There’s phenomenon that I find myself falling victim to near constantly in this industry, one that I call Options Paralysis. When there are just so many choices, and none of them seem to stand out as being significantly better than others, it becomes so hard to choose that many people just end up stalling and not choosing anything at all.
Nerf bars, sidesteps, and rock sliders fall firmly into that category for me — especially if you have something common like one of the big three full sized pickups or a Wrangler of some sort, the options are just about endless. Even if you just want a basic round nerf bar, you can quickly get into the weeds on whether you want an oval bar instead, 4″, 5″, or 6″ wide? Black powder coat or chrome? Cab length or wheel to wheel? Oh woah, they also have them with the steps hanging down lower… Oh and look at that they have…
See what I mean? The goal of this deep dive will be to get you on the right track in narrowing down what would be best for your needs and budget depending on how you’ll be using your vehicle, and then we’ll go over some of the most popular options in each category so you can get a good idea of what other people are running and why.
Do You Go Off Road?
If you’re finding yourself off the beaten path and on some trails that might put your ground clearance to the test, some nerf bars designed to be used as rock sliders are probably going to be where you want to look first. While they can handle people climbing all over them, your average round nerf bar is just going to crumple if it takes anything more than a glancing blow from a rock. Some side steps from brands like N-Fab, DV8, Smittybilt, and Aries are made to take a hit and slide over obstacles so your body panels don’t have to.
As you can see above from our resident social media and video guy, Michael “Coyote” Cote, when you’re traversing over rocks and boulders, things get sketchy for your body work pretty quickly. That’s his Tacoma on Gold Mountain truck trail in Big Bear, CA, a place where you have to be on your toes to avoid body damage at the best of times, but with a good set of rock sliders like he has there, it’s a little less of a worry.
Let’s go over a few of the most popular options in this category:
Go Rhino Dominator Rock Sliders:
One of our go-to solutions for the full sized truck crowd, a surprisingly affordable option for how tough they are. They offer a full steel construction, a textured black powder coat finish, no-drill installation, and full width rocker panel clearance — all while maintaining a slim profile for as much clearance as possible.
That last point is an important one, because many sliders and steps hang down low and end up hitting more rocks than you otherwise would. Of course the trade-off there is these steps don’t really hang down any lower to help you with climbing up into your truck in the first place, so the vertically challenged aren’t getting much additional help here.
TJM Rock Sliders:
For Wrangler, 4Runner, and Tacoma owners, TJM’s Rock Sliders are a great choice for barebones, purely functional rock protection at a price that won’t make your eyes water. No side steps to be found here, hence the mention that these are purely for protection, with an emphasis on maintaining ground clearance and keeping the side profile of your rig to a minimum.
The sliders also feature two t-slot recovery jack points on either side, a handy feature in case the worst happens when out in the boonies and you need to change a tire or swap out some other part. Plus, with it’s 4-point mounting system, just about no matter what you hit, the sliders will take the brunt of it without transferring the impact to your rockers.
Addictive Desert Designs Lite Side Steps:
Born in the harsh Arizona desert, ADD doesn’t do half measures. With an emphasis on strength without unnecessary weight, and practicality over aesthetic frills, the Lite Side Steps offer strong body protection and a custom-shop level of fit without custom-shop prices.
With a grippy, tough powder coated surface along the plated top of the step, you can rely on these steps to give reliable grip every time you climb in your truck. The width also helps protect your doors and rockers from kicked up rocks and debri as you blast through the desert — no wonder these are such a popular choice with SVT Raptor owners.
Looking for the classic round nerf bar style of step?
Some things really just don’t go out of style, and round/oval nerf bars seem to be one of those things. With how absolutely massive trucks have become these days, it’s no wonder why if anything, side steps have gained in popularity over the past 10-15 years. I mean seriously, have you seen the new Ranger? It’s almost as big as the F-150 from a few decades ago. Times change, but luckily the aftermarket keeps up.
So whether you’re a little uh, short of stature, or you have small children trying to climb into your truck/SUV, or maybe you’ve got a bad back, or just plain don’t want to bother having to make a hop, skip, and a jump to get into your truck anymore, a decent set of side steps can make a world of difference.
So with that being said, let’s take a look at the market to see what tickles your fancy:
Westin R5 5″ Nerf Steps:
The R5 represents probably the most modern take on a set of “classic” style nerf bars with more angular features than is typical for the category. With 5″ wide bars, and big injection molded food pads, You’d be hard pressed to find another nerf bar that offers the grip these feature (though stay tuned for a running board that takes the crown in further down).
These are a little more expensive than some of the others in the category, even twice as much as our next featured set, but you really do get what you pay for, and a lifetime warranty on the stainless models to back up those quality claims.
AutoAnything SELECT 3″ Round Nerf Bars:
Representing the real classic nerf bar look is also our cheapest option on the least. Don’t let that cost turn you off from this as an option though, it’s a tried and true design, and manufacturers have done a lot over the years to get these to the point where they are plenty tough for not much money.
You can have them in your choice of T304 stainless steel or black powdercoated, both feature molded polyethylene pads for plenty of grip, and every set is custom designed specifically for your vehicle, so you don’t have to worry about drilling or cutting holes in your truck to make these fit.
Aries 4″ Big Step Round Nerf Bars:
Don’t let the big, bulky appearance fool you, these are probably the lightest nerf bars on this list, and some of the toughest as well. With beefy 4″ round tubing, and a raised step pad, these steps will provide plenty of grip and last the test of time.
Since the tubing is made out of all aluminum, rust won’t be a concern if they get dinged up a little, and with a 300lbs capacity, you’re completely set with a tough set of steps.
One handy factor I haven’t gotten into yet about these steps, is that they provide great door ding protection, as most cars would be at the level to hit the running board instead of the more sensitively painted surface of your door. This is a seriously underrated feature for people who often have to part in crowded parking lots or in the city.
Running boards maximize on this benefit, as they tend to have the widest presence to take that hit. You also have the widest range of options here, even featuring power steps that automatically drop down when you open the door.
Go Rhino RB20 Running Boards:
Built with beefy, 16-gauge zinc-coated steel, these running boards are absolutely as tough as they look (and they look pretty tough). The thick powder coating makes sure you always have plenty of grip when climbing in and out of your rig, and can take the hits better than your body work can.
With easy, no-drill installation you’ll get your running boards bolted up and be ready to rock in no time. Plus the construction and finish are covered by a 5-year warranty.
AMP Research Power Step Running Boards:
There when you need them, completely hidden when you don’t! These running boards extend and retract with your door opening and closing. At one moment you have a secure stepping point, and then they immediately tuck themselves away into a concealed pocket once your doors close.
Constructed from strong and lightweight aluminum, the Power Steps offer a wide, flat, stepping surface to make getting in and out easy. Plus, they can hold up to 600 lbs, feature a 10-12″ wide stepping surface, and have been tested to work in temperatures ranging from -40°F to 200°F. Crazy, right?
APS 5″ iStep Side Steps:
Built to last heavy winter after winter, these steps are made of aircraft-grade 6061 aluminum and corrugated for enduring strength and added traction – no plastic whatsoever was used in the manufacturing process.
Available finish options include black or polished, and they also come with the mounting brackets and hardware you’ll need, and the steps are covered by a 1-year warranty.
Side Drop Steps:
Have a rig that sits up particularly high? Are you particularly short? Maybe both? Well don’t worry, someone thought of you! Actually a lot of companies did, there are plenty of choices for side steps that are dropped down for you to be able to reach up and climb into your truck or SUV just that much easier.
These are also helpful for people with back, hip, and knee issues who have a difficult time climbing even into stock height vehicles, or even people with young children. Plus, with so many options available, you can really nail down a look you’re going for. From a classic, rounded look, to a set looking like they came off of some crazy Mad Max rig.
N-Fab Nerf Steps:
N-Fab is a staple out in the California desert scene for good reason. Consistent quality, more than fair prices, and a solid selection of parts for the trucks that people take out there the most. Seriously, they have options for trucks going back to the 1970s!
Made from welded steel tubing with a 3-inch main tube diameter with a 0.084” wall, and zinc coated underneath the black finish for extra corrosion protection. They’re ideal for just about any stock or lifted truck or SUV, and are weight-tested at 465 lbs, so you know they can hang tough for the long haul.
Ranch Hand Running Steps:
Tough looks and even tougher stability all in one solid set of side drop steps. Sporting a black powder coating, these running steps provide ample stepping surface and are built to last with ultra-strong 12-gauge steel.
They’re available in a variety of lengths, and in either four or six step designs. Also, everything Ranch Hand puts out is made in America, and these beefy steps feature their standard 1-year warranty.
Iron Cross Side Arm Step Bars:
Constructed from a rugged, durable steel to last the lifetime of your truck or Jeep, these monster step bars feature a textured, black powder-coated finish and a unique open ended hoop step help differentiate your rig from the rest.
These step bars include all the hardware and brackets needed to make installation a breeze and are sold in pairs. Your Iron Cross Side Arm Step Bars are backed by a 3-year warranty on materials and 120-days on finish.
No matter what style, brand, or model you’re looking for, an important step of the process is to check out what other customers like yourself think about theirs. They fearlessly took the plunge with these products and came back to help out their fellow man with making the right decision — whether they liked the product they ended up with or not.
That’s why we have found it very important to amass thousands upon thousands of real user reviews over the years. Everything we can do to give you the information you need to make the right choice!
Lead image credit: Eric Ellenor @sdfstop