If you are going off-road, you are bound to get stuck at some point — it doesn’t matter if you are an experienced veteran or you are just starting out. Having the best tires for your vehicle and the most powerful 4x4 capabilities can help a lot on varying terrains, but it still won’t always prevent snow, ice, sand, and mud from sometimes bringing your van to a halt.
Fortunately, there are tools that exist to get you out of these situations when they arise. Recovery boards are a must-have for anyone wanting to venture out into the wilderness. While you may rarely have to break them out, this accessory is likely to be one of the most valuable additions you ever make to your adventure van.
Below, we’re going to get into everything you need to know about recovery boards — what they are exactly, how to use them when your van gets stuck, and our top recommendations for specific models.
What Are Recovery Boards?
Also called “tire traction boards,” recovery boards are simple plank-like devices (they look similar to children’s sleds) that allow a vehicle’s tires to regain traction when they have gotten caught in mud, sand, ice, snow, or rocks.
In the past, those who got stuck while off-roading would have to find natural items in the vicinity, like branches, rocks, logs, etc., to use to try to nudge their vehicle out of the ground. Now, we have access to these tools that employ spikes, gripping, and treading — they work much better, are more consistent, are safer for adventurers, and are simple to use.
Different types of recovery boards are made out of different materials, although all are made to be as durable as possible. They can be either flexible or rigid and are generally easy to store in a van or mount on the outside of a van. The best models are also extremely lightweight, making it possible for one person to manage to get a vehicle dislodged without the assistance of others.
Below are two standard types of recovery boards that are out there on the market today:
Rigid Traction Boards
These boards are hard for the most part (but still slightly bendable and usually constructed with plastic or plastic and metal). The dimensions of most models are approximately 1’ by 4,’ and they are designed to easily stack on top of each other for specific vehicle recovery situations. The stacking also helps to take up minimal storage space in your van.
Roll-Up Traction Mats
As the name implies, this type of recovery board is flexible enough to roll up: They’re made out of plastic or rubber, and their bendability allows them to fit better the contours of whatever your van is stuck in.
Coming in around the size of a sleeping bag, they’re effortless to pack away for later use. It’s worth noting that traction mats cannot be used for leveling or bridging situations like the boards can be.
The 7 Best Recovery Boards for Your Van
Here is a short list of our top recovery board picks for adventure vans:
Maxtrax Recovery Boards
The Maxtrax MKII recovery boards are a great option if you’re looking for rigid traction boards rather than mats. They’re designed and constructed in Australia by off-road enthusiasts who know exactly what recovery boards need — a fiber-reinforced, engineering-grade nylon body with six built-in handles and a shovel on each end.
All their recovery boards and other accessories come with a lifetime warranty, so you can trust that you’re getting a quality product for your van.
X-BULL New Recovery Traction Tracks
X-BULL also makes high-quality rigid-style recovery boards. They have a ten-ton load capacity, and their raised tracks will help prevent your van’s tires from spinning on snow, ice, sand, and mud. This company is dedicated to helping everyone, not only professionals, enjoy off-roading. X-BULL strives to keep its products affordable without sacrificing any quality.
Rhino Recovery Boards
These recovery boards are slightly smaller than the previously mentioned models, but they’re just as durable and can withstand the same pressure. These might be the right option if your van is on the smaller side or you’re tight on storage space.
Rhino is a small, family-owned, California-based company passionate about the off-roading lifestyle. Their recovery boards have a lifetime warranty, and shipping is free for orders over a set amount (typically, this number is over $50).
Maxsa Escaper Traction Mats
These traction mats from Maxsa are bendable but don’t roll up. They’re on the bigger side and can hold the weight of virtually any vehicle.
Each mat in the pair has six handles, and the mats stack together to save space. The grooved tracks in each mat are raised very high, providing maximum grip and traction for your van’s tires.
Orcish Traction Boards
Orcish traction boards are an attractive deal: They come with four mounting pins for external storage and a carrying bag for extra convenience. They’re suitable for all terrains; both sides of each board can temporarily act as shovels for digging out of snow and sand.
The special teeth that stick out of the surface will give your van additional traction and can bend up to 150 degrees without breaking: This is handy if your van is stuck in uneven terrain.
Speedmaster Roll-Up Rubber Tracks
If you want to go for the more compact and lightweight traction mats, check out the Speedmaster Roll-Up Rubber Tracks. They’re made of environmentally engineered rubber linked together by galvanized steel cables, and this set is form-fitting to any terrain that can pose a threat. Plus, the package has a compact strap bag for easy storage in your van.
The Speedmaster Roll-Up Rubber Tracks can deal with up to 10,000 pounds of pressure and temperatures between -58 degrees Fahrenheit to 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
GoTreads Traction Mats
These recovery boards are a hybrid of the rigid and the roll-up styles. They’re made of linked sections of rigid nylon and fold like an accordion. They’re easy to store under a seat or in a trunk, are made in the USA, and come with a lifetime warranty. For adventure vans, these treads can also work as a leveler.
Why Do You Need Recovery Boards/Traction Mats?
Some might wonder why they should have traction mats, especially if they only rarely go off-road. Even if you’re not an avid off-roader, this tool is essential for any adventurer for a variety of reasons:
They Keep You Out of an Off-Road Emergency
If you are venturing into a remote area, and even if there is a low chance that your van will get trapped in it, having recovery boards can mitigate roadside emergencies. Your travel party will be safer, and you can explore with the extra peace of mind that you won’t get stuck on an icy trail or sandy beach.
The technology is very simple, so there is little room for product error — no relying on WiFi or cell service. While recovery boards are simple, they are still remarkably effective. You can depend that even the most lightweight models can get you out of many of the sticky situations you may encounter.
They’re a Lifesaver When Traveling Solo
Recovery boards can get you out of trouble if you are adventuring solo. When you don’t have extra bodies to help push a vehicle out of a ditch, these tools can get you going again with only the strength of one person.
Finding a log or rock to use as a traction tool in the area may help you recover a vehicle, but it can be relatively dangerous and is generally not recommended. The process of getting unstuck with recovery boards is easy, and it is safe if you follow the protocol.
They Can Save You from Towing Costs
Especially if you are an avid off-roader, investing in a high-quality pair of recovery boards can save you money, time, and headaches down the road. A carefully-curated selection of emergency van essentials could reduce the chance of needing to call rescue services for a tow truck to come and help you get free.
How Do You Use Traction Mats? 9 Steps
Stop Driving and Grab Your Traction Mats
If you get into a situation where your vehicle feels trapped, and the gas pedal is just spinning the wheels, stop trying to drive — giving the van more gas won’t do you any good. Put the van in park, and grab your recovery boards or mats from wherever you’ve stored them.
Remove Rubble and Debris
It’s time to take a closer look at the area around the bottom of your van; clear away any debris and rubble near the tires and chassis. This creates a better path for the vehicle to move forward and will make the whole process safer.
Wedge the Mats Under the Tires
Take one end of each mat and wedge it firmly into the space where the tire meets the ground. Try your best to keep the mat or board as low as possible.
Clear the Area of Bystanders
Double-check that all members of your travel party are standing back at a safe distance from the vehicle before you attempt to regain traction. If the weight of the van shifts unexpectedly, it can be dangerous to anyone standing nearby.
Put the Van in First Gear
Drop your vehicle into the lowest gear possible before stepping on the gas. The more gentle the acceleration, the better you give the van the chance of smoothly escaping the situation.
In conjunction with the last step, be light on the gas, which will give the tires on the van more chance to gain traction on the mats.
Adjust Mats if Needed
If you’re not getting the traction you need to recover the van, don’t stress; simply adjusting the positioning of the boards and retrying should do the trick.
Maintain Speed Once Traction Is Achieved
Once you’ve set the vehicle in motion again, maintain a slow and steady speed until you’re fully out of and away from the problematic terrain. Not doing this may result in the van becoming trapped again.
Remove Mats and Pack Up
Once you’re ready, put the vehicle in park, grab the traction mats from the ground, and pack them up again.
- Don’t spin your wheels on the traction boards — this will only wear down your tires and eat away at the board’s grooves.
- If you’re going off-road, keeping a shovel on board is a smart idea. This will come in handy if you need to clear away any debris, sand, dirt, snow, etc., from around the tires.
- When the tires are in direct contact with the “teeth” of the boards, you’ll get the best results.
Hit the Road With Peace of Mind
Whether or not you’ve given it much thought, getting stuck in your van is a real possibility when traveling away from paved surfaces. With recovery boards, you can know that if you’re in a jam, you can easily and safely get out — even if you’re alone.
If you’re an avid adventurer, consider adding a pair of recovery boards to your van life setup. They’re super lightweight and won’t take up a lot of space if you store them inside a storage cabinet or pull-out tray. Mounting them to a roof rack or another part of your van’s exterior is also an option.
The brands/models mentioned in this article are a good jumping-off point, but there are many other options on the market to suit your personal adventuring needs. Whether you go for the more rigid traction boards or, the more flexible traction mats, you’ll always have access to a tool that will reliably help you recover your van.