Installing a set of tracks to your ATV or UTV allows you to ride in conditions that are otherwise unthinkable on tires.
But their performance comes at a steep price and a fair share of downsides. For most people, it is not an accessory you buy unless you really need them.
Tracks are likely worth it for those needing to tow heavy cargo or in extremely wet or snowy off-road conditions, those that want a more stable and predictable ride off-road, or those wanting to utilize their ATV or UTV to the fullest through all four seasons.
This post aims to highlight tracks’ most essential pros and cons to help you determine whether they are worth it or not.
Pros of Tracks
What benefits do tracks provide over tires? Are they as good as the people endorsing them claim?
Better Flotation on Soft Grounds
Tracks provide a much larger footprint, the area of the tracks or tires that touch the ground. This helps redistribute the weight over a larger surface, preventing the vehicle from sinking in as much.
This is particularly useful when riding on wet and soft forest grounds or in deep snow. Anyone that’s ever tried riding their ATV in muskeg or several feet of snow on wheels knows that you won’t get far before you get stuck.
With tracks, you float on top of surfaces too soft or wet for you to even walk on.
Better Traction on Almost Any Surface
Most tracks offer an aggressive tread pattern that grips even the wettest and most muddy surfaces.
The large footprint ensures you maintain consistent traction when riding in fluctuating conditions.
The only time when wheels provide better traction is probably on solid ice, where chains allow the wheels to dig into the ice, whereas tracks will float and slide on top.
Allow for a Safer and More Controlled Ride
One of the major benefits you’ll discover when installing tracks is how you can maintain a slow and steady pace through rough and challenging grounds.
Where with wheels, you would have to use speed to build momentum up hills or across wet spots, the tracks allow you to keep moving while maintaining complete control of the situation.
This benefit became particularly evident once we used a tracked ATV and trailer to carry a team of hunters across a river crossing.
With wheels, I’m not sure I could make it back up the river bank, at least without utilizing speed, potentially jeopardizing the people in the trailer.
With the superior traction of the tracks, however, we maintained a slow and steady pace across the river and crawled up the river bank like it was nothing.
Increased Ground Clearance
Ground clearance is the distance between the ground and the lowest part of the frame. The tracks raise the vehicle a few inches from the ground, effectively increasing the ground clearance.
This allows you to ride over larger objects, such as rocks and logs, without a risk of getting stuck (high-sided) or damaging the undercarriage.
More Stable – Less Likely to Tip or Roll Over
While the increased ground clearance with tracks raises the vehicle’s center of gravity, they do not increase the risk of tipping.
In fact, an ATV or UTV with tracks is less likely to tip or rollover due to the increased overall width and length.
With tracks, you’ll be able to climb, descend or cross hills easier and safer than with wheels.
More Comfortable in Bumpy Terrain
Due to their larger footprint, tracks float more smoothly on top rather than tracing every bump and pothole.
Not only does this make for a more comfortable ride on rocky and rugged grounds, but it also reduces the stress on the undercarriage and suspension.
Transforms the ATV or UTV Into a True All-Season Off-Road Vehicle
Tires are almost useless in deep snow. Before tracks, most ATVs were destined for an extended period in storage through the winter season.
Plowing snow with tires on compact surfaces is fine, but going off-road in snowy conditions will likely leave you high-sided.
Tracks extend the range of use by transforming your ATV or UTV into a proper all-season vehicle. That way, you get the highest possible amount of use and enjoyment out of your ride.
Depending on your winter riding needs, a set of tracks may save you from buying another vehicle, such as a snowmobile. You almost get two in one, saving you from the purchase cost, insurance, maintenance, depreciation, and other expenses of buying another vehicle.
Note that an ATV or UTV with tracks can not fully replace a snowmobile. More on that later in this post.
An Excellent Option in Between Seasons
Snowmobiles are great in the snow but are not designed to travel longer distances on rock and gravel surfaces.
And nothing beats a wheeled ATV or UTV on gravel roads or other hard off-road surfaces, but sink in as soon as you get into deep snow.
That is why neither makes for a good alternative in spring when some areas have dried up while there is still snow in other areas.
Track, however, performs well in all of the above conditions.
The ability to ride in conditions that shift from dry gravel roads and rocks to several feet of snow makes an ATV or UTV on tracks unique. This setup effectively fills the gap between seasons where season-specific vehicles begin to struggle.
Cons of Tracks
As with most things, there are not only advantages without any disadvantages.
Tracks are not for everyone. Some of the cons that come with them may be deal breakers, leaving you to choose a different alternative.
Not for High Speeds
Tracks are not designed to go fast, leaving them less suitable for trail riding or other mid to high-speed riding applications. The maximum speed is typically around 30 to 35mph, and only for shorter distances.
The way tracks are designed with a different gear ratio; they go about half as fast as wheels with the same engine RPM.
Not as Nimble
Tracks are bulkier than tires and need a larger turning radius to turn. They are also heavier, effectively making them a bit more challenging to use in any form of technical riding that requires a lot of fast maneuvering.
If You Get Stuck, You Really Are Stuck
With tracks, you are far less likely to get stuck, but when you do, getting unstuck is not always a fun experience.
You must dig out any mud covering the tracks to avoid breaking them. A wheeled ATV without a winch will likely not have enough traction to help you come loose; you will need a winch as a minimum.
If there are no anchoring points nearby or you ride alone, you may have to call for help or leave the ATV stranded.
Harder on the Driveline and Undercarriage
Undoubtedly, tracks put more strain on the driveline and undercarriage components such as bushings, bearings, and cv joints. They also stress the CVT transmission belt more, increasing the risk of premature belt wear and belt slippage.
The wear increases as you go faster. Note that the transmission and driveline need to go about twice as fast to maintain the same speed as with wheels.
Not only does this cause more wear, but it also increases the risk of breakdowns if you drive carelessly, especially in rocky and technically challenging terrains.
You should always avoid hitting rocks, bumps, or other obstacles, but tires are more forgiving if you do so unintentionally, reducing the risk of damage.
Not as Rugged or Easy to Repair
Tires are more straightforward in their design and can handle more abuse without the risk of breaking. If you run a flat on a tire, you only need to patch it back up to get going again.
Modern tracks are rugged, but if any of the small roller wheels, bearings or springs break while you are out on the tracks, you may have a more challenging time making a field repair.
Throws Snow and Packs Up
ATVs are not natively designed for installing tracks; they are aftermarket accessories made to work with an existing vehicle.
This means the fenders are not always wide enough to prevent mud and snow from being thrown up and onto the rider.
Also, snow, in particular, tends to pack up in every little nook and opening on your vehicle, adding weight and making for a time-consuming clean-up job.
Increased Fuel Consumption
Tracks are heavier than tires and do not turn as easily. This causes fuel consumption to go up. How much depend on what tracks you choose and the size of the ATV engine.
More powerful engines (800 to 1000cc) tend to deal with the added dress more easily because they do not have to work as hard as a smaller engine (400 to 650cc).
A set of tracks cost about four to five times more than tires. Expect to pay $4000 or more for quality ATV tracks. Used tracks in good condition usually go for $2000 to $3000 or so. UTV tracks are even more expensive.
Take up a Lot of Storage
A set of tracks take up quite a lot of storage space whenever they are not in use. Whether this is an issue depends on how much space you have to spare.
But in any case, you better store the tracks somewhere dark and dry to prevent fading or corrosion.
ATV Tracks vs. Tires
To sum up the pros and cons, here is a quick comparison between tracks and tires:
Which has more traction?
Which floats better in soft and wet conditions?
Which are more rugged?
Which are more stable?
Which is cheaper?
Which can go faster?
Which are truly all-season?
Which are more maneuverable?
Which are more comfortable in rough terrain
Which causes more vehicle wear?
Which uses more fuel?
Which gives more ground clearance (stock)?
ATV Tracks vs. Snowmobile
Many consider tracks for their ATV or UTV as an alternative to getting a snowmobile for the winter season.
If this is you, here are some differences to consider before making your final decision.
An ATV With Tracks Does Not Float as Well in Deep Snow
A snowmobile chassis is designed to “float” on top of the snow, almost like a boat floats on water or skis slide across snow.
Snowmobiles do not rely on ground clearance to work; it’s supposed to stay close to and slide across the surface.
On the other hand, the body and chassis of ATVs or UTVs require space between the surface and the vehicle’s underside to prevent drag.
This means the tracks need to account for all the buoyancy as they get little to no help from the vehicle body.
In bottomless and powdery snow, a snowmobile may stay on top, whereas an ATV or UTV with tracks will dig down until regaining traction on firmer snow or solid ground. If the loose snow is too deep, there is a high risk of getting stuck.
An ATV With Tracks Cannot Utilize Speed Like a Snowmobile
Snowmobiles use speed to climb steep hills, whereas an ATV or UTV with tracks must rely primarily on traction as they cannot go as fast.
An ATV With Tracks Can Pull More Than a Snowmobile
Hauling heavy cargo on snowy grounds is where tracks come to shine. If the snow or if you’ve prepared a packed trail previously, an ATV with tracks can pull an impressive amount of cargo or heavy groom equipment with ease.
An ATV With Tracks Is Not as Comfortable at Higher Speeds
I’ve been riding with my snowmobile alongside ATVs with tracks several times.
As soon as we get up to comfortable cruising speeds for the snowmobile, the ATV tracks start to wobble and bounce around, leaving a less smooth riding experience for the rider.
Maintaining higher speeds over extended periods can be exhausting on a tracked ATV.
ATVs With Tracks Use More Fuel Than a Snowmobile
One thing to consider if you plan on using your tracked ATV for longer trail rides is the increased fuel consumption over a modern snowmobile that doesn’t have to work as hard to move across the snow.
Tracks Can Run Across Dry Spots
One of the characteristic differences between an ATV on tracks and a snowmobile is how the ATV can drive longer distances over dry grounds without taking any damage, whereas the snowmobile can not.
An ATV With Tracks Is Better for Beginners and Technical Riding
Snowmobiles are tippy by design and require much practice and experience to master technical riding at a slower speed, such as driving up hills, between trees, over rugged terrains, or a combination of these.
A beginner on a snowmobile will struggle in conditions like these and likely end up on its side. The more stable design of an ATV with tracks does not require as much effort and experience from the rider to prevent the vehicle from tipping.
However, an experienced rider on a modern snowmobile will outperform an ATV with tracks in almost any riding condition except maybe heavy towing on compact snow.
The Bottom Line: Are Tracks Worth It?
Now that you know the pros and cons of ATV and UTV tracks, it’s time to decide whether the investment is worth it for you and your riding applications.
I cannot choose for you, but here are some examples where tracks make for a great choice and a few where you are likely better off choosing something else.
Tracks Are Worth It When
- When you’re a hunter that needs a way of retrieving big game in wet or tough terrain.
- When you do heavy towing in wet or snowy conditions.
- If you’re an ice fisher, who brings a lot of gear and may find yourself riding in wet and slushy snow.
- When you need a platform that can handle technical utility tasks in snowy rugged terrain.
- When you’re looking to extend the use of your ATV without having to buy another vehicle.
Tracks Are Not Worth It When
- When the majority of your riding is trail riding or other mid-to-high-speed riding applications.
- When you want to climb snowy mountains or play and bash around in the snow, a snowmobile is likely the better alternative.
- Buying a used snowmobile is likely cheaper and more useful for an occasional winter trail ride.