Whether you’re looking to conquer the toughest terrains mankind has ever seen, seeking an aggressive steering response and feedback that your average set of tires cannot offer, or you’re seeking a particular style, the best rock crawling tires can be a godsend for you.
Bear in mind, though, that rock crawlers can be quite expensive, in every sense of the word. Not only do specialized rock crawling tires cost more upfront. But they are also useless on other surfaces, such as dry roads, forcing you to replace them occasionally.
That means that you have to make a decision: bite the bullet and opt for rock-crawling tires that won’t come in handy on any other surface. Or get a great rock crawling experience with a set of all-terrain, mud-terrain, or other off-road tires offering maximum traction.
In this article, we’ll provide you with all four kinds of rock crawlers. We’ll kick things off by discussing tires specially designed for this purpose. Next, we’ll focus on all-terrain and mud-terrain models that come in handy on a variety of surfaces, including black diamond.
#1. Mickey Thompson Baja Claw – Best Overall
The Mickey Thompson Baja Claw is one of the best rock crawlers on the market. A super-strong tread compound, impact-resistant bias-belted construction and triply reinforced sidewalls – this model has everything that defines the best rock crawling tires.
Start with the bias-belted construction. This means that the Baja Claw has an added belt of steel under the tread vis-à-vis your normal rock crawler. The added toughness enhances this model’s rock-crawling capabilities and also protects it from deformation.
Yet another benefit of having a bias-belted tire is experiencing a smoother ride and rolling resistance than traditional rock crawlers that have the bias construction. The reduction in rolling resistance translates into added fuel economy, an extremely welcome feature.
Directional side biters – smaller lugs designed to bite into hardpacked rock and other terrains – take this model’s rock traction to the next level. They are helped in this by the tire’s directional tread pattern, which also makes the Baja Claw a reliable snow performer.
However, just like any dedicated rock crawling tire, this model isn’t up to any good on any half-decent surface, such as gravel or dry tarmac. If you care about your well-being, the first thing you must do on returning from a rock-crawling trip is to replace them.
- Outstanding traction for rock crawling
- Highly-durable bias-belted construction
- Puncture-resistant tread compound
- Useless on the highway
#2. BFGoodrich Krawler TA KX – Best Overall
Ultra-aggressive deep lug tread pattern? Check. Solid and reinforced sidewalls? Present. Enhanced puncture resistance than your average rock crawling tire? Yup. That the BFG Krawler TA KX has these features should make it clear why it’s one of the world’s best rock crawlers.
One of the first things you’d notice about this tire is its ultra-aggressive and deep lug tread pattern, which is deeper than the one you get with the BFG M/T T/A KM. The tread pattern’s aggressiveness and depth is the reason why this model is a champion at rock crawling.
BFG has combined the lugs with a soft tread compound to enhance this model’s traction in conditions where you wouldn’t normally expect it to be at its best, such as snow. Just make sure that you’ll air it down before beginning your journey on icy or snowy roads.
Puncture resistance comes next and has been taken to the next level by four nylon sidewall plies. No matter whether you’re driving on rock, glass, or any debris drivers usually encounter on rocky trails, the sidewall won’t be penetrated.
A rim protector is also on offer, protecting the wheel from off-road hazards. Also, due to its construction as a radial tire, the BFG will perform smoother on the street than most aggressive tires.
- Exceptional rock crawling capabilities
- Has a durable and long-lasting tread
- Performs reliably in multiple terrains
- Doesn’t come cheap
#3. General Grabber X3
The General Grabber X3 ticks various boxes for the average rock crawling enthusiast. This model is capable of conquering all but the most extreme rocky terrains. At the same time, its soft tread compound makes it a reliable performer over dry wet, and even wintry roads.
DuraGen Technology has enhanced the X3’s off-road credentials by providing superior protection to the outboard shoulder blocks and sidewall. A reinforced sidewall means a lower risk of punctures; thick shoulder blocks provide extra feedback at the steering.
The technology also injects flexibility into this model’s tread compound, making sure the X3 stays useful in wet and mildly wintry conditions.
Turning our attention back to rock crawling, and an internal three-ply polyester casing would keep this model safe when you’re driving on the black diamond. It would do that with the help of 2x ultra-high-strength steel belts, which also resist premature deformation.
The presence of a uniformity warranty (1 year / first 2/32” of wear) allows further daylight between this model and dedicated rock crawlers. Still, if you want the best of both worlds – decent traction for rock crawling and good road manners – this model is a no-brainer.
- Tough and durable construction
- Admirable off-road performance
- Superior resistance to punctures
- Poor ice grip
#4. BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM3
The BFG Mud-Terrain KM3 is another exciting option for rock crawling. Its heavy-duty construction — sturdy rubber compound, internal three-layer polyester belts, triply-reinforced sidewalls – make sure it can handle the toughest of terrains you can throw at it.
A trinity of features has enhanced this model’s puncture resistance. These include the above sturdy rubber compound, thicker 3-ply sidewalls, and enhanced shoulder protection (compared with T/A KM2). So, you can count on this tire not to let any sharp objects across.
As is with most mud-terrain tires, the T/A KM3 has replaced siping on the tread area with massive tread voids. These wide and deep cavities enable the tire to dig into sand, snow, and hardpacked mud. Aside from that, they self-clean the tire to minimize stone drilling.
BFG claims that the Krawl-Tek tread has increased this model’s mud traction by as much as 5% compared to that of its predecessor. Furthermore, symmetrical grooves are designed to help with stone and mud evacuation and keep the tire’s road traction intact.
Unlike the General Grabber X3, the T/A KM3 isn’t made for city or highway driving. BFG admits this in this model’s marketing brochure (it states that this model is 80% for off-road). So, if we were you, we wouldn’t rely on the remaining 20% for city or highway driving.
- Outstanding traction in deep mud
- Incredibly tough and durable construction
- Quiet and smooth for a mud-terrain tire
- Doesn’t come cheap
#5. Dick Cepek Extreme Country
The Dick Cepek Extreme Country has everything you might expect to get to see in a premium mud-terrain tire. These include an ultra-flexible tread compound, multiple-mud-buster bars and an M+S rating. Despite all these features, this model won’t blow a hole in your pocket.
Multiple features make this tire a suitable candidate for rock crawling. The first of which is the kick-out bars or rock ejectors, which self-clean the tire’s voids of anything (stones, rocks, mud particles, etc.) caught between, thus boosting this model’s performance on rock.
The next two features are specially designed chamfers and inner/outer lugs. Both of which make this model more stable than most M/T tires on uneven surfaces like rocks and limbs. Side biters are also on offer to make this tire’s sidewall highly resistant to punctures.
An open tread design and spacing in the lugs mean that this tire won’t have any problem gripping rocks when the driving hits trail runs out there. Furthermore, the softness of the compound really help this tire stick to the surface when you’re climbing or descending descents.
Lastly, this model features outer voids for more traction in mud and other uneven surfaces. Its inner voids, which are much tighter than their siblings on the outside, help improve road manners. As a result, you can expect this tire to be reasonably quiet on the highway.
- Outstanding rock crawling for an MT tire
- Surprisingly quiet and comfortable on the highway
- Affordably priced
- Aren’t the best performers on snow
#6. Cooper Discoverer STT Pro
The Cooper Discoverer STT Pro is an incredibly tough off-road tire with the credentials that you can count to keep you safe on rocky terrain. And yet, this tire comes at an affordable price, thus debunking the myth that you can’t go rock crawling with your bank balance still intact.
Cooper claims that this model is 50% more durable than your standard 2-ply tire. This claim seems believable because your average 2-ply tire doesn’t come with the sort of protection (3-ply Armor-Tek3) this model enjoys against rocks, fallen trees and other road debris.
An aggressive tread pattern enables the STT Pro to deliver more feedback to the steering, so make sure you’re ready for a firm drive. Side-biters help this model dig into mud, snow, and even rocks, with mud-evacuating dimples doubling as stone/rock ejecting bars.
What’s more, for a tire with an aggressive tread pattern, the STT Pro isn’t loud. The credit for keeping things quiet goes to the center rib pattern, which makes use of its crisscross shape and alternating angles to help you enjoy a relatively noise-free driving experience.
Bear in mind, though, that this model offers subpar traction on snowy surfaces. As such, it’s recommended to replace it with a set of dedicated winter tires when the weather conditions turn ugly.
- Available at a pocket-friendly asking price
- Boosts tremendous puncture resistant
- As durable as its premium counterparts
- Not suitable for harsh wintry conditions
#7. BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2
The BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 isn’t your average off-road tire. Mainly because your run-of-the-mill off-road tire cannot match this model’s puncture resistance. Neither is it as thick as the T/A KO2 nor does it come with an extended treadwear warranty of 50,000 miles.
A double-thick tread compound joins forces with the internal steel belts to take this model’s off-road performance to the next level. The combination is the reason why this tire is stable on soft, loose, and hard surfaces. It’s also to credit for the T/A KO2’s ruggedness.
The sidewall, which matches the tread compound in thickness, cuts both ways. To win you over, it doesn’t allow rocks, stones, or other roadside debris to penetrate. However, its thickness would also be felt via enhanced vibrations at the steering and a resulting firm ride.
Side biter lugs and mud buster bars are also on offer, giving this tire the kind of traction it needs to excel in snow and mud, respectively. Plus, airing down this tire will make it a champion at rock crawling, though it may also take a massive toll on its fuel consumption.
A 50,000-mile treadwear warranty isn’t what you normally get with all-terrain tires, most of which receive no backing from their manufacturer.
- Offers excellent rock traction
- Backed with a 50,000-mile treadwear warranty
- Highly resistant to cuts, chips and punctures
- Has the tendency to get noisy at high speeds
#8. Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure
The Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure offers exceptional off-road performance, a comfortable ride quality, and reliable snow performance. Plus, it’s backed with an extended treadwear warranty and comes in more sizes than most other off-road tires.
A soft tread compound featuring innumerable biting edges is the perfect combination any tire could ask for to plow through snow and ice. In addition to these design elements, this tire’s traction ridges further give it the power to dig into snow and find solid footing underneath.
To make this tire a reliable rock crawler, Goodyear has equipped the tread compound with a layer of DuPont Kevlar, increasing the rubber’s resistance against punctures. Aside from that, Kevlar gives this model the toughness it needs to resist premature deformation.
DuraWall Technology is another feature that raises this model’s guard against punctures. However, while Kevlar strengthens the rubber, this technology aims its sight at the sidewall. As such, you have this technology to credit/blame for the enhanced steering feedback.
A 60,000-mile treadwear warranty means that at least in theory, this model should last a year more than the BFG All-Terrain T/A KO2, which is backed for 50,000 miles. No matter how you slice these figures, they are beyond impressive for a tire not made for performance driving.
- Backed with a generous 50,000-mile treadwear warranty
- Very good at rock crawling when aired down
- Rides comfortably for an all-terrain tire
- Mud performance could have been betters
#9. Falken Wildpeak AT3W
The Falken Wildpeak AT3W demonstrates why some drivers absolutely love all-terrain tires. This model’s toughness is vastly superior to any mud-terrain or winter-specific models. Throw its ultra-strong sidewall into the mix, and what you get is a reliable rock crawler.
It might only be the sidewall that is highly tough, but the benefit – lower risk of cuts, chips and punctures – extends to the entire tire. The same go for heat diffusers, whose ability to not let heat build up inside the sidewall makes the whole tire capable of hauling heavy stuff.
All of this is good and all that, but what about its ability to conquer rocks? Well, that is where its tread area makes a much-appreciated appearance.
A close inspection of the tread will reveal two design elements that are crucial for this model’s ability to conquer rocks. We’re talking about step-down etching and support ramps here. Were it not for these two design elements, this tire wouldn’t have been on this list.
The only area where this model disappoints is noise. Or, to be more precise, the excess of noise. All-terrain tires are bound to be noisy because of the conditions they come in handy. But, even when you give it the margin of error, the ATW is still unbearably loud, especially at high speeds.
- Long-lasting wear
- Consistent grip and traction
- Resists punctures as well as other damage
- Roars at high speeds
#10. Kumho Road Venture AT51
Who says reliable off-road tires aren’t available on a budget? The Kumho Road Venture AT51 is all the proof you need that there are decent all-terrain tires out there that won’t blow your budget.
Thanks to an aggressive tread design, big shoulder blocks, and deep and aggressive grooves, this model has the ability to dig into the black diamond. Its angled chamfers, meanwhile, lend it the biting power needed for confidence-inducing winter performance.
A combination of lateral and circumferential grooves is something you don’t normally get on premium all-terrain tires, let alone budget ones like the AT51, which have to cut corners to keep their asking price low. As such, don’t believe anyone who says that this tire has cut corners.
Its deep and tapered tread blocks adapt to the driving surface. On rocky terrains, they will act as stone ejectors to reduce the risk of stone drilling. O the highway, their job would be to give this tire the aggressive looks you expect from an all-terrain tire.
- Competitively priced for an all-terrain tire
- Balanced on- and off-road performance
- Delivers superb dry and wet performance
- Might struggle in deep mud
How to Prepare for Rock Crawling
Rock crawling isn’t a sport you should do alone. Or without any preparation. The off-road enthusiasts I know spend ways in preparation before they undertake a trip to the woods. It’s therefore recommended to take the following steps before embarking on your next adventure:
- Make sure your vehicle is in mint condition – you don’t want an engine oil leak or low coolant level to force you to get stranded in the middle of nowhere.
- Pack a premium air compressor and gauge. That way, you can easily re-inflate the tire after you’ve completed the adventure and are ready to hit the road again.
- Do not go out there alone. There are many things that could go wrong and having a helping hand would go a long way in getting you out of any potential trouble.
- Make sure that all the essential items – external batteries, phone chargers, extra food and drinks – are on board with you.
- Drive slowly. Unlike what you see on television, rock crawling is a sport for the patient. You have to drive slowly or you won’t get to your destination.
How to Choose the Best Tires for Rock Crawling
Higher Load Rating
One of the crucial attributes every rock crawling tire worth its salt possesses is toughness. Sharp rocks can cut through thin rubber as knife slices through butter. And so it’s crucial to use only those tires for rock crawling that won’t let anything pass through easily.
One way to gauge a tire’s toughness is to look at its load rating. Models with higher load ratings can survive a lot of abuse before being punctured. More often than not, tires with higher load ratings have reinforced sidewalls preventing the ingress of sharp rocks.
Large and Stiff Tread Blocks
When choosing the best tires for rock crawling, make sure to pick models that have large and stiff tread blocks. This design element is crucial for maximum traction on the black diamond. Furthermore, it gives the tire stone-retention properties, which are vital for rock crawling.
In contrast, tires with smaller tread blocks regularly slip on rocky terrain. They are also relatively flexible, vis-à-vis their counterparts with large tread blocks, and are thus more vulnerable to punctures.
How to Choose the Best Tires for Rock Crawling
Should you use radial or bias-ply tires for rock crawling?
Bias-ply tires are a better option for rock crawling enthusiasts or anyone who would park them in the garage the moment they’re back from their off-road trip. That is because, unlike radial tires, these models are useless on the road, especially if you have the habit of pushing your vehicle to its limits.
Aside from that, bias-ply tires consume more fuel and are louder than radial tires. They also struggle to smooth-out road bumps, so expect a firm driving experience. However, as far as traction over rocky terrain is concerned, these tires are much better than radial models.
Are skinny or wide tires better for rock crawling?
Both skinny and wide tires can be used for rock crawling. Skinny tires will make your vehicle nimbler and allow you to position it in any way you want. Wide tires aren’t as agile as their skinny counterparts, but they offer much more traction.
Rock crawling isn’t a sport for the faint-hearted. It is, therefore, essential that you pick tires that are much more aggressive, tough, and durable than the normal set of models you see every day on the road. Otherwise, your adventure might not end the way you want.