The demands of an overland tire fall somewhere in between those of a purpose-built off-roader and commuter friendly rubber. To accommodate extended trips on all types of terrain, these tires must adapt to slippery or challenging conditions while maintaining ride comfort and resisting wear on dirt and tarmac.
For years, the overlander’s default choice has been BFGoodrich’s KO2s. These tires have proven capable on technical trails and confident in snow, however, drivers tolerate less-than-ideal road noise and shorter-than-estimated lifespans. But as overlanding gains popularity (in part thanks to Instagram’s romanticizing of the hobby), some question whether there isn’t a better option out there: a tire that still scampers but doesn’t blink after thousands of miles on road.
Cooper Tires isn’t new to the all-terrain scene — its Discoverer brand is over four decades old — but with a growing line of specialized offerings, the American tire manufacturer now has the goods to attract an adventurous crowd. Specifically, the new Discoverer AT3 XLT squares up against BFGoodrich’s K02s with an aggressive tread pattern and a three-peak snowflake rating.
To get a read on Cooper’s latest A/T rubber, I mapped a 500-mile trek in my 1994 Toyota Land Cruiser (which tips the scales at around 6,000 pounds, including gear). With plenty of tarmac, dirt, gravel, sand, and rock along the way, this would be a good simulation of traditional overlanding.
Before I’ll have a chance to wade into nature, I’m faced with a 150-mile journey on paved roads. Sized at a hearty 285/75R16, I anticipate the AT3 XLTs to produce a fair bit of tire noise a freeway speeds — my former set of KO2s certainly liked to remind me of their rolling resistance. The climb to a cruising pace of 70 mph, though, is eerily quiet. Apart from the wind howl native to brick-shaped projectiles, the only noises in my cabin are Spotify on shuffle and my wife humming the tune.
Credit for quiet riding is owed to Cooper’s “Whisper Grooves,” a sound barrier between outer tread blocks that reduces noise. The AT3s are also engineered to balance pressure at the contact area, facilitating even wear on-road. This design gives the tires a 60,000-mile treadwear rating — 10,000 miles more than the K02s.
Chugging along at 35-40 mph over the unpaved terrain puts the Coopers’ stability and comfort to the test.
Finally, at my turnout, I crank the Cruiser’s wheel and put tires to dirt. It’s a long trip on level ground before we’ll start to climb. Knowing patches of the road include deeper sand, our caravan airs down from 40 to 25 psi. Doing so puts some of the AT3 XLT’s treaded edges in contact with the ground to provide improved traction through loose soil.
Chugging along at 35-40 mph over the unpaved terrain puts the Coopers’ stability and comfort to the test. Harsh vibrations through the Land Cruiser’s cabin are the norm on these surfaces, and while the rig still shakes with the new rubber, some of the harshness is noticeably damped. When sand comes underfoot, the truck feels solid, floating evenly over the surface and requiring little effort to stay on course.
Incline and undulation are next as we take a steep, rocky route through Joshua Tree National Park. Though not faced with a technical crawling course, the AT3 tires have a chance to showcase their biting edges and durable cleats. Boulders, gravel, and dirt evaluate slip and grip as my Cruiser moseys its way uphill. Maintaining momentum feels easy as the tires claw their way through all obstacles. At a particularly tricky section, I practice rocking the rig over a large boulder. With a measured dose of throttle, the tires dig into the rock and climb over without any slip – it’s a confidence booster, especially knowing my truck’s modest power and considerable weight aren’t doing me any favors.
The slow progress eventually leads us to the summit and a prime view of the park. After snapping a few photos (for the ‘gram), we continue toward our campsite on BLM land. Two more days of unpaved adventure solidify my opinion of Cooper’s new tire. With the exception of snow (which the AT3’s three-peak snowflake rating promises to handle), I put the XLTs through every terrain an overland enthusiast would expect to encounter and found no failings.
Quiet, durable and exceedingly capable, theshould soon become the overlander’s best friend.