Off-road driving has resurfaced in popularity in recent years. The reason is very simple – people love exploring the wilderness. That said, different drivers want to explore different surfaces. Right now, sand is perhaps the most popular (together with mud), but also the most demanding type of terrain. Races like Baja and Dakar tickle the sense of every car enthusiast, and rightly so – they are very, very fun. Luckily, everybody can have fun on the sand, of course with the right vehicle. The most enthusiastic drivers and riders often choose ATV and UTV vehicles today, but you can also have a lot of fun with your SUV or truck. And a nice set of sand tires, of course.
When it comes to the vehicle, a 4x4 system is a must if you want to drive in sand. If you have a car that has only two driven wheels, they will dig into the sand, and you might get stuck easily. Also, lighter vehicles are better for sand driving (less sinking), but honestly, you can mitigate this with the tires. The thing is, there are only few sand-terrain tires on the market. Most off-road tires you will find today are all-terrain, multi-terrain, or mud-terrain. Luckily, you can use most of them for sand driving, provided you follow some rules.
In this article, we will do precisely that. We will exhibit a list of the best tires for sand on the market right now, divided into several categories. Finally, in our buying guide for sand tires, we are going to talk about measures that you need to take to extract the best of them on any sandy terrain. There, we are also going to explain why some tires are better than others for sand, and how you can recognize those qualities yourself only by looking at the tires.
Best Specialized Sand Tires
1. BFGoodrich Baja T/A KR2
Disclaimer: The BFGoodrich Baja T/A KR2 is a tire that’s not designed for on-road use. However, considering the fact that this is an article about sand tires, we thought it would be great to include it on the list. The most serious desert-driving enthusiasts often replace their tires before venturing in the wilderness, anyway. If you’re one of them, the Baja KR2 is the tire to beat right now (BFGoodrich launched the KR3 in the summer of 2019, but that tire is not readily available).
The Baja KR2 offers absolutely the best sand traction and sinking-reduction of any other tire you will find. And how wouldn’t it – BFGoodrich designed this tire to offer Dakar Rally teams the most reliable performance on sand, and it succeeded. The whole tire was designed to do only one thing – be outstandingly good on sand. You can even see that in the tread pattern with large blocks and no siping.
That said, we must say again that this tire is not only unsafe to use on the highway, but also not DOT approved.
2. Nitto Dune Grappler
For those that want a specialized sand tire that will also work on the pavement, the Nitto Dune Grappler is the best choice on the market. This Desert Terrain was designed for enthusiasts who spend time on pavement and desert trails. Thanks to the unique flamed tread block, it has outstanding traction in sand, without introducing sinking. It achieves this with the tapered, flat tread design that also provides the driver with better high-speed stability. The three-ply sidewall design and sidewall lugs help create a puncture-resistant surface, and also more leeway for deflating. On top of that, the intermediate void ratio will clean the tire from sand for better durability.
Despite Nitto’s focus on desert terrain with this tire, the Dune Grappler is also useful for mud-terrain driving, and rock crawling. On-road dynamics are good for a specialized tire. We were also surprised by the lack of noise at urban speeds and just a little noise at highway speeds. That said, the Dune Grappler isn’t the best choice for wet driving – it lacks traction and doesn’t stop with a lot of confidence. Hydroplaning resistance is also not the best. However, that is expected from a desert-terrain tire to be honest.
Best All-Season Tires for Sand
3. Mickey Thompson Baja ATZ P3
Mickey Thompson is a tire manufacturer that’s already well-known in the off-road community, and for a good reason. They’re known for producing high-quality tires that are proven on almost any type of terrain. The Baja ATZ P3 is their all-terrain tire with “dune” abilities. In other words, a tire that will work on any terrain you throw at it, but also one that was tested for driving on sand. The result is one of the best tires for sand right now.
Thanks to the Silica-reinforced compound with cut-chip resistance and Powerply 3-Ply sidewall construction for sidewall protection, this tire is tough enough to be deflated almost fully. This can be very helpful for driving in loose and deep sand. On top of that, thanks to the Deep aggressive shoulder SideBiters and scalloped shoulder lugs, the Mickey Thompson can provide the driver with outstanding traction on other off-road surfaces, such as rocks and mud.
Even though the Mickey Thompson tire is completely useful for driving on sand, it is also very good for on-road driving. Grip and traction on dry surfaces are very good, and there’s even surprisingly good amount of traction on wet surfaces. The Baja ATZ also comes with a 45,000-mile treadwear warranty, one of the best results in the category. That said, this tire is almost completely unusable in snow.
4. Falken Wildpeak AT3W
The Falken Wildpeak AT3W is an excellent all-terrain tire that is one of the enthusiast’s favorites, thanks to the deepest tread in the category. Falken designed it so that it is useful in every off-road surface, including sand. Thanks to the tough construction derived from the Outer Apex Sidewall, you can deflate this tire and use it in very deep sand, without worrying about sinking. The Heat Diffuser Technology, on the other hand, takes care of hot summer days, improving the overall stability.
This tire is also useful on other off-road surfaces, such as mud, rocks, and gravel. The Wildpeak AT3W is also surprisingly good on the road. Stability, traction, and grip are better than most all-terrain tires, both on dry and wet surfaces. Interestingly, the AT3W is also excellent in light snow – it has the 3PMSF symbol printed on it. That said, while the ride quality is good, there is too much noise on the highway.
5. BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2
The All-Terrain T/A KO2 is the most popular all-terrain tire on the market right now, and also a product that comes from a manufacturer that knows a thing or two about sand driving. Thanks to BFGoodrich’s experience in Dakar Rally and other desert racing events, their all-terrain model is also very useful for sand driving. Thanks to the durable construction with Sidewall Armor, this tire can be deflated for use on sand, while the aggressive tread pattern will provide the needed traction.
The KO2 also works on other off-road surfaces, including dirt, gravel, rocks, and mud. Despite the aggressive tread design, we’re also fans of the KO2’s on-road abilities. Handling is very good, as is high-speed stability, both on dry and wet surfaces. Thanks to the 3PMSF rating, the KO2 works in light of snow as well.
Sadly, the aggressive tread design produces a lot of noise on the highway, but on the positive side, the KO2 comes with outstanding 50,000-mile treadwear warranty.
6. Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure with Kevlar
The Wrangler All-Terrain tire might not have the best tread pattern for sand driving, but it’s the Kevlar that makes a real difference here. Thanks to the tough construction with Durawall Technology in the sidewalls and the long-wearing specialized rubber tread compound, you can run these tires deflated, almost like balloons. Thanks to that, sinking will be almost impossible, and traction will be improved.
The Goodyear is also one of the best all-terrain tires for other slippery surfaces, such as rocks, dirt, mud, and gravel. We are big fans of how this tire works on the road as well. It is very responsive to an all-terrain product and provides the driver with high levels of grip, traction, and braking. The siping on the tread helps on wet pavement, while the circumferential grooves help in hydroplaning resistance. The Goodyear Wrangler Adventure with Kevlar is also 3PMSF rated and can be used in light snow.
Finally, this tire also comes with a 60,000-mile treadwear warranty, the best result of any all-terrain tire on the market.
7. Continental TerrainContact A/T
The Continental TerrainContact A/T is a very mild all-terrain tire. In other words, its main focus is on providing excellent on-road performance, and then usable off-road traction. Still, thanks to the large contact patch with the surface, this tire can also be used for sand driving. Deflate it, and you’ll be greeted with very good sinking resistance and surprisingly good traction.
The TerrainContact A/T is good for driving on gravel and dirt. However, it’s not the best choice for driving on rocks and, even worse, in mud. On the positive side, the Continental destroys any other all-terrain tire on the road. It is almost as responsive as a highway tire and provides the driver with ample traction, grip, and braking on dry and wet surfaces. Light snow traction is also good but not class-leading. On the positive side, the 60,000-mile treadwear warranty is at the top of its class.
8. Mickey Thompson Deegan 38
The second Mickey Thompson tire on this list is the Deegan 38, again an all-terrain product, but with a slightly less aggressive tread pattern. Compared to the Baja ATZ P3, the Deegan 38 doesn’t have the same sinking resistance and can’t be deflated as much without causing damage, but it’s still very competitive in the segment. It also comes with 60,000-mile treadwear warranty, which is the best result in the all-terrain category, along with a few other tires.
The Deegan 38 is also outstanding on other off-road surfaces, thanks to the Angled shoulder scallops and two-pitch SideBite. On-road traction and grip are excellent, too, while the silica-reinforced compound helps on damp roads. Hydroplaning resistance is pretty good as well. However, light-snow traction is far from the class-leading.
9. Pirelli Scorpion All Terrain Plus
The Pirelli Scorpion All Terrain Plus is another excellent option for sand driving thanks to the large contact patch and tough construction. Pirelli designed this tire with a focus on optimizing durability, traction, and wear resistance.
For off-roading, the Pirelli is good, but not exceptional. It works on gravel, dirt, and rocks, but it’s not the best choice for mud-terrain. On-road performance is very good, though, like almost every other Pirelli tire. The Scorpion is also very quiet and comfortable and has the 3PMSF symbol for extra snow traction. The 50,000-mile treadwear warranty is also excellent for the category.
Best Highway Tires for Sand
10. Michelin Defender LTX M/S
If you only use your SUV or truck on packed and shallow sand, then the Defender LTX M/S will suffice. This tire has enough tread to provide enough traction for those conditions. More importantly, the chip-resistant EverTread Compound is very tough, which means that these tires can be driven deflated. The Defender LTX M/S is also useful on gravel, but not on other off-road surfaces. On the other hand, on-road performance is simply outstanding. Dry handling and braking are among the best in the category, while wet traction and braking are unbeatable. The 70,000-miles treadwear warranty for T- H- & V-Speed Rated and 50,000-mile treadwear warranty for W-Speed rated models give the driver a peace of mind in the long run. Snow traction could be better, though.
How to Prepare and Choose Tires for Sand?
Driving on sand can be very demanding. That is true for the driver, the car, and the tires. Preparing your tires for sand driving is the most important thing, after preparing yourself, of course. There are several steps that you need to do before even thinking about driving through sand in order to be safe and not to get stuck. Here’s everything you need to know:
Deflate the tires: The most important thing before attacking the desert. The reason for this is simple – with deflated tires, you will float over the sand. Sinking into the sand should be avoided at all costs because getting out is much harder. When you’re deflating the tires, they become wider, which evens the weight of your car on a larger footprint, thus limiting the chances of sinking.
Choose wider tires: This is something that you need to do while buying the tires, but also very important. Wider tires might be worse for other off-road terrains, but they will provide you with much higher resistance to sinking.
Choose tires with higher sidewalls: To ensure that you can deflate them more. If you have tires with shorter sidewalls than you can’t deflate them very much without damaging the rims. Tires with higher sidewalls, on the other hand, can be deflated more than half of the factory-provided value without any issues.
Choose tires with higher load ranges, again, to ensure easier deflation. These tires have tougher sidewalls and can be deflated more without causing any damage to the tire or the rim. Usually, these tires are also used for hauling big loads or towing.
What Type of Tire to Choose for Sand Driving?
This is a question that can’t be answered straight away, simply because it depends on the type of sand you’re driving your vehicle on. More precisely, some people drive their SUVs or trucks on packed and shallow sand (close to gravel roads), while others drive on deep and loose sand (like beaches or deserts). This makes a very big difference in the tires you choose.
Interestingly, for packed and shallow sand, a set of highway tires will suffice. These tires have enough tread depth for good amount of traction on packed sand. More importantly, though, due to the large tread blocks, they won’t sink into the sand, which means that you can’t get stuck. Highway tires are also designed to withstand a lot of weight. This means that they have tougher sidewalls and can be driven deflated for longer periods of time. Oh, and these tires will also be the best choice for on-road driving. In other words, with a set of highway tires, you will get a completely safe and comfortable driving experience on the road.
That said, if you plan on driving in deeper and looser sand, then a set of all-terrain tires will do an excellent job. These tires are designed to offer a balanced driving experience between off-road and on-road driving. They have a more aggressive tread pattern but not as aggressive as mud-terrain tires for example. That’s why it will be harder to get stuck with a set of all-terrain tires than mud-terrain tires. All-terrain tires are also very good for driving on the road and provide the driver with high levels of grip, traction, and braking. These tires are also quieter and more comfortable than mud-terrain tires, another important advantage for owners of modern SUVs and trucks.
Mud-terrain tires can also be used for sand driving, but we think that all-terrain tires are slightly better for these conditions. That said, if you drive your car on various off-road surfaces, such as rocks, mud, and sand, then these tires might also be an excellent choice. Just be sure to deflate them properly before even thinking about attacking a desert.
How to Know if a Tire is Good for Sand?
It’s generally accepted that tires with larger tread blocks and little to no siping are better than tires with smaller tread blocks. In layman’s words, you should avoid digging with these tires. Mud-terrain tires, for example, have very aggressive tread pattern that will dig into the sand. Digging is equal to sinking, which we already concluded, can be quite bad. Just be sure that the tires you buy have larger contact patch with the road, and you should be good to go. Remember, we’re seeking floating here, not ultimate traction.
Driving on sand is more dangerous than almost any other off-road surface. The main reason is that sand is more often found in deserts, which are the most remote places on Earth. When going on a drive through the desert, it’s best to make sure that you’re completely safe, even if you get stuck. Follow these precautions to ensure that you come back home unshattered:
- Prepare much more water and food than you would need for the trip alone. SUVs and trucks have a lot of cargo space, so that shouldn’t be an issue.
- Take a shovel or two in case you get stuck in the sand.
- Always bring your mobile phone together with an external power bank.
- Bring first aid kit.
- Additional shelter (other than the car itself) so you can spend the night more comfortably.
As you can see from the list above, not a lot of tires are specifically designed to tackle the desert. That’s because preparing your tires for sand driving is almost as important as choosing the right set of tires. For example, underinflated on-road tires will always be better in the sand than overinflated off-road tires. That said, always buy tires from manufacturers you trust, especially because you’ll be using them in remote places of our planet!