UTV Tire Guide: How to choose the right tires for your Side-by-Side

Today’s Side-by-Sides come with a plethora of features that make them comfortable and capable. From high-tech 4wd systems to touchscreen navigation to heat and AC, you might be surprised at just how many features you can get on a new UTV.

Still, like most vehicles, there are aftermarket accessories to fulfill every desire. Modifying UTVs is exceptionally popular and often times the first piece of OEM equipment to be swapped out are the tires.

Stock UTV tires are generally okay for average trail riding, but they are less than ideal in extreme conditions. Manufacturers choose their tires based on a number of factors, but cost definitely plays a part. Weight is also a major consideration for manufacturers and most stock Side-by-Side tires are less aggressive and much thinner than their aftermarket counterparts to meet certain weight requirements.

They are okay for many types of terrain and riding styles, but they excel at none of them. It’s no surprise that so many people choose to upgrade their tires upon purchase of a new Side-by-Side. You can find a tire that will perfectly fit your terrain and riding style. From mud to sand to rocks, there are tires designed to perform in the most challenging conditions that you can find.

Mud Tires

For some people, nothing can beat the thrill of finding the biggest, deepest mud hole and just plowing through! Or, at the very least, trying to make it through. Stock tires are not going to perform well in thick, sticky mud. The tread blocks are too close together to allow them to adequately clean out mud as the tires spin and maintain traction. They will cake up with mud and, at that point, your tires might as well be bald.

muddy tire tracks

Dedicated mud tires don’t have this problem. They are designed with aggressive tread patterns with lugs spaced far apart. This allows the tire to easily clean mud from between the tread as the tire turns to prevent a loss of traction. With tread lugs measuring up to two inches, they are able to dig and claw their way through and out of just about anything.

If you happen to visit an off road mud park, you will see no shortage of Gorilla Silverbacks, ITP Monster Mayhems, and Sedona Mudda Inlaws. These tires are right at home in the nastiest of mud holes.

Though they perform exceptionally well in mud and water, mud tires are much less graceful on dry land. The large tread lugs and wide spacing combine to provide a less than comfortable ride on hard pack trails or in rocky conditions. They are also fairly heavy and can have a noticeable impact on performance, particularly on machines with lower horsepower numbers.

There are less aggressive mud tires for those who like to play in the mud, but also want decent ride quality out on the trails, such as the ITP Mud Lite and Sedona Mud Rebel. Both are a good compromise between mud tire and an all-purpose tire.

Sand Tires

While some people like the swamp, others love the dunes. Sand can be incredibly taxing on Side-by-Sides and make even high horsepower Side-by-Sides feel underpowered. Stock tires will be adequate in the sand, but handling will suffer and you will probably find yourself getting stuck far more often than you would like.

In thick sugar-like sand, stock tires tend to dig themselves into holes from which they can’t escape. Sand tires, on the other hand, are designed to float on the surface. The front tires are usually bald, with the exception of a ridge or two running down the center of the tire. This allows the tire to remain on top of the sand, but still provide excellent cornering capabilities.

sand tire tracks

The rear tires feature paddle-like designs that keep the UTV on top of the sand and moving forward. The tires are lightweight and the paddles do an excellent job of pushing the vehicle forward without being too prone to dig in and bury themselves, like stock tires.

Just about every Side-by-Side tire manufacturer has their own take on the ideal sand tire, but they all share the same basic design philosophy. Sedona, ITP, EFX, and Skat-Trak, among others, all have their own high performance tires for the dunes and it would be hard to go wrong with any of them.

Many Side-by-Side owners have a set of wheels and sand tires that they can easily swap out with other wheel/tire combos. The reason for this is simple. Sand tires perform great in the dunes, but everywhere else, it’s going to be an unpleasant experience. They are not intended for trails, rocks, or mud, but in the sand, they rip!

Rock/Hard-Pack Tires

What about people that don’t care for the soft stuff? What about those that relish the sight of slick rock in Moab or the rock gardens on the Rubicon Trail? Don’t worry! There’s a tire for them as well. UTV tire manufacturers are increasing their offerings in this growing segment.

Moab, Utah is already an off road mecca and there are places around the country where the terrain is rocky and unforgiving. Fortunately, there are more and more tires coming to market that are designed to tackle those jagged rocks and survive the contest.

red rocky desert

Tires like the Sedona Rock-A-Billy, STI Roctane, and Pro Armor Crawler, deliver exceptional performance on slick rocks and hard pack terrain. Their tread patterns more closely resemble truck tires than ATV/UTV tires.

The tread lugs are closer together with siping and sidewall tread designed to provide maximum traction. Some have built in rim guards and rock ejectors and they all have increased puncture resistance to withstand sharp, jagged rocks and still get you home.

This type of tire has also become popular as an all-around tire for Side-by-Side owners, as the tread pattern works as well or better than stock tires in most conditions, despite being designed for rocks. They are also great if you drive on pavement or asphalt and some are even DOT approved.

Still, they are heavier than stock tires and can impact performance, depending on the UTV and the tire size. The thicker construction and rigid sidewalls also make them ride a bit rougher than stock, but still better than most mud tires. They also look great on practically any Side-by-Side.

Snow Tires

Dedicated snow tires are less common than most other Side-by-Side tires. Most people who ride in the winter choose to keep their stock tires or mud tires on the machine to traverse snow covered trails. Depending on the conditions, these may work just fine, but conditions are not always ideal.

There are those that use their Side-by-Side to plow driveways or get them to their deer blind with fresh snow on the ground. Farther north, there may be snow on the ground for months on end and a true snow tire will be beneficial in those snowy and icy conditions.

UTV snow tires feature widely spaced lugs to clean out snow and mud and will help keep you on top of fresh snow, where stock tires would be more likely to dig in and possibly leave you stuck. They also have additional siping for more biting edges to further aid in slippery conditions.

snow tire tracks

Specially designed rubber compounds will also keep the tires softer in freezing temperatures. Some, like the Maxxis Snow Beast, have pre-drilled lugs to accommodate studs for ice. ITP discontinued its TundraCross tire, but you may still be able to find some online. Those tires came with studs already installed for maximum traction.

Like some of the other terrain specific tires, these were designed with a specific goal in mind; maximum tractions in snow and ice. While they perform remarkably well in those conditions, the softer compound likely won’t hold up well in dry conditions. If they have studs, you definitely want to swap those out when the snow has melted.

Racing Tires

Along with the rising popularity of UTVs, there has been a corresponding increase in the popularity of UTV racing. From new cross-country events to purpose built UTV tracks at motocross parks, there are more and more races that cater to Side-by-Side enthusiasts. The terrain for Side-by-Side races is as varied as the UTVs that participate.

You have the tight and twisty woods courses of GNCC on the east coast and the wide open desert courses of Best in the Desert on the west coast, not to mention the brutal King of the Hammers race. The conditions at all of those events vary and racers choose their tires accordingly.

SEE ALSO: Everything you need to know about UTV Portals and Portal Lifts

There are a few designated racing tires for UTVs. Tusk has their Baja T/A KR2 that is specifically designed for UTVs. It has has a tough, puncture resistant construction and large, closely spaced lugs. Tensor has the DS 32″ racing tire with similar characteristics and performance. These are geared strictly towards racing and the cost is more than your average Side-by-Side tire. 

For most Side-by-Side racers, they will choose their tires based on each race. Forward traction and cornering ability, as well as durability, are key features for UTV racing. You may see racers with the same tires that you have on your UTV, as they often run the best all around tire for that terrain. This is particularly true in GNCC races, where you could have sand, mud, and rocks all on one course.

General/All-Purpose Tires

Speaking of a good all-around tire, this is probably the most popular category for UTV tires. Most people aren’t strictly riding in the sand or the mud or rock crawling and general all-purpose tires will perform well in a variety of conditions. Does this mean they are the same as the stock OEM tires? No. While they have similar goals in that they are do-it-all tires, aftermarket tires will have a better tread design and greater puncture resistance. There’s a reason that people aren’t clamoring to buy more stock tires.

General purpose tires come in a variety of tread patterns and sizes, providing plenty of options for Side-by-Side owners. Tires like the EFX MotoClaw, GBC Kanati Mongrel, ITP Blackwater Evolution, and the Maxxis Bighorn series, are all great general purpose Side-by-Side tires.

They will perform well in mud, snow, sand, and hard packed trails and they are durable enough to resist punctures. While they weigh more than stock OEM tires, they are not so heavy that they will greatly reduce performance.

The primary strength of a general purpose tire is also its greatest weakness. They can handle various terrains fairly well, but they aren’t great in any one category. They’re not going to make it through deep mud and you will probably dig yourself into a hole in the sand, once or twice. These tires are made to conquer a variety of terrain and they will do so in all but the most extreme circumstances. They are a true go-anywhere tire and that’s why people flock to this category.

Who doesn’t love the smell of new tires?

The question that Side-by-Side owners need to ask themselves is what they want to accomplish in getting new tires. Do they want to be the king of the swamp or do they prefer to spend their time flying around the dunes? Maybe they enjoy rock crawling or perhaps they do a little bit of everything.

Deciding what terrain you’re going to spend most of your time riding on is step one. Whatever you decide, there’s bound to be a tire out there to fit your needs and riding style. There’s no shortage of options available for every UTV owner.

Replacing your stock OEM tires is one of the best performance upgrades you can make. A good set of aftermarket tires will provide more traction and better handling characteristics that you will notice from the time you punch the throttle.

For the money, new tires are arguably the best bang for your buck in regards to performance modifications. They are less expensive than suspension or engine upgrades and with so many options available, you can find exactly what you need for your UTV. You can make it perform better on the trail and look great doing it!