Who Is The King Of The Trail? All Terrain vs Mud Tires

Whether you are on a forum or 4x4ing Facebook group, the topic of tires is one of the most hotly debated topics. Which brand tire is best? Can I fit 33″ tires on my stock Tacoma? Should I buy All Terrain or Mud Terrain Tires? This is most likely because tires are arguably one of the most important upgrades you should do to your vehicle when you are first getting it ready to leave the pavement.

On average, All Terrain tires are best suited for most people and their off-road tire needs. In short, this is because of their versatility in differing terrains and conditions. Mud terrain tires, while they aren’t the most popular option, they do have the upper hand in the right conditions.

While mud (MT) and all-terrain tires (AT) may appear similar at first glance, they have a few key differences that majorly affect how they perform on and off-road. In this article, we will break down the differences between the two styles of tires and help you decide whether mud or all-terrain tires are the right choice for you.

Understanding Tires

When it comes to shopping around for your next set of tires for your adventure rig, there are 6 main things you’ll want to consider. The load range of the tire, speed rating, sipes, the size of the sidewall, tread pattern, and sizing. Before you can take those 5 things into consideration, you should first know what they are and how they affect the tire.

Load Range

The load range is alphabetically categorized from A through N. There are only 3 main Load Ranges you will come across when searching for your next set of tires though. C, D, and E. The Load Range indicates how many plys the tire is, or in other words – how thick the tire is. Thicker the tire, the stronger the tire. However, thicker tires are also heavier.

  • Load Range C – 6 Ply
  • Load Range D – 8 Ply
  • Load Range E – 10 Ply

Speed Rating

“A tire’s speed rating indicates the optimal speed that the tire can safely maintain over time. In short, it’s the fastest speed a tire can handle before it no longer performs as designed. The higher the speed rating, the better control and handling you’ll have at higher speeds.” – Tires Plus

Much like the load range, the speed rating is categorized with letters, however not perfectly in alphabetical order. The “H” is between “U” and “V,” and there is no “O” rating.

When looking for your next set of AT or MT tires, consider what sort of driving your tires will need to endure. Is your vehicle most a commuter and weekend warrior, do you need to drive on the Freeway to get to your trails, are you wanting to road trip in your rig, or will it be getting trailered to the trailhead and only seeing low-speed dirt roads and trails?

I would recommend a minimum speed rating of “L.” Preferably though a tire should be rated between Q and T.


Sipes are thin slits that are cut into a tire’s tread. Most times in factory, but this can also be done from home. The purpose of sipes is to increase a tire’s traction on its driving surface. Most importantly in wet or snowy driving conditions.

As the tire rolls, it expands as it comes in contact with the surface under it, which in turn opens up the sipes. In snowy conditions this allows the tire to have extra bite, and in wet conditions, it actually repels water to the side which helps lower the chances of hydroplaning.

When it comes to the discussion of AT tires and MT tires, siping tends to be a very clear point of difference. While mud terrains are typically siped, the number of sipes is far less than what you would find on an all-terrain tire. Meaning, an AT will outperform a MT when it comes to wet and snowy conditions.

Many small thin sipes on the General Grabber ATX
Fewer large sipes on the Maxxis Trepador m8060


The sidewall of the tire is the rubber between the wheel (rim), and the top of the tire. “In general, a shorter sidewall translates to less sidewall flex, greater steering stability, and often a stiffer ride. Taller sidewalls allow for more flex in the tire carcass and tend to soak up bumps more readily. – Motortrend

As the Motortrend quote says, having a taller sidewall allows the tire to have more flex and a softer ride. More sidewall also means you can air down more than you could with a low-profile tire. As I discussed in this article, airing down your tires will make a huge difference in your off-roading experience.

While AT and MT tires of the same size will have about the same amount of sidewall, a mud terrain will typically have a more aggressive sidewall. A standard all-season or all-weather tire that you buy for your Honda Civic will have a smooth sidewall. The tread of an all-season or all-weather tire will not come over the edge of the tire onto the sidewall, as there is no need for this. However, with an AT and MT, having tread blocks on the sidewall can be a huge help when off-roading. They allow you to use the side of your tire to crawl up or through obstacles such as rocks and mud. As you can see in the images above of the General Grabber ATX and the Maxxis Trepador m8060, the Maxxis mud-terrain has a much more aggressive side wall than the General all-terrain. Please note though that the Maxxis Trepador m8060 is an extreme version of a mud terrain tire. While it is a mud terrain, the design of its sidewall is purpose-built to help it grip rock. It is an ideal tire for someone who is building a crawler.

Tire Size Code

When people talk about tires they often speak in inches. They’ll say they have 35 by 12 inch tires mounted on 17 inch wheels. When you are shopping for tires though, you won’t always see the tire size in inches. Often it is in a cryptic code that looks like LT315/70 R 17.

While LT 315/70 R 17 is much more confusing to look at than 35×12, the math isn’t too difficult. Especially if you use your dear friend Siri! Now, let’s break down what this code means:

  • LT – short form for Light Truck. You may also see “P” for Passenger. Unlikely on an AT or MT tire.
  • 315 – this is how wide the tread of the tire is in millimeters
  • 70 – this indicates that the radius of the tire (top of the wheel to the tread), is 70% of the width of the tire. In this scenario the radius of the tire would be 315mm x 70% = 220.5mm
  • R – this stands for Radial construction. This is compared to “B” for belted construction or “D” for diagonal bias construction
  • 17 – the size of the rim

As I stated before, I would use Siri to do all the calculations. If you on the other hand would like to whip out the Texas Instrument from your grade 11 year, just know that 25.4 millimeters equals 1 inch.

The math would be as follows. 315mm x 25.4mm = 12.4 inches for tread width, 12.4 x 70% = 8.68 inches for the radius, multiply it by 2 to get the diameter which would equal 17.4 inches. Then finally you add the tire diameter to the wheel size to get the number that most people would discuss in conversation when talking about tire size. 17.4 + 17 = 34.4. The tire would be 34.4″ x 12.4.”

Pavement Performance

Winner: All-Terrain

While most of us like to think that our vehicles aren’t pavement princesses, the reality is, unless you trailer your rig, it probably spends more time on paved roads than on trails. Whether that be simply commuting to the trails or being driven as a daily driver and weekend off-road warrior.

Driving on regular roads is where an AT tire is a clear winner. While MT tires are typically made of a softer rubber compound than an AT tire, below 45 degrees Fahrenheit or 7 degrees Celcius they will harden making them less pliable on the road. In turn, making them less safe for potentially slick conditions.

Because of the large tread blocks, mud-terrain tires are also louder than all-terrain tires on average. There is a science behind it, but in essence, an asymmetrical tread pattern with narrower channels between the blocks creates a quieter ride. A mud-terrain is much more likely to howl when driving on pavement.


Winner: Mud-Terrain

A mud-terrain tire is called that for a reason! They are specifically designed for driving in mud. While the large tread blocks and channels between the treads are a downside when it comes to road noise, they are a huge plus in mud. MT tires are designed to be self-cleaning. Meaning, as they spin through mud, they are ejecting all the muck out keeping the tread clear and allowing them to grab traction.

While an aggressive all-terrain tire can perform well in the mud, more times than not, it will not beat a mud-specific tire.


Winner: All-Terrain

All-Terrain tires definitely have the upper hand over MT Tires when driving in most snowy conditions. Due to the fact that ATs are typically well siped and have many smaller tread blocks, along with narrower channels between the blocks. This allows the AT to have a larger contact patch (tread touching the ground) versus a MT of the same size. As we also discussed earlier in the article, sipes allow the tire to have extra bit in the snow.

Another drawback of the mud-terrain is its soft rubber compound hardening in the cold. This makes a huge difference when driving on compact snow.

Where mud-terrains may have the upper hand when it comes to driving in snow, is driving in deep snow. A well aired down mud-terrain tire can be fantastic in deep snow as the large tread blocks can act as paddles. While driving in deep snow is a rarity for most people, if you are building a rig specifically for snow wheeling, then a mud-terrain may be the best option for you!


Winner: Mud-Terrain

When it comes to driving in sand, both mud-terrain and all-terrain tires perform well. However, a mud-terrain tire that is aired down close to as low as you can go before losing your bead, does have the upper hand. Much like driving in mud, the large tread blocks and wide channels allow the tire to hook in the sand. Airing down is crucial though. A mud-terrain tire that is not aired down is more likely to dig itself a hole while sand driving.


Winner: Mud-Terrain

If you are planning on driving down dried-up riverbeds or doing light rock crawling, an all-terrain will fair you just fine. On the other hand, if you plan on doing some aggressive rock crawling, you will definitely want to purchase a good set of mud-terrain tires with a thick sidewall to lessen the chances of a puncture. I would also recommend a tire that has adequate tread on the sidewall as well. When rock crawling you won’t always have the surface area directly under your tire. There are times when you will mainly be driving using your sidewall to hold grip.

Final Thoughts

While MT tires may on average have better off-road performance than AT tires, I would encourage you to consider what your vehicle’s average driving conditions are. An all-terrain tire will give you an all-around more comfortable driving experience. They are usually lighter than their mud-terrain counterpart which can mean better fuel economy, and they on average have a longer lifespan.

For myself, living in Canada, I want a tire that will perform well in all conditions including snow. My truck rarely sees the extremes of any of the conditions I covered above, and to get to any trails I have about an hour of highway driving to do. Because of this, I have personally opted for an aggressive all-terrain tire. If you live in an area where the trails are close by and you don’t receive much snow or rain throughout the year, then a MT tire may be the best option for you. Alternatively, if you really wheel your vehicle, but live somewhere that has wet snowy winters, then having a set of mud-terrains for the spring and summer and a set of all-terrains or even winter tires for the fall and winter might be the correct move for you!

Whether you end up purchasing an all-terrain or mud-terrain tire, keep in mind that they will not have their optimal off-road performance unless you air down your tires.

Happy tire purchasing!


Isaac Wray is a professional photographer and outdoors enthusiasts based out of Vancouver, Canada.

Recent Posts