Over the past couple of years we have unboxed, built, tested and reviewed a whole host of RC Crawlers from FTX, Carisma, HPI Racing, Axial, Traxxas and more. We decided to put together a list of our top 5 in the hope that it will help you pick the model that suits you best.
What makes a great rock crawler?
Following many hours watching truck slide down banks, rolling rc cars onto their roof and breaking servos on rocks, we have come up with a shortlist of must-haves for any successful rock crawler:
- Waterproof electronics to tackle all conditions
- Good ground clearance/breakover height/short overhangs
- Long-travel, well-damped suspension setup with plenty of droop
- Grippy tyres of a soft compound and deep tread mounted with inserts
- Powerful steering servo hooked up to well designed linkages
- Torquey motor with crawler specific ESC (with drag brake)
- Tough low-range gearing for controlled driving
Whilst not all of the models in this list can bring all of this to the table (mostly due to budget restrictions) all of them have a good portion of these features from the factory.
5. FTX Outback 2Buy yourself an FTX Outback 2 Ranger
A ready-to-run crawler for just £150? That includes a battery and charger too!? Ok, so the bodies available for this second generation Outback are pretty basic (the tundra is based on a classic jeep design whilst the Ranger pictured takes inspiration from the classic Land Rover Defender) but the metal-railed chassis is surprisingly capable.
With 76mm of ground clearance, well damped oil-filled shocks, the Outback 2 can clamber its way over some large obstacles. Whilst the 390-sized motor holds it back from bigger challenges the included tyres are the real limitation, failing to grip onto smooth or wet rock.
Restricted by budget, its top speed is glacial, but for an entry level crawler the Outback 2 is a safe choice. You can read our full review from 2018 here.
4. Carisma SCA-1ECheck out the SCA-1E chassis crawlers on our webstore
Available with either a classic F150, a coyote pickup or the Classic Range Rover body as shown, the Carisma crawler is definitely aimed at a certain age range. The bodies are light on detail but do feature LED-ready light clusters and wing mirrors.
The SCA-1E turned out to be our budget pick of the spring, a classic example of a ‘whole’ being more than the sum of its parts. The chassis may be basic, the motor relatively under-powered and the bundled transmitter cheap these don’t stop the truck from climbing pretty much anything we threw it at with its sticky tyres and low gearing.
For an inexpensive model, there are some interesting design choices such as fitting bead-lock wheels and mounting the battery over the front axle (presumably to try and replicate the weight layout on the actual car) resulting in the model performing stoppies under heavy braking. A rather basic steering system, designed with the link bar exposed at the front, knocks points off what would have been a top score.
The SCA-1E chassis really impressed us with its capabilities. Its layout shares many of the pros (and cons) of the cheaper crawlers but as a package it is impressively capable. Read our full review of this champion Carisma chassis here.
3. HPI Racing VentureBrowse the HPI Crawlers we have in stock
HPI Racing’s Venture chassis features an all-metal transmission (With adjustable slipper clutch), aluminium lower links, locked differentials front and rear, low angle driveshafts, adjustable dampers and more. Ours was a ready-to-run model but a scale builders kit is available.
We tested the Toyota FJ Cruiser bodied variant and commended HPI on the details both the body and chassis featured. From that hinged spare wheel bracket on the rear door to the metal ‘pumpkin’ diff covers, it had some touches that looked as good on the shelf as they did on the trail.
Unusually the motor is mounted at the front alongside the servo mount with a metal propshaft linking to the central single-speed transmission. The design and engineering that went into the steering system alone lifts it above the Carisma SCA-1E chassis, but then it is a more expensive system anyway.
The Venture chassis performed excellently on dry trails with the supplied tyres, but struggled in the wet. As with many of our crawlers, its ‘Achilles heel’ turned out to be the steering servo. The weak 6.5kg plastic-geared servo never really stood a chance on a crawler of this size. You can learn more about the Venture chassis in our full review here.
2. Axial SCX10iiCheck out the SCX10ii variants and buy one today
Axial’s SCX10 is available in under Deadbolt, Jeep Wrangler, UMG10, Chevy Blazer, Honcho or the Jeep Cherokee bodied variant seen here. All are slightly stylised to retain the short overhangs needed to clear steep inclines. You also get the feeling that Axial designers are true enthusiasts who actually use models day to day, with the inclusion of the rubber tags on the body pins and other design touches that make using the crawler that much easier.
This second generation of the SCX10 chassis features hi-pinion differentials, shrinking the size of the diff housings and increasing ground clearance. The geared-down, transmission features metal gears throughout. Alloys are employed across the suspension link and steering system for a beautiful aesthetic but also reliable performance. Combined with limpet-like BF Goodridge tyres, the SCX10ii can take on nearly any challenge.
Unlike the cheaper models mentioned above, the SCX10ii does not include a model battery or charger, the manufacturer opting to concentrate the budget on producing a quality chassis. Our only criticism was the lack of power killswitch on the ESC.
Axial’s SCX10ii is outstanding in nearly every way, but it falls short of our top spot. It is keenly priced and incredibly capable out of the box for a scale style model. You can read our in-depth review here.
1. Traxxas TRX-4Buy a TRX-4 Traxxas crawler right now
There can only be one winner and our king of crawler chassis has to be Traxxas’ TRX4. Yes, it is our most expensive truck it is also the finest of designs and most capable scale model that has ever graced our news site. We have put it through so many terrain types and it has just shrugged everything off. If you must have the ultimate RC crawler then this is the one to buy!
The spec list is incredible from the 80mm of ground clearance thanks to those advanced portal axles, the remotely lockable differentials, a fantastic ESC for fine control, grippy canyon trail tyres beadlock mounted to big 1.9inch wheels, to the two-speed transmission that enables you to hammer along a trail and then crawl up an obstacle, the TRX4 has it all.
Well supported, the TRX-4 has numerous hop ups on the market from LED light kits, to suspension lift kits, up-rated steering servos and now even a full tank-track conversion kit! There is little that can stop a TRX-4 fitted with a big 3S 5000mAh traxxas battery, but note that you will need to provide that and a charger to get going.
Available with the popular Land Rover Defender body (as shown) a Chevy Blazer, Ford Bronco and now a luxury Mercedes G-Wagon body, Traxxas have something to interest everyone. There is even the option of a slightly cut down, full-time-locked diff ‘sport’ model with a pickup body for those on a tight budget. All of the bodies feature exquisite, fine details and turn heads either out in the park or on the trail. Should you just want the chassis, this is available in kit form for your own custom build needs.
Regular readers will have seen a plethora of content on this chassis over the past year. From our original review of the defender-bodied truck, to our brushless conversion experiment, fitting the official LED light bar, the release of the G500 bodied variant to our more recent review of the Traxx track set, we’ve enjoyed modifying it and driving it over and over.
RC Geeks : Rock crawling kings
For more information on the RC crawlers we sell, please check our webstore and buying guide. Whilst all the models we have included are factory-built RTR models, we do sell a selection of self-build kits if that is more your bag, view them here.
We imagine there are many of you out there driving vehicles from Redcat Racing, Vaterra, Gmade, Losi and even Tamiya. If you disagree with our article, leave your comments and suggestions below!