It’s opening day of deer season. Your gear is packed, you hit the road before the sun comes up, and begin the drive out to the farm. But when you get there, the two-track to your favorite hunting spot is mud-sucked from days of torrential rain. Not a problem, because you’ve got a four-wheel-drive truck, right? Well, actually it might be if you’re still rolling on whatever tires some penny-pinching accountant chose in a product planning meeting—you should have spent the extra cash on the best truck tires.
To avoid getting stuck, you need tires that are just as capable as the rest of your truck. That means being informed on tire sizing, tread patterns, and load ratings. The best truck tires can transform the way your vehicle drives. Here’s what you need to know before you buy and six of the best truck tires to consider.
Two Types of Tires You Need To Know About
Every tire is built for a specific purpose. The two types of tires you need to know about are those rated as “passenger” and “light truck.” A tire with a P rating will be smooth and grippy on pavement but probably won’t have what it takes to make a heavy vehicle perform well off-road. Even if your truck or SUV came with passenger tires from the factory, it might be worthwhile to make a change. Tires labeled as LT will have enough sidewall stiffness to handle significant amounts of gross weight (meaning the vehicle plus its cargo) and off-roading without sacrificing ride quality. If you spend any amount of time on logging roads, two-tracks, or trails, LT tires are what you want.
Size Matters When it Comes to Picking the Best Truck Tires
In most cases, truck tire sizes will be listed in the metric configuration of width in millimeters, sidewall as a percentage of width, and radius of the wheel in inches. For example, my tire size is 285/75/16. All three components of this measurement are important, but the inner diameter is the one thing you can’t change without buying new wheels. Going too big on the other two measurements will result in the tire rubbing on your wheel well or other components, which is annoying at best and dangerous at worst. Your tire shop will be able to tell you how much extra meat you can put on your wheels without running into problems or requiring modifications.
What about imperial sizes? You’ve probably heard people referring to their tires as 33s, 35s, or something similar. Those people are describing the outer diameter, or height, of the tire. Imperial measurements identify a tire by the outer diameter, width, and wheel size––all in inches. A 33-inch imperial tire is usually comparable to a 285/75/16 metric tire and tends to be about as big as most trucks can fit without modifications.
Tread Is Key to Picking the Right Aftermarket Truck Tire
Aside from a tire’s size, its tread pattern is probably the most noticeable feature. Picking the right tire has a lot to do with this and it’s important to do your homework and be realistic about where you plan on driving.
Tread is created by areas of raised rubber and the spaces in between. Imagine a sports car parked next to a mud bogger. The sports car’s tires would have great big contact patches with very little grooving. That kind of pattern provides huge amounts of grip, but only on dry pavement. The truck, on the other hand, would have tires with massive tread blocks separated by gaping voids. The gaps would allow the tread to bite into loose surfaces to get traction, but the resulting contact patch would make these tires loud and unruly on pavement––plus they wouldn’t last very long. What you need is something between the two.
Every aftermarket truck tire provides some kind of compromise between on- and off-road performance. Your goal is to find one that matches your driving habits (i.e., the amount of time you spend on pavement, dirt, and snow).
Load vs. Speed Ratings
Tires carry a load rating that dictates how much weight they can carry and a speed rating that dictates how fast they can go. We’re more concerned with the load rating. Light truck tires generally carry a load rating of B, C, D, E, or F. This loosely correlates to the older classification of four-ply to 12-ply tires and indicates how much pressure a tire can withstand. The more weight or abuse you subject your tire to, the heavier load rating you need. In most cases, you won’t have to worry about this because the tire you want will only be available in one load rating for a given size.
In general, going too high on the load rating chart will make your vehicle ride rough because the tries are so stiff. Going too light on the load rating is a bigger concern because insufficient strength can result in tire failure under heavy loads. Those of you who do a lot of towing need to be especially mindful.
What Makes an Aftermarket Tire Good or Bad For Your Truck?
Auto manufacturers sell most trucks with pretty standard tires, that are serviceable on pavement. That’s because most owners will never drive off-road. Basic tires save money, reduce fuel consumption, and result in the smooth, quiet ride most consumers are looking for. We’re not most consumers, though.
Those of us who hunt and fish need tires that handle dirt, sand, rocks, and snow just as well as they roll across fresh asphalt. All-terrain tires do this incredibly well, so that’s what I’ll focus on. Don’t limit yourself with a street tire, and don’t overdo it with something like a mud tire that’s too specialized for daily driving.
Depending on where you live, all-weather performance may also be a concern. Do you need to drive on wet roads? What about snow? Tires carry classifications for how well they perform in both environments. Since outdoorsmen usually end up dealing with both, I recommend a tire that maintains grip on wet surfaces and doesn’t harden up in cold temperatures. Look for rain and snow ratings if you live in an area that sees lots of precipitation or your travels take you to such places.
We also need to consider size. Larger tires offer more surface area and ground clearance to navigate gnarly terrain, but they’re not without drawbacks. Remember that big tires are heavy, add stress to your drivetrain, and reduce fuel economy. Extra height can also make your truck harder to get in and out of and load gear into. If you don’t need more ground clearance to get to your favorite hunting spot, an aftermarket tire in your current size is a smart option.
Six of the Best Truck Tires
1. BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2: Best All-Weather Truck Tire
If the BFG All-Terrain looks familiar, it’s because this tire has been one of the most popular aftermarket truck tires since 1976. Since its introduction, BFGoodrich has continuously improved the All-Terrain with longer-lasting rubber compounds, more durable sidewalls, and better traction while maintaining the same famous tread pattern.
The current All-Terrain T/A KO2 boasts the reliability we know and love, a 50,000-mile tread warranty, scalloped shoulder lugs for extra traction off-road, and the industry’s highest all-weather rating, indicated by the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake icon. The sidewalls are 20 percent thicker than they were on the previous generation. Stone ejectors were added to keep the relatively tight tread pattern clear of debris. A total of 85 sizes are available, spanning wheel diameters from 15 to 22 inches. As the tire’s popularity suggests, this tire strikes a fantastic balance between on-road manners and off-road traction.
This is a tire I would recommend to most truck owners. I’ve owned a few sets myself and never had a problem. It’s also worth pointing out that this tire comes standard on the Ford Raptor and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392. Sure, there are alternatives that offer a quieter ride on paved roads or more aggressive traction off-road, but in most real-world driving this is hard to beat.
2. Falken Wildpeak A/T3W: Best Light Truck Tire
The Falken Wildpeak A/T3W tends to be one of the more expensive all-terrain tires for light trucks, but it backs up the price tag with performance. According to Falken, the three priorities when designing this tire were tread life, winter traction, and wet-road performance.
The Wildpeak A/T3W tread pattern uses tightly-spaced tread blocks to improve mileage and fuel economy. This approach is so effective that Falken backs it up with a 55,000-mile tread life warranty. The tread pattern stands tall so water, snow, sand, and mud have somewhere to go when you need off-road traction. Mild shoulder lugs lend a hand in the deep stuff without looking out of place around town. This tire’s rubber compound stays nice and sticky when the temperature drops, earning the coveted TPMS rating for winter performance.
If you log a lot of highway or in-town miles, the warranty on this tire makes it a strong contender. It’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for. In this case, that’s one of the longest-lasting all-terrain tires on the road. But if you need a more economical option, General Tire makes a solid all-round tire in its Grabber A/T, which balances on-road capability with the durability you will need to take your truck off-road.
3. Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrack: Best Pickup Truck Tire
With the Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac, we’re starting to lean toward the off-road end of the all-terrain spectrum. This impressive Goodyear truck tire can tackle pavement, dirt, and snow well enough to make you think you’re a better driver than you really are.
The Wrangler’s tread pattern has a bit of a split personality. Down the center, a relatively tight pattern of smaller tread blocks accommodates paved roads with reduced wear and road noise. Along the edges, big, chunky lugs provide traction in deep sand and snow. There’s even an aggressive tread on the sidewall for hardcore off-roading. In the most extreme winter conditions, you can thread studs into this tire’s pre-tapped holes (available on all light truck sizes). All this is backed by a 50,000-mile warranty. Expect to see the Wrangler Duratrac priced above the Goodyear and below the Falken.
This is another tire I can personally vouch for. I used a set of these on my truck to find ghost towns in the Nevada desert, trudge through deep snow in the Sierra Nevadas, and haul motorcycles all over the country. These tires were fantastic off-road and in the snow, but they were noticeably louder than most on paved roads. If your style of hunting and fishing involves lots of rugged backcountry miles, this tire is tough enough for the job.
4. Kenda Klever R/T: Best Off-Road Truck Tire
If the Kenda Klever R/T looks different from the other tires on this list, that’s because it is. Unlike the others, which were basically created by making a standard truck tire perform better off-road, the Klever R/T was created by making a mud tire more usable everywhere else.
Where it stands out is true off-road performance. The Klever R/T floats through mud and scrambles over rocks that would leave other truck tires dead in their tracks. On the other hand, it’s not as capable in the snow or rain, although it does come pre-tapped for studs. Studs won’t solve all its winter woes, but they will transform this tire’s grip on ice and hard pack. Kenda covers their tires with a blemish warranty for the tread life of the tire, but not a mileage guarantee like some of the other manufacturers.
If you’re putting tires on a daily driver that occasionally ventures off the beaten path, this isn’t the tire for you. It will make too much noise, struggle in too many conditions, and wear out too fast. On the other hand, if your vehicle spends more time on dirt than asphalt, this is a serious contender. If I were hunting mule deer in the southwestern U.S., I’d use this tire and look for excuses to show off what it can do in the mountains.
5. Nitto Terra Grappler G2: Best All-Around Truck Tire
For a while, it seemed like every truck I saw was sporting the Nitto Terra Grappler. This has always been a strong seller, and this latest version is better than ever.
Depending on what size you need, this Nitto might be on the more expensive end. The extra money will get you a capable off-road performer with excellent on-road manners. Nitto uses what they call variable-pitch tread blocks to create self-canceling sound frequencies that make this one of the quietest truck tires on the road. That’s seriously clever, and much appreciated by drivers who would rather listen to their music than humming tires. In the dirt and snow, the Terra Grappler G2 provides reliable grip and TPMS-rated versions are available. Nitto backs all light truck sizes of this tire with a 50,000-mile treadwear warranty.
It’s tempting to say that this tire leans to the on-road part of all-terrain duties because it rides so damn well. But that would do a disservice to what it can do past where the pavement ends. It’s a solid all-around tire that can get your truck where it needs to go. If you have money to spend, it deserves a look.
6. Toyo Open Country A/T II: Best Dual Purpose Truck Tire
The Toyo Open Country A/T II lands in the middle of the street/off-road spectrum but performs admirably in both. This Toyo all-terrain truck tire backs up its hefty price tag with features that separate it from the crowd.
On-road durability gets a major boost from the center row of tread blocks, which creates a smooth rolling surface that’s easy on the gas tank and your ears. Closer to the sidewall, tread blocks get more aggressive for better traction in dirt and snow. Tread bars add a layer of support for that chunky tread so you can run these tires longer than you’d think. Light truck sizes are backed by a 50,000-mile warranty.
I’ve seen this tire with M+S and TPMS ratings, so double-check which one you’re getting before you buy. If winter performance is important to you, opt for the TPMS version. Anywhere else, I wouldn’t have any doubts about this tire. I’ve logged hundreds of highway miles on the Open Country and gotten out of some pretty sticky situations in Oklahoma’s notorious red clay. Give these tires a shot if there’s room in your budget.
The Cost of Aftermarket Truck Tires
Truck tires span a huge range of prices, and spending more money won’t always get you better results. The cheapest truck tires cost less than $100 each, and the most expensive can cost more than $1,000. Most of the good stuff falls right around the $150 to $300 range.
Size plays a role in determining a tire’s price, so take the time to compare several sizes across manufacturers to find exactly what you’re looking for.
Do Aftermarket Truck Tires Last Longer Than OEM Tires?
It’s hard to say exactly how long any tire will last, but the ones that came on your vehicle from the factory were definitely a compromise. Like every other component, they were intended to work for most people in most situations. If you expect more performance out of your tires––whether that’s the load rating, tread life, or off-road traction––it might be worth sacrificing other aspects of its performance to get the results you’re looking for.
One common assumption is that aftermarket truck tires last longer than what’s on the new car lot because their tread is thicker. That may be true, but if you buy a knobby tire and wear it down until the tread is shallower than a street tire, doesn’t that defeat the point? Keep an eye on your tire wear and replace them before they overstay their welcome.
Keeping Your Aftermarket Tires Pumped Up
The correct PSI for your tires will depend on several factors. Some people prefer to air up for better fuel economy, while others let air out of their tires to get extra grip for extreme off-roading. When in doubt, open your driver’s door and look for a sticker with the recommended tire pressure from your vehicle’s manufacturer. This might not be present on older vehicles, but the information can also be found in the owner’s manual.
Don’t go by the tire pressure stamped on the sidewall of your tires. That’s the maximum air pressure they can safely handle, and you generally shouldn’t venture that high.
Are Aftermarket Truck Tires Good in the Snow?
Those gnarly tread patterns must be able to handle everything, right? Not necessarily. Biting into snow with aggressive lugs is one thing, but actually gripping the cold road surface underneath is a whole different ball game. If you plan on driving in cold temperatures, look for a tire with a small picture of a mountain and a snowflake printed on the sidewall. This TPMS rating indicates that the tire satisfies independent testing standards for performance in winter conditions. The tread and rubber compound will be able to provide adequate grip in temperatures that cause normal tires to harden and lose traction.
Some tires carry an M+S designation, which refers to mud and snow. This standard was created in the 1970s and is now considered more of a three-season tire.
Building Stronger Tires
Your tires might look like simple pieces of rubber, but they’re far from it. Inside every tire are layers of various materials intended to add strength, extend wear life, and enhance other areas of performance. Truck tires used to be identified by the number of plies because that told consumers how strong a tire was. More plies meant a higher load rating and more off-road durability. As technology improved tire construction, it became possible to make stronger tires with fewer layers.
Your reference point should be a tire’s load rating, which indicates how much air pressure it is designed to carry. Look for a single letter at the end of a tire’s sizing code to find out which load category it falls into. For light trucks, this will be a B, C, D, E, or F. Tires with a load rating of C, D, or E tend to be popular for light trucks and SUVs.
Do I Need to Replace All Four Tires at the Same Time?
Swapping out all your worn-out tires for a fresh set is definitely the way to go. You may not need to in certain situations, but it’s best to keep all your tires in the same condition.
Don’t forget that keeping fresh rubber on your truck doesn’t always mean buying a set of four of the best truck tires. That’s right, there’s a spare under that truck of yours, and most people forget all about it. If you buy aftermarket tires that are larger than the original ones, you’ll need to upgrade your spare, as well. Every time you replace your tires, check the date on your spare. Tires more than about six years old are generally considered due for replacement. To save some money, you can ask to have the best of your old tires moved to the spare position if it’s still in good shape and less than six years old.
The Difference Between Mud Tires and All-Terrain Tires
I’ve got nothing against mud tires. If you want to go paddling through terrain that blurs the line between solid and liquid, they’re exactly what you need. The problem is that mud tires sacrifice an awful lot to perform better in one very specific environment. They make a ton of road-noise, wear out way too fast on pavement, and are basically useless the second snow starts to fall. Most truck owners will be better off with all-terrain truck tires.