“The Goldilocks of offroad tire options with the just right blend of on and offroad performance”
Way back when I started offroading, there was only two ways to use your vehicle, on road and offroad. To match that, tire manufacturers only offered two tire options; All Terrain and Mud Terrain. After several decades, the offroad driving categories have expanded to cover a lot of different styles of outdoor exploration travel, including the overlanding segment. In response, many more tire manufacturers have entered the offroad tire market, which has provided a significant increase in options for the enthusiast.
For the last three years, I have been running a traditional mud terrain tire on my 2019 Ford Ranger that is my daily driver and my weekend wheeler. I was convinced that the MT would be a better performing offroad tire and I was willing to sacrifice the on road performance and noise to get it. The tires I was running were very quiet and well mannered for mud terrains, but they were still mud terrains. I was very happy with the offroad performance of the tires and decided the noise and unrefined road performance was a small price to pay to get up and over the next obstacle on the next trip to the desert. However, I always wished I could have the best of both worlds.
Enter the hybrid tire category. In recent years, many manufacturers have been exploring the middle ground between the all terrain and the mud terrain tire. Trying to find the perfect blend of on road and offroad performance to satisfy the needs of the every day offroader and overlander. The need for this type of tire is obvious to any of us that wheels our daily drivers and have similar experiences to what I have been dealing with for the last several years.
I was recently invited to test one of these new tires from Toyo Tires. If you are not familiar, Toyo Tires have built a reputation on their offroad performance, both for the consumer, and with a long list of professional race podium finishes. As a company, offroading and overlanding is in their DNA. You can see it in all of their brand messaging and you can experience it when you interact with the company representatives. Offroading and overlanding isn’t just a category, it’s a lifestyle that they fully embrace.
Toyo’s Open Country lineup of treads already included three offerings; the Open Country A/T III (All Terrain), the Open Country R/T (Rugged Terrain), and the Open Country M/T (Maximum Traction). The A/T III and M/T tires are positioned at either end of the offroad tire spectrum as solid performing options in their respective categories. The R/T was introduced to bridge the gap between the two, but when you look at the R/T, it clearly leans towards the M/T side of the equation. I’m no tire scientist, but it looks like there is a lot of M/T DNA in the R/T, which is good for some. But for those that still spend more time on pavement than on dirt, the team of engineers and product managers put their brains together to give us another option.
The Toyo Tires Open Country R/T Trail is about to hit the market and provide the Goldilocks of offroad tire options with the just right blend of on and offroad performance. Targeted at those of us who are weekend warriors, daily driving our offroad vehicles, and still wanting to push the limits of our trucks on the weekend. And they did it with the perfect blend of style and performance, with an aggressive sidewall and a hybrid tread.
I had the 285/70R17 R/T Trails installed on my truck about three weeks ago, prior to the media test event. In that three weeks, I have been able to experience the tires in all types of real world conditions. I have driven the truck up to the mountains from the valley and back again at least three times. In both wet and dry conditions. I’ve done short trips in my day-to-day, and my wife and I took the truck on a two hour drive for a date night. For reference, my 2019 Ranger is equipped with a full bed rack, a rooftop tent, and a pair of storage boxes mounted above the bed rails. If you saw it, you would absolutely categorize it as an overland vehicle. I carry a lot of stuff with me everywhere I go and it definitely needs to be considered as I talk about my experience with these tires.
The first, and most notable thing you realize with the Open Country R/T Trail is how quiet they are on the road. Compared to a mud terrain tire, it is a stark difference. It was so noticeable, that my wife commented that she wished the truck was equipped with the R/T Trail when we did our 1500 mile family road trip. She said, “It would have been more enjoyable.” With the newly installed R/T Trails, I was able to go back to using the bluetooth call feature on my truck. I had been using headphones on calls during my commute to avoid screaming at my dashboard like a maniac. With the noise reduction of the R/T Trail, I can be annoyed with traffic at a much more reasonable volume.
Once you get used to the new lack of road rumble in your rig, you can focus on exactly how the tire performs on the tarmac. I admit that I expected to see improvement over the mud terrains I was running, but I didn’t expect it to be so much more enjoyable. The vehicle tracked in a more strait line, with less input from me at the wheel. The stability and “road grab” in corners and long sweeping turns was confidence inspiring. The truck felt more planted to the ground when accelerating and decelerating. Overall, I was a more confident driver, knowing that the tires were not going to give way. Remember, I have a lot of added weight on my truck and a high center of gravity. The improved handling of the R/T Trail tires made the truck feel more like it did before I added all of the “overlanding necessities” to the rig.
I was really enjoying the truck with these tires, but as we got closer to the trail test day, I began to contemplate what kind of compromises I was willing to make on the trail. What would be acceptable for a tire with on road performance like this? Was I willing to forego some offroad capabilities to have these on road characteristics? As we hit the trail head on Friday morning, I still didn’t know the answers to those questions. Why? Because THIS is what this truck is for. The offroading aspect, however rare, is why I built my truck like this. If I can’t tackle trails and sand and obstacles with confidence, does any of the other stuff matter?
We drove off the pavement and on to the windy, rocky trails of Big Bear, California with the mid morning sun blaring in the window. It was the start of an epic trail day. The guides from Trails 411 and Bear Valley Overland had mapped out path that would give us the opportunity to see how these tires would perform in all types of Southern California mountain conditions. Being a SoCal kid, born and raised, I am very familiar with these trails and I knew what the day had in store. I think this gave me somewhat of an advantage over some of the other testers. I have driven some of these trails in many different vehicles with many different tires. I had been up there a few months prior, exploring the forest roads with my mud terrains and that memory was fresh in my mind when we shifted in to four-wheel-drive.
The terrain on the trail varied from mud puddles, to smooth rocks, to loose gravel over hard pack. We traveled in a group, giving us the opportunity to witness the rigs in front and behind us tackle the trail as well. It was good to see other types of vehicles on different size tires attacking the same obstacles and to talk to the other drivers about their experiences. Jason Varnadoe from Outdoor X4 magazine was doing a lot of driving on the trail. This gave me the chance to jump out of the truck to get photos of my truck (which I don’t usually get to do) and it also allowed me to watch the tires conform to the trail obstacles. Then I would jump back into the truck and talk to Jason about how he felt the truck was doing with the new tires. Throughout the day, the conversation between us was very consistent and positive.
I recall the moment that it hit me, the moment I realized that I didn’t have to answer any of the questions about compromise. It was at the top of a black diamond trail, looking back at the rocks, valley, ruts, and off camber sections that we just came up. We used of every inch of ground clearance and wheel travel my truck had to offer. We did all of it with absolutely no pucker moments, no slips, no slides, no loss of control, and no damage. This was a truly challenging trail for a mid-size pickup truck with 33” tires and a full overland stack on top. There was no point at which the driver could relax, but the R/T Trail stayed calm and controlled, regardless of the terrain. It was clear that the tire would handle anything my truck could, and then some.
We continued running through the forest on more service roads and mild trails until we got to the Holcomb Valley Ranch, where people would be camping for the night and the Toyo Trail Pass event would be happening the following day. After spending some time with the group, I aired-up and got back on the road to head home. The drive was 45 minutes of downhill twists and turns, followed by 45 minutes of your typical Southern California freeway commute. The drive home was just as quiet and comfortable as the experiences I had on these tires the weeks before.
So what's my final takeaway? I feel like I am fairly representative of the overlanding consumer, at least in Southern California. Trucks with rooftop tents and gear boxes are abundant on the SoCal freeways during commute hours, and those same rigs can be found on the SoCal trails on the weekends. Every one of us is trying to maximize the performance of our rig in both our commute and our adventures. All too often, we are forced to concede on one side of that equation, sacrificing comfort for the trail handling we desire. With the Toyo Tires R/T Trail, I didn’t feel like that at all. I didn’t concede, or sacrifice, or settle in any way. And it felt great. This was a “one and done” tire that had a significant benefit to my daily driving with none of the offroad trail performance shortcomings you would expect. With this tire, Toyo has hit the “just right” spot of on and offroad performance. Combined with their legacy of performance, this tire is an easy choice for anyone trying to do it all with their rigs.