A night in the wilderness is sometimes all you need to set your head straight. Having just moved 1,300 miles to a new state, mine was spinning as our trucks ventured east toward the Lost Forest.
The Lost Forest isn’t called what it is without reason. Central Oregon’s Christmas Valley basin is an inhospitable place; its foundation of caliche and fine volcanic sand discourages growth other than hardy sagebrush. Except, 40 miles from the nearest forest, stands an anomalous grove of ponderosas, with immense, elderly junipers scattered at their feet. They’re a remnant of a grander forest that covered the area hundreds of millennia ago, in a cooler, wetter time.
Today, they get by on half the rainfall their kind normally need, and their seeds germinate more quickly. They’re one of the reasons the site is protected by the Bureau of Land Management as a natural research area, and worth traveling hours from the nearest city to see. The other is the adjacent 14 square miles of dunes, which are the perfect place to shoot rooster tails in an off-roader, and also test Firestone’s Destination X/T and M/T2 tires.
The chance to drive like a maniac in the sand, and see some biologically—if not visually—distinct trees weren’t the only reasons I tagged along on a journey to the Lost Forest, though. I’m a new Oregon transplant, fulfilling a promise I made to myself from the driver’s seat of a 2021 Mercedes-AMG GT Stealth Edition at the end of a 999-day story so ludicrous I couldn’t make it up. I’m here to live differently, and off-roading isn’t something I did much of back home in Colorado. And this trip ticked all the boxes.
We set out from Portland in a convoy of four trucks; a 2022 Toyota Tundra, 80-series Land Cruiser, FJ Cruiser, and a Land Rover LR3. Two rolled on the Destination X/Ts, and two on the more hardcore M/T2s. Those letters signify completely different designs and purposes, as the X/T is an all-rounder truck tires with an off-road specialty, while the M/T2 (“max traction”) is best suited for rowing through mud. It’s the latter I started on at the wheel of a lifted Toyota FJ Cruiser for our drive up the Columbia River Gorge.
The M/T2 features a chunky tread pattern for traction on loose surfaces like mud, sand, or deep snow, and siping for weather flexibility unlike a Toyo Open Country M/T or BFGoodrich KO3. (Firestone says it’s also stickier than a KM3). The MT/2s lack a warranty though.
We’re all familiar with the roar of a mud tire driven down the highway, but to my surprise, the M/T2 didn’t emit the obnoxious drone you expect. Wind noise from the FJ’s boxy body shouted over road noise, which remained on the inoffensive side. On-road traction worried me, as I’ve driven off-roaders that are ungainly on the road—namely the GMC Hummer EV. But the limiting factor proved not the tire but the FJ’s heightened suspension.
Hitting the trail was when the challenge began, as despite rating M/T2s for all seasons, Firestone advises these tires are least optimized for snow—and parts of Oregon had just seen the most snowfall in the last 80 years. The trail had been packed down into slick ruts that challenged not the tread blocks, but the traction of the rubber compound. It made the FJ liable to rotate in turns; a fun tendency if that’s what you’re looking for. If not, M/T2s are stud-compatible, which would’ve improved its already solid performance when climbing an icy incline.
Where the trail hadn’t been driven since the snowfall, its surface had thawed and re-frozen so it was like driving on a giant creme brulee. The M/T2 was happy to crack through it—until it found a hidden rut, and the wheels plunged to their maximum travel without touching bottom. Beaching a truck like this is why you carry MaxTrax traction boards and a recovery rope, which the accompanying 2022 Toyota Tundra deployed to our aid on more than one occasion. Easy going, this wasn’t.
I had the pleasure of being the recovering party after switching to the Tundra to try out its XTs, too. They’re less hardcore all-terrain tires, comparable to BFGoodrich KO2s, but with newer compounds and less material to soften their ride and reduce overheating. They feature sipes for all-weather traction, a 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake rating for extreme winters, and an E-range load rating that won’t compromise your towing and hauling. It’s meant to be as good an everyday tire as it is for towing and off-roading, and with an 80,000-mile warranty, it can be that to a wide range of vehicles.
On the Tundra, they proved even better in the packed-down powder owing to a tighter tread pattern that retained snow (Firestone says this is better for traction). Between the X/Ts and the Tundra’s traction aids, it avoided getting stuck, and we came to depend on it as the terrain got tougher—and we fell further and further behind schedule. In my hurry, I hit a low branch, ripping the Tundra’s roof rack off, delaying us further.
We didn’t reach the Lost Forest until just as the sun began its retreat, casting its dying light through the treetops. Just enough was left to pitch our tents and ignite our campfire. I dried my socks over it, my boots having soaked through from helping recover trucks in the snow. For someone who grew up at the foot of the Rockies, I thought I was better-adapted to the winter than this.
I’m not used to calling Oregon my home yet. It’s one of many habits that don’t serve me here, vestiges of a life I thought was over when I left where it began. Relocating alone doesn’t change a person; repotting a plant isn’t all it needs to flower. It has to grow into its new habitat, and shivering by a campfire with wet feet and guilt over marring one of my guides’ personal trucks are the growing pains. But hell, this is still something different, this is still what I was looking for, and it shows me the way forward. For one, I need a better pair of boots.
Dawn over the dunes marked another day closer to when they’ll eventually swallow the Lost Forest. They’re our last playground before our return to civilization, where I once again took the wheel of the Tundra with its X/Ts—the less-suited of the two tires to this terrain.
Aired down to 15 psi, they skated over top of the fine, beachlike volcanic sand of ash and ground pumice, never threatening to sink in. I’ll admit, I was hesitant after yesterday’s roof rack mishap to gallivant about, even though that’s what you’re supposed to do in the sand. It’s what the LR3 and FJ got up to, kicking up dust as they went. My slow creep up the dunes in a more than 6,000-pound truck with minimal throttle, on the other hand, was a recipe for recovery. Even then, the tires never batted an eye.
After airing up, we hit the road back to Portland where the X/Ts—despite their off-road prowess—behaved like regular street tires. Road noise could be likened to factory equipment, and grip wasn’t a worry even as torrential downpours followed us down the Columbia River Gorge.
No tire truly does it all though, no matter how hard a tire company may try. While both the M/T2 and X/T are rated for snow, you really want full-on winter tires if you expect to face snow regularly—or at least some studs for the M/T2. Firestone also acknowledges its size ranges are narrower than some competitors, so even if you like the sound of these tires, you’d better check size compatibility first.
From my home in Portland (I got it right this time), I say with certainty that I’d be sizing up a set of X/Ts if I owned a truck. They seem like a no-compromise option for pickups that haul, crawl, and tow, all with good manners on all surfaces. Sadly, they don’t fit a car I’m considering buying, but that’s what lift kits are for. Trust is the end-all when it comes to tires, and if it ain’t clear, I’d put my money where my mouth is.
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