Tyres are the single most important items of overlanding equipment, and the first thing that needs to be changed or upgraded to make your vehicle overland-or trail-worthy.
The OEM-issue tyres on most standard-production SUVs and bakkies are good for 80% highway and tar use, and perhaps 20% mild off-road use – read sand and gravel.
Most overlanders carry just one spare, so damage to more than two tyres will ruin your trip. Nothing says ‘badly-prepared’ more than getting stuck in Putsonderfontein on a Saturday evening with two flats, no local 24-hour assistance service and no repair kit.
So, for this quick whip-around of what’s on offer, we have opted to focus on All-Terrain tyres − the all-purpose middle ground − and exclude the hardier, chunkier and often noisier M/T (Mud- Terrain) tyres, and the less beefy H/T (Highway-Terrain) options.
Depending on your typical usage, this should determine the best tyre to suit those needs, with the best-of-breed A/T tyres rated as 50/50 on- and off-road use; lower than this usually means that your priorities are more on-road biased.
When assessing a tyre, pay particular attention to sidewall protection – more is good, especially if it extends up the shoulder of the tyre, and less is asking for trouble if thorns, sharp rocks and other hazards are likely in your travel mix.
A tyre’s structure includes the rubber tread and the supporting cords that keep it sturdy.
These supporting cords are referred to as plies, and most often consist of a layer or two of steel belts under the tread, as well as textile layers (polyester or nylon) wrapped around the circumference of the tyre.
The belts’ job is to keep the tyre in shape and stop it from swelling under pressure – they also serve as protection against punctures for the sidewall and tread.
The layers are referred to as plies; the carcass is the ‘under tread’ construction; and the sidewall is the soft area between the tread and the wheel rim.
In addition, the orientation of the plies, and the materials used, all play a role in the performance of the tyre in different conditions.