What’s a mud tire, and how do mud tires work?

Mud tires, also referred to as mud-terrain tires, are premium off-road tires engineered for extreme and challenging off-road conditions.

Many truck and SUV tires deliver some off-road performance, but ultimately favor the street side of the tire performance equation. Mud-terrain tires are the opposite – they’re engineered to work best off-road. Street performance, including on-road comfort, is deprioritized relative to off-road capability.

How do mud tires work? The knobby, prominent tread blocks stand out most and deserve much of the off-road performance credit, but mud tire technology goes much deeper. Here’s a look at some of the technology that makes mud tires exceptional, and durable in their intended off-road environment.

1. Aggressive tread pattern and significant tread blocks

While mud tire technology is much more than just simply an aggressive tread pattern and mega tread blocks, there’s no question that tread design is fundamental to the mud tire equation.

The aggressive tread of a mud tire works to claw through and grab onto challenging off-road terrain, and effectively develop grip where less focused tires cannot.

Toyo Open Country mud terrain tire

Toyo Open Country M/T

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Mud tires also generally have significant tread depth, which helps to form the powerful “biting edges” of the tread blocks.

Mud tire tread patterns and designs vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but aggressiveness is the common characteristic. They all have the unmistakable appearance of extreme off-road function.

2. Stone and mud ejectors

To maintain those functional biting edges and guard against the tread being filled with off-road gunk, mud tires often feature technology to clear debris out of the tread. Mud and stone ejectors are embedded within the tread voids to eject debris that would otherwise lodge itself between the tread blocks. (If you've ever spent time off-road, or traveled on a gravel road with street-oriented truck/SUV tires, you might have noticed that they can become packed with rocks and debris.)

Mud/stone ejectors on Firestone Destination M/T2

Firestone Destination M/T2

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Other mud-terrain tires maximize the voids themselves to allow mud, dirt, and rocks to escape.

Tread with high void ratio

Tread with high void ratio (Photo courtesy of Nitto Tire)

3. Sidewall lugs and tread

Some mud tires enlist the upper sidewall of the tire to provide additional traction. Sidewall lugs contribute additional biting edges to laterally grab onto terrain.

Nitto Mud Grappler tire

Nitto Mud Grappler

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Cooper's Discoverer STT Pro tire features soft surface “cleats” and “mud scoops” on the upper sidewall.

The American-made Cooper Discoverer STT Pro

Cooper Discoverer STT Pro (Made in the USA)

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The extension of the tread pattern onto the sidewall is a unique characteristic of mud tires (as well as some aggressive all-terrain tires).

4. Cut, chip, and puncture resistance

The surface layer tread compound of mud tires is engineered with durability in mind. Cut, chip, and puncture resistance is maximized to guard against off-road hazards.

Highly engineered and targeted tread compounds are used across a range of tire types, from winter tires to road racing slicks, to optimize tire performance. Mud tire compounds are similarly customized to create off-road performance and durability.

5. Multiple ply layer construction

Mud tires often have a 3-ply sidewall construction, which creates an additional level of puncture protection.

The strong sidewall also allows for airing down, and running low psi in off-road conditions where it's beneficial to do so.

Another positive byproduct of the stronger internal construction is high load range/ply rating, and significant towing and hauling capacity. Some mud tires, like the Toyo Open Country M/T offer up to a 12-ply rating in select sizes. We also offer all-terrain tires with high ply ratings, like the Nitto Ridge Grappler and the Toyo Open Country A/T II Xtreme.

Mud tire compromises and limitations

The off-road orientation means that mud tires can be a compromise on-road, especially in certain conditions. Mud tires generally don't offer the same level of wet road traction and hydroplaning resistance as street-focused tires. And while those chunky tread blocks and biting edges are an asset in deep snow, mud tires aren't in their element in mixed, slushy, or icy winter road conditions.

In terms of on-road manners, mud tires have come a long way from their farming/agriculture roots. The street "howl” associated with first-generation mud tires like the Super Swamper Boggers, Buckshot Mudders, and the Ground Hawg Mudder has been drastically reduced thanks to noise-cancelling tread technologies.

However, it’s important to keep the lineage of mud tires in mind. They’re still first and foremost off-road instruments, which have evolved over decades to become more street-friendly.

Want to talk about which mud tires might work best for you and your vehicle? Shop mud tires on TireBuyer or give us a call at (866) 961-8668.

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Get the right tires for your car or truck!

Tell us what you drive and we’ll show you all the best options.