Tire Buying Guides

What are RT tires?

Last updated 5/26/2023 - Originally published 5/26/2023
Written by SimpleTire

Most drivers of light trucks, Jeeps, and SUVs are familiar with all-terrain and mud-terrain tires. All-terrain tires are designed for a good compromise between off-road performance and civilized behavior on the highway, while mud-terrain tires have a more aggressive, deeper tread pattern and reinforced construction for deeper mud and tougher terrain. Most mud-terrain tires can also be used “aired-down” with low inflation pressure so they’ll conform to rocks and obstacles for rock crawling offroad.

So, then, what does RT mean on tires? RT means rugged-terrain tires (synonymous with extreme-terrain, rough-terrain, or hybrid-terrain tires), but what exactly are they and where did they come from?

The difference between RT tires and All-Terrain tires

All-terrain tires are designed for a good compromise between grocery-getter duties on the pavement and the occasional off-road driving. They are designed with a reinforced, durable casing, a tough, damage-resistant tread formulation, and a lug or block tread that can dig into mud, sand, gravel and snow when you’re off the highway. All-terrain tires might have an M+S rating for mud and snow traction, or Three Peak Mountain Snowflake rating for severe winter service, and some might even be pre-drilled for easy installation of studs for nasty winter weather and deep snow or ice. That said, the performance parameters and expectations from AT tires can vary greatly, with some getting better traction and durability on off-road terrains than others.

RT tires essentially take the design elements of an AT tire and up the game a bit. That means a more durable tread compound, maybe extra reinforcement in the tire’s sidewall, fabric plies, and belt package, a deeper tread with a high void ratio for good traction, and easy self-cleaning of mud and debris. They’ll get through difficult terrain that might get all-terrain tires bogged down, but still won’t drive you nuts with road noise and clumsy handling on the highway.

The difference between RT tires and Mud Terrain tires

Probably the best way to think of RT tires is splitting the difference between the design, expectations, and performance of all-terrain and mud-terrain tires. Today’s mud-terrain tires are a bit quieter and longer-wearing on pavement than older designs, but they’re still purpose-built for more time off-road in thick, soupy mud than on the pavement. Many mud-terrain tires also mean longer braking distances on pavement; mud-terrain tires are bigger and weigh more, which means more rotating mass and unsprung weight (defined as weight that isn’t supported by the vehicle’s suspension). That difference in unsprung weight means that the vehicle is going to be harder to bring to a stop on dry or wet pavement.

RT tires have some of the same kinds of tread compounds, reinforced casings, tough multi-ply sidewall, and aggressive, deep lug or block tread patterns, but just not quite as aggressive and tough as mud-terrain designs. Mud-terrain tires, on the other hand, have a high void ratio (tread vs groove area) for good self-cleaning of mud and debris, tougher construction, more rolling resistance (and poorer fuel economy), and are usually taller plus-size tires, for improved ground clearance on lifted trucks.

RT tires, on the other hand, are designed for a variety of conditions and surfaces – not just mud. That could mean rocks, roots, gravel, sand, loose dirt, or a variety of conditions, with enough traction for control and the ability to climb hills. At the same time, they’re definitely more highway-friendly than mud-terrain tires, with lower noise and improved ride comfort.

RT tires vs all-terrain and mud terrain tires traction

This touches on some of the points mentioned above. All-terrain tires are a great choice if you take the occasional camping or fishing trip but spend a lot of your time on the pavement (or if you live in an area that has tough winter weather with lots of snowfall). Mud-terrain tires are designed for thick, gloppy, soupy mud, with wraparound lugs and blocks at the shoulder to enhance lateral traction and give you the ability to claw your way out of deeper ruts.

Tire industry designers put the performance target of an RT tire at about 80-90% of that for a mud-terrain model as far as off-road traction, but with noticeably improved noise levels, ride comfort, handling, and road manners on the pavement. That makes them an excellent compromise for when you need enhanced durability and performance off the pavement, but don’t need anything as extreme as a mud-terrain tire.

RT tires vs all-terrain and mud terrain tires durability

For years, mud-terrain tires were notorious for poor durability and rapid wear on the pavement. Even today, almost all mud-terrain tires do not come with a treadwear warranty. The increased friction and rolling resistance of these big tires has a lot to do with their wear properties, although some MT tires do deliver better wear these days. All-terrain tires, on the other hand, are designed for improved wear properties and usually do come with fairly generous treadwear coverage, which is part of their broader appeal for drivers of SUVs and trucks.

Rugged-terrain tires are designed to offer the same kind of wear as all-terrain tires, with similar tread formulations and similar improved rolling resistance. Again, that makes them a good choice and a good compromise if you need better performance than an all-terrain tire, but without the big lug tread and everything else that goes along with a mud-terrain tire.

RT tires vs all-terrain and mud terrain tires noise

Tire manufacturers put a lot of research and development into noise suppression for tires. Just like auto manufacturers have entire NVH (noise/vibration/harshness) teams in the design process for a car, noise suppression for tires is practically a sub-science of its own. This is a pretty reductive explanation, but the noise that comes from tires is a combination of resonance in the tire’s hollow air cavity, friction against the road’s surface, and even wind currents past the tire and through the tire’s tread. Modern tires use a tread pitch that’s randomized or varied so that different frequencies are generated, for a wash of white noise that negates other frequencies for lower road noise.

With mud-terrain tires and their deep lugs and huge air cavity, it’s hard to keep them quiet at highway speed – but if your tires are primarily built for off-road use, most drivers aren’t going to be really concerned about road noise anyway. All-terrain tires use the same low-noise designs as all-season or touring tires and are noticeably quieter than AT tires of a generation or two ago, and that same attention to low noise carries over to extreme-terrain tires as well. Long story short, you should probably expect about the same noise levels with your RT tires as you would with AT tires.

What does XT mean on tires?

You might be wondering, what does XT mean on tires or what are XT tires? Really, these are the same as RT tires, but the ‘X’ in XT stands for Extreme instead of Rough or Rugged. While XT tires might be a little bit better off-road than RT tires, the difference is likely minimal and the noise level from both tires is about the same.

When to use each

So now that you know the difference between these three tires, when should you use them?

  • Mud-terrain tires: Big plus-size tires for trucks with lifted suspensions and extra ground clearance for the differential and undercarriage. Durable and damage-resistant for obstacles and rough use, and can be deflated and used aired-down for rock crawling. Great for deep, sticky mud but tend to be cumbersome and noisy on the pavement for daily driving. These tires should be used if your vehicle is going to spend at least 50% of its time off-road.
  • All-terrain tires: Aggressive tread pattern for enhanced traction in mud, sand, loose dirt, or gravel. Good self-cleaning of mud and debris as the tire turns. Enhanced damage resistance with a reinforced casing and sidewall, but precise handling, good ride quality, and relatively low noise on the pavement. Might be M+S rated or Three Peak Mountain Snowflake rated for winter traction. All in all, a good compromise between road manners and off-road performance. These tires should be used if you’re only going to spend 5-15% of your time off-road.
  • Rough-terrain tires: A balance between the two. RT tires are built for better durability and off-road traction than what all-terrain tires can offer, but without the tall sizes, deep tread and aggressive lug patterns of mud-terrain tires. These tires should be used if you’re doing to spend between 15 and 50% of your time off-road.

Which one should you choose?

Mud-terrain tires can look great on all kinds of 4x4 trucks and SUVs, but truthfully they don’t make a lot of sense unless you’re going to go off-road and venture into the roughest terrain. If your truck is going to spend more time on pavement than not, chances are you’re going to regret going with MT tires due to their premature wear, poor braking traction, extra noise, and clumsy handling. For most drivers of four-wheel-drive trucks, all-terrain tires offer the best compromise, with civilized behavior when you’re running to store and back but great traction, control, and handling if you’re going to go exploring offroad for the occasional fishing or camping trip.

RT tires can get you places where AT tires might not perform well, with more robust construction, deeper tread and lugs (including wraparound lugs at the shoulder to enhance lateral traction and get you out of deeper ruts). With improved load capacity and durability, they can be an excellent choice for work trucks that need access to rough job sites and are called on to tow or haul heavy loads, but still perform well on the highway.

Our favorite RT and XT tires

RT and XT tires are quickly growing in popularity, as more drivers are installing them on their rides. This means that manufacturers are creating more and more of these “midpoint” tires on a yearly basis. Some of our favorite RT and XT tires on the market today include the Falken Wildpeak R/T01, Toyo Open Country R/T, Hankook Dynapro XT (RC10), Venom Power Trail Hunter R/T, and Radar Renegade R/T+.

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