Everything you need to know about off-road tires and how to select the right one

If you love to go on off-roading adventures in your Jeep, lifted Subaru, truck, or SUV, you’ll want to know what tires are best suited for different situations. Off-road tires differ from conventional tires by giving additional traction and capabilities, but not all off-road tires are the same. If you’re like us, trying to determine the differences between all-terrain and mud-terrain tires seemed overwhelming at first. But in this article we will break down what makes A/T and M/T tires different from each other, what their main purposes are, and which one is best for your intended use.

Table of Contents

What Are AT and MT Tires?

A/T stands for All-Terrain, and M/T stands for Mud-Terrain. Mud-terrain tires are built with a more aggressive tread that offers increased traction in mud and loose dirt, whereas All-terrain tires are great in many adverse situations but might not help your Subaru, Jeep or truck get out of overly muddy conditions.

All-Terrain Tires:

  • More mild tread pattern with tighter voids
  • Less aggressive shoulder lugs
  • Some availability for snow rated options
  • Manufacturers warranty
Mud-Terrain Tires:
  • Extremely aggressive tread pattern with wide voids
  • Aggressive shoulder lugs for improved grip in deep mud, sand, and snow
  • Reinforced sidewall and strong bead to handle constant off-road abuse
  • No snow rated options
  • Typically not warrantied by the manufacturer (some retailers such as Discount Tire Direct will offer a warranty)

 

A/T and M/T tires handle differently on concrete, sand, gravel, rocks, snow, mud, and other conditions, and it’s important to know which tire you should equip your vehicle with before you head out on the road. If you are looking for ways to get the most out of your off-road vehicle, consider whether you need All-terrain or Mud-terrain tires based on the terrain type and weather condition.

All Terrain

The Toyo Open Country AT3 is one of our favorite All-Terrain tires. You can see that it is more aggressive than a stock all-season tire, but the tread is a little less pronounced than an M/T.

Mud Terrain

Notice the aggressive difference in this Yokohama Geolandar Mud Terrain tire. The tread blocks are much deeper and thicker all the way around.

AT & MT Tires Handling on Different Road Types

Concrete

A/T tires work great on concrete as they still have low rolling resistance and traction while M/T tires can be quite loud with higher rolling resistance. M/T tires will also increase your fuel consumption more than an A/T and this will be very noticeable on long highway trips. While both tires will work just fine on concrete and gravel, M/T tires are not what you want if you are regularly traversing normal conditions.

If you are new to aggressive tires, it’s also important to note that in most conditions, A/T tires are fairly noisy, and M/T tires are even noisier. It always depends on the brand and tread, and you will want to comparison shop and note the noise level and terrain differences in online reviews.

Sand

A/T tires are good in sand, providing plenty of grip and traction with their improved tread. Since M/T tires are designed for grip as well, they also perform great in sandy conditions.

Sand can be a common aspect of your off-road experience, depending on where you live. The average lifted Subaru, truck or jeep can find sand tricky, as you want a wide print that will keep you moving over this loose terrain. A/T tires tend to work just fine in sandy terrain even with their tighter tread and grip balance. An M/T tire will perform even more optimally if you plan to navigate sand often.

Also, driving in sand typically means you need to lower your air pressure—sometimes you need nearly flat tires for this condition! So just be sure that the tire you select has a load rating that is high enough for your vehicle in the off chance that you need to air down.

Mud

Mud is one condition where A/T and M/T tires truly differ. All-terrain tires are not quite effective in mud, since their tread pattern has narrow voids offering poor grip in this environment. A/T tires can become slick in the mud. However, M/T tires are perfect in muddy terrain. They have big tread blocks and large gaps that give increased traction in mud and dirt. M/T tires are also outfitted with a self-cleaning design that allows them to evacuate mud, stones, and debris.

Ultimately, mud is the great off-road equalizer. Regardless of ground clearance, horsepower, or confidence behind the wheel, if your Jeep or truck can’t clean the mud from between its tread blocks you will just end up spinning your tires. M/T tires have bigger voids in-between their tread and are designed with special features to help dispel whatever gets lodged. Tight treads will do nothing for mud and dirt, and this is why M/T tires exist as their own category.

Rock

M/T tires provide better traction over rocky terrain, while A/T tires retain their excellent grip. The efficient tread blocks in mud-terrain tires can catch rocks better than in all-terrain, and perform even better in terrain that regularly transitions from muddy to rocky and back since they can clear mud more easily. But for light off-roading in rocky conditions, an A/T tire will do just fine for the average outdoorsman or overlander.

Snow

Snow can be tricky, and it’s not always apparent if A/T or M/T tires will work better in this condition. Snow requires a specialty tire, typically something that has studs, or a  specialized winter-oriented tire. If you are specifically going out to commute in the snow, you should consider a dedicated snow tire, or an all-terrain tire with the 3 Peak Mountain Snowflake rating. Some all-terrains will be “studdable” and this will be a good option for anyone who needs to travel at higher speeds on slick roads.

However, if you are looking for a tire that will be used specifically for “snow wheeling,” we have found that mud terrains do the best at digging through deep snow. They also tend to have the most aggressive side lugs, and strongest sidewall. Strong sidewalls are important if you are planning to air down to a much lower psi for deep snow because it will be less likely to be damaged at lower pressure. Just remember to carry a compressor with you to air back up before returning to pavement.

AT versus MT Tire Longevity

A/T tires will last longer than M/T tires, as concrete and off-road terrain will wear out the aggressive tread on mud-terrain tires. The average all-terrain tire will net about 40,000 miles, and the average mud terrain tire will net you about 30,000.

You always have to be careful with the tire pressure if you have a heavy vehicle because A/T tires typically have a softer sidewall while M/T tires are generally built with a tougher sidewall. The benefits and disadvantages of A/T and M/T tires are truly noticed depending on their use and function, as in most cases you have to decide between traction or longevity.

Choosing the right off-road tire for you

Off-roading is a blast, but the necessity of A/T or M/T tires might depend on how often you go, how aggressive you are when you drive, and what kind of terrain you seek out. If you only go offroading every few months, A/T tires might be the financially correct choice for you. If you go once a month or more, M/T tires may ultimately be better, depending on the season. They provide the best overall traction.

If you spend much of your time driving across pavement or sand, or if you need to travel to get to your offroading destination, you might want to stick with the A/T tires. If you have to cross mud or dirt, M/T tires are the obvious choice. Both choices are better than your stock tires, but doing a little bit of comparison shopping while keeping in mind the conditions at hand will grant you a superior experience.

There are many options out there for All-terrain or Mud-terrain tires, and it can be overwhelming to decide where to purchase them. If you’re a Canadian resident, PartsAvatar has many tires to choose from. For US residents, Tire Rack and Discount Tire Direct also have a good selection of tires. 

If you are looking to customize your truck, Jeep, or SUV for your next great outing, consider what tires work best for you depending on where you’re planning to go. A/T or M/T tires can make or break your next great offroading adventure.

If you are having a hard time choosing the correct tire for your needs, you may want to reach out to members of a local off-road group. They may be able to provide insight that is unique to your local terrain. If you live in Utah and get advice on the best tire from someone in Oregon, their sandy conditions will actually be much different than yours since it’s made up of a different types of compounds. The same goes for snow – the snow in Vermont may have a much different consistency than what is on the ground during winter in California. So oftentimes, we suggest talking with someone with experience who offroads in the same general areas.

About the author

Kathryn Fowler is the Marketing Manager at PartsAvatar. She’s been passionate about cars since childhood. She loves examining different components of cars to understand their operation. Kathryn started writing blogs on automobile parts to share her love for cars and educate automobile enthusiasts worldwide.

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