Great news! You’ve gone and gotten yourself stuck. Maybe you were off-roading, driving through deep snow, or playing with your 4×4 in some sand dunes, and now, your wheels are half-buried, traction is scarce, and you’re going nowhere, fast.
Hopefully, you’ve followed the golden rule of off-road adventuring, which involves having a buddy along, in their own vehicle, who can help tow or winch you out of this sticky situation. Or maybe, you’re all alone.
Fear not: numerous products are available to help you free your stuck vehicle and get you moving again, even by yourself. Few of these products are as effective, portable, and easy to use as off-road traction mats.
In simple terms, off-road traction mats store in your trunk or bed, and are intended for placement in the immediate path of one or more stuck wheels. The mat has a high-traction surface built into both of its sides. When a wheel encounters the mat, the weight of the vehicle presses it into the surface beneath for added traction and bite. With the underside of the traction mat acting as an anchor, your vehicle’s wheel presses into the high-traction surface of the mat for added grip. Provided you haven’t mucked things up too seriously, a traction mat will likely get you moving again in quick order.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at these indispensable accessories, and some of the numerous types you can choose from. Remember, even if you’re not an off-roader (or don’t drive a 4×4 at all), a set of traction mats (which may be called traction tracks by some sellers) makes a great addition to your emergency kit, especially if you’re traveling in winter.
Table of contents
- 1. Editor's Pick: X-BULL Recovery Traction Tracks
- 2. Best for the Serious Off-Roader: Billet4x4 TRED PRO Recovery and Extraction Device
- 3. Best Splurge: Maxtrax MKII Recovery Track
- 4. OFFROAD BOAR Recovery Tracks
- 5. Mr. Go Auto Emergency Traction Aid
- 6. Reusable Revolution Traction Mats & Chock
- 7. Portable Tow Truck Tire Traction Mats
- 8. MAXSA Escaper Buddy Traction Mats
- 9. Discount Ramps Heavy Duty Vehicle Recovery Grip Track
- 10. VaygWay Recovery Traction Snow Mats
- Good To Know: What To Do If You’re Stuck
- Shovel It
- Go for the Grit
- Straight and Steady
- You’re the Boss
- Safety First
1. Editor's Pick: X-BULL Recovery Traction Tracks
This set of rigid, durable, and easy-to-use traction mats is well-reviewed by over 100 users — and easily makes our Editors Pick designation for a nicely rounded blend of performance and price.
The X-BULL Recovery Traction Tracks are made of reinforced, UV-balanced plastic and are ideal for use in off-road settings, on snow, or in deep mud or sand. The non-folding design adds strength and ease of use but makes these tracks slightly less portable. Priced at $100 and backed by excellent owner reviews that praise their value and performance, they’re a confident buy.
At the first sign of being stuck, just wedge the X-BULL Recovery Traction Tracks under the appropriate wheels and carefully creep your vehicle out. The weight of your 4×4 will help the tires bite into the built-in traction studs, and also press the X-BULL Recovery Traction Tracks firmly into the slippery ground beneath. Two tracks are included in a set, as is a handy carry bag.
2. Best for the Serious Off-Roader: Billet4x4 TRED PRO Recovery and Extraction Device
With numerous design touches that provide enhanced strength, durability and performance, the Billet4x4 TRED PRO Recovery and Extraction Device easily earns our Best for the Serious Off-Roader designation. Long and wide in size, these traction aids are compatible with even larger wheels and tires, and make a great shovel for clearing away excess sand and snow. Ergonomic handles add comfort and portability, too.
But it’s the traction mats themselves that really shine: an aggressive tooth surface provides superior bite, and linking & mounting points are used for added durability. A unique shape and structure gives the Billet4x4 TRED PRO Recovery and Extraction Device a perfect blend of rigidity and flexibility for tackling even heavier jobs. Prepare to open your wallet, however.
3. Best Splurge: Maxtrax MKII Recovery Track
Great owner reviews and some extra-handy features help the Maxtrax MKII Recovery Track make our Best Splurge designation with ease. These rigid recovery tracks can be used upside down as an effective shovel for clearing mud, snow and sand away from a stuck wheel. Then, flip the track over, jam it as far beneath a stuck tire as possible, and begin to drive out carefully.
Unlike cheap knock-offs, Maxtrax MKII Recovery Tracks are built in Australia by off-road fanatics using top-quality materials selected for durability and a long life. Special keyholes allow these tracks to be securely mounted to Maxtrax’s genuine mounting pins, meaning you can fix the tracks to your vehicle and save space on board. Tether straps are also included to pull the Maxtrax MKII Recovery Tracks easily out of deep snow, mud or sand once your vehicle is freed.
Shoppers willing to splurge on a high-quality product backed by stellar reviews and a two-year factory-direct warranty will find these traction aids worth every penny.
4. OFFROAD BOAR Recovery Tracks
Affordable, fully featured and easy to use, the OFFROAD BOAR Recovery Tracks aim to get your 4×4 out of sticky situations with no pushing or towing required. These tracks ship in a handy carry-bag and include a small shovel to clear an appropriate path in front of your stuck wheel(s) for effective placement. If you’ve got some heavier shoveling to do, the OFFROAD BOAR Recovery Tracks can be flipped over and used to clear snow, slush, mud or sand out of the way.
Traction-boosting studs are cast into the reinforced nylon bodies of each track, helping generate positive bite. With no folding parts or hinges, the OFFROAD BOAR Recovery Tracks are easy to clean, too.
Owner reviews are generally positive and reference strong performance and a good price-point, though some users wish for a tether, or some other way to ease recovery if the tracks wind up submerged.
5. Mr. Go Auto Emergency Traction Aid
These cleverly designed traction aids are completely flexible and roll up for easy storage. The flexible roll-out design means that the Mr. Go Auto Emergency Traction Aid conforms to the surface beneath, making them ideal for quick deployment on uneven surfaces, no shoveling required. High strength rubber ribs are molded over a galvanized steel core for strength, and the manufacturer says the design is virtually indestructible.
Two mats are included, and some owners prefer to carry these in their vehicle as an alternative to installing tire chains in certain conditions. The Mr. Go Auto Emergency Traction Aid is priced in the same ballpark as a single tow-truck call, meaning that they could pay for themselves on the first use.
Serious off-roaders may wish for something a little more rugged and durable, but as a general-use traction mat that’ll do the job in most situations, the Mr. Go Auto Emergency Traction Aid should hit the mark.
6. Reusable Revolution Traction Mats & Chock
With a folding design for maximum portability and traction cleats installed top and bottom, the Reusable Revolution Traction Mats & Chock kit might just be the ticket to free your stuck vehicle, without the need to call for a tow. Designed for a firm bite into snow, ice and mud, these traction aids can even be folded up to create a secure wheel chock that can help keep your vehicle from rolling back on a steep incline, or secure it from rolling while you work beneath.
Plastics were selected for maximum compatibility with various surfaces and temperatures, and the manufacturer says the Reusable Revolution Traction Mats & Chock won’t split or break in the cold. Designed for grab-and-go operation, the Reusable Revolution Traction Mats & Chock are easily folded up, stored in virtually any vehicle, and ready to boost available traction with quick and easy deployment.
The price is affordable, though owner reviews are good—not great. Many owners say that while these traction mats are cheaper than a tow-truck call, they may not be durable or tough enough for repeated use, especially with heavier vehicles.
7. Portable Tow Truck Tire Traction Mats
This might be too light-duty a product for some more serious off-road use, but we like the super-simple design, price point, and owner reviews of the Portable Tow Truck Tire Traction Mats. Like a simplified version of some of the other traction mats further up this page, this traction air features a dense array of tire-biting cleats on top, and an array of angled ‘hooks’ on the bottom. Every square inch of the bottom of the Portable Tow Truck Tire Traction Mats looks like a mouthful of little plastic teeth ready to bite into snow, ice, mud or wet dirt.
Lightweight, rigid, and just 3 feet long, they’re easily stored in your trunk or bed, too. The Portable Tow Truck Tire Traction Mats probably won’t stand up well to a heavy off-roader stuck in rocks and mud, they’ll come in handy just about any other time you find yourself in need of a little boost in traction.
8. MAXSA Escaper Buddy Traction Mats
This gnarly-looking set of traction mats work like numerous others here, but they might just be your best bet if you’re likely to find yourself stuck in the snow. Long and wide, the MAXSA Escaper Buddy Traction Mats feature a unique design element that helps them stand out when used in the snow. The high-traction track surface, on which your tire drives, is raised. The reason? It helps keep tires from spinning in deeper snow—though there’s some added benefit in mud and sand, too.
Look beneath, and a shark tooth design sees hundreds of sharp edges attacking the ground beneath for grip, while a strong star-shaped structure beneath helps stabilize the tracks in place and provide additional biting edges. The MAXSA Escaper Buddy Traction Mats come with good owner reviews, with most shoppers reporting good performance, portability and pricing. Several owners even reported surprise at how strong the MAXSA Escaper Buddy Traction Mats are, too.
9. Discount Ramps Heavy Duty Vehicle Recovery Grip Track
For the shopper that prefers their traction aid be made of good old-fashioned steel, the Discount Ramps Heavy Duty Vehicle Recovery Grip Track is worth further investigation. These are sold individually, so a pair will cost you about $60. For that, you get a fully folding, all-metal ramp that folds for compact storage, and extends to about 20 inches long when in use. A rugged and thick orange finish adds visibility in low-light situations, but at just over 7 inches wide, we wonder how well it will work with wider tires.
Owner reviews clock in at over 4 stars average, and cite good performance and satisfactory results — though a few owners note that the Discount Ramps Heavy Duty Vehicle Recovery Grip Track’s short length means several may need to be laid end to end to create a suitable ramp. Other owners suggest the occasional blast of WD-40 and drying with a towel after use to prevent corrosion.
10. VaygWay Recovery Traction Snow Mats
These traction mats from the curiously named brand VaygWay might not be the longest-lasting or most effective set on this page, but at under $20 for a set, they may be worth consideration by an apprehensive shopper who isn’t sure if traction mats are worth bigger bucks.
A folding design adds portability, and at nearly two feet in length, you’ve got a decent high-traction runway for your tires. The VaygWay Recovery Traction Snow Mats don’t have shark-tooth biting edges or recovery tethers like some of the pricier options on this page—though a honeycomb-shaped tread pattern on the bottom edge looks like it would provide a decent chomp into some mud or dirt.
They’re not pretty, and you might break them on the first use. Still, for the price, the VaygWay Recovery Traction Snow Mats might get you unstuck, which is pretty sweet.
Good To Know: What To Do If You’re Stuck
Consider the following tips and tricks if you wind up stuck—and whether or not you’ve got a set of traction mats available.
A little shoveling to remove snow and ice from the area around and in front of each of your vehicle’s drive wheels can go a long way to helping get you on your way. Traction mat or not, you increase your chances of freeing a stuck vehicle without calling a tow truck when you remove as much excess snow and ice from the path of your vehicle’s wheels as you can before trying to free it.
Look under your vehicle too, if it’s stuck in the snow. Are you hung up? If so, the vehicle’s weight is not being supported by the tires, but rather, by the floor of the vehicle instead. In this situation, you’re at a massive disadvantage—and even with traction mats, your tires may not have enough weight on them to do any good. Bust out that shovel and get to work: break up and remove as much snow as you can from beneath the floor of the vehicle, remembering that trying to free a vehicle that’s hung up is typically incredibly frustrating.
Translation? Remove as much snow as you can from beneath your vehicle, and from the area around and ahead of its tires, as you can.
Go for the Grit
If you don’t have traction mats available, or even if you do but you’ve borked things up badly, having something gritty for additional traction may make a big difference in getting your stuck vehicle out of trouble. Every year, drivers across the country forget how much help a few shovels full of sand, cat-litter or road salt can provide, and forget to put some in their vehicle for emergency purposes. Assuming you’ve remembered to pack something gritty along for the ride in the winter, just pour or shovel the sand or salt generously into a stripe that’ll give your spinning wheels (and traction mats) something to bite into, after you’ve shoveled away as much snow as you can.
Straight and Steady
Whether you’re stuck on sand, mud, ice or snow, remember that keeping your steering wheel pointed straight — if feasible — is a great way to help your vehicle get unstuck. Even a little bit of steering angle can make it a lot harder for a stuck vehicle to get moving again, and if you keep your wheel pointed straight ahead, you’re typically increasing the traction available to move the vehicle ahead. Trying to free a stuck vehicle with the steering wheel turned is frustrating business.
You’re the Boss
Most vehicles have a traction control system that’s designed to dramatically reduce, or even eliminate, wheelspin. This is for maximum safety and control, though when you’re stuck a controlled amount of wheelspin may be very helpful to get your machine free. When left engaged, many traction control systems massively suppress the throttle and engine power, which can be counterproductive when trying to free a vehicle that’s trapped by snow, ice or mud. You want to be able to spin your wheels on command, and continuously, if required—so find the traction control switch in your vehicle, and turn it off. If your vehicle has 4×4 or AWD, this is also a good time to engage any available ‘LOCK’ mode, if equipped.
Just don’t spin the wheels too much: light and gentle but steady and continuous throttle application is typically best. Typically, you want your wheels spinning at a steady pace for a few seconds at a time, but not at a high rate of speed. Don’t press the throttle too hard. If your vehicle is AWD, remember to stay onto the throttle and let the wheels spin for a few moments, as AWD systems often need a moment or two to sort things out. If you’re not moving after a few seconds of throttle application, in any case, place the vehicle in park, reposition your traction mats, remove more snow, apply more grit, and try again.
If you’re stuck in close proximity to a busy roadway, forget trying to free your vehicle until you’ve made the area nearby as safe as possible. Move passengers somewhere safe if possible, place road flares or reflective warning signs behind your vehicles to alert other motorists of the hazard, and engage all lighting and hazard lighting so you’re as visible, from as far away, as possible. If you’ve got a reflective vest (you should keep one in your emergency kit), now’s the time to put it on.
If you’re stuck on an active roadway, don’t exit the vehicle or attempt to push, dig or recover it. Typically, you’re best to engage hazard lighting and stay put — calling for professional help. Every year, drivers are seriously injured by accidents that result from them exiting their vehicles on a busy road. If you can’t exit the vehicle and flee to safety, you’re often safest to stay inside of it. Engage all of your vehicle’s lighting, including hazard lighting.
If you’re stuck in the snow and nothing seems to be working, you might have to wait several hours for help to arrive. Remember to idle your engine for about 20 minutes every hour, to help conserve fuel for heat. Also, be double-sure to regularly check the tailpipes and clear snow away from them, to prevent possible carbon monoxide poisoning that’s more likely if exhaust gasses don’t have a clear path away from your vehicle.
Finally, be sure to read and memorize all safety instructions relating to your specific traction mat product. Proper use and regular inspection for damage and wear is vital to safe use. A worn or broken traction mat may be a safety hazard, and could fail when you need it most. Before setting off on any winter voyage, a quick inspection of your previously-used traction mats is a great idea.
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