Rubber Match Part II: Choosing the Right Tire for Your Overlander

Rubber Match Part II: Choosing the Right Tire for Your Overlander

by Stephan Edwards

Last time we delved into the world of overland tires with a focus on the criteria that should guide your decision when it comes time to replace your rig's rubber.

Those guiding principles are: durability, capability, efficiency, and availability

Because tire choice is so personal, and we all ask different things of our tires based on how and where we travel, it's difficult to recommend  a tire, a single, do-it-all solution for every driver and every truck. That said, with a lot of the collective knowledge that Expedition Overland and those of us here at Overlander have gleaned over the years exploring far corners of the globe, there are some general ideas that we can consider when it comes to making this all-important choice. 


How Do I Choose a Tire?

First, let's get a little further into the weeds with regards to the three most common kinds of off-road tire you'll find on the market today. All terrain, mud terrain, and the newer "rough terrain" tires are all widely available in a large variety of sizes and applications from many different manufacturers. But, they all do some things better than others. Second, we'll profile some specific tire models to give you a concrete idea about what's out there.

Like with many choices you'll make with regards to setting up your overland platform, there are always going to be compromises. So, it's important to carefully consider how you are going to use your vehicle the most, and what kind of performance you need from your tires.

If you use our guiding criteria to help frame your decision, it will ease the path toward finding the tire that's right for you.

All Terrain Tires

All terrains are the go-to for most overlanders for a few core reasons. Among the three categories, they tick the efficiency box right away due to their more highway-friendly tread designs and lower weight. Their availability across sizes and locations, no matter where you might find yourself in the world, is unparalleled. Nearly every tire manufacturer offers one kind of all terrain tire or another, and most have many different models. 

All terrains almost always offer OE fitment for your rig, as well as plus sizes for when you want to take full advantage of your suspension upgrades. Where they may fall a bit short is in capability. However, in ninety percent of situations that most overlanders find themselves in, you will discover that they will perform beyond your expectations.

Durability is another possible concern with all terrains, sometimes due to their lighter weight casings and softer tread compounds. Really aggressive use on hard terrain may result in sidewall damage, or "chunking" of the traction surface (where whole chunks of rubber are sheared off the tread). But with care and attention, most all terrains will last well past their expiration date.

Tire Profile: BF Goodrich T/A KA02

It's impossible to talk about overlanding tires without bringing BF Goodrich into the conversation. BFG's KA02 all terrain tire and its predecessors have been the gold standard in all terrain overland tires for nearly a decade. Overlanders from Norway to Pakistan have all trusted KA02s to carry their journeys forward.

With a little bit of scientific magic, BFG has managed to build a supremely durable and capable tire with a proven tread design and unmatched availability. Their deep worldwide distribution network means you can get a replacement anywhere in Peru, Rwanda, Mongolia, or Australia. You will pay for the privilege, though, as the KA02s are at the upper end of the price range for high quality all terrain tires.

BF Goodrich T/A KA02

Tire Profile: General Tires Grabber A/T X

The wonderful thing about the all terrain tire market is that high-end technologies filter their way down to very affordable rubber.

Today Expedition Overland runs their overland rigs on General Tires, and with good reason. General's all terrain offerings are wallet friendly, and offer excellent tread wear warranties without sacrificing all terrain capability out on the trail. There is a huge variety of sizing for these tires, and you'll be sure to find one that offers OEM fitment, or something a little bigger to complement your increased ride height.

General Grabber AT / X

Take Away:

All terrains are the goldilocks of overland tire choice, and new technologies are making them more capable than ever.

Mud Terrain Tires

From a purely aesthetic standpoint, nothing says "off roader" more than a beefy set of mud terrain tires. Without a doubt, their off road capability and durability are without match. Mud terrains generally are built with strong casings and harder tread compounds that resist trail damage. 

As their name suggests, in deep mud and sand mud terrains' flex-resistant rubber compounds, large tread blocks, and wide tread spacing offer excellent traction. Since most mud terrain tires are larger than OEM sizes, their bigger footprint provides significant grip on rocky surfaces as well.

Their drawbacks come in the form of efficiency, availability, and by a second measure, durability. Mud terrain tires are heavier than comparable all terrain tires, and the tread design that makes them so capable in low-traction contexts means that their highway efficiency suffers. Additionally, you will see a shorter lifetime of your tires in terms of tread wear, which is a key consideration because mud terrain tires are expensive. Heavier tires also mean more stress on your braking and suspension components.

Lastly, for almost every truck on the market mud terrain tires are going to be an upgrade in terms of size over your rig's OEM tire. To fit them properly, this may mean upgrading your wheels (also a consideration when purchasing larger all terrain tires). When you damage a tire, it may be harder to find a replacement, especially in remote places since mud terrains come in fewer sizes, and are a more niche product.

Tire Profile: Falken Wildpeak M/T 01

Falken's premier mud terrain model is a great example of what these amazing tires can do. With nearly indestructible sidewalls and innovative tread design, the M/T 01 is a great choice for drivers who regularly encounter muddy or sandy situations. 

If you really want to stretch the off road capability of your overland rig, a big mud terrain is the way to go.

Falken Mud Terrain Tire

Take Away:

Mud terrain tires will take you anywhere you want to go. The question is, where do you want to go?

Rough Terrain Tires

The final category of off road tire is the rough terrain. A fairly recent introduction into the rubber wars, rough terrain tires try to split the difference between the do-it-all-in-most-cases all terrain tire and the more specialized mud terrain.

These tires integrate some of the tread technologies from the all terrain world, such as softer compounds and siping (narrow grooves sliced into the tread blocks that increase traction in wet and icy conditions), with the robust construction and wide tread spacing of a mud terrain. 

This is a promising new direction in tire construction, and it reflects the lengths to which tire manufacturers are going to address the shortcomings of both the all terrain tire and the mud terrain tire. In theory, they will solve the weight, durability, and efficiency problems of the mud terrain tire, while simultaneously ramping up the capability factor of the all terrain. Of course, as a relatively new product, rough terrain tires currently are limited in their availability and sizing.

Time will tell if this new wave of rubber will shake up the old tire hierarchy, but I wouldn't bet against it. 

Tire Profile: Nitto Ridge Grappler R/T

Nitto has been at the forefront of the rough terrain revolution, and the Ridge Grappler is a perfect example of what a rough terrain tire can do. 

Known for their distinctive sidewall moldings, Nitto's extended tread blocks help protect both the tire and your wheels from trail damage. Their advanced tread design incorporates the best of both all terrain and mud terrain technology. 

Nitto Ridge Grappler

Take Away:

Rough terrain tires might be the wave of the future, but how far down the line is that future?

There is plenty more digital ink that could be spilled on this tire topic, and we would love to hear some of the ideas and experiences you've had with your treads. Tire questions? Tales from the road? Let us know down in the comments!


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