Words and pictures by Grant Spolander.
A few years ago, while driving through a jungle in Central Africa, we hit a 300-metre traffic jam of trucks, buses and cars backed up behind a stretch of mud. The local drivers weren’t fazed. The lead vehicle would disembark, unpack a pile of rocks and rebuild the road. Once through the boggy section, they collected their rocks, packed them back into the vehicle and went on their way. There was no concern for the vehicle behind them; they’d have their own rocks. No-one knows for sure when the first wheel was invented, but I’d be willing to bet the recovery track came soon after – even if it was just a stack of rocks.
These days, there’s a surprising number of recovery tracks on the market, and although many sport unique designs and specialist features, the fundamental purpose of any good recovery track remains the same: to provide traction when there isn’t any. However, we also have to take note of a few sub-categories: bridging, ease of use, durability and versatility. Just a note on bridging: this is the practice of using the tracks to bridge a gap in the terrain, and it requires you to use two tracks stacked on top of each other; one track won’t support the vehicle’s weight.
With this in mind, we’ve compiled this buyer’s guide and shootout test of seven recovery tracks available locally – all tested on rock, sand and mud. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a Pillow Track: this is an inflatable bladder which acts as a recovery device.
The mercury hit 39⁰ C when we conducted this test, and it was painfully laborious work; on many occasions I felt like throwing in the towel and heading for the shade with a six-pack of cold beers. But, looking back, those were ideal testing conditions – they allowed us to scrutinise which tracks were easy to use, and which weren’t. So, this test is born of countless recoveries, gallons of sweat and some nasty sunburn. We hope you enjoy the results!
PERFORATED ALUMINIUM PLANKING (PAP)
Arguably the oldest recovery track in our test, it’s best known for its starring role in the Camel Trophy events in the glory days. Back then, this track was better known as PSP (Perforated Steel Planking). But, nowadays, aluminium is the metal of choice, as it’s corrosion resistant and much lighter than steel, so it’s unlikely that you’ll find anything other than PAP tracks these days.
The PAP system did very well in our review, especially when tracks were stacked together as a bridging tool, showing minimal bowing or flexing. What’s more, thanks to their generous width, PAP tracks work incredibly well in sand, offering excellent flotation, broad weight distribution and added friction against the sand. However, their smooth surface finish works against them in wet or muddy conditions, particularly on an incline when the vehicle’s mass works against it.
The greatest feature of the PAP tracks is their versatility. You can use these tracks as a shower mat, roofrack deck, or (when placed between two ammo boxes) as a bench seat, day bed or lowlying table. No other recovery track boasts the same versatility. Unfortunately, at 9 kg, the PAP tracks are a wee bit heavy and cumbersome; plus, the black powder-coating means they get incredibly hot when they are left in the sun. (As an alternative, look out for the plain aluminium PAP tracks with no surface finish.)
Given their overall performance and versatility, we were highly impressed by these tried-and-trusted recovery tracks. Not to mention that they look damn cool when bolted to the side of your 4×4.
GRIP ’N GO
The Grip ’n Go tracks are unique, in that they boast a hinged design which allows them to be neatly packed away in your 4×4’s boot. Heck, you could even find a gap for these in your Jimny! Plus, they’re easy to handle and manoeuvre into place. The Grip ’n Go Tracks are made from high-density plastic and their traction lugs are generously sized, so they should last a very, very long time. They can also be linked together for an extra-long track.
The downside to the Grip ’n Go’s sectional design is that they don’t offer good flotation. Similarly, you need to accelerate slowly with these tracks, otherwise they tend to dig into the sand and disappear; it’s for this reason that they come with a long length of rope that allows you to retrieve the track when it’s buried.
All in all, the Grip ’n Go tracks did successfully retrieve our vehicle. However, for obvious reasons, you can’t use these tracks as a bridging tool and their use is limited to sand and mud. Most notably, in terms of sand performance and space efficiency, the Grip ’n Go tracks are hard to beat in the price department.