Waffle boards, sand ladders, recovery tracks / boards, they are an essential part of every 4x4s equipment . They can be used to give extra traction when stuck in mud, can be used to bridge gaps or to make a ramp up otherwise insurmountable edges. But regardless of whatever you call them, they are not all equal….
Firstly, they need to be durable as they will most likely live on the outside of your truck, after all you won’t want them bringing the countryside into your truck after you use them. Secondly, they need to be relatively lightweight as again, they will live outside, hanging off your truck somewhere or go on the roof rack.
They come in either metal (steel or aluminium), glass fibre or plastic and each brings its own advantages and disadvantages.
Metal: these used to be the choice of the British military, often cut from sections of perforated steel planking used to make tactical runways or roads. They are quite light, look tough as nails and are usually fairly cheap. That said they have some major drawbacks: they work well as so called sand ladders, but when you need to bridge gaps or climb edges, they bend and fall short of the requirement. Even as traction mats, they can quickly distort. It’s worth noting that when you need to use steel ones in the mud or water, they will quickly rust.
Glass fibre: these are colossally strong and very cheap, coming in differing thicknesses to give heavier load bearing capabilities. They have a smooth lower surface and a heavily textured gritty upper surface which gives excellent traction. They can be used for bridging, climbing and even as a base for a farm jack on uneven or soft ground. But… they are very heavy, especially when the little square holes are full of mud – they are also a pain to clean after use. Be warned, the edges can splinter and the rough upper surface are hard on the hands, therefore gloves are essential.
Plastic: there are many different types on the market and the prices range from £50 to £350! They have many advantages though: they are lightweight, weather proof, come in many colours and are easy to clean. The current brand leaders seem to be MaxTrax, which get very good reviews as they perform well and the “grip teeth” can be replaced if they break or melt under wheel spin. They can be used as emergency spades and also stack together to make very sturdy bridges. They have mounting kits for spare wheels and roof racks and can be linked as a roadway. However, they are also the most expensive with very few outlets in the U.K. and inexplicably are typically around £100 more than they are anywhere else in the world (even when you take postage into account). At the cheaper end, Britparts and others make some sub £100 boards, but be warned, you get what you pay for – image below shows boards failure after one use in a muddy field!
Top tip – you will notice the blue rope on the image above: this is essential to allow you to pull your boards out of the mud or water without getting filthy. Buoyant nylon rope helps you find them in water, just don’t cut it too short and attach it well.
In summary, shop around and do your homework. We have a set of fibreglass boards in the Doka pickup and they never let us down (Equipment Review will follow). But as stated they are hugely heavy and I’m not sure I want to add that much weight to the increasingly heavy truck, so I will probably end up with some MaxTrax.
There are loads of reviews and comparisons on YouTube and they will help you decide. You might need to import your next set of boards. Buy the best you can afford and be aware of the limitations – in this case cheap is not necessarily good.