Nerf Bars, Running Boards and Side Steps. Which One Is For You?

Nerf Bars, Running Boards and Side Steps. Which One Is For You?


With large vehicles like an off-road truck, getting in and out isn’t as easy as it is with a car. The extra height that a truck has can make it tricky especially if your legs aren’t quite that long. And what if you’ve got kids or the grandparents want a ride? Are you supposed to carry them in?

Luckily, this is an easy fix. You can install Truck Accessories like running boards, side steps, and nerf bars. They’re a practical addition especially for vehicles that sit higher up than usual. Not only that, they can provide a more rugged appearance and a bit of safety as well.

Between the aggressive nerf bar, the practical running board, and the simple side step, which one is best suited for you? Let’s take a look at each one to find out.


Nerf Bars

nerf bars

During the early days of car racing, before the era of strict safety regulations, drivers tended to be more aggressive. Passing a vehicle could easily involve contact between two vehicles. Nerf bars started as a tool to help execute these passing maneuvers. They also helped against race cars trying to pass or just to protect against aggressive racers. Today, they’re more often found on off-road vehicles like trucks.

Nerf bars have a tubular shape. Some are a bit circular while some are more oval which gives them a wider profile. Because of its shape, the surface of a nerf bar doesn’t have the best grip.

It’s usually only the sections underneath the cab doors that have rubberized grips or treads built in to help with your footing. You have to make sure that you’re only stepping on these portions to prevent your feet from slipping.

When it comes to mounting, nerf bars are usually mounted with a bit of distance between the body of the truck and the actual step. You’ll see a gap of a few inches from the rocker panel, which is characteristic of a nerf bar.

For taller vehicles, this makes it more convenient to ride on or off the truck. But for lower rides, ground clearance can be a concern. The lower mounting position can also be seen as an added layer of protection between debris and the bottom of your truck.

If you’re going for style, there’s no denying that nerf bars have a tougher look to them. Of course, there are running boards designed to look rugged but nerf bars have a more aggressive in nature.

Check out Bodyguard’s Pipe Step lineup to see what we mean. Its design pairs up nicely with their Traditional and A2L Series of bumpers too.


Running Boards

running boards

Running boards have been around since the early 17th century - before cars were even made! They were used as a step for passengers when climbing in and out of carriages.

Running boards were also a standard fixture for early cars. The narrow design of the passenger area meant that, much like carriages, a step was needed to ride the vehicle. As designs improved, the need for running boards faded away. However, they’re still around and ready to be used in modern off-road vehicles. 

Compared to nerf bars, running boards are wider. They’re also flat which makes them safer and more convenient to use as a step. Because of their shape, the entire length of the board can be stepped on safely. This makes them especially useful for people with mobility or balance issues.

Running boards are mounted much closer to the vehicle. They’re usually attached flush to the rocket panel with no major gap in between. And since they’re so close to the bottom of the truck, ground clearance isn’t reduced by much. However, if your truck sits a lot higher from the ground, running boards won’t offer much help when you want to get in or out of your ride.

Running boards can be considered more practical than nerf bars. After all, you can use the entire boards as a step and you don’t have to worry about whether you’re stepping on the right part.

Westin’s Sure-Grip series is just one product that demonstrates the practicality and functionality running boards have to offer. For a more high-tech option, there’s the PowerStep from AMP Research that automatically extends and retracts. If you have a low profile bumper like the Fab Fours Aero, being able to tuck away the running board helps keep your truck’s sleek overall look.


Side Steps

side steps

One thing that nerf bars and running boards have in common is their size. They span the length of the truck cab or even longer. If you’re looking for something low-profile that won’t change the appearance of your truck too much, side steps might be the answer.

Unlike nerf bars or running boards, side steps are way smaller. They’re often just wider than your foot and provide just enough of a step to help you get in our out of your vehicle. Since they’re so small, you have to be careful with your feet and make sure you’re using the step correctly.

Their small size also makes them a more flexible option. A side step can be mounted near passenger doors just like nerf bars or running boards. They can also be mounted as a convenient step for accessing the truck bed.

For example, the BedStep from AMP Research can be attached right under the rear bumper so you can easily access the back of your truck. You can even use it while the tailgate is open.

Another advantage that comes with being so small is that they’re often much cheaper than big nerf bars or running boards. If you just need something simple, a side step will likely do the job.


What Else You Need To Know

When it comes to running boards or nerf bars, one thing you have to consider is the size. Both of them aren’t just for easy access to the passenger cab. They can be found in either cab-length or wheel-to-wheel variants.

Those that are wheel-to-wheel long will span not just the cab but also a bit of the truck bed. This makes it an all in one solution for getting in or out of the truck as well as for reaching the bed from the side.

Just be careful when using the nerf bar to reach back there. As we’ve mentioned, only certain portions of the bar have grips to help keep your feet stable. If you have a wheel-to-wheel running board, that won’t be a problem. This just shows how practical running boards are.

Some manufacturers also have what they call nerf steps or nerf step bars. Think of them as a combination of nerf bars and side steps. They’re installed much like nerf bars on either side of the truck.

But instead of having parts of the bar with treads, there are steps that protrude outward. It’s like having multiple side steps built in. They have a lower profile than regular nerf bars but they offer the same functionality.

N-FAB have a variety of nerf step bars in their lineup. If you want to have a unified look on all sides, the Magnum RT Steps from ICI will definitely go together with their Magnum series of front and rear bumpers. Have a look to see if they’re more your style. 

Whether you’re looking for a nerf bar, running board or just a side step, make sure you’re not just after the looks. Go for something durable, safe, and functional so your truck will do even more for you.

Head over to BumperOnly’s store to see our collection from top brands like AMP Research, ICI, N-FAB, Steelcraft, and Westin. And if you’re not sure which one will fit your truck, just get in touch and our team will help you out.

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