Buying overland tires is a confusing and sometimes daunting experience, especially for folks who are new to overland travel or those looking to make a change in the type of traction or tire size they currently have on their rig. At any given moment, the buyer is going to see a perplexing range of brands, tire sizes, traction options, and tire types to choose from. Knowing a bit more about tires is the key to navigating your next purchase with ease.
Hopefully, this quick primer and a short list of some of my favorite tires will help demystify the tire buying process and get you out on the trails in no time.
Understanding Overland Tire Terminology
Not only will you need some awareness of the parts of the tire like tread, bead, shoulder, and sidewall, you’ll also need to know tire width, wheel diameter, cold inflation load limits, ratio of height to width, and load range. Sometimes it feels like you need a Ph.D in tire-ology to get through it all. I’ll list some of the important terms below.
The tread of a tire refers to the rubber on the circumference of the tire that makes contact with the road or the ground.
The bead is the inner edge of the tire – made of rubber-wrapped steel – that makes contact with the inner edge of the wheel and creates an airtight seal that keeps your tire inflated. If you air down your tires for off-road travel, and you should air down, the bead could accidentally pop out of the seat in the wheel leading to loss of air. Some overlanders opt for bead lock wheels that keep the bead seated (or locked) in place to avoid this.
The shoulder of the tire is where the tread meets the sidewall. An angular (or sharp) shoulder produces quieter rides on the street or highway. A rounded (or curved) shoulder may be noisier at highway speed and less smooth. The shoulder is the thickest part of the tire and helps the tire hold its form during cornering or when it is deflated for offroad travel.
The sidewall is simply the side of the tire that you see when looking at the tire. Its basic function is to keep the radial plies protected and to help maintain the shape of the tire. The sidewall also holds the key to some of the more confusing numbering and lettering on the tire as we’ll discuss below.
Tire Width / Ratio of Height to Width / Diameter of Wheel:
These terms are expressed in that almost indecipherable string of numbers and letters on the sidewall of your tire. But they are decipherable. The current tires on my truck are BFGoodrich AT KO2s in the LT285/75/R16 size. In this example, the LT refers to a Light Truck tire. The number 285 refers to the width of the tire in millimeters – or how much tread contacts the ground (11.2-inches). The number 75 refers to the aspect ratio – or the ratio of height to width. Here, 75 means the sidewall’s height is equal to 75% of the tire’s width (or 8.42-inches in this case). “R” means the tire is a radial tire (meaning that the tire plies are arranged at a 90-degree angle to the direction of travel. And the 16 refers to the wheel diameter. In the example LT285/75/R16, this tire measures 32.83 (33)-inches in diameter.
Best Overland Tires
In my opinion, these are some of the best overland tires on the market right now. I’m basing my opinion on my own use or feedback from friends and colleagues, so your mileage may vary. I encourage you to read reviews, get feedback from your friends, and generally talk to as many people as possible before plunking your money down.
BFGoodrich AT KO2
The BFG All-Terrain T/A KO2 Tire has incredible sidewall strength with a three-ply polyester carcass that delivers a stiffer tread area for more precise steering response, better cornering control, and excellent puncture and bruise resistance. Designed to last and built to improve stress distribution, tread life, and resistance to irregular wear. Maximum all-terrain traction with a dual-compound tread and ShoulderLock technology and 40 percent wider shoulder grooves help provide increased traction and control in aired-down driving situations.
Falken WILDPEAK A/T3W
Falken’s WILDPEAK tires have always enjoyed a reputation for confident off-road performance, durability, and all-terrain dominance, even when faced with some of the world’s most extreme off-road competitions, such as the punishing King of the Hammers in the inhospitable and rocky Mojave desert. The WILDPEAK A/T3W is a great all-around all-terrain tire that can conquer a multitude of tough climate and terrain challenges while also serving as civilized, everyday driving shoes.
MSRP: from $232.00
Toyo Open Country M/T
The Toyo Open Country M/T combines solid on-road performance with extra ground clearance, higher load-carrying capacity, and greater ability to go off-road. Truck enthusiasts know it for its long wear, low noise, and aggressive tread pattern. An aggressive all-around light truck radial specifically designed for lifted pickup applications. The aggressive tread can crawl through any mess, while the smart lug placement and design provide precise, quiet driving on the street.
General Grabber X3
The folks at Expedition Overland have been using General Tires on their builds over the years for a reason. The General Grabber X3 offers aggressive styling and is engineered for durability, with innovative performance features. A series of deflection ribs protect the upper sidewall area by deflecting objects away from the sidewall. Three-ply construction on all sizes provides durability, cut, puncture, and chip resistance. Ultra high-strength steel belts ensure an even footprint for confident stability. Bumpers help release stones and debris from the large deep grooves, protect the groove bottom, and minimizes stone drilling. The Grabber X3 offers an aggressive, open pattern for high traction in mud, dirt, sand, and gravel, but is remarkably quiet and comfortable for the street.
Firestone Destination M/T2
Firestone’s Destination M/T2 tires feature high-tech rubber compounds and tread design that allow them to perform admirably off-road in snow, mud, sand, and rocky environments. At the same time, they remain relatively quiet on the highway and fuel-efficient. The Destination M/T2 are engineered to eject mud and stones to always keep your treads cleared out – super-important for mud-terrain tires.