This is the 4th in a series on 4×4 vehicle recovery techniques and equipment, brought to you by 4×4 Mega World and SA4x4 Magazine and written by 4×4 guide, 4×4 instructor and overlanding specialist Bernie Williams. Each month’s content will be accompanied by a short video which you can view at the end of this blog.

Recovery tracks have a long history. In fact they probably go back as far as the advent of wheeled vehicles, in one form or another. Early explorers in the Namib resorted to wooden planks and plane tyres to get their thin-wheeled trucks through the soft sand.

Certainly, today’s tracks can trace their origins to the heavy perforated steel sheets called Marsden Matting, which the US army used from around 1941 to build stable landing platforms in the mud for planes and armoured vehicles.

Recovery Series: Part 4 - Recovery Tracks
Recovery Series: Part 4 - Recovery Tracks

The next development of the Marsden Matting, also called PSP for Perforated Steel Planking, was the use of lighter aluminium alloy instead of magnesium steel, and these were called PAP or Perforated Aluminium Planking.

This was the stuff adopted after World War II by overlanders who saw its value in adding traction and creating bridging sections. It was considered an essential if you were taking your Series Land Rover anywhere off into the unknown.

Versions of this were also adopted by militaries the world over – those heavily braced versions used on South Africa’s Eland reconnaissance vehicle being one of many examples.

Then came the hardcore Camel Trophy events, inspiring many more overlanders to bolt a set of bulky alloy tracks to the sides of their Landies. Sand ladders are a variation on the tracks, often stronger and better able to be used as a bridging section because of their beefy primary sections, and ideal for extra grip in sand, but, again, not exactly a convenient thing to carry.

Recovery Series: Part 4 - Recovery Tracks
Recovery Series: Part 4 - Recovery Tracks

Today we have tracks that are manufactured from lightweight steel or aluminium, and a new generation of ridged plastics. Their size still presents a packing issue, though a lesser one at typically 1.2-metres in length and 300mm wide, and they are most often seen strapped to a roof rack or fixed to the sides of a canopy using special brackets. The point is they have to be accessible.

A key advantage is that these tracks are lightweight: 4-5kg each, as opposed to 12kg and over for the heavier and longer alloy or steel versions. Budget tracks are available, but you get what you pay for. Often they do not nest so cannot be efficiently carried or stowed, they are too flexible, and the soft base material is easily destroyed by a spinning tyre.

And then there are the more expensive versions, including the original Maxtrax and the 4×4 Mega World brand, the TRED Pro. The latter version features a neat concave front end useful for digging, and hard glass-filled nylon ‘teeth’, which are moulded into the heavy-duty base material plastic to achieve the best of both worlds – flex and grip.

When you are in a fix, in mud or sand, or when climbing a steep cross-axle slope, these are a quick and easily deployed traction solution. We at 4×4 Mega World use them all the time when driving trails, and they’ve got us through some tough situations.  If you have used them in sandy conditions they can be shaken off pretty easily. But when used in mud, those deep channels get jammed with the stuff – clean them off when back in civilisation, and be thankful you sorted out a place outside the vehicle to mount your tracks.

Recovery Series: Part 4 - Recovery Tracks
Recovery Series: Part 4 - Recovery Tracks
Get it Right

If you are stuck and feel the need to use recovery tracks, there are a few steps that you need to follow:

  • Clear the path you intend to follow – either to the front or rear depending on which way you want to go.
  • Make sure that the tracks are inserted as deep as possible underneath the tyre, ensuring that it makes proper contact with it – if not, you are going to damage your tracks.
  • Avoid excessive wheelspin on the track, to minimise damage.
  • Retrieve your tracks when you are through the difficult section. Keep going in muddy or sandy conditions until you are out. Rather walk back to collect them than risk being stuck again.

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Recovery Series - Part 4

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For more videos on this multi-part recovery series, please go to Recovery Playlist here.