Tires. Big tires. Big mud tires. Yep, thats what you want if you live in mud country. Face it: If you dont have real mud tires when slogging through Midwest gumbo, your rig better have a big winch on it. Street tread just doesnt cut it in real slop, and anyone who mudbogs or just has to cross the stuff to go to work knows that real mud tires are a must. But which mud tire is the best? Are they all good, or are some better than others? We decided to take those questions and do a real world mud tire test.
We were looking at the six different tire characteristics we felt were a good indication of performance: Flotation, or the ability to stay on top of the mud; steering ability, which is important if the tires fall into deep ruts; launching, which indicates what type of grip or traction the tires have; slippery hill in two-wheel drive, an all-around indication of traction; self-cleaning ability, where a tread design throws out the mud so the lugs get a fresh grip in the goo; and finally, the distance each set of tires could propel the Jeep into the mud pit. So here it is, the mother of all mud tire tests. While you may not agree with our conclusions, and we admit that a test like this is highly subjective, we also know what we saw and how the tires performed in a real-world situation. Enjoy the read, then go mount some meats and check it out for yourself.
How We Did It
We asked the guys at National Tire & Wheel to help us with this project, since they live in the muddy Midwest and sell half of the tires we wanted to test. Owner Greg Eaton even has a plot of slop near his house which he graciously let us use, along with his garage, CJ-8, and a few of his friends and employees to help pull off the biggest tire test ever.
The concept was simple: Select nine real mud tires, mount them on similar rims, and try them out on one vehicle. Eatons own CJ-8 normally rides around on 38-inch Super Swamper Boggers. The drivetrain is a stout Chevy 350 coupled to a T-18 and Dana 300 transfer case. A Currie 35-spline 9-inch Ford rearend with a spool and 4.88 gears is matched to a front Currie-built Dana 44 with a Lock-Right and 4.88s.
For consistency sake we felt a single driver on all of the tires would be the best. Once our course was laid out, we measured off 100 feet of goo, with the easy stuff at the beginning. Each run was made in third gear, low range, and the clutch was dumped the same way at the same rpm to get the tires spinning. We even ran the first couple of sets of tires through the course at the end of the test so that track degradation wouldnt be a factor. At the end of each run (and more often than not) the neighbors tractor was called in to rescue the Jeep when it bottomed the frame out in the 3-foot-deep slop. In addition to the bog pit, we drove the tires on hilly terrain back and forth to the garage during tire swaps. This gave us a chance to evaluate the side hill gripping and ride, but more importantly, we were able to test them in the two-wheel-drive mode to check for traction.
9. Yokohama Geolandar MT
The Geolandar MT came on the four-wheel-drive scene a few years ago, and many a test have proven it to be a great tire. It was one of our favorites as well, from Rubicon rock to desert dust. In our nine-way mud tire test, the Geolander got off to a slippery start. In fact, the Geolander exhibited little, if any, bite during our clutch dropping start of the run and had a difficult time finding traction in the soupy slop. As speed increased down the track so did the lack of steering stability, and flotation was next to nil. As the Jeep finally sunk in the mud after a last-place, 43-foot 8-inch pull, the lack of self cleaning of mud off the tires caused one judge to note that they looked like big glazed donuts. On the bright side, the tires excelled over many others in the two-wheel-drive test up the slippery slope, where they made the hill without the driver having to slip it into four-wheel drive.
8. Explorer Pro Comp Mud Terrains
Our newest tire manufacturer has had good results over the last few years. While similar in looks to the BFG Mud-Terrain, the Pro Comp stands on its own in the rock and trail world, and this was a chance to try them in real mud. In the mud, the hard dump of a clutch simply spun the tires until the world caught up with them, and then they had a difficult time in the pit. Although they floated on the mud better than some, the lack of good steering control led to rut stuckage. We even tried the pit twice to make sure we werent crazy. Fortunately the tires cleaned themselves out fairly well, which helped them go 54 feet 2 inches, or near the top of the first half. Even in two-wheel mode on the drive back to the barn, the tires pulled the Jeep up the slope, while other tires did not. The siping on the tread elements was a benefit here, as was the 12.50 width.
7. Mickey Thompson Baja Claw
Our first contestant was the Baja Claw, and we also ran them last to make sure our results were consistent. The first launch was fairly impressive, leaving the line with good traction, and the rpm spun them into the slop. About midway through the course the Claws started to bog down, but then the sidebiters seemed to hook up as the front tires were sawed back and forth to provide some extra grip. The flotation characteristics seemed good since they didnt sink to China, but this was also accompanied by a definite lack of steering control. An interesting note was that in this mud the Claws didnt seem to clean themselves very well, with only a few chunks blowing into the air at full rpm. However, our first victim couldnt pull the full 100-foot course, but came up with a respectable 43 feet 9 inches for the initial run, and after all the other tires were tested, the check run came in at 42 feet 5 inches. This verified that the track was tough and consistent and that the Baja Claw worked well in real mud. Our final test was a two-wheel-drive try up a slick rock and mud hill, and the Claws gripped exceedingly well, getting high marks in this category.
6. Gateway Gumbo Monster Mudders
Gumbo Mudders have been on mud trucks since dirt was invented, or so it seems. Weve used them in the dirty rocks, and even took them up Surprise Canyon to Panamint City years ago, with good results. Our set was one of the fattest in the bunch, and it showed. In fact it was the second-best floater, even though the launch was just above average in this grouping of tires, which could have been due to the extra width compared to others. But the Mudders great self-cleaning ability led to a better-than-average pull through the mud, with the good steering helping to make the pull at 58 feet 2 inches for a spot right in between the top and bottom sets of tires. The major shortcoming was the two-wheel-drive section where the wide footprint and lack of siping hindered traction on a slippery uphill drive. Overall, the Monster Mudders made the grade for a mud tire, proving that old is indeed good.
5. BFGoodrich Mud-Terrains
BFG has been a standard of the light truck industry for years, and most people buy them because they know they work. Its that simple. And once again, the Mud-Terrains proved themselves capable. As the Jeep eased up to the starting line, we noticed that the tires were not sliding around on the slick ground very much. That was a good sign. We imediately noticed that they launched better than most and provided excellent steering, especially for such a skinny tire compared to some others. While flotation seemed well below average, the great self-cleaning lugs really spun out the goo, and that helped to propel the BFG-shod CJ to the 60-foot mark before it buried itself to the gills. The most interesting aspect of these tires was on the hill test in 2x4 condition, where the BFGs simply climbed up the hill as the other 12.50 tires did; contact pressure overcomes flotation in a test such as this.
4. Interco Super Swamper TSL
The standard Super Swamper TSL is a tire by which many others are judged, and we were anxious to see how well it would do. When the clutch was dumped the Swampers spunand then motivated the Jeep, instead of launching hard. While surprising, that fact didnt keep the TSLs from chewing down the course with excellent flotation and steering characteristics. In fact, we had to duck for cover at times, as the self-cleaning tires shot goobers of sludge at us from a distance. And speaking of distance, it was a generous 59-foot 7-inch run in the mud for the Super Swampers, right near the top of all the other tires. The Swampers real drawback was on the two-wheel-drive hillclimb; the big size and lack of sipes in the tread blocks made for a difficult trip. In fact, while is wasnt the lowest-rated tire in this department, it tied two other entrants for last place. Despite this one shortcoming, we were impressed with what a real mud tire can do in a sloppy environment.
3. Goodyear MTR
The newest addition to the Goodyear line is the MTR, introduced two years ago on the Rubicon. While we continue to be impressed with them in rocks, this was the first time we really got to check em out in the mud. The 12.50 section width was smaller than the Swampers and such but comparable to the other tires of the same size. The new tread pattern really showed its stuff on launch, where the Jeep nearly pulled the front tires off the ground. These tires launched the hardest by far. While screaming through the mud the MTRs exhibited great steering ability, even though the flotation department noted that they were pretty average. As far as self-cleaning, these tires did that in an above-average manner, contributing to a distance mark of 63 feet 9 inches, even better than the Swamper TSLs. Whats more, the trip back to the garage proved that these tires work great on the two-by section while going uphill in the slime.
2. Interco Super Swamper SSR
Improving on the famed Interco TSL wasnt easy, but slap on a radial sidewall and some siping on the tread and you have a winner. In fact, while the old TSL did very well in this test, as the younger brother smoked the older one with better launch and cleaning abilities in the mud. Flotation ability and self-cleaning were a bit poorer than the older brother, but by small amounts. The big difference was the awesome churn through the mud where the SSRs went beyond the distance of seven other tire sets that stayed in the pit, with three quarters of the track behind the Jeep before it was over. Sure enough, the SSR went nearly the distance, and in two-wheel drive the siping and skinny profile scooted the Jeep up the hill and garnered big points for doing so. This radial incarnation of a time-tested design has also worked well in previous rock and dirt tests. While we love the old TSL design, this one was worth noting for the fine performance it displayed.
1. Interco Super Swamper Bogger
Boggers were designed for mud, period. Even though they look awesome on nearly anything and work equally well in the rocks, dirt, street, or mud, they are a mud tire first. We fully expected these tires to do well since weve seen em work, but this test was the proof in the pudding. Starting with a better-than-most launch, the Boggers flew into the track as if rockets were attached to the Jeep. Floating above the goo and slinging clumps out of every tread block, these tires provided excellent steering control even when they started to slow down and dig deeper into the track. But thats when these tires came alive as they dug down and grabbed glop to shoot the Jeep down the track. From that point on it was churn and burn as the Boggers propelled the Jeep completely through the 100 feet of Midwest mud. While the Hillclimb in 2x4 was as average as the other fat tires, the Boggers were the only one to make a full pull through our test track, making it the highest rated tire in our nine-tire shootout.