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About recovery boards

WORDS AND IMAGES BY ROBERT PEPPER

 Everything you need to know 

You've all seen the bright plastic boards strapped onto the roof of a 4X4, you probably own a set, now, here's how you use them.

I own or have used just about one of every piece of 4X4 recovery equipment on the market. Sure, that’s a bold claim, but there is one item I take with me wherever I go, no matter the vehicle, and that's recovery boards. I've been using them for more than a decade now and in all sorts of situations, and I just love them because they're so versatile, ultra-reliable with no moving parts, can be used on any vehicle without modification, and are easy to carry. Boards give you three valuable ways to help a stuck 4X4 become unstuck, and that is, traction: far better grip than, say, wet rock, mud or snow; flotation - stops the car sinking into soft ground like sand, snow or mud; and clearance – they help raise the tyres and therefore entire vehicle to get over obstacles, like rocks.

To a greater or lesser extent, each of the three traction environments are applicable in every terrain and, as ever with recovery gear, it's important to understand what you're trying to achieve and know how to do it before you start. Boards are fantastic but they need some careful thinking and effort to set up properly if they are to be effective, not just arbitrarily thrown near a tyre and expected to work some kind of magic. Here's what I've learned over many years of recovery board recoveries.

GUIDE

SINGLE WHEEL CONVERSIONS

PARABOLIC SPRING SUSPENSION UPGRADES

ATB DIFF UPGRADE

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SCROLL TO CONTINUE
Terrain Tips

RUTS
For extra clearance just lay them in the ruts, often stacked two or more high, and supported underneath as required. Then drive over without wheelspin. Again, add track building material if needed. If you need to dig, then dig the centre of the track out and put the result in the ruts so you're simultaneously lowering the centre and raising the ruts, don't dig the outside of the track which just makes it unnecessarily wider.

ROCKS
Yes, you can use them in rocks for clearance, bridging and to create boards. Often, they need to be stacked two or more high to get clearance and to take the weight of the vehicle, and if used for bridges or boards, put some rocks or logs under the board to help support the vehicle weight. As there is unlikely to be soft ground the risk of the board moving is high, so think about how that can be stopped. Boards can provide better traction than rocks, particularly when the rocks are wet, so even when there's no clearance problems they can be useful.

BELOW Boards works to help get over rocks.

ABOVE Combination of snow and mud meant we couldn’t drive forwards so used the boards // BELOW Even 37-inch tyres need a little help

SNOW
Use the same technique as mud, but snow is easier to dig out.  Create snow ruts and lay the boards in them too, because snow is slippery, and you don't want the boards or car sliding sideways. Boards can also help to support your vehicle in soft snow, but careful you don't get yourself into more trouble that way.

BELOW Boards work in reverse too

MUD
Same sort of technique as sand, but it's often harder to dig down. You may consider jacking a wheel and putting a board underneath. Often, you're cross-axled to some degree unlike sand, and that's where you need to put a board or two under the wheel with least weight on it. You may need to track build then put the board on top or use two or more stacked on top of each other. Sometimes in mud, you can use the boards to stop the car sinking into soft ground, other times it's simply for traction, and sometimes as a board to get out of bogholes. Sometimes it may be better to use all your boards on one side of the car not split them equally.

ABOVE Here you see the Discovery being unbogged, and then able to move again so the boards are laid in front of vehicle in the softest parts of the track.

SAND
Dig first, right down in front of and underneath the tyre. You need to get the tip of the board down low and just about jam it in under the tyre. Also, dig away any sand that's touching the underbody. Then, super-slow, first-gear low-range till you're on the boards, then a tiny bit of acceleration to get up and away. If you're going to drop tyre pressures further (always a good idea), do so after the board is pushed under the tyre not before, so the tyre expands onto the board. Try and make sure the board is as flat as possible, although they may work at an angle of up to 40 degrees. Here's a statement I'm happy to make - give me four boards, a shovel, time, and a tyre pressure gauge, and there is no sand situation I cannot recover a vehicle from.

BELOW The Ranger is bogged, soft sand, tide coming in, and on a sloping beach. We recovered by using Maxtrax, driving onto the boards, then forwards, then stopping. Took seven or so repetitions but we got there.

“Boards give you three valuable ways to help a stuck 4X4 become unstuck: traction; flotation; and clearance.”

GENERAL Tips

Other gear you need: A shovel and a tyre pressure gauge. Almost all board recoveries involve some form of track building and reducing tyre pressures will help the vehicle use the boards. Boards do NOT work well as shovels, even in sand, so you need a proper shovel, I don't care what the instructions say.

Buy and use four: I've seen many recoveries fail with two and succeed with four. If you're carrying two you may as well carry four, it's so much more effective and less chance of wheelspin. If you regularly tow a trailer, take six and then you can use some to keep it level too.

Use two or more stacked: Often you need to do this for clearance or bridging. Another reason to have multiple.

Don't wait till it's too late: As with any recovery, it's easier if you give up and recover before you've dug the car entirely into the ground. With boards, if you can move even 100mm forwards onto the boards that makes a big difference.

Creeping: If you need to get up a hill with four boards, try putting the boards behind the tyres, rolling on, then driving off. You may be able to get a metre or two further. Then repeat. Slow, but effective, and easier with 8 boards.

ABOVE We got this Outback up the hill by driving up four boards, stopping, repositioning the boards and driving again. Also works in sand.

Steer-angle the boards: Place the boards where the steering wheels and rear wheels will go, which may not be straight ahead.

Bead breaking: Yes, you can break a bead. Ensure you put a block of wood under the board tip as you don't want to totally compress the tyre sidewall and damage the carcass.

Jack helper: Invert a board and use it as a back base, perfect for soft ground! The boards can also be used to level the vehicle or provide extra traction for the wheels on the ground.

Tie them up: Boards get smashed into soft ground to the point where they are literally buried and surprisingly hard to find, so you can tie boards to your recovery point so they get pulled up afterwards. This is where bright colours help locate them, camouflage-colour boards...not a good idea.

Front wheels not rear: Only two? Generally speaking, put them at the front so that way the rear wheels get benefit when they roll over the top.

Augment recovery: Boards can and should be used to reduce the force required for recoveries, such as winching and snatching and therefore increase safety. They can also help stop a vehicle sliding.

Don't wheelspin: Wheelspin damages the boards and means you may slip off. This is a lot easier to manage with four than two boards as there is consistent traction across four wheels.

Lay ahead: If you know there will be problems lay them ahead on the difficult area.

Easy access: Keep the boards handy, put them on the roof-rack or somewhere else outside the vehicle, because then they're very accessible, and the elements don't affect them. More than that, once they’re filthy they won’t mess up the inside of your vehicle.

ABOVE The Raptor carries pink boards on the side, the Ranger has a set on the roof, and the Everest has a set inside.

Build your own? Probably not: Yes, you can theoretically build your own out of wood or metal. But my experience is neither are as good as purpose-designed plastic. Wood isn't as strong or flexible, metal isn't flexible enough and is heavy, and it's really hard to make proper knobs for the tyres to grip, and to make them stackable. I'd say the time and effort isn't worth it, just buy the real deal as they're better and a lot cheaper now than they once were.

Don't buy cheap: I have used a wide variety of boards and there are only two brands I trust, which are Maxtrax and Tred. I have seen cheap versions fail on first use. Now there may be other good brands out there, but that's my experience. I'm not convinced of the utility of the shorter versions as often you need all the length you can get.

How to care for your boards: Just wash them with a pressure washer. Easiest maintenance ever, and another reason I love them.

Chocks: A couple of stacked boards in front of a wheel is an effective chock.

Bridging ladders: Popular in the UK are bridging ladders or sand ladders which are designed mostly to bridge gaps. I have a set, have used them, and find them ineffective compared to recovery boards. The ladders are heavier, offer less traction and flotation, and it's rare you need to bridge. A set of stacked boards can bridge to some extent.

GUIDE

About recovery boards

I own or have used just about one of every piece of 4X4 recovery equipment on the market. Sure, that’s a bold claim, but there is one item I take with me wherever I go, no matter the vehicle, and that's recovery boards. I've been using them for more than a decade now and in all sorts of situations, and I just love them because they're so versatile, ultra-reliable with no moving parts, can be used on any vehicle without modification, and are easy to carry. Boards give you three valuable ways to help a stuck 4X4 become unstuck, and that is, traction: far better grip than, say, wet rock, mud or snow; flotation - stops the car sinking into soft ground like sand, snow or mud; and clearance – they help raise the tyres and therefore entire vehicle to get over obstacles, like rocks.

To a greater or lesser extent, each of the three traction environments are applicable in every terrain and, as ever with recovery gear, it's important to understand what you're trying to achieve and know how to do it before you start. Boards are fantastic but they need some careful thinking and effort to set up properly if they are to be effective, not just arbitrarily thrown near a tyre and expected to work some kind of magic. Here's what I've learned over many years of recovery board recoveries.

WORDS AND IMAGES BY ROBERT PEPPER

 Everything you need to know 

You've all seen the bright plastic boards strapped onto the roof of a 4X4, you probably own a set, now, here's how you use them.

SINGLE WHEEL CONVERSIONS

PARABOLIC SPRING SUSPENSION UPGRADES

ATB DIFF UPGRADE

ADVERTISEMENT
SCROLL TO CONTINUE
Terrain Tips

SAND
Dig first, right down in front of and underneath the tyre. You need to get the tip of the board down low and just about jam it in under the tyre. Also, dig away any sand that's touching the underbody. Then, super-slow, first-gear low-range till you're on the boards, then a tiny bit of acceleration to get up and away. If you're going to drop tyre pressures further (always a good idea), do so after the board is pushed under the tyre not before, so the tyre expands onto the board. Try and make sure the board is as flat as possible, although they may work at an angle of up to 40 degrees. Here's a statement I'm happy to make - give me four boards, a shovel, time, and a tyre pressure gauge, and there is no sand situation I cannot recover a vehicle from.

BELOW The Ranger is bogged, soft sand, tide coming in, and on a sloping beach. We recovered by using Maxtrax, driving onto the boards, then forwards, then stopping. Took seven or so repetitions but we got there.

MUD
Same sort of technique as sand, but it's often harder to dig down. You may consider jacking a wheel and putting a board underneath. Often, you're cross-axled to some degree unlike sand, and that's where you need to put a board or two under the wheel with least weight on it. You may need to track build then put the board on top or use two or more stacked on top of each other. Sometimes in mud, you can use the boards to stop the car sinking into soft ground, other times it's simply for traction, and sometimes as a board to get out of bogholes. Sometimes it may be better to use all your boards on one side of the car not split them equally.

ABOVE Here you see the Discovery being unbogged, and then able to move again so the boards are laid in front of vehicle in the softest parts of the track.

ABOVE Combination of snow and mud meant we couldn’t drive forwards so used the boards // BELOW Even 37-inch tyres need a little help

SNOW
Use the same technique as mud, but snow is easier to dig out.  Create snow ruts and lay the boards in them too, because snow is slippery, and you don't want the boards or car sliding sideways. Boards can also help to support your vehicle in soft snow, but careful you don't get yourself into more trouble that way.

BELOW Boards work in reverse too

ROCKS
Yes, you can use them in rocks for clearance, bridging and to create boards. Often, they need to be stacked two or more high to get clearance and to take the weight of the vehicle, and if used for bridges or boards, put some rocks or logs under the board to help support the vehicle weight. As there is unlikely to be soft ground the risk of the board moving is high, so think about how that can be stopped. Boards can provide better traction than rocks, particularly when the rocks are wet, so even when there's no clearance problems they can be useful.

BELOW Boards works to help get over rocks.

RUTS
For extra clearance just lay them in the ruts, often stacked two or more high, and supported underneath as required. Then drive over without wheelspin. Again, add track building material if needed. If you need to dig, then dig the centre of the track out and put the result in the ruts so you're simultaneously lowering the centre and raising the ruts, don't dig the outside of the track which just makes it unnecessarily wider.

BELOW Boards works to help get over rocks.

“Boards give you three valuable ways to help a stuck 4X4 become unstuck: traction; flotation; and clearance.”

Other gear you need: A shovel and a tyre pressure gauge. Almost all board recoveries involve some form of track building and reducing tyre pressures will help the vehicle use the boards. Boards do NOT work well as shovels, even in sand, so you need a proper shovel, I don't care what the instructions say.

Buy and use four: I've seen many recoveries fail with two and succeed with four. If you're carrying two you may as well carry four, it's so much more effective and less chance of wheelspin. If you regularly tow a trailer, take six and then you can use some to keep it level too.

GENERAL Tips

Use two or more stacked: Often you need to do this for clearance or bridging. Another reason to have multiple.

Don't wait till it's too late: As with any recovery, it's easier if you give up and recover before you've dug the car entirely into the ground. With boards, if you can move even 100mm forwards onto the boards that makes a big difference.

Creeping: If you need to get up a hill with four boards, try putting the boards behind the tyres, rolling on, then driving off. You may be able to get a metre or two further. Then repeat. Slow, but effective, and easier with 8 boards.

ABOVE We got this Outback up the hill by driving up four boards, stopping, repositioning the boards and driving again. Also works in sand.

Steer-angle the boards: Place the boards where the steering wheels and rear wheels will go, which may not be straight ahead.

Bead breaking: Yes, you can break a bead. Ensure you put a block of wood under the board tip as you don't want to totally compress the tyre sidewall and damage the carcass.

Jack helper: Invert a board and use it as a back base, perfect for soft ground! The boards can also be used to level the vehicle or provide extra traction for the wheels on the ground.

Tie them up: Boards get smashed into soft ground to the point where they are literally buried and surprisingly hard to find, so you can tie boards to your recovery point so they get pulled up afterwards. This is where bright colours help locate them, camouflage-colour boards...not a good idea.

Bridging ladders: Popular in the UK are bridging ladders or sand ladders which are designed mostly to bridge gaps. I have a set, have used them, and find them ineffective compared to recovery boards. The ladders are heavier, offer less traction and flotation, and it's rare you need to bridge. A set of stacked boards can bridge to some extent.

Front wheels not rear: Only two? Generally speaking, put them at the front so that way the rear wheels get benefit when they roll over the top.

Augment recovery: Boards can and should be used to reduce the force required for recoveries, such as winching and snatching and therefore increase safety. They can also help stop a vehicle sliding.

Don't wheelspin: Wheelspin damages the boards and means you may slip off. This is a lot easier to manage with four than two boards as there is consistent traction across four wheels.

Lay ahead: If you know there will be problems lay them ahead on the difficult area.

Easy access: Keep the boards handy, put them on the roof-rack or somewhere else outside the vehicle, because then they're very accessible, and the elements don't affect them. More than that, once they’re filthy they won’t mess up the inside of your vehicle.

ABOVE The Raptor carries pink boards on the side, the Ranger has a set on the roof, and the Everest has a set inside.

Build your own? Probably not: Yes, you can theoretically build your own out of wood or metal. But my experience is neither are as good as purpose-designed plastic. Wood isn't as strong or flexible, metal isn't flexible enough and is heavy, and it's really hard to make proper knobs for the tyres to grip, and to make them stackable. I'd say the time and effort isn't worth it, just buy the real deal as they're better and a lot cheaper now than they once were.

Don't buy cheap: I have used a wide variety of boards and there are only two brands I trust, which are Maxtrax and Tred. I have seen cheap versions fail on first use. Now there may be other good brands out there, but that's my experience. I'm not convinced of the utility of the shorter versions as often you need all the length you can get.

How to care for your boards: Just wash them with a pressure washer. Easiest maintenance ever, and another reason I love them.

Chocks: A couple of stacked boards in front of a wheel is an effective chock.