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The Ultimate Snowmobile Traction Buying Guide

Posted on 30 Dec 2013 in Snowmobile | 23 comments

Having proper snowmobile traction doesn’t only make for a better riding experience, but a safer one as well.  For many riders, the traction of their sled is one of the last things that they consider before hitting the snow.  The snowmobile track and carbides are on the ground and aren’t visible without lifting the skis or closely inspecting the track.  While most of the time, the track and wear bars will be fine, there are times when they should or need to be replaced.  In this guide, we will look at when you should replace your snowmobile traction and also what style of products that will be right for your style of riding.

Snowmobile grip

Snowmobile Tracks

Your sled’s track is more than just the thing that makes you go.  It plays a major role in your traction while you are cornering and stopping as well as helping you hook up on the snow.  Having a worn out or underperforming track will not only hinder your snowmobile’s performance, but it could lead to costly and dangerous outcomes.

When to Replace Your Snowmobile Track

Old and worn tracks– When you are inspecting your track, there are certain things that you should look for to determine if it needs to be replaced.  A worn out track can eventually lead to it blowing out while you are riding.  If you are lucky, it will not do any damage and it will happen at low speeds.  If you are not so lucky, blowing out a track can damage your heat exchangers under the tunnel, damage your tunnel and can lead to an accident, like a rollover or going through a corner.

  1. Cords showing- A snowmobile track is just like a tire.  They are built with cords and if any are exposed, it usually mean that it is time to replace your track.  The cords will eventually continue to pull out further and separate from the rubber causing it to weaken the strength and durability of the track as a whole.
  2. Weather checked & Dry Rotted- Proper care can prevent most weather checking and dry rotting.  These things occur when the rubber compounds that make up the snowmobile track begin to break down due to over exposure to the sun and elements.  You can tell when this happening if you start to see fine cracks and lines in the rubber.  Those will eventually grow over time and can lead to tears and chunks falling off of the track.  If the cracks are small, your track is still usable, but you should try to limit the amount you let your track spin.  Once they start to grow deeper, your track should be replaced or you will run the risk of it blowing out.
  3. Missing Lugs- There are different reasons to have missing lugs.  Some examples are excessively spinning your track, over using a paddle track on hard pack, dry rot and weather checking.  Whatever the cause of the missing track lugs, you should closely inspect the track.  If only a few are missing on the track and they ripped off cleanly, your track should be fine.  If they were ripped off due to dry rot/weather checking or have pulled cords up, your track should be replaced.
  4. Missing Track Clips/Drive Ports Damaged- Track clips can be replaced if you are missing just a few, but over use without the clips can lead to your track sliding off.  The drive sprocket can end up wearing away the rubber of the track around the ports.  This can not only lead to less power transferred from the sprocket to the track, but can over time lead to further degeneration of the track.  This usually is not an urgent matter in which you should replace your track, but prolonged negligence can lead to that point.
  5. Upgrading/Change of Style- Upgrading your track can greatly improve the performance of your snowmobile.  The advancements in snowmobile tracks keep progressing and by fitting the right track pattern to your sled and riding style, you can get your sled to perform better.  With these advancements, there are also tracks that meet the different needs of the multiple styles of riding.  By matching the right lug pattern and track length to your style of riding, you will have a much better experience.

Snowmobile Track Styles

  • Aggressive Trail/Hard Pack– This style of track is for the rider who spends most of the time riding on groomed snowmobile trails, ungroomed trails that are compacted from other riders and bare or lightly covered ice.  Because the terrain that you will be riding on is harder, the lugs do not need to be as long.  The general trail lug ranges from .75” to 1.352” in length.  The lug pattern is more staggered with a tapered design for more bite on corners.  Trail tracks are usually short tracks.
  • CrossCountry- For riders who like to take their sled through many different conditions, a cross-country track is the right choice.  These tracks will help you excel in the ditches, on less-used trails or boondocking in the backcountry.  Cross-country tracks are a blend between trail and mountain tracks.  The lug length can be up to 1.75” and are still in a more staggered pattern.  Some lug styles are in the paddle form like mountain style to get the most bite in soft, deep snow.  Cross-country track lengths are in the middle ground with the most popular at 136” to get the best of both worlds.
  • Mountain- When the bulk of your riding is in deep powder and on steep slopes, you will need a mountain style snowmobile track to get the best performance.  The lugs on the mountain tracks are very long averaging from 2-3” in length.  Mountain tracks are made to be lighter to help the snowmobile stay afloat in deep snow.  These tracks range in length all the way up to 174” for extreme conditions.
  • Other- There are other tracks to fit specific needs.  Some come pre-studded for performance on ice.  There are also tracks that are designed specifically for touring long distances.  These tracks feature a straighter lug pattern to get the ultimate drive forward with the least amount of vibration.

Snowmobile Track Considerations

When you are buying a track that does not exactly match the original, you need to make sure that it will work for the machine that you are putting it on.  If you choose a track with taller lugs, you will have to make sure that you have enough clearance from the bulkhead, tunnel and heat exchangers for the added height.

You need to match the pitch of your new track to that of the old one so the drivers will fit into the track windows correctly.  The pitch is the distance between the center of one drive window to the center of the next one.  Most tracks will have a standard pitch of 2.52” or 2.86” but there are other measurements as well. You can change the pitch by changing your drive sprockets.

You can calculate the length of your track by multiplying the pitch by the number of windows in that row.  Round to the nearest whole number and that will the length of your track.

Snowmobile Track Studs

For some riders, adding studs to the snowmobile’s track can make a complete difference in the how the sled will perform.  On the other side of things, studs will do absolutely nothing for other riders.  To help you decide if you need studs, you should first understand the advantages and disadvantages of having a studded snowmobile track and what type of terrain they perform the best on.

Advantages of Studs-

  • Better Holeshot- This is what most people think of as the most beneficial aspect of having studs.  When you have studs on hard pack, it is less likely that you will spin out and you should be able to hook up quickly.
  • Better Braking- This is probably the most important aspect of having a studded track, but it is often overlooked when studding the track is being considered.  Being able to stop quickly on icy and hard terrain could not only save your snowmobile, but could also save your life.  When the track is locked, the studs dig in to add braking power.
  • Better Cornering- With studs, the chances of your back end coming around are greatly reduced.  Studded snowmobiles are able to accelerate through corners much more easily and quicker on harder terrain.
  • Better Hookup on Roads & Parking Lots- When crossing a road or maneuvering through a parking lot, it can be very difficult to hook up with a non-studded.  With studs, you will have a better chance of hooking up and safely making it across a road or getting out of the way of other vehicles in a parking lot.

Disadvantages of Studs

  • Hard on TrailersStudded snowmobile tracks are notorious for eating up snowmobile trailers.  If the trailer is not equipped with track mats, the wood of the trailer can be quickly torn apart by the studs, either by dragging across or by spinning the track while loading.
  • Prohibited from Certain Trails- Many state trails prohibit the use of studded tracks because they can be damaging to the trail underneath, which is often times paved walking trails.  If you have studs, you have to be prepared to take different routes if you come across trails that prohibit the use of studs.
  • Can Lower Life Span of Track- This is not the case all of the time, but it can be a factor.  If the studs are not installed properly or if some rip out, the track can be damaged.  With proper installation, proper use or the use of pre-drilled or pre-studded tracks, the lifespan can last just as long asF a non-studded track.

Optimal Terrain

Studded snowmobile tracks perform the best on hard pack and icy terrain.  If you ride in this type of terrain, the studs will give you the advantage of being able to get more bite and hook up much faster.  Having studs on ice covered lakes is obvious advantage and greatly improve your performance for lake running.  If you ride mostly in powder and deep snow, studs will have no benefit to your riding.  Because your only traction is coming from the lugs spinning through the powder, the studs are just added weight that is hindering your sled’s snow floatation.

Push Through VS. T-Nut

There are two different types of snowmobile studs, push through and t-nut.  For the majority of snowmobile riders, the push through style is the optimal choice.  One advantage of the push through studs is that they are much easier to install.  There mass is larger, which makes them easier to handle during installation.  There is also less maintenance involved with the push through studs because they are less likely to pull or tear out due to the larger backer plates.  The t-nut style of studs is the best choice for the rider who is all about performance, like a Snocross racer.  T-nut studs are lighter, which is gives the track a smaller rotational mass to allow it to spin faster.

Installation Considerations

  • Stud Length– The stud point should extend 3/8” above the tallest of the track lugs.  Any longer and the studs risks breaking or rolling and could potentially damage the tunnel, heat exchangers or exhaust.  Any shorter and the studs will not be effective. 
  • Stud Patterns & Scratch Lines– Using a template is the easiest and fastest way to lay out a stud pattern.  Choose the best scratch lines to get the performance you desire for your particular sled and riding style.
  • Drilling Holes– Using a track cutting tool can make drilling stud holes much easier and cleaner to preserve the integrity of the track.
  • Carbide LengthWhenever you add more traction to the back of the sled, it is important to increase the traction in the front of the sled as well.  The more studs that are added to the track, the more carbide you will need on the wear bars on the skis.  Without increased traction in the front, the snowmobile will tend to stay in a straight line and push through corners.

Wear Bars & Carbides

Styles of Wear Bars

  • StandardThe standard style is the bare minimum for wear rods.  With no hard cutting surface, these bars are best used for sleds that are used at very low speeds and in soft snow.  They work well for children’s snowmobiles.
  • Hardweld- These wear bars feature a weld along the bottom of runner for added durability.  Many low speed sleds, including vintage, can use the hardweld style.  Also deep powder riders who do not need a cutting edge can use the hardweld wear bars.
  • Carbide- Most trail riders should use some sort of carbide wear bars to provide a cutting edge for cornering as well as prolonging the life of the wear bar.  They feature varying lengths of carbide to match the amount of traction that is needed.
  • Dual-Runner Carbides– These are unique wear bars that feature two parallel carbide runners on one wear bar.  The advantage of this style is that it can eliminate darting by keeping the skis in their own unique path instead of catching the paths made by previous riders.

Choosing the Correct Length of Carbide

  • 4” Carbide- This is the most common length of carbide that is needed.  Non-studded snowmobiles will benefit the most from 4” carbides.  Snowmobiles with a 121” track with 96 studs or less or a track with up to 1” track lugs that is ridden through corners at moderate speeds can benefit from 4” carbides.
  • 6” Carbide- For higher performing snowmobiles, a 6” carbide will do the trick.  They are ideal for snowmobiles that have a track that is in the 136” range with up to 1 1/4” lugs.  Also a short track snowmobile with more than 96 studs will benefit from 6” carbides.  This length is good for the intermediate style of rider who occasionally pushes the limits.
  • 8” or longer Carbide- The long carbides are ideal for the ultimate performance snowmobiles.  When the sled has a maximum amount of studs and/or has 144” or longer track with paddles, the 8” carbide or longer is best.  The longer length will give the sled the ultimate bite while cornering.

Carbide Considerations

  • Longer Carbides are not always better.  Without enough power and traction coming from the track, a longer carbide can make steering the snowmobile very difficult.  With too much traction in the front and not enough in the back, the back end can spin out and come around on corners.
  • Longer Carbides do NOT last longer.  The whole stretch of the carbide will wear away at the same pace no matter the length.  For a longer lasting wear bar, choose one that has a larger diameter host bar.
  • Different degree cuts on the carbide can give you different results.  The most common cut degree for carbides is 90 degrees.  This cut will ultimately last longer and give the rider the most use in the long run.  The 60 degree carbides are mainly used for racing snowmobiles.  The 60 degree is very sharp and will give the skis ultimate bite when new but they will wear out quickly and are not ideal for use in the long run.

Ryan

Ryan is one of the lucky ones who gets to combine their passion with work. He has enjoyed powersports his whole life and now gets to write about it. Ryan has been around the industry since High School and continues to enjoy learning and sharing about powersports with others in his role at DK.

23 comments

  1. Brad Graham / January 3rd, 2014 7:20

    Hi,

    I am just getting into snowmobiling and am looking to buy my first sled. I have been browsing new snowmobiles online and came across a 2013 Yamaha Phazer GT. It appears to be a shorter sled than the one I have been riding. Do you have any reviews of this sled in particular, or similar sleds? Also, are there advantages/disadvantages of having a shorter track on the sled? Do they corner easier? Or possibly lose traction easier due to the lighter weight? Thank you! I have learned a lot from reading through this site. – Brad

    Reply
    • Ryan / January 3rd, 2014 10:30

      Hey Brad,

      We’re glad that you’ve found our site helpful. We don’t have any specific reviews for that particular sled, but from what we know, it is a decent sled for a newcomer. Because it is a 4-stroke, you can expect less maintenance, but it was also be a little finicky in the corners due to the extra weight. Overall, it should be a fun sled. The shorter track is good for trail riding and a little off trail fun. If you want to ride in deep snow, a longer track is more desirable. Hope this helps in your decision. -Ryan

      Reply
  2. Trevor / December 10th, 2014 15:44

    Hi Ryan,
    I am looking to increase the turning ability on my 2011 Polaris IQ Turbo LXT. I’ve tried adjusting the suspension and adjusting the weight put on the skis. I consider myself pretty fit and can muscle it around, but on long rides/weekends, it can become tiring. Not to mention, when I take my wife off the back and hit the trails wit my friends, I want to be able to cruise with them through the woods. Maybe there is something else, but I am thinking of going to a longer carbide. Suggested above is a 6″ carbide for the 136″ track, but given the weight of my sled, should I go to an 8″?
    Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Ryan / December 11th, 2014 8:57

      Hey Trevor,
      If you want to ride your sled aggressively and with the weight of a passenger you could definitely get away with 8″ carbides. Because there will be more bite, the skis could become difficult to turn at lower speeds without a passenger. If the skis are already difficult to turn, I wouldn’t go with longer carbides. You can try adjusting the coupler/stop blocks to adjust the ride height for when you have or don’t have a passenger. Give our techs a call if you would like someone to walk you through these and other options 320-358-3409

      Reply
  3. Roy Derksen / January 16th, 2015 7:55

    Hi Ryan, I have a Yamaha Attak and the thing steers really hard. I lightened up the spring pressure on the front, to where it handles about right, but it still tires me out turning the handlebar, taking some of the enjoyment out of riding. I do have double carbides at 6 inches, I weigh about 200. Almost feels like there is a friction devise on it to keep it from turning too easy, which is too tight.
    thanks

    Reply
    • Ryan / January 16th, 2015 8:42

      Hey Roy. The double carbides may be making the bite too aggressive, but before you change the carbides, though, make sure that you grease everything, including the steering column. The Attak and Apex in those years are known to develop stiff steering after a few years. The plastic bushings in the steering column can dry out and make it difficult to steer. It’s a little work to get to those bushings but it can make a huge difference once you get them re-greased. Hope this helps, Ryan.

      Reply
  4. derek / October 16th, 2015 16:07

    Ryan,
    I’m looking for stud/carbide recommendations for my new sled, a AC ZR 9000 RR. I consider myself an aggressive rider, and the sled will be used on groomed Vermont trails with off-trail ventures when the snow is good.

    Reply
    • Ryan / October 16th, 2015 16:39

      Hi Derek, I would recommend 135 studs with an 8″ carbide. This will give fairly good bite and can handle being ridden aggressive. It might be a little tough at slower speeds. If you are worried about that, 6″ carbides should work as well.

      Reply
      • derek / October 16th, 2015 18:24

        Ryan,
        does horsepower mean anything when studding? my AC snopro with the D&D 720 kit on it has that amount studs and carbide, and it has 130 hp vs the 177 on the zr9000.

        Reply
        • Ryan / October 19th, 2015 8:20

          Yes, HP does factor into it, as well as your riding style. Some guys like to use 1 stud per HP. If you feel like you are a really aggressive rider, you could definitely go with more studs and longer carbides considering the weight and power of the sled. There are guys who are running 180-200 studs on that sled.

          Reply
  5. Carl / September 13th, 2016 16:53

    Hi Ryan,
    I just bought a 94′ Vmax 600 DX, and it needs a new track BAD! How can I determine what lug height to get on my new track? I’ve tried asking around online and have gotten different answers from .75″-1.5″. Is there a way to determine this before I make the purchase?

    Reply
    • Ryan / September 14th, 2016 8:19

      Hey Carl. To see just how much room you have for track lug height, you can measure the distance from the drivers to the tunnel. Make sure you leave a little room for error for the track to expand while spinning (unless you run it super tight). It looks like a 1.25″ will work best for you unless you are willing to change out drivers and possibly move a heat exchanger.

      Reply
  6. Ryan Neuman / October 18th, 2016 23:15

    Hi, I have a 02 rmk 800 144 in track. Bill Bune built motor . big boy crank bearing mod. Full slp exhaust with v-force 3 reeds. I am concidering cutting the massive paddles down roughly an inch along with notching them. Id like to also add stud. I mainly ride ditches and what ever MN back country i can get. What studs would you suggest i go with. Eventually ill get another track but for now im thinking this route. Suggestions?

    Reply
  7. Carl / November 7th, 2016 14:12

    I have a ski doo renegade that has a track that was previously studded in a v pattern up the middle and I noticed there are some broken and bent studs (9?). Would it be ok to just pull those out or should I replace them? They’re not near each other.

    Reply
    • Ryan / November 7th, 2016 15:36

      Hey Carl, you should be fine with just removing those 9 if you do not want to replace them.

      Reply
  8. David / November 22nd, 2016 12:09

    Hi Ryan,
    I have a 1993 Yamaha Ovation 340 LE. I want to take it out and havent used it in years, i want to install cleats on the track, would you happen to
    Know how many cleats it would take and how far apart on each side?

    Reply
  9. matt furlotte / December 1st, 2016 18:56

    i have an 89 safari 377. The track is pretty well finished and i can only find new ones for 5-600$ its a 121×16.5″ with a 1.97 pitch the track sprockets that are on the sled are 11 tooth. im not sure of the diameter. there are a million 121″ tracks for cheap around but they all have 2.52 pitch. Are there sprockets that i can buy to convert my machine from 1.97 to 2.52?

    Reply
    • Ryan / December 2nd, 2016 8:22

      Hey Matt, contact our Tech Team and they can help you try to cross reference some drivers that will work for your application. You can call them at 320-358-3409 or by email at techsupport@denniskirk.com

      Reply
  10. Jeremy Thompson / December 10th, 2017 23:47

    It’s nice that you mentioned that cross-country tracks are best suited for the riders who travel to different conditions. It’s like an all-purpose track which can work as both as a trail and mountain tracks. That sounds great since I’ve been thinking of purchasing a snowmobile for the first time and was reading about what I need to learn beforehand. Now, I know that a cross-country track is the traction that I need to be installed in my new upcoming snowmobile. Thanks for the informative article about the ultimate traction buying guide!

    Reply
  11. Arron / October 26th, 2018 7:26

    I am buying a 2006 Yamaha apex 153 track on it what would be the best track to buy for this machine it need a new track and out home there is barely trails and a lot of ice most time snow is packed or hard but some times you go off the trails I like to go off the trails and find soft snow I need help to pick the right track and carbs for this

    Reply
  12. Dennis Willson / November 28th, 2018 16:47

    Have a 09 ski doo rev 800 with paddles that are 2 1/2 ” tall. Do you make studs for that ? Thanx

    Reply
  13. Alex / December 4th, 2019 16:40

    I have a 2007 ski doo 600. will putting a 121inch long 2 inch paddle track on affect anything the the power that the sled has

    Reply

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