Are All-Terrain Tires Good On Sand?

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All-terrain tires are designed for use in a wide range of off-road conditions, including sand. Sure its a tough terrain, but if you have an aggressive A/T and you air it down properly, you are good to go. But what factors are in play here? And which tires do great on sand? Well it’s all here.

Falken Wildpeak AT3w on sand
Falken Wildpeak AT3w provides amazing traction on sandy dunes.

On sand you need flotation, as sinking in there, means getting stuck “badly”. Though keep in mind, that it’s not just tires, as sandy dunes are tricky and require a lot of driving skills to maneuver on.

Factors Affecting Sand Performance

On sand there are a lot of key factors to note. These although also include the type of vehicle, and it’s weight, we are just going to focus on tires.


Weight is one of the main factors here.

Simply put, the heavier the weight, the more it compels the tires to dig. And you don’t want to go to China, you want to move forward on this terrain. If you dig in, that’s it.

It’s very hard to get out once you are stuck with digging in. Though lowering air pressure can help you out here.

That’s why all-terrain tires with LT sizes having load ratings below C do good here (compared to D, E or F).

Air Pressure

On sand, you always air down your tires. That’s the rule.

This allows a much better grip overall and makes it easier to climb on sandy dunes.

Basically on sand, digging is your worse enemy and you have to avoid that as much as possible and in order to do that, you have lower the air pressure of the tire.

This gives it nice flotation abilities and a spread out footprint that is less susceptible to sinking in the soft sand.

Start with 17 to 19 PSI, if you feel the sand is not as soft. Though saying from experience, if you have a 4WD and a LT size, you can easily go down up to 14 PSI without running in to any issues.

And yes you can even go lower if you have rim locks.

For more info check out my air pressure guide on all-terrain tires.

Rim Locks

Some tires like the BF Goodrich Ko2, although already have a very strong bead construction and you can go very low on them with air pressure, you may want to consider a rim lock if you are encountering sand often.

A bead-lock/rim lock basically allows you to go even lower with the PSI values, allowing you to run with single digits.

It just gives you a great traction without your worrying about getting flat.

That’s because dropping down to 12 PSI really increases the probability of your tire splitting off the wheel. I’ve had this experience where the tire peeled off from a wheel (without rim lock), but I was also pushing them, in their defence.

Tread Pattern

Tread pattern is another very significant key factor, as it decides whether a tire is capable of floating and paddling or not.

If the tire makes wide enough grooves and a little bit of lateral tread void orientation with elongated shoulders, they get to bring a better crawling grip on soft sand.

This also goes for getting all-terrain tire traction on muddy tracks.

Note: The type of tread pattern you need also depends on your vehicle’s power. If you have a powerful vehicle, you can use tires with big scoops or paddles, but if your vehicle isn’t as powerful, you’ll want tires with less aggressive treads that will keep you on top of the sand and prevent you from getting stuck.


Sidewalls need to be very durable from both inside and out, if you wish to have a great traction on sand.

That’s because with lower pressure, the sidewalls bulges out, and if they are not robust enough they could get punctured very easily. And on the outside, you need thick and big sidewall lugs, which with lowered pressure could provide you with ample footprint, so that a tire can float in a better way.

If sidewalls are too stiff, they won’t provide enough bending, limiting the flotation. And without that, a tire wound simply sink in to the soft sand and get stuck.

Another important factor is the sidewall height – the taller it is, the better the flotation. As if the sidewall is too short, it can cause problems like the wheel hitting the ground and damaging the tire or the wheel.

Section Width

If you wish to run your tires on sand for the most part, make sure you get the size with ample section width. It’s mentioned with all sizes.

A narrower width is although better for snow, and wider is great for sand. And the science behind it is same. With wider tread, you get to have more footprint in contact with the sand and that bring better overall floating.

Tread Composition

The soft compound will conform better to the contours of the sand. That’ because with rubber having high silica composition get to have more flexibility and they allow the tread to become malleable.

They also produce superior results especially from the sidewalls when pressured down.

Because although the sidewalls are stiffer from the cap plies underneath, if the tread on top is soft enough, a better bending is achieved with lowered PSI.

Best all-terrain tires for sand

Now that I’ve explained all of the factors affecting sand performance above, I can easily explain why out of all tires I’ve reviewed, the Falken Wildpeak AT3w provides you with the best overall results on a majority of sand terrain variations.

Even though the tire is a little heavier, it’s sides are not so biting. And with it’s powerful bead area, and two extra layers of polyamide running around the bead, it overcomes its weight and provide ample flotation.

Moreover, it also features heat diffusers on the sidewalls, that help with the rising heat caused with lower pressure. So it also does not wear that fast as well.

Lastly, the tire has elongated shoulder lugs, covering a lot of area of the tread, and this combined with it’s very deep tread voids, the tire provides the paddling effect on sand.

What types of tires do great on sand?

There are a lot of off road tires that do OK on sandy terrains. Yet on sand, the best performing ones are paddle and balloon tires.

Paddle Tires

Paddle tires basically have large, scoop-like treads that dig into the sand and provide traction. And so they get to be very suitable for dune buggies, sand rails, and ATVs. You must have seen them the most on sand dragsters.

These tires basically work by sinking in their paddles and throwing the sand backward to provide forward moving inertia. You can say they are balloon tires but with paddles.

Balloon Tires

Balloon Tires are another type of specialty tire that is designed specifically for use on sand. They have a larger surface area than other types of tires, which helps to distribute the vehicle’s weight more evenly, reducing the chance of sinking. The large surface area of the balloon tire creates a flotation effect, similar to a boat hull, hence the name “balloon tire”.

These tires are also used on a same kind of vehicles, including dune buggies, and ATVs.

Note that both of these tires are just made for sand, and they can’t be used on roads. They would just wear down very quickly and won’t provide the needed traction at all.

To Conclude

The whole point on sand is to keep tires floating as much as possible, and to do that, tires should be lighter, capable of running lowered air pressure, have softer tread composition and provide thick enough sidewall lugs.

And considering all these factors, all-terrain tires don’t look so bad. And some of the tires like the Falken Wildpeak AT3w provide ample traction in that area.

Check out all the A/T tires:

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