If you’ve had enough of staring at a screen playing racing games but still want to indulge your passion for driving, consider this specialised line of remote-control vehicles known as rock crawlers.
What are RC Rock Crawlers?
Put simply, they are the toughest type of remote-control vehicle you can get, designed specifically for attacking tough terrain, be it wet or dry.
There are two types you will come across, one being the dune buggy-style crawlers, the others being based on actual vehicles. The idea behind either body type is the same: to be able to take a beating and keep going.
They are all about substance over style. You wouldn’t take your car off-roading or mud-plugging, but if you’re interested in that sort of thing, an RC rock crawler gives you access to this fun world.
Are RC rock crawlers any good?
Be in no doubt that these machines are a very far cry from the remote-control cars of old and the £30 units you can get in every toy shop.
Quality RC rock crawlers are not cheap relative to other remote-control cars. But the top-tier RC rock crawlers undergo development testing as vigorous as that of any full-size off-road vehicle.
RC rock crawlers bear narrow but solid chassis, heavy-duty axles and suspension that provide enormous wheel articulation, waterproof hardware, and properly chunky tyres. Manufacturers put a lot of thought into their models, even making sure the weight distribution is correct in order to gain as much traction as possible.
It is important to remember that RC rock crawlers are meant for tough terrain and obstacle courses rather than belting across a landscape as fast as possible.
For an in-depth comparison review of rock crawlers, check out the group test our colleagues at CAR undertook.
The best RC rock crawlers
FTX Outback 2
Best entry-level crawler
As a means of testing the rock crawler waters, the FTX Outback 2 is our pick. It comes ready to go, which is unusual in rock crawlers. The Outback 2 is an improved recipe based on the first Outback. The 2 has more torque than the original, wider track width (by 15mm), and new suspension.
Consequently, the new Land Rover, I mean, Outback 2 is a seriously accomplished little 1:10-scale off-roader.
|Dimensions||(L) 416mm, (W) 215mm, (H) 230mm|
|Motor||Brushed RC390 motor|
|Battery||7.2V 1500mAh NiMH battery|
|Chassis||Twin rail metal chassis|
The TRX-4 bears everything you get on a full-size off-roader (we refrain from saying ‘real off roader’ because the TRX-4 is in every sense a real off-roader). Locking differentials, big ground clearance, high-low transmission, about 57-degree approach angle for steep inclines, even an adjustable wheelbase and cruise control. It will tackle anything, and we mean anything.
It doesn’t stop at what comes as standard, though. You can upgrade and customise too if you wish. Just bear in mind that the TRX-4 doesn’t come with batteries or a charger.
|Dimensions||(L) 586mm, (W) 249mm, (H) 292mm|
|Motor||Titan 21T 550 motor|
|Radio system||TQi 2.4 GHz 4-Channel transmitter|
|Battery||Not included – accepts a range of NiMH and LiPo batteries|
|Chassis||Steel ladder frame with nylon composite crossmembers|
FTX Outback Texan
Ready to go
There is nothing extra that you need to purchase with this hugely capable old-school Dodge-style crawler from FTX except for AA batteries for the remote control. Like the Traxxas TRX-4 and FTX Outback 2, the Texan is a 1:10 scale machine.
Underneath the retro body is a collection of purposeful parts. The 550 electric motor is efficient and powerful; the suspension, driveshafts, steering servo, chassis, and axles are all heavy duty and metal. In CAR's group test it took a pummelling and kept going with no issues.
The Texan doesn't have a high gear like the Traxxas and therefore isn't as fast. Nor does it bear as many features, such as remote locking differentials. But it proved very nearly as capable and with some modification, certainly could be made to be even better.
|Dimensions||(L) 475mm, (W) 237mm, (H) 242mm|
|Motor||Brushed 550 17T motor|
|Radio system||2.4 GHz|
|Battery||7.2V 2000mAh NiMH battery|
|Chassis||Twin rail metal frame|
Most fun to drive
The FTX Ravine is indeed a buggy in shape compared to the mini-doppelganger crawlers, but it's still hugely capable of dealing with the rough stuff, particularly given the value for money.
The FTX Ravine has long suspension travel and massive axle articulation. But more than that, it has multiple steering modes. You can steer the front, rear, or all four wheels at the flick of a button. It's not great on flat, loose surfaces but is amazing on steeper, technical terrain. Two 380 electric motors drive the ravine.
Like, the FTX Outback 2, the Ravine is great for beginners because of its ease of use and value, but doesn’t skimp on quality. Though, due to its design, it can't really be modified.
|Dimensions||(L) 440mm, (W) 230mm, (H) 275mm|
|Motor||Two 340 motors|
|Radio system||2.4 GHz|
|Battery||Li-Ion 2S 7.4V 1500mAh battery|
Lego Technic Control+ 4x4 X-treme Off-Roader
Yes, you wouldnu2019t think this is an arena is which Lego takes part, but it does now.
Naturally, this is a bit different to the others here – it isn’t as capable. However, you do get the timeless excitement from doing a Lego build, and at the end it actually drives.
Rather than with a controller, this Lego kit is controlled via the Control+ app. And it’s not just go, stop and steer. You can see the angles of lean, undertake challenges and all that sort of thing.
In terms of actual ability, the Lego Off-Roader is pretty good. The wheel articulation is huge and the tyres are properly grippy. This kit is a great way to bring motion to Lego, like you’ve always wanted.
|Dimensions||(L) 330mm, (W) 220mm, (H) 190mm|
|Motor||Smart Hub with 2 XL motors and 1 L motor|
|Ground clearance||Not given|
|Radio system||Control+ app via Bluetooth|
|Battery||x 6 AA batteries (not included)|
Customising your RC rock crawler
Some diehards will want to build an RC rock crawler themselves. For most of us, especially beginners, what comes as standard in the kits above is more than enough.
But if you really get into your RC rock crawling, there is room for upgrades and customising. But before you buy the new motor, suspension, wheels, or whatever it is you have in mind, do your research first and perhaps talk to fellow enthusiasts. There are plenty of UK clubs to join.
Competing with your RC rock crawler
Groups of enthusiasts exist all over the UK. If you want to see how your machine gets on in a set course against others, jump onto Facebook and see what groups are local to you. They hold regular events and also provide a perfect opportunity to learn more about your machine. Alternatively, head to the BRCA (British Radio Car Association) page about RC rock crawling.
Caring for you RC rock crawler
While the motors, controllers, battery packs and other electronic parts may be waterproofed or kept in waterproof housings, that doesn't make RC rock crawlers submarines or idiot-proof.
If using your rock crawler in water, slush, mud, snow, or similar, you must set to removing dirt and moisture from the machine as soon as you've finished driving it. Check the motor is free of dirt and water and is completely dry (use cleaning spray if you need).