Sand Tracks, Sand Ladders, TRED and MAXTRAX Alternatives
Outback Australia can be a very inhospitable place. If you find yourself in the middle of a trip without being prepared for recovering your vehicle from sand, snow or mud, you might be in for a long night. So which sand ladder or track type recovery device is right for you? We've put together this comparison of products available from retail stores and online.
Despite the opportunity to use these types of products on a regular basis, many 4wd owners have accessorised their vehicles with sand ladders on roof racks, bumpers and bodywork for decades. We endeavour to show you what's available and how they perform.
Sand Ladder History
Undoubtedly, people have been making home made sand recovery devices since the development of the first motor vehicle and sand ladders are definately not a new invention. However, the first commercially available sand ladder was invented by the U.S. Army and commenced manufacture in 1941 called Marsden Matting. It was extremely functional and was primarily used for the fast temporary construction of air fields and vehicle tracks on soft and muddy ground. An estimated 800 million square feet of Marsden Matting was manufactured during World War II.
Later Marsden Matting became known as PSP (perforated steel planking) and was constructed from a magnesium steel alloy. It was also manufactured from aluminium and called PAP which weighed significantly less than it's steel counterpart. This military surplus PAP became the first sand ladders to be commonly used by 4wd enthusiasts and was popular on the roof racks of Land Rovers.
Sand Ladder Usage
Sand Ladders provide grip and level crossing for a 4wd vehicle in soft, sandy / snowy or muddy terrain. The device works by creating a much larger surface than the tyres can provide. Grip is then provided by perforations or lugs in the ladder surface so the tyres can latch onto them. Surface grip of the sand ladder is most important when in wet conditions where the tyre's adhesion properties are reduced.
If the sand ladder is rigid enough, it can be used as a bridging device to allow the vehicle to cross a deep rut or ledge. Bridging capability is desirable in a sand ladder and improves it safety. Being able to traverse washouts and ruts of considerable depth is an important feature of sand ladders.
Using a sand ladder as a ramp is not recommended as most will not be capable of supporting the weight of the vehicle as it climbs up the embankment. Often Sand Ladders are required to be doubled up in order to be used for ramps.
Sand Ladders are generally large bulky items that require storage space in your vehicle that could be used for many other potentially more useful products or food and water. This begs the question: how often will I need to use them? and what other functions can they be used for in order to make them a more valuable device. Useful attributes such as acting as a camp table or being used for flooring for a shower can justify the space sand ladders take up.
A Sand Ladder is any rigid formation of steel, aluminium or plastic device that provides some strength for use in bridging and ramping also.
A Sand Mat is a soft carpet-like device that is flexible and includes a variety of rubber matting and rolling segments.
Often Bridging Ladders are far more bulky and maintain a lot more strength when used in bridging or ramping configurations and their size should be considered when purchasing.
Steel and Aluminium Sand Ladders
There are many options in this category including Mantec Sand Tracks available from mantec.co.uk and the Sand Ladders from sandladder.net. These are replicas of the traditional PSP or PAP used by the military. They are often very large and bulky items and can be found to be slippery in wet circumstances due to the smooth surface of the top of them.
Sand Ladders look right at home on the roof of a Land Rover Defender. They have a distinct advantage in sand by being the widest and longest of all devices available and allow for enough momentum to keep the vehicle moving until free of the soft stuff.
While they are not intended for bridging and ramping, when doubled up, the steel and aluminium sand ladders can be used for this purpose.
- Good Sand Performance
- Many alternate uses such as shower floor, roof rack floor, camp table etc.
- Effective bridging device
- Classic rugged appearance
- Smooth surface reduces traction in wet conditions.
- Large size makes the pair difficult to store.
- Bridging effectiveness limited to a stacked pair and standard 4WD weight
Rubber, Carpet and Inflatable Sand Mats
This section covers a number of products including PillowTrack available from pillowtrack.com, X-Trax available from bushranger.com.au and a variety of home made solutions such as strips of carpet or shadecloth sewn into lengths for use in sand recovery.
The PillowTrack is the most unique of these devices and is marketed as a traction mat in the sand as well as a bridging and ramping device. It is a bladder of air that is inflated using your mouth or an air compressor. Unfortunately they provide limited support when used in sand and mud and have even more limited performance when used as a bridging and ramping device. They often tend to slide sideways when attempting to drive on them resulting in a poor recovery.
X-Trax and other recycled car tyre type mats are made from steel wire used to cable strips of rubber together to form a long mat to drive on. Similar in performance to strips of carpet or shade cloth, the X-Trax also provide limited support in sand and cannot be used as a bridge device.
- Easy to store.
- High-quality construction.
- Lightest, most compact recovery device.
- Limited performance in sand and mud.
- Limited performance as a bridging device.
- Rounded shape makes the units unstable for ramping and bridging.
- Rubber ribs tear away easily with even light wheel-spin.
- Slow to deflate for storage.
Plastic Sand Ladders
Plastic Sand Ladders are far more recent products to surface including the likes of MAXTRAX available at maxtrax.com.au and other cheaper alternatives like Tough Tracks available from toughtoys.com.au and are the modern day sand ladder.
Moulded in high visibility orange Fibre Reinforced Plastic, they stand out as a light weight, easy to handle alternative to the steel and aluminium counterparts. With moulded lugs for grip on the top and underneath, they work brilliantly for easy sand and mud recovery.
- Best performance in mud and wet conditions
- Lightweight, at 18 pounds for the pair
- No sharp edges
- Difficult to mount and store
- Limited capacity for ramping