Alaska trip tire considerations

Capt. Mike

2/18/00 (6:40 AM)

The following is a repost on a question regarding what tires to use for an Alaska trip:

Your Westy (a Vanagon) can use three basic tires sizes: 185R14r; 195/75R14D; and 205/70R14r.

The 'r' and D refer to load ranges. You MUST have reinforced (r), commercial (8 Ply-rated), or Light Truck load range D tires on a Westy. These are all light truck tires. You CAN NOT use regular car tires. They will not stand the pressures or loads required of a Westy. This is a 5500# GVWR vehicle!

Michelin makes the MXT in 205/70R14r (at time of post). A good street and all-season tread, but not for really messy conditions or off road like you'll find in Alaska. I currently use Vredestein M&S in 185R14C (commercial) 8 Ply-rated. A good compromise tire and for AK, Yukon & NWT off the paved roads.

[MXT discontinued FEb '07]

Bridgestone makes a 195/75R14D. The extra load rating of a D is desirable. In addition to load, this makes the tire much more road damage resistant. In NW Canada & AK, the gravel on the roads is crushed on-site. If you hit a section of shale, those bits can be razor sharp and punch right through a tire.

;) Always start the trip with new tires -- even if you have to change back to finish off a marginal set. I strongly suggest a new matching (size) spare (I prefer 5-tire rotation), as you may end up having to finish a trip on it if you damage one. Replacement tires for a Westy in remote Canada are scarce and very expensive.

I'd also carry a tube. Sometimes you can repair a tire with the tube that can't be patched. NEVER use a tire with a plug. They can hit a piece of gravel just right and pop the plug loose. Don't sweat a flat on the road -- every little shop can fix them; flats are their nemesis in life.

Most of the main roads in AK, including the Alaska Highway, are paved. That doesn't mean they are better. Frost heaves really tear them up and the summer is spent fixing them. Lots of construction. Worse, what is now a 55-60 mph highway, suddenly has huge pot holes to ruin a tire or rim. The old gravel roads may undulate, dip and weave a bit, but you were likely to be going a little slower and didn't have to content with sharp edged potholes.

Caution: the Vanagon spare tire carrier has tension rods for two different size tires. If you came with 185R14r, you'll need to get the 205/70R14r rods. You can sleeve the larger set with some fuel line for 195/75R14C's. Not expensive, but the dealer won't stock them and will have to order. Easy to change -- couple of pins & clips.

By the way, inside the spare tire is a nice place to carry jumper cables or tow rope. Carry a small board about 1-1.5 ft. square for a jack base. I guarantee every flat will be in the soft mud. Also, carry a set of those safety triangles & flares. Often the road has blind curves/hills with no useable shoulder.

Capt. Mike
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Chuck (CA)

New member
Capt Mike...what is your technique to install a tube and does one 24" tire spoon do the job? I was in Habor Freight and seen a 24" spoon. Would that be enough? Somehow I think getting a tire off a rim while underway - would be a very difficult undertaking. I need some pointers.


Capt. Mike

I wouldn't even try. A common thread in traveling rough road remote areas is that every little station, shop and most businesses with any sort of vehicle fleet have a tire changer. They are usually more than willing to help a traveler in distress. I once got a road repair crew to do flat repairs on the N. Canol road on a weekend after supper. At NO charge.

It's usually going to be imperative you get at least one side of the tire off sufficient to fully inspect the inside anyway as many flats leave a rough spot or a belt wire prodruding through which would ruin a tube in nothing flat anyway (no pun intended). You may also need to install a liner for the rim.

A new style boot/plug technique is a smooth boot that has a protruding plug that will pull through the hole to the outside -- opposite of the standard tire plug. This gives a smooth inside and the plug provides some support but also keeps the boot in position. Tires with a puncture near the flex of the tread/sidewall meeting point can't be repaired, not because of the hole, but because the flex works any plug or patch loose. The new boots don't cure that (though may help) but they would stabilize the tire for a tube insertion. So when I say carry a tube, I would also carry a rim liner and a couple of those boot/plugs.

Mostly, I would be sure I had good tires going in. That prevention is worth a lot of "cure."

However I notice Northern Tool carries a variety of spoons. Inserting a tube doesn't require the tire off the rim -- just one side.
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Capt. Mike

Rock punctures

On the N. Canol Rd. in the Yukon Territories, they repair the road :rolleyes: with portable crushed rock taken locally at the site. Often that rock is shale, and being freshly crushed has sharp edges & points. On my '79 Westy, I was driving that road up to the NWT border when I got a flat. The attached pic shows the stone I pulled from INSIDE the tire. For reference, the larger piece is ¾" long and ½" wide! The smaller pieces broke off of the larger as it passed through the steel belts (Michelins) so you can get an idea of how big it was. This exposed cord in the inner carcass so, in addition to a 'hot patch', I put in the tube I carry and turned it to the spare. These tires were not "new", having about ½ of their original tread depth when we started. When I got back to civilization & a phone, I called Seattle and made sure a fresh set of tires were waiting for me. ;) Thus my warning to be sure you have new tires before beginning a trip into these remote areas.


  • Rocks from tire '79 Type II Canol Rd.jpg
    Rocks from tire '79 Type II Canol Rd.jpg
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