With so many types and brands of ATV tires available, it’s easy to get confused as to which tire you should buy. Tires should be chosen based on the terrain you ride on, and every tire has a specific tread pattern that works best on certain terrains. Of course, if you ride on all types of terrains, you should choose a high-quality all-terrain tire. But if you tend to stick to one or another, here are some basic guidelines regarding tread patterns and terrains.

Types of ATV Tires Associated with a Particular Terrain

Mud Tires

ITP Mud Lite XTR Radial ATV TireThe tread patterns on ATV mud tires are wide in order to disperse mud and dirt instead of holding it inside the tread. Heavy duty mud tires can often have treads that are over an inch deep – and sometimes even up to two inches! The wide spacing and deep treads are great for soft terrain (like mud) because they offer intense traction capabilities, but watch out when you try to ride on packed dirt. They’re generally made from stiffer rubber, so they don’t grip hard terrain as well – not to mention they’ll deliver a rougher ride. Mud tires require a good amount of strength to prevent punctures riding on rough terrain. 6-ply tires are common, but lighter 4-ply tires or tougher 8-ply tires are also available.

Sand Tires

ITP Sand Star Rear ATV TireThe most distinctive feature of rear sand tires is the paddle tread pattern. The scooping motion created by the paddles allows the tires to grip effectively and propels the quad forward. They offer a wide footprint to ensure that you get ideal traction, whether you’re climbing dunes or carving up the deep, soft sand. Front sand tires have very limited tread patterns – and they may even be completely bare. This allows them to float across the dunes without sinking in sand. Most commonly, front tires include some sort of ridge in the middle to assist with steering. ATV sand tires are very lightweight and typically come in 2-ply rating.

Rocky or Hard Terrain Tires

Duro Power Grip Radial ATV TireRocky terrain requires a tighter tread pattern for increased contact and deep angled grooves that will climb rocks with ease yet still provide exceptional traction in loose terrain. Choosing a tire with extra lugs on the shoulder is a good idea because it will give added protection to the sidewall. Hard terrain tires are designed to optimize the contact patch of the tire to the ground. This allows the tire to hook up better whether accelerating, braking or turning. Rocky or hard terrain tires generally come in 4-ply, 6-ply and 8-ply ratings. This extra durability is preferred when the tires are used on trails or surfaces which are particularly rocky or which may have protruding objects which could otherwise puncture the tire.

Racing Tires

ITP Holeshot GNCC ATV TireIf you currently race or are even thinking about it, make sure you check out all your options in ATV racing tires (also known as sport tires). Racing tires typically have a consistent knob-type pattern and are incredibly lightweight, making them perfect for tackling medium to hard terrains. Race patterns are designed for maximum traction while optimizing the feel and control of the rider. Some cross-country (XC) sport tires have large knob shapes in the pattern to provide extra traction off the track. Also, because racing tires require more flexibility, premium sport tires are often made of lighter material which wears out faster. Racing tires are available in 2-ply, 4-ply and 6-ply rating. Tires with lower plies are lighter, creating an ideal situation for motocross racing, but more durable tires are often required for courses in the woods (such as GNCC racing).

Snow Tires

Cycle Country V-Bar Rear Tire ChainsThe texture and consistency of most snow packs respond well to ATV mud tires. As a result, specialized snow tires are generally not available. It may not be the best idea to run the most intense mud tires, but the others are ideal. Look for tires with a wide and deep enough tread pattern to effectively grip (but still disperse) the snow.

If you are just looking for something to give your existing stock tires extra traction for simple tasks like snow plowing, you might just want to outfit your quad with tire chains. Many riders like to put chains on their stock tires and then place new tires and wheels on their ATV. In the winter, all they need to do is switch back to the stock chained tire. Tire chains are effective at gripping snow and ice at low speeds.

Which ATV tires do you ride on and why? Tell us your tire-buying and terrain-riding tips!