Picking tires for your everyday ride is usually simple. It’s a matter of matching the wheel size, deciding on a performance tier, and then shopping the major brands in stock. When it comes to off-road tires, though, it’s a whole different world. While you might switch between regular and snow tires on a family vehicle, off-road vehicles have several tire styles that are each designed to work with a specific terrain.
What Are Off-Road Tires
When you look at wheel and tire packages that are built for trail rides, mud running, overlanding, or dune runs, you are looking at off-road tires. They have treads designed for specific terrain types, with performance features that suit the unique challenges posed by that terrain, but that is not the only difference. Typically, off-road designs have specifications that far exceed the OEM specs for a given vehicle, because they are designed to navigate unpredictable terrain with hazards that require a little extra protection.
Different Types of Tires
Understanding how to spot different tire types can help you pick the best choice for your ride. Most off-roaders who spend a lot of time in the field have specialized tires for each terrain they operate in, plus an all-terrain set for general trail rides and overlanding where a variety of conditions could be encountered. All-terrain tires frequently look similar to road tires, and some are even sold across both markets, but they have treads designed to handle loose gravel as well as mud and small puddles. This helps on the road with hydroplaning and on the trail when we weather causes mud patches to appear.
If you want to buy high performance mud tires for trucks, look for two features. Deep grooves that smoothly channel liquid away from contact surfaces will be important, but you also need treads that have the ability to find the solidity under the mud, which means a design that has the ability to grip through the mud, with thick, knobby rubber that can use the weight of the mud to help propel you forward.
Sand Tire Treads
Like mud tires, sand tires need deep treads that can find purchase in loose material. Since that material is dry and not wet, the treads used in sand tend to have a lot of knobby extensions that are fairly narrow, with no design features that optimize moving liquid away from the vehicle. Some sand tires are also used in extreme cold when there is a lot of loose powder, but most snow tires have additional features.
More Specialty Tire Types
If the terrain exists, you can probably find at least one aftermarket tire manufacturer that optimizes a tire for it. At the same time, the basic categories you need to cover are usually all-terrain, mud, sand, winter weather, and sometimes, but not frequently, stone. In most cases that don’t involve a lot of loose material, though, a solid choice like Mickey Thompson all terrain tires can get you through without a changeover to a specialty tire type.