Are you ready to get out and start overlanding? Maybe you just want to check out a few of your local off-road trails. If you think you’re going to get into some sticky situations you’re going to want to make sure you have the right tire size.
What size tire should I have for Overlanding? The standard Tire Size for Overlanding is anywhere from 31-37 inches. The smallest tire size for Overlanding will usually come stock on your vehicle. If your vehicle allows it, you can go up from there. For example, a Toyota Tacoma has a stock Tire Size of 31 inches. With a lift you can fit up to 33 inch tires.
When overlanding or off-roading, you want avoid low profile tires. Low profile tires will prevent you from airing your tires down to increase traction.
All cars come with a stock tire size that meets the basic functions of the car. If you’re taking your vehicle off-road you want tires to go beyond the basic needs and match your wants.
We are going to look at choosing an off-road tire size, what components make up a tire, and what you can do with your tire.
How to Choose A Tire Size?
They are several different ways to pick a tire size. One is to look at the stock size for your car and either use that size tire or go up 1 to 2inches because you know that it works for your model. Another is to choose whatever size tire you desire and then adjust your car to meet the need of the new tire.
All cars have a wheel-base and tire range limit, so it is safe to stay in that limit. If you choose a larger tire, then you will need to make accommodations to your vehicle, such as a lift. Below is a list of wheelbase and tire range for some popular overlanding vehicles.
- Jeep Wrangler. Wheelbase (in) 80-96. Tire range (in) 31-37.
The wheelbase is short but extremely popular when off-roading. A combination of low lift and big tire increases the performance and driving of these vehicles. A popular tire size is 35-37 inches.
- Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (full-size and mini truck). Wheelbase (in) 108-117. The range of popular tire sizes is 35-40 inches.
This wheelbase range is extremely popular. This length has great stability and maneuverability. A popular tire size is 37-40 inches.
- Toyota Tacoma (midsize Truck). Wheelbase (in) 127.4-140.6. The popular tire range is 31-33 inches.
These vehicles have a large distance between the front and rear wheels, so a large tire is essential. A popular tire size is 35-37 inches.
Can Tires be Too Big for Overlanding?
If a tire is too big, it won’t fit on your vehicle without modifications, which can be an extensive – and expensive – job. Your vehicle is designed with a certain size tire in mind, so drastically changing that size means that a number of modifications might be needed
- The brakes may need to be extended.
- Differential gear may need to be swapped out so you can still have enough torque.
- You may need to do a suspension lift.
- Alteration to the body of the car or the fenders may be necessary to make room for the larger tire.
Adding larger tires than your vehicle can reasonably accommodate without modifications is possible, but most overlanding enthusiasts don’t bother. The 1-2 inch gain in ground clearance isn’t worth the headache or expense.
Remember that larger tires are also more expensive to maintain. They cost more right out the gate, and they are harder on your brake system.
If you use your overlanding vehicle as a daily driver and commute for work, I would recommend sticking with a tire size that’s recommended for your vehicle.
I drive a Toyota Tacoma Off-Road as my daily and overland vehicle. I keep the stock 31″ tire size on the vehicle. Sure, bigger tires would be nice, but I also drive 40 miles each way to work.
Does Tire Width Matter for Overlanding?
The width of the tire is also an important consideration when overlanding. You’ll find people passionately claiming one is better over the other, but this really depends on the areas you frequent. Thinner tires and wider tires have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Thin Tires for Overlanding
Thin tires offer some distinct advantages over typical or wide tires. Let’s take a look at why you might want to make the switch.
What’s to like about thinner tires:
- They weigh less, which can help increase the performance of your vehicle.
- They get good traction in dry conditions because the weight of the vehicle is pressing into small points.
- They do well in most rocky conditions.
- They stick out less from the body of the vehicle, which means you can fit through narrower spaces.
- Honestly, they look really cool and utilitarian.
What’s not to like about thinner tires:
- They don’t perform well in sand or snow because the weight of the vehicle isn’t distributed over a wider area.
- They may get stuck in between rocks or in holes that a wider tire would roll over.
Wide Tires for Overlanding
Wide tires can provide some significant benefits, but in most cases, you’re not going to see an improvement in performance just because the tire is wider.
What’s to like about wide tires:
- They do great in mud, snow, and sand because they distribute the weight of the vehicle over a wider area (kind of like wearing snowshoes instead of boots). In the tire world, this is called “floatation.”
- They can roll over small holes in the ground with ease.
- Some people think they have major cool factor, although this is a matter of opinion.
What’s not to life about wide tires:
- They are heavier.
- They may require modifications to your car to use.
- Unless in an area that is muddy, snowy, or sandy, you might not see a performance boost when using these tires.
Because the advantages and disadvantages are so pronounced for wide and thin tires, many people choose to split the difference and go with a standard width tire.
Here’s a great video that talks about the differences in width for off-road performance.
Tire construction is just as important as tire size. When overlanding, you want a tire that fits your terrain.
Mud Tires VS All-Terrain Tires
Mud tires- They have a deeper tread and a more aggressive pattern. They also have a higher weight and lower your mileage. They are good for wet/snow traction and are great for everything but sand. The large chunky tread creates vibrations, which makes it noisy to drive on pavement
All-terrain tires– They also have an aggressive tread pattern but are quieter on the pavement. They perform well on the highway and work well for most people.
Ply– sidewall ply- you want 2 or 3-ply. Ply gives strength and protection against punctures.
Sidewall– You want a big sidewall. This protects the rim for when you air down. You want it thicker and to be reinforced with extra steel, fabric, and high-density rubber to help prevent cuts and punctures. The sidewall also helps prevent the tire from coming loose from the bead of the wheel.
Do You Need Special Tires for Overlanding?
You don’t want to go out into the woods or desert with any old tires on your car, but you don’t necessarily need to drive yourself crazy trying to pick out the best of the best tires, especially if you’re just getting into overlanding.
Here are some of the basic things you should consider when determining if a tire is going to work for you:
- Are your tires in good condition? You don’t want to take balding tires out on a trail.
- Are your tires a good quality, or did you shop the bargain bin? You want to have a high-quality tire on your vehicle so that it can stand up to the beating you’re about to put it through.
- Are your tires all-terrain? All-terrain tires are a great starting point for overlanding. They offer a good compromise between off-road and regular road performance. A popular choice in the overlanding community is the BF Goodrich KO2.
- How rough is the area you want to travel in? We don’t recommend going out in tough areas until you’re experienced with what your vehicle can handle. Start out slow, and if you find your tires are lacking, you can always upgrade them.
- CoreGard Technology: Tougher Sidewall Rubber: Split & bruise resistant sidewall rubber, derived from BFGoodrich's race proven Baja T/AKR2 tire.
- Specially formulated tread rubber: Optimally blended to reduce chip and tear for superior gravel road endurance.
- Upper Sidewall Traction Bars: Protruding sidewall rubber blocks that provide increased mud, snow & rock traction, especially in aired-down driving situations.
- Serrated Shoulder Design: Staggered shoulder blocks that provide greater maneuverability in soft soil and deep snow conditions.
As you get more into overlanding, you may find that your needs will change based on the area you travel. Something like a mud-terrain tire may suite your needs better. Keep in mind, your tire should have at least a 6-ply treat and a 2-ply sidewall.
The Case Against Specialty Tires
Whatever tires you get, remember that you’re still going to need to drive with them safely on the road. While specialty tires can offer improved performance when you’re not on the road, they have some major drawbacks.
Specialty tires aren’t intended to be used on the road, and they don’t perform well on pavement. When using specialty tires on the road, you can expect:
- Decreased on-road performance
- Burning through gas more quickly due to excess weight
- Decreased stopping power in your brakes
- Increased road noise
- Less wet road traction, maybe more prone to hydroplaning
After spending all that money on specialty tires, you would experience less than ideal driving conditions when you hit the road for your daily commute. Even if your overlanding rig is not your daily driver, you will have to get it from your home to the location where you intend to use it. If that location is not just around the corner, you might want to avoid specialty tires.
Tires are an important part of overlanding. It is important to find the right fit for your vehicle and terrain. Large tires work best with overlanding, but it is up to you to decide how large.
If you’re like me, the best tire size for overlanding is the biggest your vehicle can handle without you needing to make modifications.