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Tale Of The Tire: Do I Really Need Mud Terrain Or Does All Terrain Tire Make More Sense?

For many truck owners a big part of the appeal of a mud terrain tire is that it throws down some of the most aggressive-looking tread and sidewall money can buy. There's a large percentage of SUV and truck owners out there who turn to mud terrain tires specifically because of the styling boost they can give a 4x4, which are a definite visual bonus when compared against other off-road tire types on the market.

rear passenger side of lifted Ford F-350 Truck with Nitto Trail Grappler Tires

This is of course on top of their tremendous capabilities when dealing with wet, gooey conditions.

Nitto mud terrain tire on trail rear view

That being said, not every driver is going to benefit from what a mud terrain tire has to offer, and may be better served by going with a less aggressive all terrain tire design. Let's take a look at the key differences between these two tires, and how to know which one best fits your driving profile.

Mud Terrain Toughness

Yes mud terrain tires look the business, but that's far from the only benefit that they bring to the table. Mud terrain tread blocks are big and chunky, and they're separated by wide channels that do an excellent work slinging away thick, goopy mud. You'll also find kick-out bars that are designed to aid and abet this process, giving the tire the best possible chance to find traction in the soup. These big blocks further provide decent grip on larger rocks as well as loose, uneven terrain.

Nitto mud terrain tire tread close-up

It's also not uncommon for mud tires to be built with stronger sidewalls, a feature that doesn't just make them more puncture resistant but also helps keep them performing well when aired down. Multi-ply construction like this helps their load rating, which can be a consideration when towing or hauling on the way to the trail.

Mud Tire Weak Spots

Those same tread designs that fling mud also do the same when it comes to snow—and that's a major strike against mud tires operating in winter conditions. Not only do cold weather tires make use of special rubber compounds designs to remain soft when the mercury drops, but they also grab onto snow and pack it into their narrower tread voids, as sticking snow-to-snow is a major traction assist.

Nitto mud terrain tire close-up from rear

Modern mud tires are not as compromised on dry asphalt as they once were. That being said, they do generate more noise, provide increased rolling resistance (which boosts fuel consumption), and they don't channel water nearly as well as they do mud. 

All Terrain Top Marks

All terrain tires are, by their very definition, a compromise. The idea behind this type of rubber is to provide a tire that can hold its own whether it's blasting across sand, slogging through a mud pit, clambering over rocks, or cruising down the highway. This philosophy requires a tread design that takes a jack of all trades approach, with some tires using multi-pitch tread, employing sidewall shoulder lugs, and varying the distance between tread blocks to maximize capability.

Nitto all terrain tire in snow

As with any compromise, it's fair to say that all terrain tires don't excel in any one area. It's a great tire type for non-specialized off-road excursions: trail driving, desert running, water obstacles, and even snowy conditions are all within the wheelhouse of many AT tires.

Lifted Ford truck customized by LGE-CTS on Nitto Recon Grappler tires

As a bonus, on-pavement performance is generally quieter and grippier than with a mud tire, and when it comes to looks, some manufacturers like Nitto have produced all terrain tires that are a match for mud terrain in terms of their aggressive appearance, helping to expand their appeal.

All Terrain Tap Outs

You can probably see where this is going. If you lean towards a very specific type of off-road fun, then a do-everything all terrain tire will eventually let you down.

Nitto recon grappler close-up

If you plan to spend weekend after weekend rock crawling or mud bogging, it makes more sense to invest in a tire that's been engineered specifically to perform under those conditions, rather than work around the limits of an all terrain tire.

All Terrain Or Mud Tire: Which One Is Best?

Following on, the answer to whether you actually need a mud tire or will be better served by an all terrain tire is entirely dependent on how you plan to venture off-road. Mud tires will outperform all terrain tires in mud any day of the week, but they'll also in some cases prove to be a better choice on sand and certain other sketchy surfaces due to how effective they are at clearing their tread voids. If that sounds like how you tend to enjoy your four-wheel drive excursions, then a mud tire is a solid choice.

Nitto trail grappler MT tire

There's a caveat to keep in mind here, and that's how you spend the other five days of the week. If your 4x4 is also your daily driver, and you find yourself putting on significant mileage in the wet or the cold, a mud tire might be more of a liability than its worth.

Nitto recon grappler AT tire

Once you're out of the mud pit an all terrain tire makes more sense. All terrain tires are popular for a reason, and that's primarily tied to their strong versatility, longevity, and affordable pricing.

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