Saturday, March 10, 2012

Tires, Part 2: All-Terrain versus Mud-Terrain

Now that I've determined what size tires tires I want to fit on my Jeep, I can start selecting from the dozens of different tread patterns available in that size:


I've almost always chosen mud-terrain tires for my various 4x4s because I am one of the few who actually needs an aggressive tire for off-road performance.  I have used a wide variety of all-terrain and mud-terrain tires over the years on my previous vehicles:

  • BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO
  • BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM
  • BFGoodrich Trail T/A
  • Cordovan Wild Trac MT
  • Dunlop Mud Rover
  • General Grabber AT2
  • Interco Super Swamper TSL Radial
  • Interco Super Swamper SSR (5 sets)
  • Interco Super Swamper TrXus M/T
  • Interco Super Swamper Irok Radial
  • Pro Comp Xtreme M/T
  • Treadwright Guard Dog M/T
  • Yokohama Geolandar AT
I have also studied how countless other tires on my friends' vehicles have performed on the street and trail.  Everyone loves how aggressive mud-terrain tires look, but they aren't necessarily the best choice for a multipurpose on/off-road vehicle.  I have to keep this in mind as I plan my Jeep's buildup, because selecting the wrong set of tires can be a noisy, uncomfortable, and expensive mistake.

My Jeep is being built with form following function.  It will see lots of off-road mileage, but it will also serve duty as a daily driver and long-distance road trip vehicle.  As such, I have no choice but to take road performance into serious consideration; I can't let looks or "coolness factor" on the Internet forums steer me in the wrong direction.

Many people have no idea what a huge difference in performance there can be between the various types of tires.  Mud-terrain tires perform great off-road - especially in loose soil, mud, and jagged rocks where the large tread blocks and wide voids between them claw at the surface and make the most of what little traction is available.  The tradeoff comes on the street, where these aggressive tires are noisy, rough, hard to balance, and are oftentimes out-of-round.  Their discomfort may be tolerable for short drives or a non-issue for trailer queens, but for a vehicle that's going to see daily-driving and road-trip duties, this is unacceptable.

All-terrain tires sacrifice traction in sloppy terrain with their smaller tread blocks and narrower voids.  The tradeoff is better comfort, handling, longevity, and traction in every other type of terrain.  All-terrain tires are usually siped heavily, which further enhances traction - especially on wet, snowy, and icy terrain where mud-terrain tires are at their worst.  They do great in most off-road terrain - much better than most people would give them credit for.

You can read more articles regarding all-terrain versus mud-terrain tires here and hereJP Magazine (37 tires reviewed in the March 2012 issue) and Four Wheeler Magazine (33 tires reviewed in the April 2012 issue) both recently published huge tire comparison articles that might also be helpful in making your own informed tire decision.  I highly recommend subscribing to those magazines.  Even with my years of experience in the off-road world, I am still educated and entertained by my magazine subscriptions.

Even with knowledge of the above-mentioned traits and extensive experience with the full spectrum of off-road tires, I was still having trouble coming to a decision between mud-terrain and all-terrain tires for my own needs.  I decided to make a list of my priorities to help me determine what's truly best for my needs:
  • I hate mud.  I avoid driving in mud.  Mud performance is not highly important to me.
  • This is my daily driver.  Traction on pavement must be prioritized.
  • I'm building a no-compromises Jeep, therefore zero tolerance for tire vibrations.
  • With a cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains, traction in snow and ice are critical.
  • Durability and grip on the slick granite of the Rubicon Trail are a necessity.
  • Mud and soft soil are unavoidable, so an aggressive tread pattern is a must.
An aggressive all-terrain tire sounds like it would be the better fit for my needs.  I considered numerous AT's, but narrowed it down to two:
BFGoodrich Radial All-Terrain T/A KO:
Falken Wildpeak A/T:

While an all-terrain tire would suit my needs well, I fear that I may be disappointed in their compromises in more extreme trails; sometimes mud is unavoidable, and the loose soil in places like Hollister demand an aggressive tread pattern.  Super Swampers (including, unfortunately, the TrXus M/T, which would be fantastic if it was higher quality) are out, because I've never owned a set that was round and didn't vibrate.  Most other mud-terrain tires are sorely lacking in siped tread blocks, which compromises their traction in anything outside of mud.  A couple of the more street-friendly mud-terrain tires with adequate siping include the following:
Pro-Comp Xtreme M/T:
 Goodyear Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar:
Cooper Discoverer STT:

I still feared disappointment from these street-friendly MT tires when not driving off-road.  These factors led me to consider a relatively new type of tire, a hybrid between an all-terrain and mud-terrain.  So far there are only a few of this type, but from what I've seen on my friends' vehicles and read in online forums, people have been very pleased with their all-around performance.  The ones I considered are:
Dick Cepek Radial F-C II:
Pro-Comp Xtreme A/T:
Kelly Safari TSR:
 Cooper Discoverer S/T-MAXX:

Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac:
I almost settled on the Duratrac.  It's smooth and quiet on the road, aggressive enough to find traction in all but the nastiest mud, and is heavily siped to provide nearly unmatched traction in snow and ice.  This would be the best tire for me, until I remembered another option that until recently wasn't available in a 35-inch size; one with which I actually had brief firsthand experience, and which one of my close friends has been pleased with on a long-term basis:

Treadwright Guard Dog M/T with Kedge Grip:
If you haven't heard of this tire before, don't worry - lots of people don't know a thing about it.  I'll explain my reasoning for selecting this tire over all other options in a future blog entry.


  1. Good post! I've had these same conversations regarding my '95 Suzuki Sidekick. I got a great deal on some used BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires, so I went with them. Overall, they've been great. I'm under no delusion that my Sidekick sees mostly highway use. However, the times that I've taken off road (mud, wet dirt, dirt and sand), there have been times where having an MT tire would've likely made the difference between making it up the first time and not (and even needing a tug to get out of a "stuck" situation).

    When and if my BFG ATs ever wear out, I'm considering an MT tire. Have you heard of the Nexen Roadian MT? It's made by Nexen (a South Korean company), and are fairly inexpensive. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for spending a few extra bucks on a good tire, but I've heard some good things about these somewhat unknown tires. Just another thought. Nexen Roadian.

    I've also been very interested in the Treadwright tires. However, I know they have some sort of clause about airing them down, since they're a retread tire. Otherwise, they seem fantastic. I love the idea of reusing an older tire plus the price is fantastic. However, if there is a safety concern with them, I'd rather pay the extra cash for a non-retreaded tire. There seems to be differing opinions on that.

    1. I have no experience with the Nexen Roadian, and I don't know anyone who's tried them. Based on the tread pattern, I would suspect they'd drive decently on-road and pretty good in mud and most off-road terrain, but they'll likely be on the noisy side and will require frequent rotation to keep the large tread blocks wearing evenly. Their lack of sipes in the tread blocks will also limit their ability to find traction on wet, icy, and snowy roads and trails, but this is typical of most mud-terrain tires.

      So far I have only used my Treadwrights in a daily-driver role, but I have some road trips and trail rides coming up so I can report on their real-world abilities. My last set of Treadwrights have had no issues with being driven while aired-down for the last 3 years and I don't anticipate these will have any issues either. Delamination is much more an issue on long-haul trucks' retreaded tires due to the weight they bear and the heat that's generated. Dually wheels 40 feet behind the driver also hide the symptoms of a tire with low air pressure, which is usually what leads to this problem. This shouldn't be an issue for my Jeep, but only a long-term test will determine how they hold up. Stay tuned!

  2. BFG, the is no substitute. If you do almost all off road, go Mud Terrain, if you do 50% or more on road,,, All terrain

    1. Good advice. BFGoodrich makes top-quality tires and has been involved in motorsports and the fight to keep public lands open to the public - most specifically with their Outstanding Trails program. I know more people who have been pleased with BFG's tires than any other brand, so I have no hesitation recommending them to anyone, no matter whether they drive primarily on-road or off-road.

      I wanted to try something different though. I was looking for a hybrid tire, something between an all-terrain and a mud-terrain. I settled on the Treadwright Guard Dog and I will be publishing regular long-term updates on their performance as I use my Jeep in the real world as a daily driver, a road tripper, and as a 4-wheeler.

  3. Cool. I was on Treadwright's site yesterday looking at tire options, too. I look forward to hearing your opinions once you get these installed.

  4. Thanks for this article. I was looking for a mud tire for my SUV. Different types of mud tires and off road tires have different reviews. Depending on the brands. some used high quality materials and if you notice the rubber of the tires are different.

  5. Replies
    1. General Grabber AT2 are great tires that I've used in the past. They're terrific on the road and at the top of the heap in snow performance, but they are not aggressive enough for the rocks, loose soil, mud, and other terrain I drive in.

      The more aggressive General Grabber is a "mud terrain" type tire designed primarily for desert performance. As such, it is very heavy, very stiff, and the complete lack of tread lug sipes means it wears unevenly and has horrible traction on wet and icy/snowy roads. It's also one of the most expensive tires for any given size.

    2. Fantastic info! Great post! I currently am debating between bf Goodrich All Terrain KO, and the Goodyear Duratrac. I do some off roading, more road as its for my dd. Any bad experience with the Bf's in snow getting slick? also have read issue's of the Duratrac sidewall puncture. Any advise on which one to go with?

    3. The BFG A/T and the Goodyear Duratrac are both great all-around tires; you won't be disappointed with either. The Duratrac is a bit more aggressive so if you favor performance in soft terrain, this is probably the better choice, especially since it's a less-expensive tire.

      Both tires are on the lighter end of the spectrum, which is good for road performance. However, that lighter weight comes as a result of a slightly thinner sidewall that is not as resistant to punctures as heavier competing tires like the Toyo M/T and Falken A/T. For what it's worth, the TreadWright retreaded tires I chose for my Jeep (which use the BFG A/T casing) have had not been punctured in spite of all the abuse I've put them through off-road. The sidewalls are heavily scuffed and gouged, but they've not been punctured.

      With that said, keep in mind that any pneumatic tire can be punctured. Don't let an anecdotal flat tire lead you to believe it's more easily punctured than others. Be careful about tire placement on the trail, and always carry a spare tire and a plug kit with a compressor.

  6. I'd put my vote in for the BF Goodrich's - I use them on my 4x4 and they're perfect in all conditions on all terrains... There's a few on the list I haven't used though but would love to try!

  7. You said the General Grabber AT2 are at the top of the heap in snow performance. What are some others that are great in snow

    1. Look for a tire that has the "mountain & snowflake" severe weather rating. The General Grabber AT2, Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac, BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2, Cooper Discoverer A/TW, and Nitto ExoGrappler are some examples.

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