The Four Wheeler Staff Weighs In On Tire Selection
We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that modern 4x4 tires are the most durable, longest wearing, multi-faceted tires ever produced. We recently read a newspaper story that ran in the early 1900s that told the story of a local motorist who was able to drive his car 15 miles to a neighboring town and back without suffering a flat tire. That was big news back then and it’s just a small example of how tire materials and construction have improved. But not only has construction vastly improved, tread design and sizing has improved as well. Today we can choose from a mind boggling number of types and sizes of tires from a number of manufacturers.
With all these choices, purchasing tires for your 4x4 can be a challenging experience. After all, money doesn’t grow on trees so you want to get it right the first time. For sure the decision hinges on what type of driving you do. If you live in a place like the Outer Banks of North Carolina you’ll probably want a sand-friendly tire. If you regularly traverse “roads” like Last Dollar Road near Telluride, Colorado, you’ll be wanting a tire that’s mud-friendly so you can get around after a summer monsoon. If you live in the Snowbelt your desire will probably be a tire that excels in snow and ice. If all you do is run hardcore trails, well, you probably don’t care about the tires road manners so you’re going to put trail performance first.
Here at Four Wheeler our opinionated staff has their own favorite tires for certain types of terrain. In this story, Editor John Cappa, Technical Editor Ali Mansour, and Senior Editor Ken Brubaker weigh in on their preferred tire in four major off-road terrain types. We’ve also included our choice of what tire we’d want for an off-road nationwide trip as well as the best tire we’ve ever owned.
Hopefully our opinions and experiences will be a helpful piece of the tire-selection puzzle and help you formulate a good buying decision for your 4x4.
Cappa: Since I live in Southern California where rain and mud are somewhat uncommon compared to much of the U.S., I don’t have the luxury of owning a mud-specific 4x4. But I grew up wearing out aggressive mud tires nearly everywhere anyway, including on the street. So if I plan to run the “mud” 4x4 in question on the road for any significant amount of time, I’ll go for a radial mud tire in the sloppy stuff. Just about any of the tires that have a good rubber-to-void ratio similar to the Goodyear MT/R, Pro Comp Xtreme Mud Terrain II, Dick Cepek Mud Country, Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ, and so on will do. However, I’ll pay real close attention to the load rating and actual weight of the tire. If it’s a lightweight 4x4 I don’t need load range E tires; I’ll look for a C.
Now, if it’s a trail-specific mud rig, I’m going for the nastiest mud tire I can get my hands on. That will lead me to something with huge knobby tread blocks, giant voids, and quite often really bad road manners. My no-holds-barred mud tire choices would include several Super Swamper models and the Nitto Mud Grappler. Again, I’ll try and watch the weight, but that kind of goes out the window when selecting a tire like this.
Mansour: Mud is the majority of what I have in my neck of the woods. The most challenging of it being the red clay that is more inland. If I am building a dedicated mud rig, I will generally go with some type of Interco tire, usually a Bogger or traditional TSL. If I’m really heading towards the deep end, ag tires, specifically Rice and Canes, are a great choice. The biggest drawback with most ag tires is that they don’t provide any give or cushion. I’ve ridden in a few tractor-tired rigs that performed extremely well, but rode extremely rough. For a dual purpose rig that sees a mix of street and off-highway terrain, I like the Nitto Trail Grappler and Mickey Thompson MTZ.
Brubaker: Here in the Midwest, mud is the most common challenge I face. But not all mud is created equal. Frequently we have to deal with thin, grease-like mud. This is often found after a rainfall or in the spring when the very top of the soil thaws during the day but the ground below remains frozen. This mud is like ice, and I’ve seen locked 4x4s struggle to move. Control can also be a challenge. Conversely, we also have to deal with deep, tire-swallowing mud commonly referred to as a “bog.” When hunting for a mud tire I prefer one that not only propels my truck forward, but also provides lateral traction on uneven terrain. If it was on a truck that saw mostly off-road use, I’d fit it with a tire like the Interco Super Swamper TSL. For everyday use, with an emphasis on mud, I’d go with a tire like the Mickey Thompson MTZ or the Cooper Discoverer STT, both of which have large voids to self-clean, while returning good on-road manners.
“Here in the Midwest, mud is the most common challenge I face. But not all mud is created equal.” —Ken Brubaker
Cappa: I drive in the sand and dunes regularly and I have tried everything from paddle tires to street treads. They all need to be aired down properly (5 to 10 psi usually) and they all have pros and cons. Milder treads won’t dig your 4x4s grave as quickly and they tend to float on the surface better than super-aggressive mud tires. However, I’ve found that milder treads are generally less predictable when sidehilling. Also, when descending a really steep and soft dune, the rear end will sometimes try to pass the front end. Yeah, not good. Ultimately the tire I choose is dictated by the power and weight of the 4x4 in question. Lighter, more powerful rigs can make use of a mud tire. My heavier, less powerful 4x4s will get some sort of aggressive all-terrain tire. Now, having said all that, perhaps the best sand tire I have ever used was the bias-ply Dick Cepek Fun Country. I can’t explain it, they were just amazing sand tires, especially when pulling out hopelessly stuck motorhomes in Glamis that must have been four-times (or more) the weight of my 4x4.
Mansour: I grew up driving on the beach, but it’s definitely not the same as carving giant dunes in Glamis. For just cruising around on the sand, an all-terrain works great. Dropping the air pressure in just about any tire will make it perform better off-road, and this is especially true in the sand. I know some guys have great luck with Boggers in the big dunes, as they act like paddle tires, but the power-to-weight ratio needs to be right for that combo to work well.
Brubaker: I’ve wheeled in the sand in Utah, Nevada, California, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Oregon, and North Carolina, among other places. Interestingly, the majority of the time I’ve been driving stock vehicles with the stock all-terrain tires aired down to around 12 to 15 psi, and it has worked fine. As a matter of fact, I’ve never gotten stuck as long as I aired the tires down and didn’t try anything stupid, like trying to climb a mega-tall dune. Based on my experience I’ll opt for a good all-terrain or hybrid tire and a good set of deflators. However, if I lived in a four-wheel-drive community like Carova Beach, North Carolina, and commuted to a job in the city I’d probably opt for a set of wider, high-flotation tires so I didn’t have fiddle with airing the tires up and down.