Last Updated on February 14, 2023 by Paul S.
Tire tread patterns are important to whatever surface and weather you are driving on and in. Off road tire tread patterns are specifically engineered to improve performance on the trails to get you over those obstacles.
The basic tire tread patterns are directional, asymmetrical, asymmetrical/directional, and symmetrical. This is okay for your common driving habits on the road. If you are going offroading and want a little more confidence in your tire, the tread patterns are all-terrain/ATs, mud tires/MTs, snow tires, and finally sand tires.
We will discuss all the tread patterns so that there is some basic reference because everyone starts on the road!
Table of Contents
Tire Tread Pattern Types
Symmetrical: This is the most basic tire pattern in the market. The entire tire has the same pattern no matter which direction it’s facing. This helps when rotating the tires to get even wear.
Asymmetrical: This pattern will have different sides of the tire having different patterns. These are typically manufactured to offer all-weather capabilities on one side and have a quiet ride on the other. Mounting these tires requires the user to follow specific directions from the manufacturer to ensure they are mounted correctly.
Directional: The directional tread is a tread used for rainy weather. They are useful because they allow water to be forced away from the tire to allow for optimal contact. The tire only works in one direction, hence the name of the tread. These tires also require specific mounting to provide ensured performance.
Asymmetrical/Directional: This tread type is uncommon for typical drivers and typically used for performance vehicles. The tread has a combination of asymmetrical and symmetrical treads.
Off Road Tire Tread Patterns
All Terrain – AT: All terrains are suited for on and off-road driving but are not going to excel in either category. These are great for someone who still has a daily commute but would still like to get off-road on the weekends. The tread pattern typically looks like puzzle pieces and this offers many grooves for a bite into sand, rock, and mud. Back on the road, you will notice that they don’t ride as smoothly or are as quiet as a road tire.
Mud Tires – MT: Mud tires are going to be mainly used for offroading. They are not only great for mud but for any type of surface in the offroad world. The tread pattern is similar to the all-terrain tread except that they have larger spaces in between the tread. This offers an aggressive grip in the elements. The mud, water sand, and debris can filter through these large channels and it gives the treads a good opportunity to find something firm for traction. These tires can even be used for snow.
If you ever hear someone driving alongside you on the highway and they are making a large humming/drumming noise they are most likely riding on mud tires. I have only seen off-roading vehicles with these tires but there are always exceptions.
It is important to know that if you drive mud tires for your daily commute you will wear these tires out much quicker than a regular road tire.
Snow Tires: The biggest change in snow tires is the rubber that is used in manufacturing them. The rubber remains soft in colder temperatures allowing more friction on snow and ice. They also have many thin grooves around the treads to allow for more edges to bite into the snow and ice.
Snow tires are typically only used for the winter season and switched out once warmer temps come because they do not work as well in warm conditions.
Sand Tires: These are only going to be used in……..Sand. Correct! They have paddles spaced around the tire evenly to be able to throw/dig sand to get your vehicle going in the sand dunes. Riding these on the road would probably be really bad for your vehicle and bad for your enjoyment because you would just bounce everywhere!
Best Off Road Tire Brands
Goodyear is a popular tire in general, but one of their more popular off-road tires is called the Wranglers. You can get the Wranglers in many different treads that will suit your needs.
Their extreme off-road tire is made with kevlar that aids in reducing punctures while taking your rig through the toughest of terrains. Avoiding punctures when far away from home can be a game-changer for some.
Check out their off-road selection here: goodyear.com
This is another popular tire company that is world-class. They have many different options to choose from so you can pick the style of off-roading you want to excel at. One of their more popular tires is the All-Terrain KO2. This tire works great on and off the road.
You can check out their tires at their website: bfgoodrichtires.com
Toyo tires are a Japanese-based company, they have offered high-quality off-roading tires for many years. Their open country all-terrain tires are typically the most popular but they have an off-road only tire, M/T, which is used quite a lot on the trails.
Check out their lineup of Open Country tires here: Toyotires.com
Mickey Thompson tires are more of a niche brand of performance tires. They have tires for street performance, drag racing, and offroading. Their offroad tires are extreme and will get you through any terrain as long as your vehicle can keep up with them. They even offer tread on the sidewall to get you the most traction when you are on tight slick rock trails.
If you want an extreme tire that can rip up anything check out their Baja Pro X. If you are new to tires you probably haven’t seen anything like it!
Check out their entire line up here: mickeythompsontires.com
Off-Roading Tire Tips
If you are new to off-roading then here are some quick tips to get you ready for the trail!
Letting air out of your Off Road Tires
Once you get to the trailhead stop and let some air out of your tires. This will help with your ride quality and keep you from feeling every little rock on the trail. It will also provide more surface area for your tire to hold onto and get over anything in your way.
Just be sure to understand that there is a limit to how much air you can let out. Typically you can safely let out air until around 20 psi before you start to get into the danger zone of rolling the rim off the tire.
If you are planning on riding in the sand check out our article about tire pressure for driving on the beach.
Also, note that you will need to air them back up before bringing them back up to speed on the road so an air compressor will be needed. Or if the gas station isn’t too far away you can make your way to their air system slowly.
How to Choose Off Road Tires
This is really preference but here are some general things to ask yourself?
Are you buying tires for strictly off-road purposes?
If the answer is yes, then you will probably want a mud tire or something aggressive because you will most likely be trying to take it on all the trails you can and this could include some very aggressive trails.
Will you be buying tires for your vehicle that you will drive to work in but also hit the trails?
If the answer is yes, your safest bet is the all-terrain tires that will function on-road and off-road. All terrains will save you some gas over the mud-terrain tires because they are more efficient on the road. They will still get through some incredible trails but you will experience more slippage than a mud terrain tire.
Conclusion – Off Road Tire Tread Patterns
The type of terrain you plan to drive over can guide you to select the correct off road tire tread patterns you will need. In certain cases, tread patterns can be very important. But for your average driver, it will not matter too much because the whole point of off-roading is getting out there and having fun. If you are on a budget then take your time and check out some trails with your stock tires and see what you can and can’t do. Sometimes you will be surprised.
Also remember, the larger tire you go with the lower your mpg will be. If you go too large you will need to start to look into lifting your vehicle to avoid tire rub and regearing your motor to increase its efficiency for turning those large tires.