What is the Best RC Rock Crawler – Really?
(Updated: Aug 2023)
If you’re contemplating a purchase and want to make the best choice, you’ve come to the right place. Here we’re going to help you more clearly define what you’re after, and then to hopefully point you in the right direction. There’s a lot of choice in the RC rock crawler market, but with a little knowledge and exploration, you’ll be on track for the best off-road rig in no time!
(If you’re after something other than a rock crawler, or don’t know what you want, check out our Best RC Car guide instead!)
Research Now Pays Off Long-Term
There are many blog sites out there purporting to be knowledgeable about this topic, giving ‘Editor’s Choice’ and ‘Author’s Recommendation’, but half the time it seems they’re recommending 2WD monster trucks or other similarly ridiculous vehicles. As a long-time hobbyist, this is a bit galling to know that so many people are being mislead on what constitutes a “best crawler”. They’ll buy the “#1 Recommended for 2021!” model, making the blog site some ad revenue in the process (which is fine – as long as the advice is good!) only to find it utterly disappointing and deciding crawling just isn’t for them.
Step 1: Get Good Advice!
RC-TNT is run by me, Craig, a hobbyist who also has participated in national and world level events and has run local competitions in/around Melbourne, Australia. You’ll find good advice on relevant vehicles on this site, rather than just blog-factory churned-out articles designed to get your clicks and not having more than 20 minutes of web searching to back their regularly silly, outdated or plain wrong claims! Repeat after me: a monster truck is not a rock crawler!
Step 2: Know What You Want
The hobby of RC rock crawling covers a few elements of RC driving. While there’s no ideal definition, maybe aside from ‘slow driving over rocks’, there are a few common driving scenarios you might be expecting if considering rock crawling. If you’re not sure yet whether crawling is for you at all, take a look at this article and especially at the video within: Is RC Rock Crawling Fun? (Then come back and take a look through the options below, there are some great choices here!)
The best RC rock crawler for trail obstacles may be a different beast entirely from a rock-focussed truck. Trail obstacles often include dirt, dust, mud, possibly water and possibly sand. Essentially, you’re taking a drive ‘off-road’ with your crawler. Top speed isn’t relevant beyond an average of walking pace, because you’re going to work the vehicle through and over various obstacles on a trail through a park, forest (or bushland in Australia), or other outdoorsy settings.
The best RC crawler for this terrain will ideally a 1:10 scale vehicle, or 1:18 at the smallest. Smaller than that and your average walking trail will just be too much for it. Bigger than that (like 1:8 or larger) and you’re unlikely to be crawling – it’ll just be too big and/or too fast for a satisfying drive.
The ideal vehicle will be electric, will typically have a battery life of a couple of hours, and will be a reasonably accurate scale model of a real-life 4WD vehicle. This is known as ‘trailing’, ‘scaling’ or ‘trail driving’ and it’s a commonly enjoyed niche of RC rock crawling.
The best RC rock crawler is, in this case, literally designed to drive on and around rocks. Often, this is done on a course, with ‘gates’ marked by chalk, half tennis balls, or some other marker through which your vehicle will be driven. The challenge of such a course adds to enjoyment for many people. For the author, a home course is useful for tuning and testing vehicles as well as making a compelling setting for rock crawling videos, of course!
With the typical RTR (‘Ready To Run’) 1:10 crawler one might buy from a local hobby store, you’d be ready to face both trail driving and rock crawling, often merging them on a nice walk through the trees and coming across rocks and creeks on the way. Many pleasurable hours have been spent by countless thousands of us enjoying the hobby in this way.
I’ve said it before, the best RC rock crawler is the one you have – just getting out there is the biggest step! But if you’re looking to buy, read on, there are some gems to be unearthed here!
How This Influences Your Purchase
Where this leaves you is knowing you want a low-speed, scale model of a full sized 4WD vehicle that can tackle the natural elements with a degree of competency and of durability. If neither of the above scenarios sound appealing, it may be that RC rock crawling just isn’t for you. Though, actually trying someone else’s vehicle (or running a demo truck at a hobby store car park or rock course) may help you decide on this versus a faster RC option. This is where your monster trucks, short course truck (SCT), truggies, buggies and other racing off-road models may be worth a look!
At this point, you may have an idea of what you want. I’d encourage you to now check out some trail driving and rock crawling videos (RC-TNT has a bunch: https://www.youtube.com/c/RCTNT) as this may help solidify what you’re after. Next, we get into the pros and cons of what’s available to buy!
Step 3: RC Rock Crawler Options
At time of writing (late 2021), there are a few brand names that are commonly recommended as best 1:10 RC rock crawler for the prospective buyer: Traxxas with their TRX-4 and TRX-6 platforms, Axial’s SCX10 II and SCX10 III variants, Redcat Racing with the Gen 7 and Gen 8 models, Element RC’s Enduro range, GMade’s GS02 range, some hard-body scale options from RC4WD and Cross RC and then a few lesser-known options with more niche followings (HPI, RGT, RCRun and HG to name a few).
So where do you even start?
RC Crawler Budget
My first suggestion would be to look at your budget. How much do you want to spend on a model, and are you prepared to consider modifications, upgrades and repairs or do you want a buy-once-and-drive experience?
The adage, ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ applies to most things and while there are some cracking deals on crawlers from time to time, generally you will get what you pay for. However, there are some models that are commonly agreed on as being overpriced for what you get – the SCX10 III Gladiator being one example (opinion, not fact – you’ll make your own opinion on this once you’re more familiar with the RC crawler landscape, of course). At the other end of that, there are some cheap models that deliver amazing value, but beware of other cheapies that just are not worth it. For example, the more expensive (but still ‘cheap’) RGT models are very good, while the HG P401 Bruiser clone is cheap and fun, but is a lousy rock crawler, owing to its aged design and limited durability.
Also, don’t forget about batteries. Some models do come with one, but it’s usually a NiMH pack (that’s Nickel Metal Hydride). Mediocre performance but eminently safe to include with models as they’re a very stable battery type. Lithium Polymer (or LiPO) batteries take a little more care to handle safely, but their power density is very high and they’ll rock your RC world. We review a brilliant all-rounder here (which you can buy here). Just keep batteries in mind when budgeting for your new beastie!
As well as budget, you’ll know how handy you are with hex drivers, cutters, paint and a soldering iron. If you have some hands-on experience or the willingness or desire to learn, many of the big-brand RC crawler kit builds are a great introduction to the hobby. The learning curve is still going to be steeper than if you buy a RTR (“Ready To Run”) model, that just needs batteries out of the box and you’re driving.
Personally, I buy both RTR and kit builds regularly. Some builds are difficult and drawn-out affairs (some of the Cross RC and RC4WD models), whilst others are fast and fun (the TRX4 Sport and Gmade GS02F both fit the latter case). Both kinds of builds can be very satisfying and though challenging, can leave you with a sense of accomplishment as well as enhanced enjoyment when you’re running the model over your chosen terrain. You can think, “I built that! Look at it go!” – there’s some real value there for people.
Willingness to Learn
For the time-poor, or those without tools and/or the ability or willingness to use them (and I’m not judging, there’s nothing wrong with this, truly), a ready-to-run vehicle may be just the ticket. There is a vast amount of choice here and many solid videos online to help you make up your mind.
RC-TNT has a range of reviews of both kit builds and RTR models. Check out our playlist, ‘Rig Reviews’ for a detailed look at all the big names and some of the rare gems you may find out there as well!
Step 4: Intersect Your Intentions with Your Options!
Now we get to the fun part. You know what kind of driving you want to do (from Step 2) and you know your options (from Step 3), so now the question is: which is the best RC rock crawler?
So glad you asked! Hopefully some of the following will be helpful! We’ll organise the next section into kit builds and ready-to-run (RTR) models.
The Best RC Rock Crawler Kits
To buy a kit means you’re buying a box of pieces that need to be assembled into a model. You’ll typically need to have the required tools (usually a 2mm, 2.5mm and 3mm hex driver, ABS model glue (for styrene/hard body models only), Lexan/polycarbonate paint (for Lexan bodied models, which is what most on this page are), wire snips, scissors, possibly a small philips head screw driver, thread lock (blue Loc-tite or similar), some small cable ties and possibly some super glue. That about covers it – plus you’ll need to buy the electrics separately, typically a motor, ESC, servo and radio system at minimum. We’ll cover this more in other videos and articles soon.
Best Rock Performance
For overall rock crawling performance and ability out of the box, the Gmade GS02F BOM TC has taken the performance crown in our testing. However, it has a bit of a reliability issue with the front diff, though I’m working on finding the ideal setup for durability and performance. There’s an ultimate tuning video coming soon for this rig and honestly, out of the box it may be the best performing rock crawler I’ve yet encountered – and that’s saying something!
Best Build Experience
This is a subjective one, but having built 20+ models in the last decade and having built RC models for nearly 30 years, the author is in a reasonable position to offer an informed opinion! For me, it’s the most enjoyable build experience is a tie between, in no particular order, the Gmade GS02F BOM TC and Traxxas TRX4 Sport.
Best Scale Vehicle
I thoroughly enjoyed putting together the RCRun RUN-80, a Toyota Landcruiser 80-series 1:10 model. It isn’t as capable as the above two models, and is more delicate with its ‘hard body’ (that is, a styrene body – typical of more ‘scale’ models, as opposed to the durable and flexible Lexan/polycarbonate bodies most crawlers come with). As a trade-off for the durability though, you get a very pretty and realistic model in the RCRun RUN-80.
You may find our more in-depth article all about this brilliant scaler right here on rc-tnt.com!
There’s another incredible option and honestly, I’m torn between the two. If you’re after the best scale RC crawler, the Boom Racing BRX01 definitely deserves a look as well. Here’s our write-up and our video review is ready to watch, too. Tough choice!
The Best RTR RC Rock Crawlers
Now this is a hotly-contested category and you want to be sure you have your thinking done from Steps 2 and 3, as the range in budget and crawling ability really varies here. For your consideration I offer the most popular models in a variety of general categories. The best RC rock crawler for one person may be different to what another thinks – and that’s okay, we’re completely spoilt for choice these days!
Best All-Rounder RTR Crawler
The TRX4 Sport kit is arguably a better option than the RTR variant, giving you the choice of electronics (BYO ESC + Motor, steering servo and radio system for the kit). However, the RTR variant is still very popular as the TRX4 platform is rock-solid, the electronics are simple and reliable and the vehicle’s performance is excellent. The after-market support for the TRX4 platform is rivalled only by that for the Axial SCX10 models – quite an achievement. I own three TRX-4s of various kinds and a TRX-6 and can speak from experience when I say these are possibly the most durable and all-round capable models available today.
Here’s the RC-TNT playlist for the TRX4 Sport.
And the RC-TNT playlist for the TRX-6 Benz 6×6.
Best Value Trail Crawler (& Best Beginner RTR!)
The Redcat Gen 8 V2 is an obvious candidate for best value RC crawler on the trails. Its crawling is ‘good’, where others are better, but on the trail this is a superbly optioned vehicle that is ready for the elements and will be a durable ‘basher’ that you can drive and then forget about until next time you get the itch. For the money you pay for this fun machine, it’s an easy recommendation.
Get your Gen 8 V2 here. (Update, the Gen9 is now available and it’s an improvement on the Gen8 V2 in many ways. We have a comprehensive review of the Gen9 here, including a video review AND a rock test video).
Another brilliant option is the Element RC Bushido. This is an expected powerhouse on the rocks, with its short wheelbase working well to conquer tricky obstacles that see longer vehicles bottoming out. Check the Bushido out here.
Best Value RC Rock Crawler
You’ve decided you want something that’s capable on the rocks but still is something of a scale model. Your budget is limited and you’d like to not have to upgrade anything to get the most enjoyment from your purchase. If this is you, the very best choice and heartiest recommendation to make is for the Element RC Enduro Sendero HD. It is excellent and is an easy choice for the best overall value RC rock crawler, especially where rock performance is concerned.
We have a detailed article all about this very machine! Find it here.
Our YouTube channel also has a playlist for this vehicle. The playlist, including reviews, tests and comparisons, can be found here.
You can find this rig for purchase on AsiaTees.
I Want A Jeep & Money Is No Object
Well, that’s oddly specific, but I won’t judge you! The modern granddaddy of this hobby is arguably Axial and their SCX10 III Gladiator is a model that gives you a disengagable rear axle (aka ‘DIG’), 2-speed transmission (though the ratios are too close together to be overly useful – it’s not slow enough in first and not fast enough in second, but still, it’s a two-speed), it’s fully waterproof and it is quite pretty. Many after-market bits are available for it and it is a fun machine to drive.
Other Axial Crawler Options
If you like the Axial platform but don’t want the Jeep in particular, there’s a truly capable vehicle also available that has rock crawling performance as it’s primary purpose, but one I know from experience that is also great on the trails. It can tackle just about anything – consider this the most capable 4×4 all-rounder available with 1.9″ tires – the Capra, of course!
More Axles Are Better and I Can Afford It
Watch my review video for this vehicle and be convinced that for an all-rounder that will conquer all trails and rocks and look amazing in day or night, rain or shine, you can’t go past the Traxxas TRX-6 6×6.
For performance, durability, features and fun, this is the best RC crawler all-rounder. But it comes at a price! You could buy two Redcat Gen 8s for one of these monsters!
Other Worthy Crawlers to Consider
If none of the above are quite what you’re looking for, there are still numerous other options that are worth a look.
Element RC Gatekeeper: this is a ‘rock racer’ inspired design with some decent rock crawling performance. You might consider it if you’re after a reliable and capable basher with a rock crawling bias. Video here and it’s available here to buy.
Similar to the Gatekeeper is the Axial Capra, also worth considering if the GK interests you. Video here.
Traxxas TRX4: For an all-rounder with durability, upgrade availability and some clever electronics to enhance your fun (2-speed, remotely lockable diffs, nice scale body, quality suspension and great tires out of the box), check out any of the TRX-4 range (Defender, Bronco, new Bronco, Chevy, Tactical, etc.). They’re all very good and have the same running gear as you’ll find in the TRX-6, but just in a 4×4 rather than 6×6 package.
Cross RC EMO AT-4: another model that has remotely-lockable diffs and two-speed transmission, this one comes as a kit and should be a good vehicle. I have yet to complete this model but it’s next in my build pile. I’m looking forward to completing and reviewing it soon!
We now also have an article now comparing the TRX4 and the EMO AT4. Find that here.
Element RC Knightrunner: a polycarbonate Toyota body with smaller 1.55” wheels (all else in this article has 1.9” wheels) and 3.85” tires (again, most in this article have 4.05” to 4.8” diameter tires), this truck has one thing none of the others have: independent front suspension (IFS)! This means it’ll be more stable at speed and whilst it’ll be more limited on the rocks, that limitation can be an enjoyable challenge. Plus, the body looks amazing and comes with a bunch of scale goodness thanks to Element’s partnership with James Knight of Knight Customs. Our review of this one is here and you can pick it up on AsiaTees.
RC4WD Gelande: this is one rig not in the RC-TNT stable. Its reputation goes before it and it’s worth checking out. It’s been around for years and is still popular today for its scale detail and off-road performance. If you want a hard body rig that is capable and reasonably durable, the Gelande is worth a look.
RC4WD Trail Finder 2 (or TF2): another hard body rig (like the RCRun RUN-80), but with 1.55” wheels like the Knightrunner above. This model has been around for a while and is a redesign of the venerable Tamiya Bruiser, with rock crawling ability design enhancements. Leaf sprung front and rear, this is not a performance beast but is still popular today for it’s overall capability in the scale competition classes – not to be missed if you like the body style and want more scale suspension from the older off-road legends like the Toyota Hi-Lux from the 80s. Video discussion here.
RC4WD Trail Finder 3 (or TF3): RC4WD’s latest scale entry in the legacy of Tamiya’s 1985 legend, the Bruiser. The TF3 goes back to its roots in chassis and steering design and is a worthy contender if you like scale detail in a capable platform with room to grow. Read our review and see the accompanying video here.
RGT EX86110 and EX86120: these are popular, budget-oriented 1:10 scale trail machines that are capable and well-appointed for fun. Durability is good and you can expect the kind of performance one might have found with the SCX10, Vaterra Ascender and more recently, HPI Venture (and incidentally, those three are fine ‘used’ choices also, if you’re looking for a second-hand bargain). See our video series here for the Pioneer. AsiaTees sells both the EX86110 and EX86120.
RGT 136100 V2: an ultra-budget option (USD$150) that is surprisingly capable and durable, for the price. Video review here.
MST CFX-WS DC1: comes in a kit and RTR variant and is at the cheaper end of 1/10, brand-name crawlers. Not hugely capable and lacks an interior, but it is pretty! Review and video here.
WPL C44KM: though it’s just a footnote in this article, this little 1/16 scale 4×4 is a fun little build – though be prepared for a more challenging build than the larger 1:10 scale options. WPL make a cheap machine that is excellent value for money, but the instructions are somewhat minimal. It’s a great little crawler – find out more about it in our video! Grabs yours here.
Step 5: Get Out There!
Hopefully you’ve found something you like in this list of crawlers. There are more to be explored than what’s listed here, but honestly, if you buy any of the models listed in this article, you are guaranteed to get a good feel for RC crawling and many rewarding hours enjoying your scale rig on the trails and rocks.
As I’ve said above, the best RC rock crawler is the one you own. Though the bug bites many of us and we end up with more than one, the best recommendation I can make is to just get out there and enjoy your truck!
Make sure you keep an eye on our YouTube channel as there are more vehicles, tests, reviews, comparisons and experiments being added every week.
If you need a place to buy kits, models, parts and upgrades, I’ve used AsiaTees for years. We now have an affiliate link with them to help support our site (https://www.asiatees.com/shop-now?rc_pal=3736303730) so if you start there and buy anything after that, we’ll get a small commission. If you use this, thank you for your support! (And even if you don’t use it, ATees is known for its solid shipping options and excellent after-sales service. Other great international stores are Amain Hobbies, Tower Hobbies (now Horizon Hobbies) and RCMart).
All photos, videos and text in this article were created by and are the sole property of RC-TNT. Unauthorised reproduction or use of these media is strictly prohibited. RC crawling is awesome, so stop reading the fine print and get out there and enjoy it!