In this article, we review the top 3 all-terrain tires available today that perform the best in snow.
All-terrain tires are the go-to choice for owners of many trucks, SUVs, CUVs, and vans. Characterized by their rugged construction and deep tread blocks, all-terrain tires provide usability on all on-road and off-road surfaces under all weather conditions. We set out to pick all-terrain tires available today that you can count on to get around with confidence this winter.
Highway or touring tires have closely packed treads that provide a large contact area with the road to achieve traction in dry and wet conditions. This traction is maintained in wet conditions by ejecting water from between the road and tire by means of clever, and often directional, tread patterns. Tread blocks and sipes also provide biting edges to maintain traction in snow.
All-terrain tires have a significantly different design philosophy. In addition to reinforced construction for handling off-road torture, they have deeper and wider grooves in between tread blocks for digging into loose mud, gravel, or sand. All-terrain tires often also have stone ejection mechanisms and sidewall protection lugs to prevent punctures and wheel scraping.
Figure 2. Compared to highway tires, all-terrain tires feature better reinforced structures and deeper isotropic tread bocks. Source: Utire.
Deep tread blocks that aid traction on loose surfaces are also responsible for increasing road noise and deteriorating steering response compared to highway tires. Similarly, while the resulting wider grooves help stone ejection and grip on rock, they reduce the contact area on pavement. All-terrain tires, thus, give up some on-road poise in favor of off-road capability.
What makes an all-terrain tire good in winter?
Due to their tread design, all-terrain tires have an inherent advantage in snow. Big tread blocks with multi-angled edges are good at digging into snow and clawing their way out. This is why most all-terrain tires will fair decently even in severe snow. However, excessively wide tread notches, while desirable in loose mud, can reduce grabbing edges and influence snow traction.
Ice is a different story. Traction in ice is provided not only by tread block edges, but also sipes. Sipes are an effective way of increasing biting edges in a tread pattern without heavily affecting the pattern itself. All-terrain tires that have a higher number of sipes in their tread pattern are better suited in icy conditions. Again, excessively wide grooves reduce traction in this case. Some all-terrain tires also accept metallic studs, however they may be illegal in some jurisdictions.
Figure 3. Most all-terrain tires today are either ‘Mud + Snow’ (M+S) or ‘3-Peak Mountain Snow Flake’ certified, indicating light snow capability. Source: Less Schwab.
Lastly, an easily overlooked property of an all-terrain tire that improves performance in winters is their tread compound. The compound must remain pliable and maintain plasticity in sub-zero temperatures as opposed to hardening up. Therefore, the compound must strike a balance between toughness for off-road use and pliability across a wide temperature range throughout its life.
We scanned the all-terrain tires out there and selected the 3 best ones that not only excel in snow and icy conditions but are just as capable on-road and off-road.
Cooper Discoverer AT3 4S, although classified as an all-terrain tire, is mainly highway focused with moderate off-road skills. It is ideal for drivers who have full-sized SUVs and light duty pickups and will be spending most of their time on the road. Cooper Discoverer AT3 4S is only available with a passenger service rating but can handle light off-roading and towing with ease.
Figure 4. Cooper Discoverer AT3 4S is perfectly suited for winter driving in highway conditions. Source: trucks.com.
The tread pattern on Discoverer AT3 4S is much closer in appearance to an all-season highway tire, but it still is easily identifiable as an all-terrain tire. Although, it does not sport aggressive sidewall lugs like the other tires on our list. The driving character on road is laid back but confident. Discoverer AT3 4S provides a comfortable quiet ride that is ideal for driving at urban speed and for highway cruising.
While the Discoverer AT3 4S performs mediocre during dynamic tests in dry and wet conditions in the premium all-terrain tire category, it excels on snow and ice. Saw-toothed tread block edges and zig-zag sipes provide high clawing ability in snow and ice conditions. This manifests as short acceleration and braking distances, and high cornering G’s even in severe winter weather.
Cooper Tires offers a 45-day test drive option with the Discoverer AT3 4S and back it up with an industry leading 65,000mile / unlimited time treadlife warranty. Discoverer AT3 4S is available in 37 sizes for 15” to 22” wheels. It starts at right over $130 and you can get yours at Vivid Racing today.
This recommendation is for an all-terrain tire that is not only capable in winters, but it also rated for heavy duty operation. BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 is our top choice for drivers who need heavy hauling and towing capabilities in a tire, along with a go-anywhere do-anything attitude. It is only available in ‘LT’ sizes, and hence, can haul about 30% more than passenger all-terrain tires of identical size.
Figure 6. All-Terrain T/A KO2 is armored with BFGoodrich’s race-bred CoreGuard technology that is proven in Baja. Source: BFGoodrich.
Equipped with tough sidewall lugs, stone ejectors, and staggered tread blocks, All-Terrain T/A KO2 is undoubtedly ready for any off-road challenge. However, on the road, the ride quality is on the stiffer side with mild yet ignorable tread noise injected inside the cab. Overall, driving manners are civilized and handling is positively responsive.
All-Terrain T/A KO2 perfectly at home on dry tarmac but really shines as the road conditions get tough. It barely keeps up with its group during dynamic testing in dry conditions, but gains ground in the wet before ending up on the top in severe snow and ice conditions. Aggressive tread blocks and 3D Active sipes help All-Terrain T/A KO2 post best-in-class results in extreme winter environments.
Figure 7. BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 (indicated in red) has by far the best acceleration and braking traction in severe snow and ice conditions. Source: Tire Rack.
“[All-Terrain T/A] KO2 uses the same CoreGuard technology that was developed by BFGoodrich for Baja championship. It is three-peak mountain snowflake certified so it is rated for severe snow service,” a tire expert at BFGoodrich told us.
BFGoodrich offers a relatively conservative 50,000 mile / 6-year treadwear limited warranty, along with a 60-day satisfaction guarantee on the All-Terrain T/A KO2. It is available in LT sizes from 15” to 22”, and can be purchased at Vivid Racing starting at just over $160.
Sources: Tire Rack; interview with the representative at BFGoodrich (10/28/2020).
Unlike our previous two recommendations, General Grabber A/Tx allows for the addition of studs for extreme snow and icy winters. Although, it is not recommended to use studded tires on paved roads, and they are flat out illegal is some states. Where feasible and possible, studs can drastically increase the usability of tires in deep snow and thick ice. It is one of the very few all-terrain tires that offers this option.
Figure 8. Studded tires have a huge advantage due in snow and ice due to increased clawing action. Source: wheels.ca.
People will tell you that Grabber A/Tx is the best all-terrain tire available today, and we cannot agree more. Not only it checks all the boxes of being a top-of-the-line off-road capable tire, it provides a quiet and comfortable ride on the road. Its acoustically optimized tread pattern and added absorption layer underneath the treads provide class-leading ride quality.
Even without the optional studs, full-depth sipes and five row multi-directional tread blocks provide plenty of grip in snow and ice to propel the Grabber A/Tx. “On flat ground, tires provide plenty of grip in the snow and acceleration around corners at good speeds is done without getting the heart rate up. [Also] Climbing through roughly 10 inches of fresh now, we did not experience any slipping,” Perry Mack at 4WD Magazine says.
Figure 9. Even without the metallic studs, Grabber A/Tx has plenty of snow traction available on tap to get out of any slippery situation. Source: Four Wheeler.
General Tire offers a generous 60,000 mile / 6-year treadwear warranty on the Grabber A/Tx in addition to a 45-day trial period. Grabber A/Tx is available in several passenger and light truck ‘LT’ sizes between 14” and 20”. It starts at just over $120 for the smallest 14” size and you can order your set at Vivid Racing now. Sources: Campus Automotive; 4WD Magazine; General Tire