Out And Back Again: Tires For Off Road Adventure
There’s still plenty of time to take your family on an off-road adventure this summer. Do you have the right treads to get you there and back?
All-terrain tires deliver good grip whether you choose to stay on paved roads or the kinds of dusty, rocky roads you may encounter in the backcountry. Those gravelly, pock-marked, rough and tumble roads call for a different kind of tread.
If you’re hauling a trailer, all-terrain tires offer extra grip from their thick, blocky tread. The tread design performs well when navigating unpaved roads with loose and wet surfaces.
Most vehicles ride on “all-season tires” tread designed for wet as well as hot roads. All season tires use thin slits called “sipes” that flex and increase the tire’s ability to handle wet weather and winter conditions.
Take a closer look at all season tires and you’ll see narrow grooves and treads stacked neatly in rows. The uniform pattern across the tire surface helps channel water away from the tire.
In contrast, all-terrain tires use large blocks of tread and staggered tread patterns. Wide gaps, known as “voids,” improve grip on loose soil and prevent rocks from wedging into the tread.
Tread patterns for all-terrain tires enable tread blocks to grip the surface like the lugs on a pair of good hiking shoes. In short, the tread design makes all-terrain tires a better choice for adventurous drivers.
All-terrain tires come in a variety of sizes and designs to meet different driving requirements.
Consider the following questions when deciding on all-terrain tires:
What do you want to do with your vehicle? Will it be used to go on dirt roads frequently? Once in a while? Never?
Perhaps you like the look and grip of all-terrain treads but still plan on driving surface streets. Your “application” determines what kind of tire is right for your vehicle.
For example, some truck or SUV owners use their vehicles around town but not on dirt or gravel roads. They may want a tire designed for long wear yet offer the rugged styling of an off road tire.
If you visit off-road destinations occasionally, all-terrain tires offer extra grip for driving on unpaved roads. Extra grip also helps for hauling loads or towing a trailer no matter what road you travel.
Look on the sidewall of the all-terrain tires–does it have a “rim guard”? The line of contoured rubber around the sidewall protects the sidewall and also helps prevent stones from getting wedged between the tire and rim.
Selecting the right all-terrain tire for your vehicle can get a bit daunting. Tire experts recommend the following important considerations when buying all-terrain tires:
- Application. Decide where you want to drive your vehicle. Are you going to and from work on paved roads? Highway driving? Going off-road? How often do you encounter muddy or gravelly roads?
- Look for the alpine mark. The three-peak mountain with a snowflake symbol (3PMSF) denotes tires which can handle some snowy conditions. The alpine mark signifies extra traction on surfaces with some snow. Note: All-terrain tires with the 3PMSF symbol are not a substitute for winter tires. Rubber compounds and tread patterns found in winter tires make them a better choice for climates with freezing temperatures.
- Aesthetic appeal. Sometimes, drivers simply want a tire to enhance the overall look of the vehicle. Make sure it provides the kind of handling and longevity you need, especially if for city/highway driving.
- Performance. If you like adventure, find out if the all-terrain tire is designed for the kind of roads you expect to encounter (wet, muddy, loose soil, sand, gravel, cobble).
- Load rating. Ask how much weight your new set of tires can handle. Hauling a truck bed full of building materials may damage your all-terrain tires unless they are designed for heavy loads. The safest choice is staying within guidelines recommended by your vehicle manufacturer.
- Treadwear warranty. Off-road tires are designed with softer rubber to grip loose surfaces. Drivers should not expect the same mileage as they get from all-season tires. Generally, all-terrain tires deliver shorter treadwear warranty than all-season tires. That may be a consideration if you intend to drive many highway miles.
- Tread design. If you do a lot of off-road adventure, consider tires with large tread blocks and aggressive pattern geometry. Gap, also known as “void,” helps tires perform better off road. The trade-offs are off-road performance, noise and driving comfort.
- Tire size. Find out the size of your original manufacturer’s tires before you choose an all-terrain replacement.
- Ply rating. Most tires offer two-ply design. They have dual bands that go around the tire. Usually, ply is made from polyester. Industry standard is two-ply although some manufacturers offer three-ply designs. If you get the right size of tire for your vehicle, then you will also have the proper ply rating.