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Best Rock Rails

author
James Lee
• Thursday, 07 January, 2021
• 9 min read

Nerf bars are similar to rock sliders in appearance, but typically built more for show, and perhaps to protect your doors and rocker panels from runaway shopping carts and the odd parking lot mishap. They’re generally made from thinner-gauge metals, and less suited to real trail abuse; they might protect your rocker panels from an impact, but there’s a good chance they’ll be destroyed in the process.

rails jeep nicely underneath parking done outside should these
(Source: www.jeepforum.com)

Contents

They split the difference between rock rails and nerf bars, with large-diameter tubing to defend against parking lot mishaps, and undercarriage protection to keep rocks from tearing into your rocker panels. The tubing doubles as a step for easier access to the cabin, and the design, which features drilled sheet steel and a textured black coating, provides an extra dose of style.

With options for two- and four-door JK and JR Wranglers, plus a design aimed specifically at the new JT Gladiator truck, these nerf bars cover a lot of the bases, with under body protection, a convenient step for easy cabin access, and outstanding looks from a rugged shape and textured black finish. They’re closer to nerf bars than real Jeep rock rails, but their tough design features tubular braces between each of the main tubes for some extra rigidity, giving them plenty enough strength for the casual rock crawling enthusiast.

As with everything we add to our 4×4s, rocker guards and sliders are a great compromise between durability, weight, cost, and fit on a particular rig. As you're reading, think about how you use your 4×4, the type of terrain you wheel, how often you get stuck, and how you get unstuck.

We'll take a look at materials and construction methods of rock sliders and rocker guards below. They look good and install quickly, but won't take the weight of your truck repeatedly like a frame-mounted rock slider will.

Nerf bars exist to look good, prevent people from opening their car door into your truck, and maybe be used as a step. They are made out of thinner, lower-grade materials than rock sliders as they aren't expected to support your rig's weight.

rails rock niwot
(Source: niwot.com)

Nerf bars are typically half the price of rock sliders, which reflects the fact that they use lower quality materials and are mass-produced. Clockworks' 1st Gen Tacoma Bolt-On Rock Sliders These bolt to the frame after you drill mounting holes.

The square and round tube structure will take any punishment you can throw at it. They need to take the weight of your rig, so they are made of thick materials of a decent manufacturing grade.

Sometimes with some smaller shops you'll need to wait for them to build your sliders as they are not mass-produced and won't always be on the shelf. You'll need to drill holes in the frame and/or body and some slider kits need to be welded on.

Because of the stronger and more durable materials, and the more exacting construction methods, they are usually more expensive than nerf bars. Some guys seemingly roll their rig every weekend, but others just want to cruise down the trail to look at cave paintings and mountain views.

It's easy to have encounters with rocks and logs that come close to denting or ripping a hole in your rig. Sliders that are wide enough can let you shimmy along your rig or provide a jumping-off point for getting to solid ground.

rock cherokee sliders kl jeep road rocky trailhawk slider rockrails kit mudflaps supersliders kicker
(Source: www.rocky-road.com)

Most rock sliders and rocker guards these days are built with CREW or DOM steel tubing. The grade is usually SAE 1020 mild carbon steel and both are stronger and more gouge and dent resistant than aluminum.

This process removes the mill scale (making it smoother), forces the tube to have consistent and precise dimensions, and improves the molecular structure of the steel. DOM is the process of manufacture we prefer for the material a roll cage.

While choosing between CREW and DOM for a roll cage can be a big deal and is always a subject of debate on the Internet, it’s not as important for sliders. Neither will fall apart on the trail, though DOM tubing may be more resistant to denting from a lot of abuse.

Aluminum is also softer than steel, so it’ll gouge if you’re sliding your truck over hard obstacles like rocks. There are alloys of aluminum that are strong, but they generally still do not have the durability of steel, and definitely not at the same price point.

If you don’t expect to do a lot of rock dragging, and you’re okay with the added expense, aluminum is fine, but a typical 4×4 that requires a high level of function and durability should stick with steel. Most manufacturers have settled on certain thicknesses for rock sliders and rocker guards.

rock rails fab running boards toyota jeep step tacoma 4runner wrangler fj cruiser steps 2007 bars 2003 side carid 2005
(Source: www.carid.com)

For square tube, 1/8”-3/16” is the norm, with the occasional truck sporting 1/4” sliders. We tend to prefer thinner materials to save on weight, so we’d stick with 1/8” or 3/16”.

2” x3” or 2” x4” rectangular tubing is super strong and creates a wider step, but adds quite a bit of weight. Since you’re going to prep, prime, and coat the sliders you can do whatever you want to them, including painting them pink and stenciling on the outline of a Colt M1911.

Most normal people don’t have the equipment to do powder coating and most fab shops farm this out anyway. If you're building rock sliders or buying them bare metal, we have two suggestions on finish.

This is easy, inexpensive, a piece of cake to maintain, and won’t make you cry like when you chip powder coat. If you do more casual backcountry exploring, or you spend a lot of time in the mud, either of these coatings will be fine and will hold up much better over the long term than spray paint.

If you plan to do lots of trails and will be rubbing your rockers all over the place, buy some bare metal sliders and some spray paint. When you’re four wheeling, you’ll probably need them to support the weight of your vehicle, and you may need to use them as a winch point if you flip.

rock fab rails tacoma step toyota rail boards running
(Source: www.carid.com)

Since sliders stick out from your truck a little, they give you a convenient spot to attach a winch line. This also gives you added leverage from the slider being so far away from the center line of the truck.

This is a big factor for most people, since, if you don’t have a welder, you’ll have to either pay someone to do the job or use Bolton. This results in some slight compromises, but it's a good option if you change trucks as frequently as underwear.

That said, these sliders should be incredibly strong since they come so high on the body, have tube reinforcement, have 18 mount bolts, and are made from 3/16” steel. If you drill holes in your rocker panels you’re introducing a point for water entry which will cause rust in the sheet metal.

The steel of most 4×4 frames isn’t more than 1/8” to 3/16” thick which isn't enough to support the full weight of your rig on a regular basis. A rock slider needs to provide exactly the amount of rocker protection that you need.

Square tubing does not easily bend into pretty shapes with inexpensive equipment. Round tube will require a chain, strap, or other adapter to hold the jack in place.

rock rails related fj
(Source: www.fjcruiserforums.com)

If it’s correctly braced, it will stiffen the main tube, which means that additional weight resting on your rock slider is less likely to bend it. This sounds pretty mundane, but practically speaking, having a rocker-panel-length step is can make your day.

It makes it easier to install/remove hard and soft tops, clean off your windshield, lift and secure things to your roof rack (like canoes), and get into your 4×4. If you ever get stuck in a mud pit, you’ll also be able to shimmy along the side of your rig to your bed or your winch and possible stay out of the worst of the muck.

If the tube of your rock slider is wet or muddy, it will be ridiculously slippery. You can also use spray-on rubber coatings or friction tape on the upper side of your slider to keep yourself from falling into the mud pit you’re stuck in.

You might be making a sharp left turn and have a tall boulder 6” from the side of your slider. A sickout is a bump at the end of the slider that helps to push your truck laterally away from whatever obstacle you’re close to.

By putting distance between your rig and an obstacle before the wheel, it also protects the sheet metal over your wheel well back to the rear fender. A sickout doesn’t have coverage over your wheel well or rear fender, it just pushes you away from stuff that’ll dent your body.

railing stair railings rustic pipe loft industrial deck stairs wood staircase gas interior rails diy rebar farmhouse pipes modern exterior
(Source: www.pinterest.com)

It's difficult to get a Hi-Lift jack to remain steady on a round tube bumper because the contact patch is so small. You can buy a tube adapter for your Hi-Lift or you can look for sliders that have built-in notches and holes that'll fit your jack.

Some manufacturers build “systems” where several protective parts integrate cleanly with each other. Depending on your 4×4, available rock sliders and rocker guards might mate up with front fender protection, rear fender protection, internal roll cages, and external roll cages.

The pieces of these systems can be bought separately, but if you’re buying sliders (or any other part) do a little planning. If your dead set on one manufacturer’s rear fenders, make sure they’ll work with the sliders you’re buying.

If you mix and match from different manufacturers, you may have to do some light fabrication to get your parts to fit together. This can interfere with link mounts, spring hangers, cross members, and skid plates.

However, if you get to the stage where you’re talking about linking your front or rear, or you’re making extensive drivetrain mods you’ll probably have a welder or be thinking about getting one.

rails rock building badass approx roughly lbs rail done weight
(Source: www.jeepforum.com)

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Sources
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2 aaep.org - https://aaep.org/horsehealth/signs-healthy-horse
3 www.phrases.com - https://www.phrases.com/phrase/healthy-as-a-horse_10062
4 healthyhorses.eventbrite.com - https://healthyhorses.eventbrite.com/
5 www.trueachievements.com - https://www.trueachievements.com/a216574/healthy-as-a-horse-achievement
6 horsehealthcoach.com - https://horsehealthcoach.com/
7 www.rspca.org.uk - https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/horses/health
8 au.virbac.com - https://au.virbac.com/horsehealthhub
9 holistichorsekeeping.com - https://holistichorsekeeping.com/horse-health.html