How to Pick the Right ATV Tires

When it comes to replacing most things on an ATV, there isn’t much to think about, you just get the replacement part and there is nothing to it, but it is different when it comes to tires.  Picking out new quad tires can be a lot of work.  There are so many choices and lots of different opinions, it is tough to know which one to get.

What ATV tires should you get?  First you have to nail down the correct tire size for your quad.  Then, it comes down to pattern shape, knob size, and tread depth.  These factors will control the traction and materials displacement dependent on the terrain you will be riding on.  Your choice depends on the terrain and the aggressiveness of your riding style.

The easy part, once you understand what you are looking for, is figuring out the right size tire for your ATV or UTV.  From there, you need to analyze a whole lot more and really nail down a lot of the factors we are going to discuss.  It really is essential to look at each of these factors because riding an ATV with tires designed for a different terrain and style can really ruin your ride and, in some situations, prove unsafe.

Getting the Right Size Tires

A lot of people assume tire size is pretty standard among ATVs with the same engine size.  For example, all 400cc ATV’s would have similar tire sizes in theory.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  There is a pretty big difference among ATVs, especially when you compare sport versus utility quads.  To get a better feel for it, check out this article on ATV size and this one on ATV weight.

When picking the size, you will want to check the stock reccomendations for your quad.  Typically, you aren’t limited to just one size, but there is a range you can go with to get what you want, but you want to stay within the recommendations.  If you get outside the recommendations, you risk negatively impacting your ATV’s torque, horsepower, balance and handling.

So, figuring out the tire size should be pretty easy if you have an owner’s manual or can find the specifications online, but you should know what that means so you know what you are actually looking at.  Tire sizes are usually identified by 3 numbers, in the following format: “inches” X “tread width” – “diameter.”  That means a tire size of 21 X 7-10 is referencing a tire that is 21 inches tall, the width of the tread from side to side is 7 inches, and the wheel is 10 inches in diameter.

Bias vs. Radial

Bias Ply and Radial are the two main ways tires are designed.  Because each has plusses and negatives for different types of riding styles, it is important to know what the different designs are.

Bias Ply: Bias ply is pretty easy to understand.  The ply number is indicative of its durability and strength. The concept isn’t much different than toilet paper.  The more plies, the more durable. Placed in diagonal patterns from bead to bead, the plies form a crisscross pattern.

Traditionally, bias-ply tires tend to be a bit more durable and long-lasting than radial tires because they have more solid sidewalls that prevent punctures.  On the opposite end, these tires get hot much more quickly, which can pose a problem.  The bias-ply tires tend to be favored by quad riders that are riding tougher terrains since they have greater traction and stronger sidewalls.

Radial: Instead of having the plies laid in a diagonal pattern,  radial tires have their plies set perpendicularly to the center of the tread or direction of the cruise. The plies still run bead to bead, but go down the tire’s sidewalls in more of a wrapping pattern. While radial tires tend to have weaker sidewalls, that isn’t always the case because some radial tires add a steel belt finish or reinforced material like Kevlar to overcome the issue.

All-Terrain (AT) Tires

All-terrain tires are by far the most popular style of tires for most ATV owners, and for good reason.  They are the most versatile tire that will work, at least adequately, in most situations.  However, just getting an all-terrain tire is not good enough.  There are different kinds of all-terrain tires that are more designed for trail riding, racing and other things.

All-Terrain Racing Tires

Racing tires are typically softer and lighter.  The softer rubber has more flex, which is good for riding fast, but not so good for durability.  Because of that, they tend to wear out quicker than other kinds of all-terrain tires.

The tread in racing tires is marked by consistent knob patterns.  This tread is designed to give the best traction, feel and control so you can ride as fast as possible

atv tire buying guide

All-Terrain Trail Tires

All-Terrain trail riding tires are probably the most popular tires.  They are designed to be stiffer and tougher.  The trail tires are heavier than racing tires because they are usually 4 or 6 ply tires.  This makes them last longer and more resistant to punctures on rocks, thorns, nails or anything else you may drive over on the trail.

All-Terrain Utility Tires

All-terrain utility tires are probably the second most popular style of tires for many ATV riders.  Utility tires are different than trail riding tires because they are usually more aggressive for riding in mud, over rocks and on snow.

Utility tires are much heavier than most other tires because they need to be more durable.  Becuase utility tires are designed to be much more aggressive, they are often taller so your ATV has an easier time crawling over a variety of terrain and rocks.

If you are riding through a lot of mud, you will want utility tires that are more designed for mud.  For riding in mud, you want tires with wide, deep tread that displaces mud and dirt to keep it from getting stuck in the tread.  You want tires with stiffer rubber that is tough and thick.  This helps keep them from getting punctured by rocks or other things buried in the mud you may not see.  These tires are ideal for mud, but still fine to use on regular trails.  However, the harder the terrain on your trail, the less grip and rougher ride you will experience.

atv tire guide

If you are riding over really hard terrain with a lot of rocks, you will want utility tires that are more designed for that type of riding.  For rocky terrain, you want tight treads that give you as much contact as possible with the ground.  You also want to have some angled grooves in the tread that will grip more when climbing rocks.  More aggressive utility tires will usually have extra lugs in the sidewall that add additional protection as well.  These tires are going to be very durable and suitable for a wide array of terrains, especially any trail that is not going to be too soft.  The only time you will really come into trouble is if you are going through a lot of mud that is going to get stuck in the treads.

Sand Tires

Sand tires are the weirdest tire you will see so there is no risk of confusing what you are buying if it is a sand tires.  They are often referred to as paddles because of their paddle wheel design. Because the design is so weird, and specifically designed for sand, you should really only ever use sand tires when you are actually riding your ATV in the sand.

The paddle tread on a sand tire, which is basically flat or no tread between big paddles, is specifically designed to scoop sand out of the way while the gliding over the sand without sinking.  This means the sand tires have to be very light and thin.  If you use sand tires on regular terrain, they will wear out quickly and you will slide all over the place.

Another important thing to note about sand tires is there is often a difference between the front set and rear set of sand tires.  The front set of sand tires usually has an extra ridge or paddle that will help you with steering your ATV.

quad tire buying guide

Street-Legal Tires

Most ATV tires are not designed for use on paved streets.  In fact, the ATV Tires are one of the biggest reasons driving ATVs is not safe on paved roads.  Getting the right kind of tires is one of the most important parts of making your ATV or UTV street legal in most states.  If you are aiming to make your quad street legal, you definitely need to check out our very comprehensive guide to going street legal in almost every state

The big difference in street-legal tires for ATVs is that they give your ATV a much better grip on paved surfaces. The extra grip is effective in helping you brake better and take corners safer at high speeds.  An added benefit of street tires is that they will last a lot longer on paved roads than off road tires, whose tread would be gone in no time.

The easiest way to determine if the ATV tires you are looking at are street legal is to confirm the tires are approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT).  You can check if the tires are DOT-approved by looking at the code molded on the side wall of the tire.

The trick to getting a good set of street-legal tires is getting a set that is both street-legal and still all-terrain enough to perform well on the trails.  The last thing you want on a quad is to lose a lot of the off-roading capabilities.

Does the Tire Manufacturer Matter?

While there are plenty of cheap and junky tires out there, I haven’t found there to be much difference in quality or value among the major ATV tire manufacturer.  That means you really just need to focus on the right style of tire for you from one of the many quality manufacturers.  While this list probably isn’t exhaustive, here are some of the major ATV tire manufacturers where you can be pretty confident you are getting a quality tire.

  • Wanda
  • Carlisle
  • ITP
  • Kendahow to pick atv tire
  • AMS
  • Arisun
  • BFGoodrich
  • BKT
  • CST
  • Duro
  • DWP
  • GBC
  • Goldspeed
  • GMZ
  • Maxxis
  • Moose
  • Moto Race Tire
  • No Limit
  • Pit Bull
  • Pro Armor
  • RP Advanced
  • Sedona
  • STI
  • Tensor
  • Tusk
  • Vee Rubber
  • EFX

Our Recommended Tires

These tires come from a mix of personal use, research and recommendations from avid riders.  We feel confident you will be happy with any of these tires as long as you pick the right kind of tire to match your style of riding.  With any of our recommended tires, you want to make sure you are checking the right size tire.

You should also consider how much you actually ride your ATV.  If you punish your quad often on rough terrain, invest in more durable, and usually expensive, tires.  If you ride your ATV recreationally just a few times each summer, save yourself some money and get a good quality, but less durable and less expensive tires.

Racing Tires

  • The Maxxis Razr2’s are pretty consistently the highest recommended racing tires. They feature an aggressive tread designed to maximize cornering (if you want to learn to corner better in your quad, check out this guide that is sure to help you).  The increased lug dept offers increased skid and traction control.  This tire is specifically designed for the Grand National Cross Country race circuit and is used by many professionals, including eight-time champion Bill Balance.  Note that the rear and front tires are different so you would need one pair of each.
  • The Pro Armor Attack is an 8-ply tire that can handle just about any terrain. The tire sports an aggressive, 1-inch-deep tread and side traction to help you maneuver and corner in any terrain. Despite their heavy weight, these tires are popular with some racers.  It really isn’t a pure racing tire, but I am including it here since some use it.
  • The Vee Rubber Advantage is a six-ply radial tire. The tires are designed to get you good traction and control, all while offering sidewall protection. The wheel sits a bit recessed inside the tire because of Vee’s rim-saver bead technology. This tire is commonly used in XC racing where the trails commonly have rocks, roots, mud, dirt, sand and pavement.
  • The Carlisle Knobby is a fun-looking tire. It reminds me of a 1980’s off-roading tire when I look at it.  These are high-performance tires with a block pattern tread that are going to move a lot of dirt as you fly across the trail.  It has great stability and traction for trail conditions and racing, but isn’t going to perform too well climbing rocks or similar terrains.  Overall, this is a great tire if you want maximum control at top speeds.

Trail Tires

  • The Tusk Trilobite HD is one of the most-budget friendly options on our list. It offers a good combination between being light weight and having a heavy-duty six-ply carcass that offers good puncture resistance. The slightly aggressive, but basic, tread pattern works well on dirt, rocks, mud and snow applications. For a tire so reasonably priced, it is great to see the extra lugs on the shoulder that protect the sidewall and rim from damage. The traction and performance in mud is greatly enhanced due to the mud channels to the side of the tire.
  • For trail riders that want good performance in mud, the BKT W 207 is a great all-terrain tire suitable for ATVs and UTVs. While it is designed to provide good traction in all conditions, the tread’s chevron-style pattern has large channels to clean out the mud, making it great for riding in the mud. It is a six-ply tire so it provides a good combination of being puncture resistance atv tire buying guideand light weight. This tire is going to be street legal in most states.
  • The GBC Grim Reaper tire is a fairly aggressive all-terrain trail tire.  It combines an aggressive  tread with big shoulder lugs to maximize traction at various angles, which also helps for cornering.  The Grim Reaper has an eight-ply rating so you can expect great puncture resistance, but is still fairly resistant.
  • The Duro Buffalo is a good all-terrain trail tire that is pretty aggressive. It has medium-sized lugs that will help you out in the mud, but keep your trail riding pretty smooth too. The pretty-aggressive V-shape of the tread further helps clear out mud and water while retaining traction. This tire is available in four- or six-ply depending on the balance you want between weight and durability.
  • The GMZ Slammer tire is a good trail tire that performs in adverse conditions, including snow. This tire is six-ply, but has a unique blend of rubber compounds that offer a decent amount of puncture resistance and a smooth ride. The good shoulder lugs are also great for cornering.   These tires weigh a bit more than most 6-ply tires, coming in between 26.6 pounds and 27.8 pounds depending on tire size.
  • The DWT Moapa run-flat tire is a beast of a tire that is for those that want to make sure they never get a flat tire. This 12-ply tire is tested to be driven with 0 psi for 50 miles at 40 mph. While that is insane, the chances of you puncturing a 12-ply tire is pretty remote in the first place.  You can also get this tire in normal (not run flat) model if you prefer.  The Moapa’s tread gives it good traction on dirt, pavement or mud. The shouldered tread design helps you keep good traction in corners. Given the 12-ply design, these tires weigh a bit more than most tires.  Depending on your size, the weight of the tire runs from 28 pounds to 48.5 pounds.
  • The Kenda Bearclaw HTR is a really good all-around tire that is actually popular with some racers despite being more of an all-terrain tire. Despite being an eight-ply tire, it is pretty light.   The tread has a good center knob designed for a smooth ride, plus tall knobs that are spaced to help dig into the dirt, but also clear mud out of the way.
  • MRT (Moto Race Tire) as a pretty unique tire in the Trail Pro tire. It is a pretty impressive all-terrain tire that is also DOT-approved to be street legal.  This tire does a really good job of  balancing  traction and control in mud, sand, dirt and pavement.
  • Another great tire from Kenda is the Pathfinder K530. This is a popular tire that is a step more aggressive than most trail tires.  It is designed to handle a number of different terrains and should perform well in most, with the ability to handle turns well.
  • The Carlisle All Trail is a great all-around tire that is going to perform well on most terrains. It is a durable tire with great traction.  It won’t be the best for mud or rock climbing, but it is going to perform well enough to be usable anywhere.

Utility Tires

  • The CST Behemoth is an eight-ply utility tire designed for ATVs and UTVs. The tire features an aggressive tread pattern that gives you a great grip, and large shoulder treads help you perform in ruts. The tire’s radial construction is lightweight and performs well in both hard-packed dirt and mud.  The large channels in the tread help clear away mud and water.atv tire buying guide
  • The AMS Radial Pro is a good quality all-terrain tire perfect for most trails. The tire has a radial casing for a smooth and consistent ride. With extra attention in the design of the tire lugs and the aggressive tread, this tire is going to tack almost any type of trail smoothly, even if you encounter mud, rocks, packed dirt or sand.
  • The Arisun Gear Buster is an aggressive tire that designed for riders to traverse boulders, dirt trails and wett conditions there is. The rubber compound is super grippy to pull you out of tough spots. The tire is eight-ply with deep voids and large lugs. The eight ply usually means a heavy tire, but the Gear Buster is still pretty lightweight.
  • The Wanda P350 is a favorite tire model from a respected manufacturer. This tire has extra lugs on the shoulder that add extra protection.  This tire is going to give you great all-around traction on most trail surfaces, with extra grip for fast cornering and snowy or wet conditions
  • If you are a mudder, the ITP Mud Lite XL tires are impressive in the mud. The design on this tread is very aggressive.  It looks like a mix between a normal utility tire and a sand tire, with big paddles that will sling the mud away from your quad.

Sand Tires

  • The EFX Sand Slinger is a pricier, but effective, sand tire. The front tires in this set are just smooth tires to glide over the sand, and the rear tires have big 14 scoop paddles. They are 4 ply atv sand tirestires, which is nice because light weight is more important than protection when riding in sand.
  • Kenda is another of our favorite tire brands. They have great sand tires, but unfortunately they made it confusing by giving different names to the front and rear tires.  The rear tires are called Gecko tires.  They have a deep V-shaped paddles to kick the sand out.  The front tires are called Dune Runner tires and they are simple smooth tires with a half inch rim running down the middle.

Street-Legal Tires

  • We like the GBC Kanati Mongrel for a good combination of all-terrain capabilities in a DOT-approved tire. This 10 ply tire will last a long time on the street, but also has pretty aggressive treading to make it good on the trails.
  • The MRT Trail Pro tire is another great DOT-approved tire that is a good combination of all-terrain and pavement performance. It is discussed more above.
  • The Pit Bull Growler BG2.5 radial tires are DOT-approved tires for a UTV and ATV. These tires perform well in mud, snow or on the trail, in addition to the paved streets. The wide voids andatv tire buying guide sipes on the tread help clean out mud while reducing hydroplaning.  The large blocks in the tread and rounded edges help you get a smooth ride while adding durability and life to the tires.
  • STI’s Black Diamond XTR is an all-season crossover tire that is DOT-approved for use on paved streets. The V-pattern tread bridges the gap between mud, snow, sand, hard trail and paved surfaces. The 1 1/8inch tread depth offers traction to give you good control on even rough trails.
  • The Tensor Regulator all-terrain tire is another DOT-approved tire that performs well on most terrains. The tire is 8 ply and has a nylon reinforcement layer for added flat protection. The steel-belted inner and outer bead helps prevent sidewall failures as well. The design on this tire is likely to remind you of a truck tire that is designed for off road use.


Brent Huntley

Brent Huntley is the owner of ATV Man and is responsible for almost all the material on the website. He also runs and loves to travel and ride ATVs with his family. When he isn't playing, his day job consists of owning Huntley Law.

Recent Posts