Though it may seem that the most cliched purchase an upstart overlander can make is traction boards. While they immediately telegraph to onlookers that you get out in the dirt and intend to get stuck, they also reek of trying too hard. That’s because folks who never intend to take their rigs off pavement strap traction boards to their roof for the look of it.
Wince all you want at the prospect of appearing like a poseur mall crawler. But traction boards are worth every damn penny and can make swift work of what might otherwise be lengthy recovery. I myself just had a ‘thank god for traction boards’ moment on my last overlanding journey in remote southeast Oregon.
Although I had a winch and a land anchor onboard, the angle hill and the composition of the dirt would have made a winch-based recovery impossible. With my four traction boards deployed, the rig was freed in moments.
There are a few traction board manufacturers and their prices range from below $100 upward of $300. Picking which one is right for you depends on your budget and the warranty the manufacturer puts on the boards. Cheaper, less strongly constructed boards will shatter. Some brands offer a no-questions-asked replacement policy. And that’s great if the exploded boards get you unstuck. But all the free replacements in the world won’t help you, if they can’t also get you unstuck.
With that diatribe out of the way, let’s look at the best traction boards for overlanding — in alphabetical order, of course.
ARB — TRED Traction Pads
MAXTRAX is the brand that started the traction board craze. Before MAXTRAX, australians used ladders and stuff to get their rigs free. But MAXTRAX changed all that with its signature bright orange, flexible, stackable, and incredibly durable traction boards. These might be the most cliched traction board look, but I swear by them.
As always, they’re made in Australia, from Australian fiber-reinforced, engineering-grade nylon. They come with a lifetime warranty against manufacturing faults and workmanship. How you prove that, I am not sure.
READ MORE: TRIPS & TRAILS: SCHNEBLY HILL ROAD
Each MAXTRAX board has six built-in handles and a shovel on each end make MAXTRAX perfect for use in sand, snow, or mud. They’re 45 inches long and 13 inches wide and weigh eight pounds each. MAXTRAX boasts one of its boards was tested at the University of Queensland to completely wrap around a 33-inch tire without failure, while returning to shape.
RotopaX — RototraX Traction Boards
One of the newest entrants into the traction board space is RotopaX, known for its line of rotomolded smart and stackable fuel and water containers. It turned its plastics prowess on the traction board segment and made quite an impressive offering, RototraX
The mounting holes of the RotopaX traction boards line up with its 4 Gallon Rotopax container, which is a nice design. But note that the mounting holes will not line up with the 4.5 Gallon Fuelpax. Furthermore, only LOX and DLX Pack Mounts will work with RototraX
RototraX measure 45 inches by 13 inches and their mounting holes are 17.25 inches center to center. Of the lot, they’re the lightest at 11.5 pounds per pair. They come in Red, Blue, and Orange and OD Green colors are supposedly coming soon. RotopaX back the RototraX with a full one-year warranty on physically broken boards, no warranty for melted or warped boards. So, be gentle.
ROUGH COUNTRY — TRACTION BOARDS
Distinguishing themselves from the rest of the field, the Rough Country boards come with their own handy black tote bag, which is nice. They measure 45 inches long by 13 inches wide. They’re made from high-density material with a deep studded design for increased traction. The ends of the boards are ramped for easy entry. They’re not the snazziest looking traction boards, nor are they backed by a lifetime warranty. But they are the cheapest. So there’s that.
Rugged Ridge — Traction Recovery Kit
If you pick the Rugged Ridge traction boards, they come with a little shovel. Huzzah!
READ MORE: HOW TO FIND OVERLAND TRAILS
That’s not the only way in which the Rugged boards are different than the rest. They’re rated for use on vehicles up to 20,000 pounds — more than double that of the ARB TREDs. Plus, they’re backed by a five-year limited warranty. Again, it’s not clear what use would violate the warranty. So, recover carefully.
Smittybilt — All Element Ramps Traction Aids
Lastly, we have the Smittybilt and its straightforward named ‘all element ramps traction aids.’ It’s not branding that rolls off the tongue. But for the mid-level pricing, you may be willing to look past the weird name to their bona fides.
Each Smittybilt ramp can support up to 7,700 pounds. They’re made from heavy-duty nylon reinforced plastic construction. Carrying handles and sloped entry make for easy carrying and extraction. Like virtually all the others, they’re stackable. And they come with a nylon carrying bag. No word on the warranty, though, so tread lightly.
Header image: Smittybilt