect substitute for bridging ladders and ramps (check actual weight specifications for your 4WD) on top of recovery tracks. They are made of industrial-grade resin. In addition, the material used for Muputrax is soft enough for skin, so feel free to use them as shower bases, path surfaces, mats for your pet, or even benches and tables if you have the right support.
(“Total Recovery and Extraction Device”, from their website) is a decent pick for enthusiasts looking for little else than a reliable recovery track. TRED tracks have traction cleats spread all throughout the top of the track, with a flat bottom side for shoveling. The platform with which your tires grip on have traction treads built-in (as well as the cleats), to ensure a firm hold. TRED tracks are made from composite nylon material; purpose-built so your recovery tracks maintain the right balance of strength and durability as you power through bogs.
These are the ultimate pick for recovery tracks. While TRED tracks and Maxtrax have much in common in terms of features and overall useability, Maxtrax have been around in the market for much longer and have fine-tuned their products for maximum cost-to-value ratio. Maxtrax uses industrial engineering grade nylon as its material (like TRED tracks), but feature linkable ends, carry handles and roof-ready racks. MaxTrax also boasts weight stresses; their products capable of supporting up to 6000 kg (almost 7 tons!) on their website, so keep this in mind if you own a heavy 4WD.
What are the benefits of having recovery tracks?
They’re like off-road, bog-proof insurance.
Being bogged down in mud or caught in sandy ruts are all part of the 4WD experience. Sure, you can use a tow winch or a chain link to pull your way out of a pickle, but typically this will require another 4WD powerful enough to take on the vehicle in distress. In addition, towing your vehicle can place additional stress on your suspension, depending on how stuck you are.
You can use recovery track substitutes, but you run the risk of damaging the substitute track (be it a bridging ladder, ramp, spare tire or even large rock) or even breaking it entirely. In worst-case scenarios, the lack of appropriate cleats or ribbing can even damage your tires.
4WD recovery tracks are built basically with the sole purpose of getting you unstuck in the simplest, safest, most cost-effective way possible. When you think about it, you could burn through more fuel and place additional wear-and-tear on two 4WD’s if you stick with “towing” as a way to get you out of trouble. You risk destroying other pieces of kit if you are cheap and try to use recovery track substitutes as they either aren’t built to support heavy loads or don’t have the right traction (which can also damage the treads on your tires!).
You also support the local economy! Most recovery tracks are made in Australia and use locally-produced materials to create their products. With demand increasing in other countries like the United States, you can take pride in knowing that you have contributed in your own way to supporting local products and advertising their use and relevance in the international market. More power to you!
Personally speaking, 4WD recovery tracks are a great tool to have with you if you should find yourself adventuring in the outback alone (although lone 4WD’ing is not recommended). Do yourself a favor and invest in some anti-towing and anti-bog insurance A. K. A. 4WD recovery tracks! Most of them will have a lifetime warranty, undergone years of research and development and are cheaper than most other 4WD recovery methods.