What Are Hardpack Soil Conditions?

Man on mountain bike going downhill
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Just as skiers have a handful of terms to describe different types of snow, mountain bikers like to talk about soil conditions. There's sandy, rocky, muddy, tacky, sticky, even loamy soil... all of which can be fun in their own way. But the type of trail surface most of us consider the best for riding is hardpack. This is just what its name implies. Hardpacked soil has been packed down either by tires, feet or just the effects of Mother Nature, into a firm layer of dirt that is structurally developed enough to prevent significant penetration or deformation from your tires.

Hardpack is the most common soil condition if the weather has been dry and the trail is in good condition without much loose dirt on top. Tire traction is usually quite good on hardpack with most tires, but tires designed specifically for hardpack will perform best.

Tires for Hardpack

Hardpack conditions are hard and fast. This means tires with short or ramped knobs will offer a good balance of low rolling resistance and stability. By contrast, tall knobs can't dig into the hardpack surface, making the tires a little squirrelly and certainly slower.

The best choice from there depends on the type of riding you do. For cross-country riding (high-speeds, long distances, steep climbs, racing), a minimal-tread tire for both front and rear usually is recommended for minimizing rolling resistance. You might go with a little more tread on the front for improved cornering, but this comes with a speed penalty.

Tires for all-mountain riding, or trail riding, on hardpack should have moderately aggressive treads for secure cornering and occasionally mixed soil conditions.