Long Term Review: Maxtrax Xtreme

MAXTRAX has a great product in their MAXTRAX Mark II vehicle recovery board.  They’ve been proven the world over, and everyone from special forces units to families out on afternoon adventures rely on MAXTRAX Mark II’s to solve vehicle recovery problems and so much more.

In the professional guiding world, MAXTRAX are the only vehicle recovery boards on the market to be endorsed by the International 4 Wheel Drive Trainer’s Association (I4WDTA) Product Recommendation Program – so it’s safe to say they’re a proven product.  Yet just because a company makes an awesome product, doesn’t mean that they can shut down the lab and call it a day.  There’s always room to innovate, and MAXTRAX sought out a variety of feedback, consulted with the I4WDTA, professional guides, military customers, and end users who are using theirs all the time, to figure out how to make them better.

The result is the Mark II taken to the extreme – meet the aptly named MAXTRAX XTREME.  To get to know exactly what makes the XTREME the next big step in the evolution of the segment, I’ve been putting them to the test for the last several months.

The new MAXTRAX XTREME’s take the proven recipe for the MAXTRAX Mark II’s and add plenty of hot sauce by making a few key design changes.  Most notably, all of the nylon teeth found on the Mark II are replaced with hard-anodized aluminum teeth that are user-replaceable.  On the back side of the board, additional structural bracing is added to help the board perform better under severe use conditions like bridging.

The result is a MAXTRAX that’s significantly more resistant to teeth-melting wheelspin, provides additional tire grabbing traction, and can take even more punishment and abuse than the ridiculous amount of use that the Mark II’s can withstand.  To appreciate just how the XTREME’s perform compared to Mk 2s, and even some of “Amazon’s Choice” vehicle recovery boards, I created as many opportunities as I could to extensively test the new XTREME’s in several different environments.

My buddy didn’t make it through the snowbank.  With the sound of wet snow sliding and then returning to its resting state of semi-cured concrete, my buddy’s truck came to a stop high-centered on the snowbank.  And people were watching.  Moments ago, we had assured these onlookers that we knew what we were doing, and that we weren’t some YOLO-seeking idiots out to go further than anyone else had down a road blocked with snowbanks for the ‘Gram.  (Full disclosure:  My buddy owns land at the end of this road.  No road closures or other regulations were violated).

Yet here my buddy’s truck was – drooped out on the top of a snowbank.  No stranger to getting stuck in the snow , he was quick to act, hopping out of his truck for a quick “stuck assessment”, and then went for his shovel and his shiny new Maxsa traction boards (which as you may have guessed, are Amazon’s Choice). I helped as much as I could by staying clear and taking photos.

With a bit of shoveling and his Maxsas in place, my buddy tried to move his truck forward, but his tires couldn’t grip the non-existent teeth featured on Amazon’s Choice for recovery boards.  More shoveling ensued to provide better placement for the Maxsas and less drag on the vehicle.  Speedy recovery wasn’t happening, so I took more photos..

Yet even with the Maxsas driven well underneath the tires, wheel spin still occurred at the lightest application of throttle.  It was blatantly obvious that they just didn’t provide the traction required, so it seemed like a good time to see what kind of difference the other end of the vehicle recovery board spectrum would make.

While my buddy’s tires are admittedly tired (see what I did there) and not aired down as far as they could be, they were still completely unable to grab any sort of meaningful traction from the Maxsa traction boards.  When we placed a pair of MAXTRAX XTREME’s in the snow for both of the rear tires to grab, the difference in performance couldn’t have been more drastic.  The truck’s tires grabbed the alloy teeth like they were magnetically attracted to each other and my buddy’s truck was instantly able to move forward onto dry ground and freedom.

We passed all three of our vehicles over this first snowbank and made it all of 60 yards down the road before we had to negotiate our next snowbank.  Again, we employed the XTREME’s to help us quickly negotiate successive snowbanks as we continued to make progress down the road.  On larger snowbanks and snowdrifts, progress was limited to the length of road we could make with all of our vehicle recovery boards, which provided a great opportunity to compare all of the different recovery boards back to back.  To put it bluntly, the difference in performance is night and day.

The Maxsas required very careful and deliberate placement and more shoveling to be of any value when extracting a vehicle.  With the MAXTRAX XTREME’s we could seemingly just get them near a tire and know that once contact was made there would be traction.  (Don’t take this to mean that you can be lazy with XTREME’s.  You still need to use your tools properly.)

We also came to appreciate just how much easier it was to drop a tire off a Maxsa when driving along a recovery board road.  They were like driving on ice, and even without looking it was easy to tell what brand of recovery board your tires were on at any given time by the difference in grip.

After a full day of MAXTRAX-ing our way through snowbanks, I felt the need to reset my baseline for traction board performance, and so I saved one of the larger snowbanks on our drive out to only use my Mark II’s.  With one on each tire, I was able easily climb up and over a large, rutted snowbank.  Mark IIs are still great vehicle recovery boards, and after a full day of use, my set looked no worse for wear.  The same can’t be said for the Maxsas, which were all showing serious stress-lightening of the plastic.  On a scale of 1-10 in super-wet spring snow, the XTREME’s provide traction performance at 10, with Mark II’s a solid 9.  We’ll just say that Amazon’s choice may not be the best choice here.

With the new XTREME’s proven in the extreme of constant use in the snow, it was time to take them to another extreme, and put them to work in the sand dunes of Southern Nevada in the middle of summer.  With triple digit air temps and the sand considerably warmer, both human and machine were put to the test during a multi-day sand dune driving course.  In these conditions, each time a vehicle would get stuck the recovery was an absolute exercise in making an accurate stuck assessment and efficient recovery.

Here the alloy teeth once again proved their worth, this time by being completely impervious to drivers who were feeling some nerves from being thrown into an environment that they’ve never driven in before.  More than once, a little too much throttle was applied when it was time for a stuck vehicle to drive out, but this was still nothing for the XTREME’s.  If you’ve ever felt trepidation at letting someone else drive on your recovery boards as you’re worried that they’re about to get melted with wheelspin, MAXTRAX XTREME’s will most likely damage tires long before they take any real damage.

In the time that I’ve had the XTREME’s, they’ve proven to be exactly what I hoped they would be – a burlier version of the Mark II’s that retain everything that makes earlier versions great.  At every chance I’ve had or created for a vehicle recovery, they have performed flawlessly and are no worse for the wear.  Since I’m the guy in my group of local friends who has MAXTRAX, I’m constantly supplying them for recovery situations, and it’s great to have the peace of mind that when I’m helping someone out who isn’t dialed in on proper MAXTRAX usage, or is just a little to high-strung at the moment, accidental wheelspin isn’t going to roast my traction boards.  Do I still use and carry my Mark IIs?  Absolutely.  They’re awesome and the ace up my sleeve for when stuck happens to me.  Yet, when I’m heading out knowing that I’m going to be the guy providing the MAXTRAX for any recoveries that may occur, I’ll toss in the XTREME’s.

If you’re trying to decide between the XTREME’s and Mark II’s, know that you can’t go wrong with either.  But, let me offer a few hypothetical questions to help you identify which MAXTRAX are right for you.  If you’re the type of person who isn’t getting stuck every time out, or when you do get stuck you’re not prone to using panic throttle, Mark II’s are a great option that will last you a very long time.

Make no mistake about it – they can take some serious abuse, and I know professional guides and other serial MAXTRAX users who have used the same set extensively for years.  Yet if you’re a guide, or you routinely tackle the hardest routes and trails wherever you go, and your honest enough to admit that you’re hard on gear, the XTREME’s are where you want to look.

The additional performance of the XTREME’s comes with additional costs in several areas.  A single XTREME weighs a couple pounds more than a Mark II (10 pounds vs. 8), and a set of XTREME’s doesn’t stack as tightly as a set of Mark II’s (4x Mark II’s are ~ 4 inches tall, where 4x XTREME’s are ~ 5.5 inches tall).  But the biggest pain point of all is the cost – a pair of them cost $500 whereas a pair of Mark II’s costs $300.  Yet for the folks who truly need the performance of an XTREME, these factors are hardly a consideration when weighed against the benefits.

I’m sure by now someone is getting ready to fire off a smart comment to the effect of “but I can buy X sets of <insert cheap brand vehicle recovery board here> for the price of one set of MAXTRAX”  Well that may be true – but everyone who makes that argument always seems to assume that they’re going to have data coverage and instant Amazon Prime delivery wherever in the world they are when they break their first set of cheapo traction boards trying to get unstuck or get home.  I know Amazon delivers in cool Sprinter vans, but I sure haven’t seen many off-road.  My suggestion would be to do it right the first time and get a product that isn’t going to let you down when it counts.

A wise man once said, “buy once, cry once”.  

In summary, you can’t go wrong with MAXTRAX.  Yeah, you’re going to pay for them up front, but the first time you use them in a recovery and get to fully appreciate what a powerful tool they are you’ll find yourself saying “worth it” when your mobility is restored.  In my experience, the difference between cheap alternatives and the genuine article has been night and day, and there’s plenty of good videos on the internet that corroborate my experience.  I certainly don’t want to roll the dice on my family’s well being just to save a couple bucks.  You can’t put a price on the peace of mind that comes from knowing you have quality tools with you to see the world and then see your friends and family back home safely.

MAXTRAX has a great product line, and anyone who uses them properly will enjoy years of reliable service from them.  For the folks out there who really push it, or the professionals out there who are guiding or working in harm’s way where every second counts, MAXTRAX XTREME delivers that extra serving of performance that will make all the difference.

FULL DISCLOSURE: The vehicle recovery boards used in this article were not provided by MAXTRAX. They were privately purchased by the author and his Amigos.

Overland Expo West 2019

Photography Credit: Richard Soohoo took the vast majority of the photos.

Overland Expo West 2019 may have just ended, but here at American Adventurist we’re already looking forward to Overland Expo East 2019 and beyond.  That’s because Overland Expo continues to be an event that raises the bar year by year with more and more awesome people, new gear, and epic vehicles.  The big news of course is that Overland Expo turned ten in 2019, and after nine years of cultivating an outstanding global event, Jonathan and Roseann Hanson have passed the torch over to Lodestone Events

At the time of this writing, feedback has been extremely positive on the new management which is a huge feat in and of itself considering the cult following surrounding this event.

By the numbers, this tenth birthday was by far the biggest Overland Expo event yet with over 22,000 people attending to check out the more than 400 exhibitors, 1,500 adventure vehicles, and 330 classes.  In other words, Overland Expo just continues to grow with no plateau in sight– and things are only looking up from here.  Based on the number of new faces and vendors we saw at this year’s event, there are obviously a great deal of people who are getting the appeal of this car camping overlanding thing that we love so much.

This year, Flagstaff did a great job of showing why the locals say “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes”, and I’m pretty sure someone out there has already started calling OXW19 Snowblowverlandchanceofrainandsomesun Expo.  We’ve had Blowverland Expo and Snowverland Expo, and now we’ve had Just a Little Bit of Everything Expo – but even with the changing weather, the show was still awesome, and thoroughly enjoyed by so many people – so lets dig in to the photos, because we all know no one really reads these articles anywho.

Speaking of photos, BIG thanks to Richard Soohoo for all of the amazing photos here. He worked very hard to help cover everything for you!

The Venue

Fort Tuthill County Fairground was packed full of Overland-Awesome for the event.  Well planned changes in layout from last year provided a larger continuous vendor area, and a nice new skills area which were huge hits with old hands and first-timers alike. There was definitely a more centralized feel to the venue this year.


Overland Expo is the place where you can learn anything that relates to the skills you need to adventure and travel.  With over 450 session-hours of instruction at this year’s event, there was no shortage of expert mentors and new things to be learned.  From classes on obvious topics like first-aid and vehicle recovery to more advanced topics like international fly-and drive-trips and how to not end up in jail at border crossings, Overland Expo assembles some of the best subject matter experts on the planet to teach you what you need to know before you go.


One of my favorite things about Overland Expo are the rigs that come to the event each year.  From Sherps to the Rivian R1T electric truck, to monster military trucks to scramblers and Honda Trail 90’s, there’s something here on two wheels, four wheels, or more than four wheels to blow any enthusiast’s hair back.  OEMs, complete vehicle builders, one-offs and plenty of company vehicles compliment the assortment of awesome DIY rigs on display.  More than once, I’ve found inspiration for one of my vehicles from a vehicle on display at Overland Expo.


There’s so much awesome gear on display at Overland Expo.  From well established names in the industry to small companies just getting started, there are so many cool things to see.  This is where new ideas see the light of day for the first time, and little projects become big sellers.  Here’s just a small sampling of the awesome newness that was on display.

Goose Gear will soon be importing these awesome, German-made 50TEN modules.  We can’t wait to see one of these fully built out with their interior know-how.

The Poolahoop keeps your bog roll exactly where you need it when you’re answering the call.  This isn’t a new product, but we love the display and seeing people’s reactions to a mannequin on a can.  Check out Hinterland Industries to get your own Poolahoop.

Dogs on motos is a thing, and Rex Specs makes a whole line of goggle sizes for your furry, four legged adventure buddy.

Pack rafts are an awesome way to add a new waterborne option to your overland travels.  Hike in and raft out.  Check out Kokopelli Rafts for more.

Warn had a bunch of new gear on display.  From new rigging with their Sidewinder and Hyperlink offerings to new Warn winch covers and bags.

Again in 2019, the #Patchgame continues to be a big part of the Overland scene.  If you didn’t walk away with at least a handful of relevant morale patches or utilitarian gear tags you missed out on an Overland Expo tradition.

Blue Ridge Overland Gear had a new backback on display. This bag works with the same style of packing pouches that the tool bag and first aid kits use. BROG has also updated their pouches to make the contents easier to see. We also spied this fridge cover in the back of their van…

Mosko Moto makes some of the best motorcycle luggage around.  They’re now stepping into the apparel market and I have to say that I’m really eager to try their riding gear out.  Cut to fit over armor (versus having it as part of the garment) the Mosko apparel looks and fits great.

There were a number of Ford Rangers at Overland Expo as well as lots of new Jeep Gladiators.  It will be interesting to see how the aftermarket industry adopts these workhorse trucks.  We’re keenly interested to see how they hold up long term when used off road as advertised.

Adventure Imports is a solid company known for bringing Aussie and South African brands like Maxtrax, Indeflate, and MSA 4×4 into the US.  Their display was chock-full of rad new kit ranging from the new Maxtrax Extreme and Maxtrax recovery gear, to MSA’s line of well made outback accessories. Of note are their excellent drop fridge slides and drawer systems which were both very impressive.  The MSA 4×4 drawer system is different than most as it is made from aluminum extrusions which allow for much bigger drawers, which are lockable with interior lighting.  These drawer units have also been crash tested in Australia so they’re built for real world use. Consider us impressed!

Step 22 Gear continues to expand their quality line of recovery gear and soft goods.  Their anchor straps are now offered in several lengths to fit any need and unlike some lesser brands, all their recovery gear is independently tested to failure.  Step 22 also had a number of new bags, packing cells, and backpacks on display that feature all of the small touches and superb attention to detail that you would expect from Step 22.  Did we mention that all their gear is Made in USA?

It’s always awesome to see what new vendors show up each year at Overland Expo, and this year we were pleased to see Flagstaff-based Wet Dreams River Supply at the show. Wet Dreams sells all kinds of top shelf gear to support the Grand Canyon river outfitters that are based in Flagstaff.  From Cook Partner stoves, to custom made “river-rated” Aluminum boxes, their gear has proven to be Grand Canyon rated.

Rivian had their R1T on display at Overland Expo, and it drew quite a crowd. Say what you want, but EVs are coming to the Overland-O-Sphere very soon. Now if only I could afford one…

I’ve had the opportunity to see what a Sherp can do in the field, and they’re every bit as awesome as they appear on YouTube.  It was great to see them at the Overland Expo West 2019.

Exhibitor Awesome

The main exhibitor area was a dizzying bazaar of gear and people.  Words cannot do it justice so enjoy a few more photos from around the sprawling exhibitor areas at Overland Expo West 2019.  You can ask questions in the comment section below if you want to know something in particular!

American Adventurist

We’re grateful that we had an amazing location to interface with our own American Adventurist community members and the greater global adventure travel community.  This year we worked with kickass companies like Prometheus Design Werx, Exploro and Adrift Adventure to host a treasure hunt that sent our followers scrambling on foot across the San Francisco peaks in northern Arizona, and we worked with Falken Tires to host a give-a-way for a set of their tough as nails Wildpeak tires.  

We were also given the opportunity to honor the men and women who wear the cloth of our nation for Armed Forces Day.  We were honored to address members of the Arizona National Guard and all those currently serving at a brief commemorative ceremony at Fort Tuthill.  American Adventurist and Overland Expo also produced free, limited edition Overland Expo West 2019 commemorative decals for active and retired service members.  Freedom is not free – thank you for your service!

In closing, Overland Expo is an experience.  Overland Expo West 2019 was three solid days jam packed full of awesome rigs, gear, and most importantly, cool people.  If you want to learn about this Overland thing, this is where you need to go.  If you want to meet smart people, this is where you need to go.  If you want to check out some new gear and purpose built rigs, this is where you need to go.

Hopefully we’ll see you at Overland Expo EAST, October 11-13, 2019 at Infinity Downs in Arrington, Virginia. With a brand new venue and Lodestone Events in the game, we’re convinced that 2019 will be the best Overland Expo East yet.

American Adventurist would like to extend a sincere thank you to everyone who has worked to make Overland Expo what it is today.  A special shout out to our members, supporters, industry partners, and of course, Overland Expo Directors Emeritus Jonathan and Rosanne Hanson, for making Overland Expo a thing.