We are always asked what is the best tire for off-roading. As we we tell our customers, there is no one perfect tire for every condition and to suit everyone’s use. But if you get to know a little about what you want to get out of your tire and how you intend to use your vehicle then there is a perfect tire for you and your use. It is all about working out what tire fits your sweet spot and is most suitable for you.
Determining the right choice of tire is primarily made by the terrain you intend to encounter and of course your personal performance preferences. You may be surprised how much of the choice really comes down to a personal preference over one vs. the other, while you are the only one to make that choice we have tried to offer some advice to help you make that decision.
Let’s go over some hypothetical scenarios to help you get a better idea of what your right choice is. Let’s make the assumption that you drive a trail that consists of sand, rocks, hardpack, and some mud for good measure. Now go one step further to say that you drive your vehicle straight from home to the trailhead. Or perhaps you travel on highways, hardpacks, and want sand performance over rock and mud performance, then you would select a completely different tire for each of these driving styles. It then becomes the question of what are you willing to sacrifice on regarding performance in order to gain performance in areas that matter more to you.
For off roading the tire choice is either an all-terrain or a mud-terrain and we have taken the time to offer some considerations on a number of driving conditions and offered some explanations as to what tread will work best in each of these terrains. Once you’ve found your sweet spot, picking a tire is much easier.
Typically all-terrain tires have closely spaced tread blocks and the generous siping, with alternating shoulder blocks that are designed to improve sidewall grip when you’re navigating ruts and off-camber sections of terrain and also have numerous grooves to displace water.
Reasoning: The closely spaced tread blocks allow for more rubber to be in contact with the road, and the siping allows the tread blocks to have increased flex, this in turn further improves the grip. The siping and the closely spaced tread blocks (also know as the low void ratio) have two additional benefits: firstly, allowing the tire runs significantly quieter on the street than a mud-terrain tire, and secondly, allowing the tire to disperse water efficiently. It comes down to all-terrain tires have more rubber in contact with the road and that translates to a longer lasting tire for pavement use.
Typically mud-terrain tread blocks are larger, and the space between the individual blocks is greater compared to an all-terrain, giving the appearance of knobs of rubber on the tire. The tread carries over onto the sidewall, a feature that some manufacturers call sidebiters. They also tend to have skinny ribs that protrude from the casing in between the main tread blocks and are known as stonekickers by some manufacturers. They are purpose designed to prevent pebbles from getting lodged between the tread blocks. Many mud-terrains have blocks that are siped in order to increase traction in wet conditions and to allow the blocks to have increased flex.
Terrain: Dry creek bed with mixture of sand, chunky rocks, and fallen branches.
Reasoning: This terrain isn’t always predictable and offers mixed surfaces, and the larger blocks and greater voids in the mud-terrain tread allow for the tread blocks to act like fingers, clawing their way over rocks, branches, and other irregularities.
Terrain: Desert hardpack overlain with coarse-grained sand
Reasoning: The tightly spaced tread blocks and ample siping allow for increased rubber to be in contact with the hardpack. The siping allows for the tread blocks to flex and grab at the hardpack in spite of the loose overlay.
Reasoning: All-terrain tires have higher floatation when compared to mud-terrain treads. Also the more aggressive tread of the mud-terrain tire can cause the tires to dig downward faster rather than propelling the vehicle forward. If you are looking for a specialist combination for deep sand than running real sand paddles on the rear and razor-back tires on the front provides sand propulsion and steering that is like nothing else. Always worth noting that whatever your tire choice for sand, you must always reduce the air pressure to 10-15PSI as that will offer much greater surface area and reduce getting stuck.
Terrain: Gas station or Cost of Fuel Consideration
Reasoning: All-terrain treads while not as aggressive as mud-terrains and as such have a lower rolling resistance on pavement. If you’re driving great distances that include pavement, even over mixed terrain, you’ll find that all-terrain tires will take less fuel to propel. Generally testing will determine all-terrain tires will always offer better fuel consumption over mud-terrains.
Terrain: Rock Crawling
Reasoning: The mix of smooth and rough surfaces that rock crawling provides are best suited to mud-terrain tires as there is no shortage of chunky rocks, ledges, and steep, loose slopes to climb.
Reasoning: Mud-terrain tires are perfect for mud and allow for extra grip to propel forward in the sticky, wet surface of mud. All-terrain tires will unfortunately get the mud packed into the tread and then work as well as slicks, offering little to no traction. The low void ratio means that all-terrain tires don’t self-clean or grip as well as mud tires do in mud, so we suggest to always use mud-terrains when mudding.
Terrain: Chunky, dried clay
Reasoning: This is one of those situations where the more aggressive tread blocks and higher void ratio of the mud-terrain tire are perfect. An all-terrain has a tendency to slip and lose traction in these conditions, while the mud-terrain will dig in and propel the vehicle forward. Also worth noting that if it rains and this type of soil gets wet, it quickly becomes a sticky, gloppy mud.
We are sure many of you are still undecided and some will prefer how one tire looks over the other, that is fine, either option will allow for off road adventures, but you will have a better experience with the right tire for your situation and terrain. The choice comes down to personal preference but we always find it is better to be informed and make a decision that will offer you the most enjoyable experience for your driving conditions.
It is worth also noting that all-terrain tires will always offer a smoother and quieter ride over mud-terrain tires. We recommend being a passenger in a vehicle fitted with mud-terrian tires and experience it for yourself.
No matter what tire you choose, airing down makes a big difference off-road. Better grip and a smoother ride are the chief benefits. Most 4×4’s usually run at 40 PSI for the street, and 30 PSI for general trail running. Looser terrain are more manageable at 15 to 20 PSI and if you run beadlocks on your rims you could air down to as low as 10 PSI, but without beadlocks that is likely to end with an unseated tire.
Now you have some knowledge on what tires work best in each environment we hope that you feel more comfortable to choose the best tire for your use and will be hitting the trail for your next off road adventure soon.