How do all-terrain and mud tires do in snow?

Just because your four-wheel drive vehicle is great off-road doesn't mean it's equipped for winter weather. Learn what you need to know about how all terrain and mud tires perform when the driving conditions are at their worst.

A quick look at the usual Jeep, 4Runner or other off-roading forums shows some surprise around dedicated all-terrain and hardcore mud tires performing poorly when there's ice and snow on the ground.

We know that four-wheeling enthusiasts demand a lot from their tires in all conditions - so why would driving in even a little bit of snow pose a problem when the going is otherwise a piece of cake?

The answer is: it all comes down to the rubber compound of the tire, which can flip your tires from being a performance asset for your vehicle to a liability as soon as the weather takes a turn.

The best all-terrain tires for snow

All-terrain tires have to do a lot of work.

Between needing to be able to perform in 100+ degrees on searing-hot asphalt while also being able to hang off-road while carrying a heavy chassis and potentially hauling or towing heavy payloads to boot -- as trucks, SUVs and crossovers gain popularity in the US, the standard all-terrain tire in many ways has become as prevalent as the average all-season tire has for sedans.

It doesn't matter whether you commute across icy highways in the Midwest or you use your weekends to camp high up in the Rockies where snow can fall at any given moment. If you insist on running all-terrain tires rather than winter tires on your truck or SUV there are a few features for your next set that you'll want to keep an eye out for.

One of which is the tread design itself. The difference between an all-terrain tire that's decent in snow and a the more highway-oriented all-terrain tire that often come with a vehicle from the factory as original equipment can be dramatic.

The three-peak mountain/snowflake symbol

As we've detailed previously, looking out for this symbol (common on the sidewall of many dedicated snow tires) is your first clue that the tires you're considering at the very least will remain somewhat flexible and retain a serviceable level of grip and braking ability when temperatures drop below 45-degrees.

Keeping an eye out for this winter weather denotation is a decent at-a-glance way to check whether the tires you're looking at are at least capable of getting you to where you need to go when there's snow or ice on the ground.

While they may not be the best snow tires for trucks or SUVs, all-terrain tires that feature the three-peak mountain snowflake (3PMSF) symbol have been tested and rated reliable enough to not lose enough of their road-holding characteristics in order to avoid being considered completely unsafe.

Are mud tires good in snow?

Your aggressive mud tires have gotten you over whole boulders, across deep streams and through some of the muddiest trails in the country.

So a little snow shouldn't be any problem for the beefy tread blocks and rugged shoulder of your mud tires, right?

The short answer: mud tires are actually even less capable in snow than a lot of all-terrain tires.

For starters, there are next to no mud tires that come certified with the mountain/snowflake symbol -- but the entire answer gets even more technical.

While mud tires have such oversized tread blocks that make their grip great for mud and serious off-roading, they're also self-cleaning. By ejecting mud and gravel with the revolution of the wheel, they're effectively able to dig back in to the surface they're in contact with as if the tire itself was otherwise clean.

When driving on mud tires in snow, compacted snow and ice will eventually fill in the wide channels between the tread blocks and the tread channels that otherwise give mud tires their phenomenal performance off-road.

And because mud tires do not have the siping that even regular all-season tires have, there is nothing for the tire to bite into in order to hook up with the road surface - which can prove to be especially detrimental to your road-holding ability when the road is covered in snow and ice.

Another feature that mud tires have that make them such a dynamic performance upgrade is the rubber compounds that are used to create them.

Because they need to be more pliable under extreme entry and departure angles, this soft rubber compound will react poorly to steep drops in temperature. The otherwise soft compound that mud tires need in order to work their best will harden up in a hurry when temperatures drop below 45-degrees.

While soft rubber compounds are great for dry road condition performance (such as summer and competition tires for sports cars), their performance will severely deteriorate when it gets cold out.

To sum up, running mud tires in snow is a great way to test the crumple zones of your truck or SUV - especially if the roads haven't been plowed or salted. You might be king of the trail, but no amount of four-wheel drive will do the job of dedicated snow tires.

Best snow tires for trucks

The big takeaway here is that any dedicated snow tire is also going to go a long way if you drive a truck in an area that sees consistent snow and ice in the winter. Outside of their safety and grip improvements, running a set of snow tires also means you'll save the extra treadwear on your all-terrain or mud tires for the off-roading you actually want to be doing!

Visit one of our locations or order online to find the perfect performance snow tires for your truck or SUV, and find other topics on snow tires and winter driving at the following: