Nerf bars got their name from exactly that … being able to take a minor knock or two … coping with being ‘nerfed’, either by a rock, or perhaps another vehicle … they just offer a little more protection than a bare panel or sill, and of course, they also offer a bit more convenience in the form of adding a step up between the ground and the cab … making access easier, even more so if your truck has had a lift kit fitted.
Choosing the best nerf bars can often be as much about styling as anything else, and it could be argued that aside from looking slightly different, all nerf bars are pretty much the same thing … all made from steel, all offering a step, and all bolt on easily without the need to start tearing in to the vehicle. In this guide, I’ve chosen four different nerf bars on the market, so hopefully you’ll find something that works for your need.
The Best Nerf Bars
1. N-FAB T1464R Textured Black Nerf Step
These full length bars use 3” tubing, with a 0.084” wall thickness (for those European readers, that’s just over 2 mm), making them a pretty hefty and solid construction, and despite being welded together, N-FAB say these are true one piece construction (thanks to quality welding).
These are nearly double the thickness of some of the competition, so you can see that they’re a heavy duty offering, and to keep them looking solid and tidy, they go through a 4-stage powder coating process (a 5 year warranty), which gives them excellent durability and resistance to all weathers, no matter how extreme.
The ‘hoop step’ design is patented, and incorporates a dimpled metal step plate which gives excellent grip and traction, even when wet. The whole side bar feels solidly constructed … stepping on these doesn’t feel as though you’re just waiting for something to snap or bend … these are part of the vehicle once they’re installed properly.
They’re available in a number of different finishes – gloss black, polished stainless steel and textured black – the textured black finish is something similar to what you may see (finish wise) being used as a truck bed liner. All hardware and fittings come in the kit. Proudly designed and manufactured in Houston, TX.
2. Westin 23-2770 Polished Stainless Steel Side Steps
These partial length steps are made using 304 stainless steel, which has a wall thickness of 0.050” (or around 1.25 mm), which makes them a bit lighter in duty than the N-FAB offerings, but these are a bit more showy than utility.
It uses a 3” tubing that fits close to the bodywork of the vehicle, it could perhaps do with extending a little further out, making stepping on to it a bit easier. But for me, the choice to use a hard plastic, molded polymer insert for the step pad is a mistake. Over the course of time, it will get hard and brittle, which will undoubtedly lead to cracking, but the other part of the problem is that being plastic, there’s not much grip there when the going gets tough.
Aside from that minor niggle, these side steps seem well built, with a solid construction, and they’re super easy to fit … no drilling or messing about, simply bolt on. Everything’s covered by a lifetime warranty, so there should be no problems in the future. I like these side bars, perhaps if you’re looking for something to finish the look of your truck, these are the bars for you.
3. Ionic Black Steel Curved Nerf Bars
Full length bars that use a 5” wide step for added stability when climbing in and out of your truck. The steel tubing is carbon steel, which means it’s strong and durable – Ionic say these nerf bars will take up to 350lbs in weight, even more so when you consider that these use standard brackets to hold them on – that is pretty incredible.
They stick out from the side of the truck a reasonable distance (too many manufacturers make them too close to the bodywork), so they’re actually easy to use no matter how large your feet are, and the non-slip step pads are pretty good at keeping traction, even in the rain and snow.
The bars themselves are powder coated black, which gives them a nice look, and excellent resistance to weather and the odd knock or two, and the full three year warranty should mean that they stay looking great for a while to come. Everything you need to fit these bars is included in the package (minus the tools). Overall, they make a great choice for those of you looking for something with a little extra strength.
4. ICI RTS31DG Magnum RT Steps
Heavy duty bars, that look like they wouldn’t be out of place on a vehicle from Mad Max … they’re very angular and aggressive (which matches the ICI front bars) looking, and when I say heavy duty … made from 10 gauge steel (around 3.25 mm), these bad boys will outlast most things, including (probably) your truck!
They use a diamond plate pattern for the step that offers excellent traction for your feet, and the whole setup goes through a 3-stage finishing process which means not only are they built tough, but they’re finished tough … no corrosion whatever the weather. The powder coating gives the steps a matte black finish, which just adds to the aggressive styling.
The mounting brackets are also reinforced, and it’s a USA design with a patent pending for the step bar. Despite the whole … ruggedness of the bars, there’s no need for any extra holes or mountings, it’s an easy to fit kit that needs no drilling … they simply bolt on to existing hardware on the truck.
With that said, they do seem to take more fitting than the other bars here … around three hours, unless you really know what you’re doing. If you’re going to buy these nerf bars, check out the instructional videos online instead of relying on the included instructions.
These are model dependent as to whether they’re full or partial length, and everything you need for mounting is included in the box, including the limited lifetime warranty.
Also Known As
While we’re calling them ‘nerf’ bars, you may also know them as side steps, side bars, step bars or running boards (although running boards are technically different), they all amount to nearly the same thing. I’ll try and explain some of the differences (albeit minor) that separates them.
Running boards are generally just that … like a solid board or plate that runs the length of the vehicle, almost like one long step, and the name comes from the much older vehicles that incorporated them into the regular design … think back to the thirties with swooping graceful lines and space to stand on the side of the vehicle.
Side steps or step bars are usually very similar, but do incorporate a step to help you climb in to the vehicle; it’s usually one long bar, with a step (or two, perhaps even three if you want bed access) that’s at a slightly lower level than the bar.
Nerf bars seems to be the all encompassing term for them all, however, you could separate that further, and say that actually, nerf bars are designed more for added protection. You’ll see nerf bars fitted to lots of off road style vehicles, to try and minimize damage from crawling over difficult terrain … it’s easier to replace a damaged nerf bar, than to repair any bodywork that’s been crumpled from bashing a rock or something similar.
Generally speaking, nerf bars are made from steel, which could be stainless (if you’re after the shiny polished look) or regular steel that’s been powder coated for added protection and durability against the elements.
Some differences can arise from the wall thickness of the tubing used. Those bars that are designed more for ‘show than go’ tend to use thinner walled tubing – it won’t stand up to anywhere near the same amount of abuse or hard knocks, but it looks all lovely and shiny, and gives your truck that finished look. If you want something to give you a little greater protection, then something with a thicker wall is what’s needed.
Not many manufacturers list their wall thickness, but as a general thought, the weight of the product should give an indication as to whether you’re getting a heavy duty nerf bar, or something that’s aimed more for aesthetics.
For me, I think the ICI Magnum step bars are the most heavy duty bars here, and they look the most hardcore also. Yeah, they aren’t cheap, but you really are paying for the quality and the longevity (and perhaps for the added security) of the product – they genuinely will outlast the others here. If the style fits with your vehicle, then these are the best choice.
A good all rounder would be the N-FAB – they offer a good blend of strength and style, without being too heavy, or too aggressively styled, it really does depend on your need (and the make of your truck). Whatever your thoughts, all four of these nerf bars are well made, well styled and will offer you an easy step up, along with a little ‘nerf’ protection.