What Makes a Mud-Terrain Tire

Mud-Terrain Tires

Jerrod JonesPhotographer, WriterCourtesy of ManufacturersPhotographer

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.

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.