MAXTRAX: Self Recovery Made Simple without Winching, Snatching or Towing
MAXTRAX: Self Recovery Made Simple without Winching, Snatching or Towing
When it comes to overlanding, off-roading or whatever your nomenclature is for being away from civilization on the trail, getting stuck is a concern for everyone.
When we leave the concrete jungle and push our vehicles into off-road or even off-trail situations, it’s hard to argue that being able to get your vehicle unstuck is a top priority for everyone.
Traditional methods like towing, which even those without an off-road background will understand, along with snatching, require another vehicle. Winching using a vehicle-mounted electric winch and even a manually operated winch, can be done solo. The issue with winching is that it requires an object that your winch line can reach to pull your vehicle towards, which isn’t always available. While you could always place a commercially available anchor in the ground, in my opinion, MAXTRAX offers a much easier way to self-recover your vehicle.
For a quick summary of how MAXTRAX work, the 45” long x 13” wide “skids” can easily be deployed in front of bogged down wheels, to aid in quick extraction. You simply wedge them into the tire tread and drive slowly up onto and over the cleated surface of each MAXTRAX to clear the obstruction. That’s it, simple.
The only other thing to add is that you’ll need to clear a path to wedge the MAXTRAX far enough under your tires to engage the tread. The depth and angle of the path you’ll have to create will depend on how deeply you’re stuck. Thankfully though, by design, each MAXTRAX also doubles as a shovel. I can testify that using one in this fashion worked perfectly and despite carrying a standalone shovel on my FJ Cruiser, it’s a pain to remove and I’m glad I didn’t have to when I used MAXTRAX in their natural environment.
That natural environment just about encompasses everything too. Mud, snow, sand, or even under the wheels of your submerged trailer when pulling your boat out of the water.
When I set out to test MAXTRAX, it actually proved more difficult to get stuck on purpose than I thought it would. Not to brag, but my FJ in 4 wheel drive performed like a champ, which in this case was a detriment to what we wanted to accomplish. I eventually got my passenger side swamped in the mud and the back wheel more so than the front. I decided to just use one MAXTRAX to see how it faired by itself and proceeded to use it to dig out the area in front of the bogged down wheel.
Once I’d wedged it in enough, there wasn’t much more than climbing back into my vehicle and giving it a shot. I’ll deviate just a bit to talk about Mud. While it might make sense that there’s no way around getting muddy when you get stuck in the mud, you have to remember that you still have to climb back in your vehicle afterwards.
That being said, I’ve found my own methods that I’m still developing, for staying fairly mud free. Rather than go off on too much of a tangent here in this article, I went over mud considerations in a recent episode of our YouTube series, Gear Tasting that you can check out.
I tried to maintain a low speed rolling over the MAXTRAX to get unstuck and found it almost too simple. My tire popped right out of the muck and even left the MAXTRAX cleaner than I expected it to be. Yes, there was some legwork in getting it placed, but it was almost uneventful. The actual recovery of the MAXTRAX itself afterwards was honestly the most challenging thing. Thankfully each MAXTRAX comes with a Telltale Leash that helps with extraction.
These are simple and strong nylon webbing straps that feature sewn loops on each side of the 5 ft. length. You simply girth hitch a strap to each individual MAXTRAX for two reasons. The first is so you can find the MAXTRAX if it gets buried in the mud. The second is so that if and when it does, you can pull it out of the mud.
Mud has a way of sucking things down and if you’ve ever walked through mud with boots that weren’t tied tight, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Mud will refuse to let go sometimes when it finds something it likes.
Now that I think about it, the cleanup was the longest process out of everything and I now have a nylon bristle brush on my list of gear to acquire. I was using the pressure from the hose nozzle to spray off the mud and it didn’t do a good job with the consistency of mud that I found myself in. Of course, MAXTRAX being made from “UV-stabilized, flexible and super tough engineering-grade reinforced nylon” helps with the clean up process, as well as their strength.
MAXTRAX mentions on their website that they tested one at the University of Queensland in Australia, in which they flexed in a hydraulic press around a 33” tire without any snapping. Despite this test, I really didn’t notice any flexing through my usage.
One last thing I’d like to touch on here is the weight and shape. Four of these together weighs 32 lbs. and each individual MAXTRAX only weighs 8 lbs. They each also have six built-in handles for making it easy to carry them by themselves or as a stack. There’s also that handy shovel shape at either end to aid in the digging I mentioned earlier.
When purchasing MAXTRAX, they come in a set of two and most people carry two sets, equaling four individual units. This is how I have them configured and allows me to potentially put one under each tire, or increase the length of real estate to drive up onto, by placing them inline with one another. MAXTRAX actually makes an accessory that aids in this as well, called the Fixing and Linking Kit.
It comes with four plastic straps that connect a total length of three individual MAXTRAX together. The kit also includes eight pegs that can be placed into the holes on a unit to help anchor it to slippery surfaces.
I consider this kit essential, despite not having to use it myself yet. You never know the kind of situation you’ll wind up in and I did worry when placing the MAXTRAX I used into the mud, that it would slip and turn on me, which it didn’t. I was prepared though with this kit if it did.
Another accessory I have is the Rear Wheel Harness for carrying a stack of up to five individual MAXTRAX. Four of them stacked up together nest neatly and the stack only measures 3.5” in height. Obviously if they’re caked with mud this can get taller, but even so, the Rear Wheel Harness was designed to carry up to four MAXTRAX covered with mud. With only the experience under my belt of having one of the four I carry covered with Mud, I’m not sold on that, but I also haven’t tried it either so that’s just speculation.
Overall I really like the Rear Wheel Harness, it’s designed to mount to vehicles that have easy access to a spare tire, like the FJ Cruiser. I found the mounting instructions to be a bit complicated at first, but once I got the hang of what was going on, they were fairly intuitive. With my full size spare on the back of my FJ, it took some fishing to pull the rear strap of the harness through the reduced opening at the base of the rear wheel, but I made it work.
The system uses two webbing straps that adjust with independent ratchets. The first “loop” goes around the circumference of the tire to hold the pegs that the MAXTRAX dock onto. The second strap accommodates two hooks at the top of the tire and two hooks at the bottom of the tire that interface with the “keyhole” slots in the MAXTRAX stack and apply the tension needed to keep the MAXTRAX secure. One thing that’s missing on the harness is a way to lock it down. Without picking up a cable lock to run through the MAXTRAX and your rear tire, someone that knows what they’re doing can always unhook them and potentially walk away with the hundreds of dollars you’ve invested into them.
I’m extremely happy with the MAXTRAX I have and will always carry them when I’m going off-road, especially when I’m not traveling with other vehicles and potentially in a self-recovery type scenario.
I already have many recovery options that I carry with my vehicle, like a built-in electronic WARN Winch in my ARB Bumper, Chain and a Hi-Lift Jack, which can be configured to use as a manual winch in addition to a jack for my lifted FJ. There’s also a snatch strap, which is a dynamic strap to hook between a solid anchor point on the rear of a pulling vehicle (with a properly weight rated shackle,) to another solid anchor point on the front of the stuck vehicle using a another rated shackle.
A “snatch” recovery gets its name from the strap that’s left with slack in it, before being quickly loaded by the pulling vehicle and essentially using kinetic energy (energy from motion) to pull the stuck vehicle free.
With all these tools and options available for recovery in and around my vehicle, MAXTRAX nicely fill a gap in what’s commercially available for off-road recovery devices.
In addition to the Desert Tan colorway seen here, MAXTRAX are available directly to the US market here in Safety Orange, Black, FJ Red, Olive Drab, Titanium Grey, FJ Blue and FJ Yellow. For our Military readers, MAXTRAX carry the NSN #5680-66-161-2000