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All-terrain vs. mud-terrain tires: What’s the difference?


Off-road tires usually fall into one of two camps: all-terrain vs. mud-terrain tires. So, what’s the difference, and which one is better for you?

In the all-terrain vs. mud-terrain tires battle, knowing the differences as well as the pros and cons will set you up for off-roading success. Companies like BFGoodrich, Yokohama, Falken, Nitto and Cooper have great options for both sets of tires. 

What you need to ask yourself before making a purchase: Are you a pavement pounder that’ll hit the trails on occasional weekends? Or do you need dedicated off-road rubber that’ll perform the best in a variety of off-tarmac terrain?

All-purpose all-terrains

All-terrain tires, or A/Ts, boast bigger tread patterns and thicker sidewalls than all-season highway tires. All-terrains are designed to not only adequately traverse many types of terrain but also showcase multi-pitch tread variations that boast quieter rides when on the road versus dedicated off-road tires. 

In addition to accentuated tread patterns, A/T sidewalls have varying patterns that can grip rocks and other trail-side obstacles when navigating through difficult terrain. Oversized lugs can also face inclement weather head on, making otherwise challenging rides smoother ones. 

 All-terrains are a happy medium between an all-season highway tire and a dedicated off-road tire. They offer adequate on- and off-road performance, are quieter than a dedicated off-roader and offer solid comfort and durability. 

However, A/Ts have limitations. If you plan to encounter mud on a regular basis or you want to go rock crawling on more than gravel, then more-aggressive mud-terrains may be a better solution. All-terrains won’t clear mud and debris as well because of the smaller tread gab design, plus their sidewalls aren’t as beefy and, therefore, are less resistant to trail abuse. 

All-terrain tires are meant to be a competent all-around on- and off-road tire. However, they’re not meant as a dedicated off-road tire to tackle tougher terrain or thick mud on a regular basis.

BFGoodrich KO2 all-terrain tires. (Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal)

Off-road mud-terrains 

If you’re in the market for a dedicated, rugged off-road tire, mud-terrain tires, or M/Ts, would be the ideal choice. Mud-terrain tires boast oversized blocks of tread, wide deep voids, and aggressive tread configurations. They clean out mud and trail debris more easily (a key need when off-roading in challenging environments). They also feature reinforced sidewalls with undulating patterns that grip boulders and tree stumps, enabling drivers forward momentum when needed most. 

Additionally, mud-terrain tires are designed to give drivers the ultimate traction to tackle steep trails. Their construction is usually more robust, too, offering increased resistance to trail damage. 

However, mud-terrains aren’t perfect. They’re louder than all-terrains and give up more fuel economy. They offer less traction on pavement in inclement weather and are typically more expensive and heavier than all-terrains. They can also be more prone to quick wear. 

Mud-terrain tires are meant for the serious off-roader, someone who spends most of their time off the beaten path in moderate to severe environments vs. on the tarmac. 

Milestar Patagonia mud-terrain tires. (Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal)

The bottom line on all-terrain vs.or mud-terrain tires

Off-road tire prices are dependent on many factors: intended use, tire size, performance features, warranty and brand – to name a few. The bigger the size, the more expensive they’ll be. Well-known brands are often pricier but have proven technology and cutting-edge design on their side.  Basically, you get what you pay for.

If you’re running your rig on the pavement at least half of the time and planning to tackle light to medium-duty trails when time allows, then choosing a good-quality all-terrain tire may be the best option. If mud and rock crawling suits your style more than making miles across Interstate 80, mud-terrains would be your best bet. 

Local tire shops can help determine which tire type can fit your budget and lifestyle. Consider purchasing a full-size matching spare or robust tire patch kit, too. It’s a small bit of insurance when adventuring into the unknown. Ultimately, knowing how you plan to use your vehicle will determine whether  all-terrain vs. mud-terrain tires will be the best fit.

Mercedes Lilienthal

Mercedes Lilienthal is a contributor for The New York Times, Car and Driver, Forbes, Autoblog, TREAD Magazine and other automotive outlets. She creates award-winning content involving the automotive industry, global travel and inspiring people changing the world for the better. Not only does she write, but she appears on podcasts and radio shows and competes in automotive rallies as competitor/media (partnering with automakers like Jeep, Subaru, and VW). Along with her husband, Mercedes owns three right-hand-drive turbo-diesel 4x4 Mitsubishis: a Delica Space Gear and two Gen 2 Pajeros. They also own a modified daily driver. Her freelance work includes writing, photography and PR/marketing services.

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