Deep Snow Tires

Choosing which tires to buy always seems to be a touchy subject among four wheelers. A good deep snow tire seems to complicate the issue that much more. The reality is, there are many different snow conditions. Some tires may perform very well in specific conditions and poorly in other conditions. While I won't try to convince you what the best snow wheeling tire is, I will try to cover some of the tire qualities that I have found to work well in most snow conditions.

A good deep snow wheeling tire should fall into the following categories

•   Radial
•   Siped
•   Mud Terrain

Radial tires perform much better than a bias ply tire in the snow. Bias tires generally have a stiffer sidewall that contributes to higher ground pressure (explained below). The design of radial tire distributes the weight of a vehicle more evenly over the area of the footprint, whereas the bias ply tires will tend to have a higher ground pressure at the sides of the footprint. Radials generally have a softer rubber compound. When it's really cold, you can feel the difference with your hand. The softer rubber helps the tire stick to the snow.

siping on a Super Swamper TSL Radial
Hand Siped Super Swamper TSL Radial

Read more about Siping Tires

Siping is the process of cutting razor slits across the tread of the tire. This results in a much more flexible tire and hundreds of additional biting edges. Siping isn't a must have, but it certainly helps...a lot. I've found siping to be nearly as effective as studs. Some tires come with factory siping, but generally this is something you'll pay for when you purchase the tire. Or for more thrifty wheeler like myself, you can purchase an Ideal tire groover and install the blades upside down. It's a lot of work, but I've been pleased with the results. When shopping for tires, keep siping in mind. Some tread patterns just won't hold up well to siping...Read more about  Siping Tires

Mud terrain tires seem to work the best in the snow. While all-terrain tires might work really well in some conditions, I've found that mud terrain tires work the best in most conditions. However, all mud terrain tires are not created equal. A tread pattern that is too agressive will result in too much digging. If the tread pattern is too tight, it may not self clean enough. Snow tends to be more sticky than slippery. Not very intuitive, but true. Snow sticks to itself very well. A good snow tire can use this concept to our advantage. The idea is to have a tire that holds some snow in the voids, but still self cleans a little bit. The snow that stays stuck in the voids and sipes will help the tire stick to the snow on the ground. We still want some of the lugs to be clear to get a fresh bite. The three stage lug design on many of the super swamper tires applies this concept very well.

Wider is better.  Not so fast! Given equal tire pressure, a 36x12.50 and a 36x14.50 will have the same size footprint. The shape will be different, but the total area will be the same. Don't stop reading. I'm not crazy. Here's the keep things simple, lets say we have 4,000lbs vehicle. We'll assume it's perfectly balanced and therefore 1,000lbs at each tire. If the tire is inflated to a known pressure, say 5 psi(pounds per square inch), we can now determine the area of the footprint in sq/in using the following formula.

Goodyear Wrangler MTR
Properly aired down
Goodyear Wrangler

Weight/PSI = Footprint Area

1000 lbs / 5 psi = 200 square inches

With the known area of the footprint, we can now determine the shape of the footprint by dividing the area by the width of the tire. For this example lets say 12.50 inches. This will give us the length of the footprint. Please note that this is only to demonstrate the effect of air pressure on the footprint size. Tire type, actual size, tread pattern, sidewall ballooning, etc will have an impact on the actual footprint size.

Footprint Length
Tire width
10.50 12.50 14.50
5 psi 19.05 16.00 13.79
10 psi 9.52 8.00 6.90
28 psi 3.40 2.86 2.46

Area / Width = Length

200 sq in / 12.50(tire width) = 16.00 inches (footprint lenth)

As you can see in the chart, a tire 12.50 inches wide at 5 psi will have footprint 16 inches long. A tire 14.50 inches wide will have a footprint only 13.79 inches long. The narrow tire has a longer footprint, and the wide tire has a shorter footprint.

So what does all this mean? In theory it means that a wide tire and a narrow tire exert the same amount of ground pressure at a given PSI. In reality, my experience seems to support it. While there are certainly going to be some conditions where a wider tire will perform better, the same holds true for a narrow tire. It's also worth considering that Wider tires are heavier, and require deeper offset wheels. This contributes to much more wear and tear and broken parts. Wider tires also need more fender clearance and wider fender flares to stay street legal. Wide tires also don't behave as well on the street. Offically, I'm just not convinced that wider is better. I've been at this for a few years, and I just haven't seen the evidence. Sure would be a fun test to do someday! Based on my experience, I'll recommend something middle of the road, say 12.50-13.50 range.

Taller is better. In the deep snow progress is generally halted when you start pushing too much snow. Taller tires mean you'll push less snow. When I made the transition from 33's to 36's, it made a world of difference. Instead of just following along, I was able to get out and break trail. I also have to try pretty hard to get stuck. The step to 39-40's and beyond makes an even more significant difference. Based on my experience, I'll recommend no less than 35-36 inch tire. That's a pretty reasonable tire size that can be made to fit most vehicles. Beyond that many of us will be looking at more significant drivetrain, suspension, and body modifications.

Safety bead on a 15 inch wheel
Safety bead on a
15 inch wheel

Wheel Size. Just a quick note on wheel size. You want your wheels to be somewhat narrower than your tire. This will help prevent you from losing a bead at low pressure. I run 15x8 wheels with 36x12.50R15 tires. At 2 psi, it's very very rare that I lose a bead. In fact, I don't recall the last time. I do not run bead locks. 16.5" wheels should be avoided unless you have beadlocks or innertubes. The design of the wheel puts the bead at an angle, and lacks the safety bead that is present on other wheels. 16.5" wheels will not hold a bead at low tire pressure.

Irok Radial
The Irok Radial is currently one of the more popular snow wheeling tires. It has some factory siping and Radial Iroks are available in sizes up to 41 inches!
TSL Radial
The super swamper tsl radial is not very popular, but it's a solid performer. The 2 ply sidewalls allow this tire to perform well at low pressure. The lugs accept siping very well. Available in sizes up to 38 inches.
Super swamper SSR
The SSR is similar to the TSL Radial, but has a slightly tighter tread pattern. The SSR also has factory siping on the center lugs, and can accept additional siping. Available in sizes up to 38 inches.
Baja Claw Radial
The Baja Claw Radial is another solid performer. The tread lugs can accept a variety of siping and grooving. Radials available in sizes up to 35 inches. Larger Radial sizes were discontinued. Monster bias-ply sizes up to 54 inches!
Goodyear Wrangler Kevlar MTR
New Goodyear Wrangler Kevlar MTR. The old MTR was a decent snow tire. I haven't seen much feedback on the new MTR. Not sure how it will hold up to additional siping.

1-15 of 24 Comments
Kurt – Canada
December 16, 2018 - 13:54
Subject: Mud tires 35/12.5 vs Snow tires 31.5/10.5

Yesterday I was snow wheeling in 28’ avg of snow. Both 4x4s had one of the above tires. MT35/12.5/r17 vs ST31.5/10.5/r16. The MTs were ran at 5-6psi, The STs ran at 16psi.

Recovery device was used
MT x1
ST x3

Vehicle eng temp gauge high
MT x3
ST x0

john – UK
October 16, 2018 - 13:08
Subject: trouble matching these figures

This is a great article but I am having trouble getting it to work, This formula must only with the tyre sizes you have here because I run the number using my street tyres and they come up short,

my truck weighs 4032Lbs so that's 1008Lbs per wheel divide that by 26psi=38.769 divided by the width ' 9.64"=4.021" I am sure I have more tread on the ground than that ? It is about 7.75",
yet if I do the numbers at 5psi, 1008.6 /5=201.72 / 9.64= 20.925 which are close to your 10.50" Tyres.

keith – idaho
May 14, 2015 - 08:52
Subject: tsl radial

Thanks for the info. Ya I think those iroks are pretty good. but just don't have the size I want or need. that's why ill pry try the tsl radials so I don't have to get skinnier wheels to fit the iroks. have you tried grooving any tsls in the center section as well as siping to open that tread pattern up at all? I was considering that option to help with flexibility and make the tread to void ratio a little better as well as definitely siping the whole tread pattern except the last outside 1/4 inch. seems like it would preform well, I just don't want to be disappointed coming from the gumbos. im also not looking forward to the purchase. but its not my DD so should last along time as long as im happy with the performance.

keith – idaho
May 13, 2015 - 21:31
Subject: swamper tsl radial

I was watching some of your videos with the tsl radials. I was curious how low psi your running. The just don't look really low. Wasn't sure if that was due to characteristics of the tire, or just still a lot of air in them. I'm running 36 14.50 gumbo mudders on a 15 x 14 wheel and will typically run them 2 to 4 psi. And they work awesome!! With very noticeable side bulge do to the flexible carcass. Problem is my tires are about shot, and in the market for new set. Just a shame those aren't still available! And so tuff to find used. Fairly tough selection for what I want. So I'm leaning toward a 38x15.50 15 tsl radial mounted on the same 15x14 wheels. But having a tuff time finding information or performance of them in the 2 to 5 psi range. Any pics or videos of them low single digits would sure help, and feedback anyone using them that have also ran the gumbos. Also interested in info from someone who has ran both tsl radial and irok radial low single digits possibly on the same trip to hear some similar condition comparison. 90 percent of my wheeling is deep snow so trying to find the best performer available now. Thanks

Reply to keith
Matt – Washington
May 13, 2015 - 22:15
Subject: Re: swamper tsl radial

For the most part, if my bronco is in the snow, my tires are at 2-4psi. The exception being when we're covering a lot of miles at higher speeds. It's pretty difficult to judge from the pics and videos, but the tires are ballooning out a lot. The 2 ply sidewall is very flexible. I started running the tsl radials when we lost the gumbos/buckshots. At the time they were the closest thing I could find for a reasonable price. I've been on my current set since 2002 or so. They're getting pretty old! A few friends have switched to the tsl radials and instantly started doing better in the snow. We're all running 36's though. One friend runs 38 ssr's, and he does great too. I like the iroks, they might even be better, but they do wear out fast. I'm not looking forward to my next tire purchase. This pic kinda shows the sidewall flex at 2psi. There are probably better pics on various trip report photo albums.

Ryan O' – Bellingham WA.
November 26, 2014 - 03:24
Subject: Snow wheelin the PNW

hello, great write-up and thanks a LOT fortaking the time. we need a page like this around here! I came here looking for the answer to how well my new 33-10.5-15 TSL Radials will dothis winter wheelin, we have big plans and the snow is'a fallin! I have grooved them and sipped them in hopes they run well in the snow we get around here and up at the 5000-6000ft elevation range at Mt Baker national Forest area. Thanks again!

Marcin – poland/iceland
October 09, 2014 - 15:09
Subject: tires 38-42"

Im looking for a tires (deep snow) or all year tires. for toyota LC 90
now i have 38" x 15.5 x 15 but my car was made for 42 do im looking something between 38-42"

could you hellp me ?



Roger – Seattle
November 22, 2013 - 14:25
Subject: Thoughts on tires in snow

Here are some random thoughts I've had about tires in deep snow. Sorry if I jump around a bit.

You are absolutely right that if the air pressure (and the weight supported by the tire) is the same, then the contact area will be the same regardless of tire size. But note that this is only true on hard flat surfaces.

Since deep snow is usually soft, the actual contact area will usually be larger than calculated above. That is, how much load the snow can support, not just the pressure in the tire, will have a big influence on the contact area.

If you imagine setting down a solid metal "tire" in the snow, you can see that for a given weight a tire that is larger in diameter or wider will sink less. But, when you go to move that tire forward through the snow, a wider tire will have to push or compress more snow as it moves. This should increase drag making it harder to move. So, my feeling is that if you have a choice of going with a larger diameter tire or a wider tire, the larger diameter tire would do more good in deep snow. But, I too, I really wish there was good carefully controlled test data on the subject.

Now back to tire pressure, obviously if the tire pressure is really high like 100 psi, you will have a tire that doesn't flex significantly. The snow does all the flexing. Will lowering the pressure to 50 psi make the tire flex more? Not really, the snow is still so much softer than the tire that the tire still stays almost perfectly round. Since the shape of the tire hasn't changed, how far the tire sinks into the snow, and how much traction is gets won't change.

Now what about 20 psi as Walt mentioned. For most deep snow conditions, this is still a fairly high pressure. While 20 psi is probably low enough to notice an improvement in deep snow, in my experience it's not a big help. Around 10 psi it starts to really help when you are in heavier harder snow. But, 5 psi (as the author mentioned) is really needed to drive in recently fallen light snow. I suspect pressures lower than 5 psi would be even better, but my tires aren't big enough to allow me to try lower pressures without the tire collapsing all the way to the rim. :(

Reply to Roger
Matt – Stanwood, Wa
November 22, 2013 - 14:52
Subject: Re: Thoughts on tires in snow

Thanks for the comments. There are soooo many variables that I can think of, I quickly get overwhelmed! Since the snow compacts on the first pass, we can't strictly consider flotation above traction on the compacted snow. Both are equally important. I can say for certain that 1psi does make a difference once you get into the single digits. Especially below 5psi. Many times, if I have issues at 3-4psi I can drop to 2psi and go.

September 12, 2013 - 04:33

This is bullshit. Wider tyres of the same type have bigger patch areas. Overland Training tested it, for e.g. BFG MT KM @ 10psi
255/85R16: 104 sq inch
285/75R16: 124 sq inch

Reply to Sebhelyesfarku
Matt – Stanwood, WA
September 15, 2013 - 09:22

I checked out the article at . First, the whole point of that article was to show the effect of airing down tires. Second, they have extremely dirty data. By the authors own admission, all measurements were taken by different people on different vehicles with different tires. Any attempt to draw conclusions on wide vs narrow based on that data is silly. There is actually some good research that has been done on regarding farming, ground pressure and soil compaction. I do have a theory on why tires are sometimes better, but I need to get my hands on another set of tires before I can do a test.

robert wilkes – quintette ca
May 20, 2013 - 17:37
Subject: geolander mt tires

Im going to purchase 40 inch by 17 with beadlocks for this coming winter I will keep you posted on the performance

Walt – Montana
April 03, 2013 - 17:43
Subject: Tall Skinny -vs- Wide

Forgot to add. I drive a 1991 F350 7.3 Diesel and both the wide tires and the narrow tires I run less than 20 lbs in the snow...

Walt – Montana
April 03, 2013 - 17:36
Subject: Tall Skinny -vs- Wide

Hey Matt,
Early Winter in 2 feet of snow or less you'll find the tall skinny's are WAY better and 2 feet or more the wide tall are WAY better. I have been 4 wheeling in Montana winter's for a good 40 years. Hope this helps.

Mike – Highwood, MT
January 18, 2013 - 13:01
Subject: Longer Tread Patch...

Any fat, aired down, large foot print is good, but I have found over the years from my experiences that a tread patch that's longer than it is wide when aired down will yield better results in most deep snow conditions. It just seems like you build less of a wall in front of you and have a little better directional control.

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