By Jeff Zurschmeide   

Building your own project vehicle presents all sorts of challenges. And an off-road rig has even more, once you venture away from paved roads. You can’t help but be concerned about getting stuck. You want to have confidence that your vehicle is going to make it back to the road. So being familiar with specialized off-road tires clearly has practical value. Here’s a roundup of a few new offerings for off-road applications. 

Firestone Destination M/T2

ReinCarNation magazine was recently invited to experience the all-new Firestone Destination M/T2 tires under some of the most extreme conditions in North America. We went to the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia to learn off-road driving from some of the country’s most highly regarded instructors. The off-road specialists of Overland Experts normally spend their time training the U.S. Military’s most elite units, but for one day we got the benefit of their expertise. 

What we learned in that day slogging through mud, wading streams, scrambling up loose hillsides, and crawling over some serious rocks is that modern off-road tires are more capable than you think, especially when you’re well away from fellow trail hands. The first thing they told us was that we’d be running the whole day at full pressure, and without using any fancy locking differentials, because the tires were going to carry us through. 

Firestone sold the original Destination M/T for years, but the new M/T2 offers a chance to describe the state-of-the-art in off-road tires. Beginning with the carcass, as a tire’s structure is called, the Destination includes two steel belts under the tread and a flexible three-ply sidewall to allow the tire to conform around obstacles and not lose its structural integrity. 

Further, the new Destination’s tread pattern is designed both to grip into loose surfaces and also to shed accumulated rocks and dirt. This pattern is made with a 23-degree attack angle on the tread blocks, because research has shown that to be the optimal configuration. Also, special stone and mud “rejectors” are built into the recesses between the tread blocks to help the tires clean themselves by working foreign materials loose. 

New for the Destination M/T2, Firestone has added small cuts, called sipes, to the tread blocks. Siping allows a tire to gain increased traction on ice and snow by trapping a small amount of ice in the sipes. Ice bonds well to ice, and siped tires are state-of-the-art for winter driving.

The new Destination also uses aggressive side lugs (tread blocks on the sidewall of the tire). These lugs add grip along the sides of the tire in deep mud, sand or loose dirt. They also add tread surface if you do ever have to reduce pressure and “air down” your tires to get where you’re going. Finally, the side lugs help protect the sidewall of the tire from punctures and tears. 

In a day of comparisons, we drove a number of stock Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicons through a torture course, and never once had to reduce tire pressure or lock up the diffs. The Firestone Destination M/T2 is available in 29 sizes for 15- to 22-inch wheels, and can be purchased at any authorized Firestone tire dealer.

Off Road Tire A13

BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A 

While we were cutting across Virginia, we also had a chance to drive Jeeps on the BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A tire for comparison. This is a popular choice for off-road racers, and was designed to be a good-looking tire as well as to perform well off-road. 

BFGoodrich calls its side lugs “DiggerLugz” and designed them to provide a sort of clawing action to dig into soft earth and get you moving. But they also designed the Mud-Terrain T/A to be as quiet as possible. We didn’t get to test this tire on the road, so we can’t speak to that, but the Mud-Terrain T/A did get through every course we attempted in the Jeeps. 

The Mud-Terrain T/A also uses a three-ply design with twin steel belts under the treads, and three-ply polyester sidewalls. The BFGoodrich tire also includes sipes for winter performance. The BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A is available in 29 sizes for 15- to 20-inch wheels, and is on sale now.

Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac

From Virginia, we headed west to the Colorado-Utah border near Moab to test the Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac on Chevrolet’s newest Colorado ZR2 off-road performance pickup. This is a great multipurpose tire that put up with some serious rock crawling and also gave us great performance on the paved highway. 

The Wrangler DuraTrac is made with an extra- rugged tread compound to allow the tire to grab loose and solid rocks without getting torn up, which is important because when you get back on pavement, a tire that’s missing chunks or that is torn will make a lot of noise. The DuraTrac handled the off-road course and then was surprisingly quiet back on pavement. 

The Goodyear Wranger has side lugs like the Firestone and the BFGoodrich offerings, but they’re less aggressive. Similarly, the tread is open for off-road performance, but not as open as the Firestone. Like the others, the Goodyear is siped for better winter performance. The Wrangler also accepts studs if you want to go that route. So if your off-road needs are a little less muddy, you might find the Goodyear to be a workable alternative. The Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac is available in 42 sizes for 15- to 20-inch wheels.

Tire Tips

To select the right tire for your vehicle, there are a few trade-offs to balance. Mud Terrain tires look fantastically tough (because they are), but you’ll notice that cabin noise goes up and fuel economy goes down if you drive them on paved roads.

So ask yourself how you will really use the vehicle. If your path will regularly take you into mud, over rocks and down the toughest trails, then the Mud Terrain tires (either BFGoodrich or Firestone) are the right answer for traction.

On the other hand, if you want to drive your vehicle on the road year-round, you might be better off with the Goodyear DuraTrac than either of the Mud Terrain tires. You’ll still get a very capable off-road tire, but you’ll also enjoy better road manners.

The best of all options is to get a second set of wheels for off-road use and switch your doughnuts around as needed. With so many good choices for different environments, why limit yourself?