off road tires
Photo credit: Mercedes Lilienthal

All-Terrain vs. Mud-Terrain: How to Pick the Best Off-Road Tires for Your Adventures

Choosing reputable rubber is very important, especially when it comes to off-road tires. Pavement-pounders don’t have to worry about washed-out tracks or trailside hazards — but what if you opt for roads that lead to nowhere regularly? Knowing what type of off-road tire is best suited for your travels is critical.

Using the incorrect off-road tire type when exploring remote areas could lead to despair. From getting stuck in the mud to not having grip when climbing rocky hills, you could set yourself up for travel delays and unsafe situations.

Remember, a reliable set of off-road rubber is the only thing that solidly connects you to the trail. So, we’re here to help. Read on for a description of the types of off-road tires, and how to select the best option for your adventures.

Types of Off-Road Tires

Off-road tires typically consist of either all-terrain or mud-terrain tires. However, some manufacturers, including Nitto, make all-terrain/mud-terrain hybrids, such as the Ridge Grappler hybrid off-road tire that we run on our adventure 4×4.

Before buying, it’s imperative to understand the basic distinctions between these two types of tires. Do your research to determine which tire best fits your future adventures. All-terrain and mud-terrain tires vary widely, so it’s important to understand their differences, as well as the pros and cons between both.

pajero and nitto ridge grapplers on dirt
Photo credit: Mercedes Lilienthal

What Are All-Terrain Tires?

All-terrain tires, otherwise known as A/Ts, boast beefier tread patterns and more rugged sidewalls than their all-season highway tire counterparts. This enables A/Ts to handle off-road duties and traverse over several types of terrain when exploring off-tarmac areas.

They also showcase unique or multipitch tread variations that create quieter rides when running on the road. This makes all-terrain tires an exceptional option if you’re in the market for a single tire to feed both on- and off-road needs.

In addition to accentuated tread designs, all-terrain tire sidewalls have varied patterns to help grip rocks and other trailside obstructions when navigating through tricky situations. All-terrain tires, like the Yokohama Geolander A/T G015 tires on our four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Delica van, boast oversized lugs that tackle a variety of weather conditions successfully.

Ours prove quiet at highway speeds and have endured well over the last few years of service.

yokohama geolander at g015

For these reasons, many on- and off-road adventurers choose all-terrain tires. They’re a happy medium between a highway-runner and trail-traversing tire.

All-terrains are meant to do it all in an acceptable manner. No matter what Mother Nature dishes up, all-terrains offer an admirable demeanor, with solid on- and off-road performance, capability, quietness, and comfort.

Limits of A/T Tires

However, all-terrain tires have limitations. If trail travels lead you through tons of mud, or if you enjoy rock crawling more than gravel getaways and dirt trails, then more aggressive mud-terrains may be a better solution.

You don’t want to sit and spin if mud or muck can’t clean out of your all-terrains adequately. You’ll also want exceptional tire grip when encountering sticky situations and beefed-up sidewalls to withstand trail abuse.

All-terrain tires are designed as proficient all-around tires. But they’re not designed with dedicated off-road rubber that tackles tough terrain or thick mud consistently.

delica and yokohama geolanders dirt
Photo credit: Mercedes Lilienthal

What Are Mud-Terrain Tires?

Mud-terrains, or M/Ts, boast aggressively oversized blocks of tread that claw through the mud more easily. Reinforced sidewalls with rugged protruding designs help mud-terrain tires grasp trail hazards like big boulders or tree stumps and, of course, mud. This construction works to help propel drivers forward through demanding trails.

Additionally, mud-terrain tires are designed to give drivers grip when ascending and descending steep trails. Unlike all-terrain tires, mud-terrain tires have more aggressive tread configurations.

They often have wider lug spacing, which can clear out debris more effectively — keeping adventure rigs running in a forward direction.

BFGoodrich’s KM3 M/T tires are a solid choice for our diesel-powered Mitsubishi Pajero 4×4. Evidenced by many a mud bog run and multiple rainy Pacific Northwest trail excursions, these mud-terrain tires empty muck from the tread blocks easier and quicker than typical A/T tires do.

This, coupled with an aggressive sidewall pattern and superb grip, turned our little Pajero into a billy goat that climbs up and over most everything — at least whatever its small lift and mildly modified suspension travel will allow.

bf goodrich’s km3 mt tires

If you’re in the market for a dedicated off-road tire that will quickly clear out trail debris from its tread and help grab your way to off-road victory, then a mud-terrain tire is your best bet.

Limits of M/T Tires

However, mud-terrains aren’t perfect. They may sacrifice more fuel economy and offer less traction in the rain and snow than all-terrain tires. They’re typically more expensive than other off-road tires, too.

Mud-terrains have a reputation for being noisier on paved roads and wearing faster than their all-terrain cousins. However, we understand that newer technology has helped combat these issues.

If noise is a concern and you don’t want to hear tires whirring when road-tripping, then steer clear of mud-terrains. M/Ts are meant for those who travel more off-road than on the pavement.

Mud-terrains are a serious bit of kit for off-road enthusiasts who continually challenge themselves. They perform well in harsh environments where durability and traction are paramount.

pajero and bfgoodrich km3s
Photo credit: Mercedes Lilienthal

Off-Road Tire Buying Tips

Off-road tire prices are based on many factors: quality and type of tire, tire size, performance features, and the brand name. Typically, off-road tires can start around $120 a pop (or so), on up to well over $400 per tire if you’re running 40-inch tires or bigger. Lesser-known tire brands can be cheaper, but in most instances, you get what you pay for.

If you’re running remote areas or tackling trails regularly, consider carrying a full-size matching spare and a tire patch kit. A spare tire can be mounted securely on a roof rack, an aftermarket spare tire carrier, or the vehicle’s original spare tire carrier.

Talk to your local tire shop about the correct tire sizes for your vehicle. They have a wealth of knowledge, no matter whether your adventure rig is bone stock or customized. Additionally, they can give you pricing on mounting and balancing.

Knowing what type of terrain you’ll be tacking and matching it to the correct off-road tire type is critical to know before you buy.

delica and yokohama geolanders
Photo credit: Mercedes Lilienthal
Mercedes Lilienthal
By

Mercedes Lilienthal is an Oregon-based award-winning journalist and photographer who creates unique content involving vehicular-based adventure travel and the gear used to make it happen. She and her husband own three right-hand-drive turbo-diesel 4x4 Mitsubishis: a 1994 Delica Space Gear and two Gen 2 short-wheelbase Pajeros. As a full-time freelancer, her work includes writing, editing, various PR/marketing services, as well as photography. Follow Mercedes' adventures on Facebook (@crankshaftculture and @mercedeslilienthal), Instagram (@crankshaftculture and @mercedes_lilienthal), and Twitter (@writerwithgrit).