Off-Roading vs Soft-Roading – What’s the difference?

“37X13.50R17 Nitto Mud Grapplers on my JK worked great in combination with sway bar disconnects and maximum articulation on the Rubicon!”

Consider it a sort of off-roading litmus test: Does that sentence have you nodding in agreement or shaking your head in confusion? Your full interpretation and interest, or complete lack thereof, could help to define you and your vehicle as either off-roaders or soft-roaders.

Still not sure where you stand? How’s this Nitto Mud Grappler look? Just about right for your ride, or wondering which monster truck lost a tire?…

Nitto Mud Grappler
Nitto Mud Grappler

Off-road enthusiasts can be a serious bunch. Comprehensive modifications from tires to chassis take 4×4 vehicles and make them capable of downright incredible off-road feats. Along with uprated off-road performance, durability is commonly enhanced with aftermarket axles and driveshafts. Power upgrades to help propel vehicles up and over insane terrain are also the norm.

Off-roading can range from a dedicated hobby to serious competition. Off-roaders aren’t just taking the roads less traveled from time to time; they’ll frequently seek out challenging terrain and off-road parks where their vehicles, modifications, and driving skills are put through their paces.

Off-Roading vs Soft-Roading
Off-Roading vs Soft-Roading

And for dedicated off-roaders, the goal isn’t just to find a reasonable challenge. Sometimes it’s to identify a vehicle performance weakness and points of failure, then further develop their rigs to counterpunch the next time around.

Off-roading buddies, winches, and other recovery tactics help off-roaders recover from adventures gone a bit too far.

For many enthusiasts, off-roading isn’t just a casual activity.

Off-Roading vs Soft-Roading
Off-Roading vs Soft-Roading

As implied by the term, soft-roading is milder – consider it off-roading “lite.” Fellow soft-roaders won’t look at you askance if you show up without the latest mud-terrain tires, lockers, and with insufficient ride height to clear boulders…

The soft-roading “rules of the road” are more liberal. Whereas off-road enthusiasts tend to gravitate toward a select group of seriously engineered and durable 4×4 truck and SUVs, soft-roaders can choose from a spate of all-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, and even novel aftermarket creations to achieve their adventurous ends.

Off-Roading vs Soft-Roading
Off-Roading vs Soft-Roading

Whereas off-roading utilizes conventional four-wheel drive trucks & SUVs, and even 4×4 system enhancement with aftermarket modifications, soft-roading can involve two-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles.

Subaru’s renowned all-wheel drive system and vehicle designs have proven popular among soft-roaders – outstanding traction for any reasonable off-road adventure, useful ground clearance, plus storage space for camping gear or whatever outdoor activities are planned.

Off-Roading vs Soft-Roading
Off-Roading vs Soft-Roading

Many crossovers also have plenty of capability for soft-roading. All-wheel drive crossovers like Toyota’s RAV4 and the Kia Sorento are an excellent combination of performance & utility.

Off-Roading vs Soft-Roading
Off-Roading vs Soft-Roading

Few if any vehicle modifications are usually required for soft-roading, but before you head from main street to soft-roading environments, definitely survey your tire situation.

Because they’re typically designed for road purposes, wagons and CUV’s are fitted with road-oriented tires. Your vehicle’s traction systems might be up to the task during soft-roading, but factory tires could be lacking.

You won’t need the big burly Nittos as pictured above, but if soft-roading is becoming a regular thing, consider All-Terrain Tires to improve soft-roading performance without substantial on-road drawbacks.

Continental’s TerrainContact A/T is an excellent example of an All-Terrain Tire that strikes a compelling balance between on-road comfort and enhanced off-road capabilities.

Continental TerrainContact AT
Continental TerrainContact AT

Soft-roading taking you into slightly more serious terrain? Your Crossover may benefit from a more aggressive All-Terrain like the Nitto Terra Grappler G2.

Nitto Terra Grappler G2
Nitto Terra Grappler G2

Want to discuss either off-roading or soft-roading aspirations with a tire expert? No matter how mild or extreme your goals, we have you covered. Give us a call at 866-961-8668 and we’ll make sure to get you equipped with tires to perfectly fit all of your plans!