by Christophe Noel

 

Spend enough time plying the road less traveled and you will eventually get stuck. While there are innumerable ways to restore forward momentum, one of the least complicated is the use of recovery boards. Some people call them sand or traction mats and should they be strong enough to span a small ditch, can even be dubbed bridging ladders. Regardless of what you call them, they’re a good thing to have when your wheels begin to spin in place.

Although they have been around for decades, there has been a noticeable resurgence in the number of products entering the marketplace. Some are little more than planks of wood coated with an abrasive material. Others are designed with highly evolved computer models and made of cutting edge materials. This buyer’s guide is not intended to recommend one solution over another, but rather to highlight the most current options.

Considerations before buying traction mats and bridging ladders

 

Intended purpose: While all of these products are suitable for extricating a vehicle from deep sand, snow, and mud, only a few are strong enough to span voids unsupported. Only a proper bridging ladder can reliably perform those duties without flexing dangerously or failing outright.

Materials: The materials used to make recovery boards is as varied as the designs themselves. Some are made of steel, aluminum, fiberglass, and various types of rubber and plastics. Some are rotary or injection molded, machined, or stamped from plate metals. The material, and how it is put to use, determine durability, weight, flexibility, and effectiveness. Some softer plastics can become quickly damaged in the event a wheel suddenly spins while others can simply fracture or bend irreparably. Although it’s not always a judge of quality, the less you spend, chances are the lower the quality the product will prove to be.

Bridging ladders: Whereas most mats are strictly designed to bolster traction, some are rigid enough to span small voids and shoulder the weight of a fully laden vehicle.

Size and features:  It is important to consider the length and width of a recovery board and put that variable in proper context with the size of tire it will be paired to as well as the conditions where it will most likely be used. It’s also worth noting that some mats will allow for more convenient mounting and storing options.

Bushranger


Bushranger’s mats are pliable tracks made of sections of heavy-duty rubber joined with lengths of reinforced cable. Each track can be rolled for easy portage and is designed to work with the natural contours of the surface below the tire for maximum grip.

X-Trax II

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Price: $249.00

Material: Rubber and steel cable

Dimensions: 55″ long, 11.8″ wide

Max weight capacity: N/A

Weight: 36 pounds/pair

www.bushranger.com.au

Crux Offroad 


Crux Offroad is a relative newcomer and their innovative take on the classic bridging ladder is not only strong, but extremely light relative to the loads they can shoulder. Available in standard length, extra long, and heavy-duty models, there is likely a solution for the type of vehicle you drive.

Standard and Extra Length Bridging Ladders

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Price: $349-$419

Material: Aluminum

Dimensions: 48” or 63” long, 16” or 18” wide

Max weight capacity: 2,000 pounds individually, 4,000 pounds per axle

Weight: 17 pounds

www.cruxoffroad.com

 

Heavy-duty Bridging Ladders

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Price: $429-499

Material: Aluminum

Dimensions: 48” or 63” long, 16” or 18” wide

Max weight capacity: 3,500 pounds individually, 7,000 pounds per axle

Weight: 23 pounds

www.cruxoffroad.com

Front Runner


Front Runner’s mats are constructed of 1/4″ thick fiberglass and as such are very flexible. The highly texturized coating with its absence of raised lugs affords maximum surface area of the tire to contact the mat. Light and thin, they are ideally designed to work well with Front Runner’s Slimline racks and because they have a flat and even surface, have multiple uses around camp beyond vehicle recovery.

Sand Lizard Rescue Trax

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Price: $222

Material: fiberglass

Dimensions: 45″ long, 10” wide

Max weight capacity: N/A

Weight: 12 pounds

www.frontrunneroutfitters.com

Mantec


Mantec has long been the gold standard for mats and bridging ladders. Made famous by Camel Trophy teams the world over, the classic all-metal Mantec recovery boards are built for the most demanding overland travelers. The exclusive distributor in North America is Rovers North.

Alloy Bridging Ladders 

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Price: $650

Material: Aluminum

Dimensions: 49″ long, 15” wide

Max weight capacity: undisclosed

Weight: 42 pounds

www.roversnorth.com

 

Alloy Sand Mats

Sand Tracks

Price: $445

Material: Aluminum

Dimensions: 60″ long, 17” wide

Max weight capacity: undisclosed

Weight: 28 pounds

www.roversnorth.com

Maxsa Innovations


Maxsa is by no means a big player in the off-road or overland world. A quick visit to their website reveals a wide range of products from porch lights to fleece blankets. Within their “off-road” catalog, which contains two products in total, are the newly updated Escaper Buddy traction mats. Most commonly sold through Amazon and eBay, these are little more than knock-offs of more reputable products. Their presence on this list should not be construed as any sort of endorsement. Buy them at your own risk.

Escaper Buddy

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Price: $250

Material: high-impact polypropylene

Dimensions: 47″ long, 12” wide

Max weight capacity: N/A

Weight: 17 pounds

www.maxsainnovations.com

 MaxTrax


 MaxTrax is arguably the most trusted name in traction mats and the the brand most frequently imitated or copied. Their MkII mats are available in a variety of colors with multiple mounting options. Considered by many as the most reliable recovery board on the market, their unique material compound allows the MkII to flex to extreme curvatures without breaking.

MaxTrax MkII

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Price: $299

Material: UV-stabilized reinforced nylon

Dimensions: 45″ long, 13” wide

Max weight capacity: N/A

Weight: 15 pounds/pair

www.maxtrax.com

OK Offroad


 OK Offroad is a retailer of various 4×4 parts and accessories including aluminum and fiberglass rescue boards.  Their Waffle Boards, sold by various retailers the world over, are classics which have been widely used for decades. Their aluminum mats are similar to those sold under other names as well and also have a proven track record.

XD Aluminum Sand Ladders

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Price: $250

Material: aluminum

Dimensions: 48″ long, 12” wide

Max weight capacity: N/A

Weight: 20 pounds/pair

www.okoffroad.com

 

XD Aluminum Sand Ladders

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Price: $324

Material: aluminum

Dimensions: 60″ long, 16” wide

Max weight capacity: N/A

Weight: 32 pounds/pair

www.okoffroad.com

 

HD / XD Waffle Boards

waffleboard-2

Price: $199, $229*

Material: fiberglass

Dimensions: 48″ long, 12” wide *The XD version is 2″ thick versus the 1.5″ thickness of the HD board

Max weight capacity: undisclosed

Weight: 17 and 19 pounds/pair

www.okoffroad.com

Pronghorn


 Pronghorn Gear started making modular bumpers for Wranglers and Tacomas and has since expanded their offering into other products and accessories. Their unique traction mats come in two widths and can be made into custom lengths by adding extra links.

LinkTrac All/Terrain

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Price: $470

Material: aluminum

Dimensions: 55″ long, 10” wide

Max weight capacity: 15,000+

Weight: 32 pounds/pair

www.pronghorngear.com

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Smitty Built


Smitty Built is well known throughout the four wheel drive world for their price minded accessories. This is another example of a product that demands careful research before purchase. Reviews are mixed at best.

Element Ramps

smittybilt_element_ramps

Price: $149

Material: nylon reinforced plastic

Dimensions: 45″ long, 12” wide

Max weight capacity: 7,700 pounds per axle

Weight: 16 pounds/pair

www.smittybuilt.com

Tuff Stuff 4×4


Tuff Stuff 4×4 is a retailer of off-road accessories and their traction mats appear to be identical to those sold under the Smitty Built label.

Tuff Stuff Recovery Track

smittybilt_element_ramps

Price: $129

Material: nylon reinforced plastic

Dimensions: 45″ long, 12” wide

Max weight capacity: 7,700 pounds per axle

Weight: 16 pounds/pair

www.tuffstuff4x4.com

Traction Jack


 Traction Jack is another new product within the last few years. The folding design greatly reduces the storage size and opens up many options for mounting. The low-profile lugs reduce the build up of mud making for easier cleanup. The central hinge also allows the mats to better fit the contours of the terrain to maximize traction.

Traction Jack

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Price: $199

Material: poly-composite

Dimensions: 52″ long, 12” wide

Max weight capacity: 35,000+

Weight: 28 pounds/pair

www.tractionjack.com

TRED


New to the market as of 2012, TRED has become widely accepted and distributed throughout North America and within their native Australia. Their most recent product uses an innovative dual-compound construction that reinforces the lugs to prevent them from damage in a recovery scenario. Computer aided lug designs also allow the sides of the mat to better connect with the water purging channels on most tires.

TRED Pro

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Price: $299

Material: dual compound-composite

Dimensions: 46″ long, 12” wide

Max weight capacity: undisclosed

Weight: 17 pounds/pair

www.tred4x4.com

 

TRED 1100

TRED11-4

Price: $179

Material: patented compound

Dimensions: 42.5″ long, 12.5” wide

Max weight capacity: undisclosed

Weight: 13 pounds/pair

www.tred4x4.com

 

TRED 800

J104911

Price: $145

Material: patented compound

Dimensions: 31″ long, 10.5” wide

Max weight capacity: undisclosed

Weight: 13 pounds/pair

www.tred4x4.com

 

 

 

 

 

Buyer’s Guide: Traction Mats

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About the Author: Christophe Noel

Christophe Noel is Expedition Portal's Editor and the Senior Editor for Overland Journal. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.