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Best Tires for Driving in Sand

From the beach to the dunes, here are our top tires for sand.

Selecting the best tire for sand isn't as cut and dry as you may expect. Just like there are many different types of snow, each requiring a different set of skills and equipment to successfully negotiate, so too are there many different types of sand. You've got loose, dry sand that can seem bottomless, moist and firmly packed sand that will easily support the weight of a vehicle, sand that tumbles at the normal 34-degree angle of repose, and other types of sand that can't grip itself more than 15 degrees or that can exceed more than 44 degrees. In short, there's no magic bullet when it comes to selecting the best tire for the sand. So instead of crowning one single winner, we'll give you a rundown of some different types of tires and the kind of performance you can expect of them in a given type of sand.

Paddle Tires for Sand

If you're serious about taming any sand terrain, then you'll want to invest in at least one pair of paddle tires. Available not only in different sizes, paddle tires are often sold with a huge range of options in regards to paddle size, shape, number, and aggressiveness. For lower-horsepower vehicles you'll probably want to err on the side of conservativeness with shorter, less aggressive paddles. This will allow some slippage that won't kill wheel speed.

Vehicles with higher horsepower numbers can go for more aggressive paddles, with taller, more aggressive profiles. You can also select more or fewer paddles, with the caveat that obviously more paddles will give you more bite and fewer paddles will allow a bit more slip and wheel speed. If you know your vehicle weight and a ballpark power estimate, most paddle tire manufacturers can steer you in the right direction.

There's really no need to run paddle tires on the front of your 4x4. In fact, doing so will greatly increase steering difficulty. You can run your regular front tires in the sand in most instances, but to get the biggest bang for your fun, specialty sand tires can be run up front that will give great bite and also help aid steering with their circumferential ribs that act as little rudders. These tires are also used in rear applications in some very low-horsepower instances, like super light VW-powered 2WD sand rails.

Big Off-Road Balloon Tires

Sadly, the number of super-wide off-road tires available in 33- to 38-inch diameters is dwindling, but if sand comprises a majority of your off-road repertoire then you'll want to go with the widest tire you can find and air it down to the lowest pressure you can before you start rolling a bead off the wheel. The 35x13.50R15 BFG Krawler mounted on a 15x10 beadlock wheel on the left has proven a great sand performer on a lightweight Willys flatfender, but the super wide (by comparison) 35x14.50-15 Pit Bull Rocker on the right is wider still. However, despite the Pit Bull's wider dimension, the 15x10 wheel it's mounted on isn't a beadlock, so it can't be run at the same lower air pressure as the Krawler without slipping a tire off the best. This brings up a good point that wheel width and bead retention also plays a part in a tire's sand performance potential.

Generally, the lower the air pressure you're able to run, the better your sand performance will be due to an increased contact patch. We lowered the air pressure in these tires to 4 psi to get them to start bulging for max flotation, but then we began peeling the bead off the wheel. To prevent this, we had to pump the tires back up to 7 psi, which prevented the sidewall from developing a nice bulge and spreading out the contact patch to help this Jeep float atop the sand like a boat on water. Conversely, when running our BFG Krawlers mounted on OMF breadlocks, bead retention isn't an issue and the tire pressure can be lowered to 1 psi, effectively creating a much, much wider contact patch than what's shown in this photo.

Mud Terrain or All Terrain for Sand—Which Is Better?

Conventional wisdom has dictated that all things being equal, a mud-terrain tire isn't as good as an all-terrain tire in the sand because they'll tend to dig down, but we don't find that to be the case unless you're running the tire at full street pressure. If you're airing down to increase your tire's potential contact patch we actually find that, much like in mud and rocks, a mud-terrain tire offers more grip and bite in the sand than an all-terrain tire.

An all-terrain tire in the sand does adequately as long as you're airing down to increase flotation, but in side-to-side testing of identically sized tires on identically sized wheels installed on the same vehicle, we've found the more aggressive tires—as long as pressures are lowered as much as possible without bead retention becoming an issue—offer better sand performance. The only real places we routinely see an all-terrain outshine a mud-terrain is on hard-packed snow, glare ice, and other super-low adhesion conditions in which the increased siping and number of grabbing angles of the all-terrain tread blocks prove an advantage over the fewer, wider-spaced lugs of the mud terrain.