Choosing a tire for a pick-up or an SUV can seem like a daunting task. Not only do you have to figure out whether you want a P-metric (passenger) tire, or a light truck (LT) tire, but you also have to make sense of all the subcategories: HT, AT, MT and RT.

The decision-making process begins with an honest assessment of you actual needs and wants. In the “needs” category: Do you really need a tire that allows you to crawl over rocks, or do your off-roading adventures take you across less demanding terrain?

Also, ask yourself whether you want a quiet tire that allows for a more tranquil environment when you’re on the freeway, or if you’re okay with the constant road noise made by more aggressive tires.

Once you know what you actually need and what, you’ll be able to figure out what’s best for your truck.

P-Metric vs. LT Tires

Just because you drive a light truck, doesn’t mean you need light truck tires. Actually, many light trucks come from the factory with P-metric (passenger) tires, and not light truck (LT) tires.

That’s because the manufacturers of these light trucks don’t expect these vehicles to have to carry or tow very heavy loads. Very few light trucks spend the day at a construction site loaded with bricks or lumber. If they do, then they were designed to take the abuse and they probably came from the factory equipped with LT tires that can handle the extra load.

Most light truck owners, however, like the idea of driving a truck, but their trucks seldom see heavy loads, which is why they do well with P-metric tires. LT tires,on the other hand, are often seen on trucks that have to work for a living, or on trucks that are expected to be used in more demanding off-road conditions.

If your truck wasn’t engineered to carry or tow heavy loads, then you’ll be fine replacing your original tires with something similar, rather than upgrading to LT tires. In other words, if you’re normally “hauling” lighter items like groceries or a back seat full of kids on their way to football practice, then you don’t really need LT tires.

HT: Highway Terrain

Many light trucks are sold with highway terrain (HT) tires. They offer a more civilized and quiet ride, and they’re suitable for the type of on-road driving most of these trucks will see.

The fact that these are highway terrain tires is a bit misleading, however, since HT tires also do well in some light off-roading conditions. This means they can take you off the beaten path and onto gravel or dirt roads, but you wouldn’t want to push HT tires into really aggressive terrains where you’re asking them to crawl over rocks.

MT: Mud Terrain

If you’re an avid off-roader, and you enjoy conquering challenging terrain where you have to crawl over large obstacles or sharp rocks, you’ll probably want a mud terrain (MT) tire. These are tough tires designed to take abuse without falling apart.

Mud terrain tires also look great on trucks, especially if you’re after a more rugged look overall. Their aggressive tread pattern sets them apart from the pack, and many truck owners want them simply for their bold looks, and not for their off-roading abilities.

The downside is that the aggressive tread pattern makes MT tires very noisy. So if you spend most of your time on the pavement, you’ll have to consider whether the constant howl will eventually drive you crazy.

AT: All Terrain

If HT tires are a bit too wimpy for your taste, and MT tires are a bit too aggressive, then an all terrain (AT) tire might be the ideal compromise for your truck.

AT tires have a more aggressive tread design than HT tires, but they’re not as bold as MT tires. They also offer better grip than HT tires when off-roading, and they’re not as noisy as MT tires.

RT: Rough/Rugged Terrain

While all terrain tires are a compromise between highway terrain and mud terrain tires, a new category of tires has come to market in recent years: the rough terrain (RT) tire (also known as a rugged terrain tire).

Slotted between AT and MT tires, RT tires combine the best of both worlds. They have a deeper tread than an AT tire, and they’re more aggressive than an AT tire, but not quite as aggressive as an MT tire.

In essence, the RT tire offers the on-road capabilities that everyday drivers are looking for, while providing the off-road capabilities and durability that enthusiasts want. RT tires can look like an MT tire, but they don’t howl when you’re driving down a paved road.

Choosing the right tires for your truck may seem like a daunting task. With so many options it’s important to understand what you really want and need in a tire, especially if you spend a lot of time both on the highway, and in the wild. If you’re not sure what’s right for you, ask your tire retailer to share their insight and advice with you so you don’t make a choice you’ll regret.