The term “mud-terrain” has changed over the decades. Go back to the mid-20th century, and a mud-terrain tire was developed for one thing: mud. The more aggressive mud-tread patterns came out of necessity—farmers, utility workers, deliverymen, and military men all had jobs to do. The conventional tread of that era’s tires just didn’t cut it on dirt roads after heavy rains, nor did it work very well in muddy terrain.
A bias-ply mud-terrain tire offered unparalleled traction that would leave all others in the dust (and mud), but other design aspects in the tire were ignored. Mud-terrains were knobby, and you could definitely feel it. The carcasses weren’t very round and would often flat-spot if left parked too long. If driven on the road, they would wear out quickly. The on-road manners of the original mud-terrains were nothing to brag about, and the lack of drivability kept them mostly on vehicles that absolutely needed them.
Different regions of the country feature different terrains, and Jeep and truck owners that would never even see mud were buying mud-terrain tires. Therefore, driving in rocks, loose dirt, snow, and rain was starting to be taken into consideration when designing mud-terrain tires. Manufacturers saw where their tires were being used, and they listened to what their consumers wanted. Essentially, people were asking for a more aggressive version of an off-road tire built for all terrains.
Because of that, the mud-terrain began to evolve with breakthroughs and achievements that have proven to be key components in making the modern mud-terrain tire. Three-ply sidewalls are standard on MT tires these days. Radial construction dominates the light-truck tire market. The more open the tread pattern is the more mud performance will be enhanced—up to a point. As the tread pattern is more open, less tread life can be expected when compared to an all-terrain. Tread compounds are getting better and better as manufacturers figure out how to produce superior rubber for the off-road enthusiast. Mud-terrain tires can last upwards of 40,000 miles these days and can handle high speeds with nary a wobble. To say that the modern mud-terrain is an improvement on the original design would be an understatement.
Improvements were made in the tread designs and carcasses. These tires were not only used in a variety of off-road terrains; people also wanted to leave these tires on their trucks and Jeeps full-time and motor down the highway at normal-auto speeds. These “mud tires” had to be designed for highway safety and drivability as well. A wider range of load ratings are now available in many radial mud-terrain tires that also allow for their use on large pickups and SUVs.
A big jump in improved on-road manners came in 1980 when BFGoodrich released a radial mud-terrain tire—something that handled and rode much better than the standard bias-ply MTs offered at the time. Another big improvement to follow was the introduction of three-ply sidewall tires that were much more durable than previous MTs. This would up the ante for radial mud-terrain tires and allow people to venture into even more treacherous terrain. More recently, improved rubber compounds have been helping increase traction and reduce treadwear on mud-terrain tires.
To help get better insight on the evolution of the mud-terrain tire, we checked in with a number of tire manufacturers to pick their brains. They showed us the latest in mud-terrain tire design and some background on how tire design has changed over the years.
When your grandpa was a kid, there wasn’t much in the way of choice when it came to tires. Off-roading wasn’t something done for fun as much as it was out of necessity; and tires didn’t generally have great traction, requiring a certain amount of momentum to get you through a sticky situation.
Mud-terrain tires have evolved over the years. What was once a dedicated tire built for mud has become a more extreme and aggressive version of an all-terrain tire. The modern mud-terrain tire can handle mud, rocks, sand, snow, ice, wet weather, and drive smoothly on the highway at 75 mph.
The Origins of the Mud-Terrain
The standard agricultural tire is the original mud-terrain, but aside from the mud-buggy build, those agricultural implement treads rarely make it off the farm. So who invented the first recreational mud-terrain tire for trucks and Jeeps? While we have no doubt you can cite a contradicting example, many people consider Interco to be the father of the mud-terrain tire; its bias-ply “Swamper” tire forged the way. BFGoodrich launched the first radial mud-terrain tire in 1980.
How Mud-Terrain Sizing Changed and Diverged
For many years, bias-ply mud-terrain tires were offered in very limited sizes. Consumer demand for larger sizes pushed tire width and radius to the ends of the spectrum. Today, 12.5 to 13.5 inches wide seems to be the preferred width, and 33- to 40-inch mud-terrain sizes are readily available. The Pit Bull Growler tires on this fullsize Cherokee are 21 inches wide.
BFGoodrich got its start in the mud-terrain tire world in 1980—four years after it released the first Radial All-Terrain T/A that was developed through years of off-road racing. The Radial Mud-Terrain T/A was the first radial mud-terrain tire in the marketplace, making BFG a pioneer in the construction of the modern mud tire. In 1984, it released the world’s tallest radial mud-terrain tire for the time, at 35 inches. The Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 is currently its most aggressive, and its 37-inch Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 is its largest radial mud tire.
The Falken WildPeak M/T was also born in off-road racing, testing prototypes on personal Jeeps as well as with development partners in the King of the Hammers, Baja 500, and Baja 1000. Satisfied with its performance and durability off-road, the design was refined through multiple iterations to ensure the enthusiast consumer could live with this tire on the road. Falken finally launched its first consumer-available production M/T tire, the WildPeak M/T in February 2016. The Falken WildPeak M/T not only has a three-ply sidewall, but also has two more around the bead, making the sidewall five-plies-thick in the most vulnerable part of the sidewall.
Back in the 1980s, General Tire brought out the original Grabber MT, and it was very successful in off-road racing. The product was not refreshed often enough and sales eroded. General Tire went without a new mud-terrain until the Grabber “red letter” tires hit in 2006. In 2016, General Tire brought out its best mud-terrain yet, the newly redesigned Grabber MT, and as of this report it makes up to a 37-inch tire for 17-, 18-, and 20-inch wheel diameters.
The tire company that became Interco started in Rayne, Louisiana, in 1947, and in 1968 developed the world’s first 78 series light-truck tires for use on these Jeeps and the few other 4WD vehicles that were available at the time. It was called the Swamper, and it came in three sizes: H78x15, H78x16, and L78x16. With greater flotation, and better traction in mud, it was right tire at the right time needed to replace the Military ND tires. Today, Interco makes the largest and deepest line of specialty light-truck tires on the planet, and a number of them are mud-terrain tires. Look for the Super Swamper, the Bogger, and the IROK from Interco.
Maxxis made its first mud-terrain tire, the Bravo MT 753, in the ’90s. From that point forward, Maxxis’ offerings to the off-road market multiplied rapidly to an entire line of MT products; and its flagship tire, the RAZR MT, was designed for mud, rock, and loose gravel terrain, as well as sandy and loamy soils. Off-road enthusiast needs are also met with the Creepy Crawler, Bighorn Trepador Radial, and the ever-popular Trepador Bias that allows for even more aggressive use when it comes to varying terrain conditions.
Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels offers racing and performance tires and wheels for street, strip, truck, and off-road applications. The company was founded in 1963 by racing legend Mickey Thompson. The transition from bias to radial construction, and a third ply, brought about mud tires like the Baja MTZp3 and Baja Claw TTC Radial. From the beginning Mickey Thompson Mud Tires had aggressive designs, and in the 1970s it pioneered the use of large “sidebiters” along the upper sidewall. The very aggressive Baja Claw TTC is targeted toward mud, rock, and loose dirt; the Baja MTZp3 is meant to handle all that, but has much better highway manners.
Nitto Tire launched its first M/T in the early 2000s with the first true radial 40-inch on the market, the Mud Grappler. Since then, a lot has changed in the off-road marketplace, so in 2009 it released the Trail Grappler M/T, and most recently the Ridge Grappler. Manufacturing technology and compounds have been the biggest changes. Technology like Nitto’s “Spiral Wound” manufacturing process takes what would otherwise be a lumpy, un-streetable, and hard-to-balance tire into something today’s IFS trucks can run without issue.
Pit Bull designed its three key tires (the Rocker, the Growler, and the Maddog) in 2002. They’re more technically designed than mud tires of the past, and refined to offer a better on-road experience (quieter, better handling) while maintaining off-road aggressiveness. All of the company’s tires seem to do well anywhere, but we wouldn’t necessarily say any of them are dedicated mud-terrain tires. The Rocker tire is Pit Bull’s X/T Extreme Terrain, and seems to work incredibly well in mud.
Toyo has been producing specialty light-truck tires since the company was founded in 1946. In 2004, the first Open Country M/T tires rolled off the production line at its state-of-the-art factory in White, Georgia. The Open Country M/T is its “maximum traction” tire, and it performs well in soft, sloppy, slippery, muddy environments. The Open Country M/T’s tread pattern was designed to have excellent clean-out, which means as the tires spin the tread will clear the mud from between the lugs, thus providing biting traction—even in the nasty muddy off-road conditions. For those off-road enthusiasts who also want performance in sand, dirt, gravel, and rocks, Toyo offers its Open Country R/T, which is a hybrid between a mud tire and an all-terrain tire.