Choose your weapon
You don't want to bring a knife to a gun fight. On the other hand, think how stupid you'd feel showing up to a squirrel hunt with an elephant gun. Selecting the right tire for your driving style isn't much different. You may feel pretty manly driving away from the off-road shop with your brand-new 44-inch Boggers, but after your first week of commuting on them you'll be ready to take the bus. Or, maybe you're sunk up to your rockers in a mud bog and realize those freeway-friendly all-terrains just aren't cutting it.
Realistically, these examples border on the extreme ends of the spectrum. Most off-roaders aren't so dull they can't select a tire that works well for their intended use. However, as with anything, you can always delve deeper and perhaps find a better option. Knowledge is power, so up your arsenal with a little tire tech.
As little as ten years ago the question wasn't so weighted. Like Coke or Pepsi, you simply chose all-terrain or mud-terrain. There was little wiggle room in between and not many choices within each category. Discounting the really hardcore offerings like those from Interco, your selection usually boiled down to something as simple as a BFG or Goodyear MT or AT. Nowadays it's not so simple, with advanced computer-aided tread design, myriad durometer ratings, different ply weaves, and tread compounds all factored to deliver greater off-road performance as well as a smoother, quieter ride and longer life on the street. And the sheer number of tire manufacturers offering off-road-friendly tires seems never to have been greater. Now, more than ever, the tire shopper needs to come armed to the teeth with information before pulling the trigger on a new set of rolling stock.
While we realize most Jp readers cast their eyes towards off-road performance, there are those who simply want a smooth-running, long-wearing tire for their commuter that will only get used for the occasional off-road foray. For inclement weather performance, look for decent voids and/or circumferential grooves in the tread that will channel standing water out of and away from the lugs. This will reduce the tire's tendency to hydroplane. Also, smaller, more tightly-spaced lugs in the center tread with generous siping (small slits or grooves cut into the tread blocks) will cut down the noise level, increase tread life, and improve traction in the wet, snow and ice. As the tread blocks hit the terrain, the siping opens up, presenting more biting edges for the tread block to grab with. Smaller tread blocks offer more flexibility and less scrubbing as they hit the pavement. Siping can reduce tread block scrub further, allowing more flexibility and improved tread life. This normally translates into improved fuel mileage. The downside to excessive siping is it makes the tire tread more susceptible to chunking and tearing off-road. Finally, side or shoulder treads with solid or tightly-spaced lugs like the Toyo Open Country HT shown, increases tread life and helps prevent uneven tread wear and feathering associated with solid front axle and some IFS light truck applications. Simply put, there's more rubber on the outsides to wear away, so it takes longer.