Our winter-friendly tire test set out to find the best mud-terrain tires for snow, the best all-terrain tires for winter driving, the best all-season tires in snow, and the best good ol’ snow tires. We’ve done the work, and we have the in-depth results that should help inform your choices when it comes to picking the best winter tires for your 4×4.
Before Setting Out, We Asked These Questions:
“Are mud tires a good choice for driving in snow, or are all-terrains better?”
“Is it worth the money to buy dedicated snow tires just to run them for a few months during the winter?”
“Are all-season tires good in snow?”
“What is the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake (3PMSF)?”
“Does M+S or M/S or M-S on a tire mean it’s a snow tire?”
M+S Tires in Snow
Don’t be fooled, the M+S (mud and snow) notation on your tires does not necessarily mean the tire is a snow tire. In fact, the M+S designation is strictly a visual standard (read: no assessment of performance). Official documents from the U. S. Tire Manufacturers Association detail design cues that that are said to enhance a tire’s performance in mud and snow over non-M+S tires such as orientation of the edges/pockets in the tread pattern and the percentage of the contact surface that’s taken up by voids (spaces between tread blocks). Tires marketed as all-season, all-weather, and even your mud- and all-terrains, can carry the M+S designation. Tires marked with the M+S insignia can, in some states, allow you to pass through tire chain control stations.
What Is the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake (3PMSF)?
Compared to the M+S designation, tires with the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake (3PMSF) have been tested and are held to a performance standard. The 3PMSF does not replace the M+S designation as both can often be found on the same tire. Tires bearing the 3PMSF have been subjected to an American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) third-party testing procedure, which measures variables that can include straight-line acceleration, braking, and cornering in the snow. Performance in these categories is measured against the ASTM Standard Reference Test Tire. Be aware that when a manufacturer subjects its tires to this third-party validation, it can choose how much (if any) of the results are shared with consumers. Bottom line is this: When you see the 3PMSF emblem, know that the product has been tested in snowy conditions. Look for the 3PMSF emblem on dedicated snow tires as well as some all-terrain and rugged-terrain offerings.
Snow Tires for 4x4s and Light Trucks
Tires are complex systems and are as full of compromises as they are round and black. This means by selecting a dedicated winter tire or a snow tire for your 4×4 or light truck, you are likely sacrificing performance in other scenarios like warm weather driving or treadwear. For climates where winter means many months of slippery white stuff on the ground, however, dedicated snow tires might be a worthwhile strategy. These tires are designed for on-road winter-only use and feature a soft rubber compound with numerous sipes across the tread blocks.
Looking at a tire, sipes are the smallest slits in the tread blocks, and they are strategically engineered to control block stiffness, noise, heat buildup, and water evacuation. As the tire rolls, the sipes expand, presenting more edges to the snow and generating more grip. Packing the tread with snow is the mechanism by which snow tires grip the snow. (Think: Snow sticks to snow as you roll a snowball.)
Snow tires will generally have a rubber compound with a lower glass transition temperature (temperature at which polymers, like tires, go from pliable and rubbery to glassy and brittle) and are designed to operate best at temperatures below 45 degrees F. This, combined with the increased number of sipes, leads accelerated wear when snow tires are used on dry pavement. Some snow tires also come pinned for snow studs, increasing the potential for cold-weather traction. If this is your method for tackling the snow, we recommend a second set of tires for your vehicle for the warmer times of the year.
Do I Need Snow Chains?
They can’t (usually) hurt! Carrying snow chains is the law in some states, and chains may be required to travel on some highways during winter storms. Otherwise, snow chains can offer extra traction to your vehicle in slick conditions. From our experience, if you have the clearance in your wheelwells, opt for heavy-duty linked chains versus lighter cable-chains. Trust us, when it matters, you want the extra bite.
Chains allow your tires to bite into frozen, icy ground where your tires’ rubber might not be able to find traction. Likewise, chains can dig you straight down in deep snow similar to a mud-terrain tire, getting you stuck. If not installed correctly, chains can also cause damage to your sheetmetal and other parts of the vehicle so proper tensioning equipment (and practice) is paramount. Be sure to install chains on your drive axle at the bare minimum, as well as your steering axle.
The All-Terrain Snow Tire Test
We tested 11 tires from General, Goodyear, Nexen, Pirelli, Kenda, Toyo, Dick Cepek, Mickey Thompson, and Yokohama in winter conditions. The test vehicles were Jeeps (a two-door 2017 JK Wrangler and a 2005 LJ). Testing consisted of normal daily driving and adventure scenarios in the Jeeps and took place over three years. Tires were driven on the highway, around town, and on the trails in anything from a couple inches to a few feet of snow. Nobody won, nobody lost, and there are no rankings; however, we will share our observations from our time with each all-terrain tire in the snow.
Click each all-terrain tire for in-depth analysis:
Pirelli Scorpion All-Terrain Plus
Introduced in 2018, Pirelli’s newest all-terrain is built upon the company’s Scorpion ATR. In addition to more aggressive sidewalls and improved aesthetics, the tire was rated for severe snow service and given the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake. Upon first inspection, we were impressed with the sipe density on the Scorpion All-Terrain Plus as it almost resembled that of dedicated snow or winter tires. Performance on highways with packed snow was impressive, and pulling from a stop, cornering, and braking were all comfortably predictable.
Frosthand Adv-ice: If higher-speed performance and traction on wet grass are just as important as getting to the sled trails, this is your tire.
Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac
We’ve seen this tire everywhere from dedicated plow rigs to the OEM shoe of choice for half-ton trucks. We’ve also been impressed by how well it straddled the gap between mud- and all-terrain tires. Mud was a strength of the 18/32-inch-deep lugs, the shoulder blocks grabbed confidently onto rocks, and the siped tread pattern held its own well into the winter months.
Frosthand Adv-ice: Winter service is a nonissue, but the sidewalls leave something to be desired.
Mickey Thompson Baja Pro XS
When we laid eyes on this wildly aggressive rubber from Mickey Thompson, it was difficult to dream of an off-pavement scenario where they wouldn’t excel. After we thrashed our set of Baja Pro XS tires in mud, rocks, and gravel; we got ourselves into a winter storm. On snowy roadways, the 13.5-inch-wide patch of meaty tread blocks slapped against the slush and, despite the lack of abundant sipes, kept us generally pointed where we wanted to go. On the trails, the gaping voids and angry Sidebiters clawed through the snow, often down to the dirt and rocks beneath, even as the snow piled up toward our headlights.
Frosthand Adv-ice: Mickey makes ’em tall and wide (35- to 58-inch sizes), so we recommend going big to churn through the deepest drifts.
Nexen Roadian MTX
Nexen’s Roadian MTX (that’s Mud-Terrain Xtreme) is two-faced. Each of its sidewalls features a different pattern (Machine and Beast). Flotation sizes boast three-ply sidewalls and are F load-rated for anyone towing and hauling. Ascending snowy highways at street pressure was no issue for the MTX, even when the slush piled deep. We aimed the tires into the frosty boulders where the sidewalls defended against harsh blows while the treads handily shoveled down through the snow, keeping us moving.
Frosthand Adv-ice: This tire’s minimal siping and widely spaced treads might not be the best combo for packed on-road snow, but its towing prowess and off-trail shoveling are worth your attention.
Dick Cepek Trail Country EXP
Positioned between the company’s all-terrain Fun Country and the mud-terrain Extreme Country is the Trail Country EXP. Its silica-reinforced compound suggests improved performance on wet roads, the wider spacing between the lugs offers more digging capability in mud and snow, and wiggly sipes in the blocks allows for some flex as the tire rolls over the terrain. Snow performance is more consistent with mud-terrain tires in the deeper powder as well as on hard-packed and fresh-plowed snow surfaces.
Frosthand Adv-ice: If like your snow fresh with more dirt under it than ice but you need the on-roadability of an A/T tire, look this way.
Kenda Klever R/T
This tire fits squarely between all- and mud-terrain tires with a tighter spacing of lugs, appreciable siping, and deep voids between tread blocks. After torture-testing the Kenda Klever R/T in wintry conditions we went on to punish them in rocks, mud, and gravel. Spoiler: no punctures, no complaints.
Frosthand Adv-ice: Here’s your triple-point between cost-effective, customizable snow-tolerance (studdable), and rugged-trail confidence.
Toyo Open Country A/T III
With a fresh redesign, we found the Open Country A/T III offered improvements over its predecessor. Snow performance and off-road capability were commendable on the sharp-looking all-terrain, and we held nothing back when it came to our assessment. We’ll confidently say the tire earned its 3PMSF rating as it comported itself predictably in every winter situation from highways and trails piled with deep snow to slow-speed maneuvering on moderately packed slush.
Frosthand Adv-ice: Just look past the non-aggressive sidewall treads, and you’ll have a tire that’s likely to impress from the rock gardens to snow squalls.
General Grabber X3
The red lettering on the sidewalls roped us in, and we proceeded to drag General’s mud-terrain through ghastly rocks and snowdrifts alike. Before we got to the trails, we examined the X3s’ in-town and off-camber handling on severely snowed-over streets. Despite the comparative lack of sipes, we didn’t find ourselves sliding sideways any more than expected. When we turned toward the gnarly ruts littered with rocks and thoroughly coated in fluff, the open treads scooped down to the dirt while the aggressive sidewalls allowed us the confidence to throttle forward.
Frosthand Adv-ice: Look this way if snow is the third most frequent condition you wheel in and you need an attention-grabbing sidewall.
Yokohama Geolandar X-AT
After a cursory glance, we were surprised not to find a 3PMSF emblem on Yokohama’s Geolandar X-AT. Regardless, the first place we ventured was headlong into a snowstorm. We dropped the pressure to around 15 psi under our ’05 LJ Wrangler and were largely impressed with how far, even with open differentials front and back, we chugged through the fresh powder. Exiting the trails and traversing the slush-and-snow mix on the roadways was nothing short of uneventful.
Frosthand Adv-ice: No complaints in the snow and remarkably quiet on the way to the trails.
General Grabber A/Tx
We found snow near the end of our 10,000-mile wild ride with the Grabber all-terrains, and we were floored. On-road handling in the snow was some of the most predictable we’ve experienced. Off-road traction in the white stuff was also commendable in both deep powder and slick, gooey mud tracks. Yes, the blocks are studdable, but we say winter performance was more than adequate without them!
Frosthand Adv-ice: When all-terrain travel is just as important as wintertime confidence, give the Grabber A/Tx a look.
BFGoodrich T/A KM3
We made it a point to thoroughly abuse this tire in mud and rocks, and, as the T/A in its name implied, we found it worthy of “Terrain Attack.” As we aimed the KM3 toward fresh snowfall, it quickly plowed its way to the dirt beneath the snow and generated traction when it could. We confidently spun its reinforced sidewalls against trailside logs, ruts, and rocks to find grip, but the tread pattern sometimes struggled to gather the snowpack needed to keep us pushing forward.
Frosthand Adv-ice: If you consistently thrash the mud and rocks and they’re seldom glazed in ice and snow, check out the KM3.
The All-Season and Snow Tire Test
The factory all-season tire options on the 2016 Ford F-150 SuperCrew 4x4s we used during this test served as the baseline against which we compared various mud-terrain, all-terrain, studded snow tire, and non-studded snow tires that Tire Rack provided based on the highest customer satisfaction rating in each category.
• Goodyear Wrangler Fortitude HT OWL (load range SL)
• Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V2 (load range SL)
• Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT LT (load range E)
• BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 RWL (load range C)
• Firestone Destination M/T (load range E)
All of the tires were delivered to the test track from Tire Rack’s warehouse, mounted and balanced on steel wheels, sans tire pressure monitoring sensors (TPMS). TPMS were not necessary for the type of closed-course testing we were doing because we checked each tire’s pressure each time we rolled out onto the test track.
Each truck’s 36-gallon tank was filled and tire pressures set to 35 psi for the Wranglers and Blizzak DM-V2s and 50 psi for the others per the tire manufacturers’ specifications for the F-150. All the tests were run with the transfer case in 4Hi, just as one would in normal driving in such conditions. Rogers and Campbell then equipped each F-150 with a Racelogic DriftBox data logger to record every aspect of the vehicle’s movement around the half-mile section of the track and the acceleration/braking area we’d chosen for the tests.
Gathering the Data for the Snow Tire Test
Our test for the best winter tire consisted of two elements: acceleration/braking and handling. The DriftBox recorded time and distance for each segment, and each set of tires was tested six times. At the end of each tire test session, we uploaded the data into laptops for analysis. Rogers, who has a decade of experience tire testing for Tire Rack, was our driver for the data runs over the snow-packed road course, while Campbell handled the acceleration and braking tests on a plowed section dedicated just for that purpose. The tests started with the all-season control tires, switched to two of the contenders, then back to control tires, then the last two contenders, and back to controls. This alternating regimen between the OEM tires and the contenders allowed us to compensate for any deviation changing temperatures during the day may have brought to the track surface. Braking and acceleration testing was straightforward, literally. We accelerated the F-150 as hard as traction control allowed up to 30 mph, maintained that speed for a two-count, then nailed the brakes, allowing the ABS to bring the truck to a stop as one would in an emergency braking situation.
The second day was spent on the road course, driving it as quickly as the tires allowed without sliding out or using rally-style techniques. As we’d expected, making multiple runs over the half-mile snow-packed road course and acceleration/braking section magnified each tire’s attributes—and weaknesses—so we were able to determine which was the best tire for winter driving.
Results: What Is the Best Winter Tire?
It became very clear at the end of our two-day testing which treads work best for winter tires when it comes to keeping the driver feeling in control of a 4×4 pickup on snow-packed roads. Here’s how the five different tread types fared when the numbers were tallied:
5. Firestone Destination M/T
Typical of the high-void traction tires favored by many pickup owners worldwide who need to dig and sling their vehicles through less than optimal driving conditions. However, snow traction is predicated on keeping snow in the tire treads, not ejecting it. The M/T’s ability to dig and sling away snow traction was glaringly evident in its poor performance.
4. Goodyear Wrangler Fortitude HT
Performed better overall than the mud-tire tread pattern. The Fortitude’s four-rib design, close tread blocks, and deep sipes give it the ability to hold snow in the tread just long enough to provide decent grip during, both during acceleration from 0 to 30 mph and braking from 30 to 0 mph.
3. BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2
Representative of an all-terrain that has exceeded the Rubber Manufacturers of America (RMA) Severe Snow Traction Performance requirements to achieve the Three Peak Mountain Snowflake rating. The BFG didn’t hook up as well as the Fortitude on acceleration but made up for it in braking and cornering against the control tread.
2. Goodyear Ultra Grip WRT LT
Represented the older technology of the studded winter pickup tire segment. The E-rated Ultra Grip WRT utilizes a specialized ice tread compound that provides enhanced traction on ice and snow-covered roads. Although it has fewer sipes in the tread blocks than the Blizzak and wider grooves/voids between the blocks, it performed nearly identical with a combined average of just 1.3 feet more than the Blizzak.
1. Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V2
Dedicated studless winter tire engineered specifically for pickups and SUVs. It represents the latest in tread compound and design for driving on snow and ice. The DM-V2 stopped in half the distance of the mud tire while delivering exceptional traction on every aspect of the test track.
Bottom Line: What Is the Best Snow Tire for Trucks?
Between driving the twisting road course and the straight-line testing, it’s no surprise the dedicated snow tires, whether studless or studded, come out leading the way compared to the other tread types. We loved the studless snow tires’ performance.
What we learned from this comparison between tread types is tires that keep snow packed into the tread face provide better traction than those that eject it. You can’t beat dedicated snow tires for snow traction. All-terrains with the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake rating are a good compromise if you can’t find dedicated snow tires to fit your 4×4. Owners of four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicles concerned with maximizing vehicle control and minimizing the risk of accidents should keep that in mind when thinking about making bi-seasonal tire changes. For those who are content to stick with the tires they are currently running, our test should provide a new level of expectation for your tread type when encountering winter driving conditions.
Best Snow Tires for Trucks:
- 5. Firestone Destination M/T
- 4. Goodyear Wrangler Fortitude HT
- 3. BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2
- 2. Goodyear Ultra Grip WRT LT
- 1. Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V2