We'll start off with some background info:
I am a law enforcement ranger responsible for the back country patrol of 27,000 acres plus some extra surrounding zones of impact. My patrol vehicle sees at least 50% of its miles off-road in 4 wheel drive. The most common types of terrain I drive are soft sand, sharp rocks, and hot pavement. The type of driving is usually code 3, which means lights and sirens or at the very least just hauling ass either chasing someone or responding to a medical call. Needless to say, I am extremely hard on tires. For those of you curious, my patrol truck is a Chevy Colorado. Certainly not my first choice of vehicles, but it gets the job done.
Unfortunately, with the state budget cuts, I can't always purchase the absolute best and top of the line. I would have loved to pick up some Cooper Discoverer ST Maxx's, but those are far too expensive. While shopping around this time, I came across the Hercules Trail Digger M/T. It had higher than average reviews, and the price was right at $150 a tire for 30X9.5R15's. Three of the tires balanced very well, with the other taking a couple of large weights to get it right.
The first thing I noticed was the smoothness. Compared to the previous set of Firestone Destination M/T's (a tire I highly recommend, BTW), they felt like riding on a set of A/T's. As far as noise, they are quiet for an M/T, one of the quietest I've used. On road handling is a little bit lacking, but the same is true for most M/T's, and if you are used to driving with a meaty, knobby tire then you probably won't notice a difference.
Off-road handling is a different story. The name of Trail Digger is quite adequate. Once the rubber hits the dirt they grip like velcro. Soft sand traction is the most admirable. Even in the deepest of sand with lots of other tracks cut through, these tires want to make their own line instead of "floating" around like other tires do. Steering response is great and I have no worries of ever drifting off-course in the soft stuff.
Driving over sharp rocks and boulders is equally sure-footed. I was a little aprehensive of this load range "C" tire having only a two ply sidewall, but so far the built in "stone blockers" seem to be doing their job as the amount of rock rash I usually see just isn't happening.
Tread life is something I'll have to watch. M/T's usually don't fare that well, especially with me at the helm. I killed a set of BFG A/T's in only 15,000 miles. I have not yet seen any chunking or chipping, but I only have about 1,000 miles on them so far. Also, being in the desert in a drought-like winter, I have yet to run the Trail Diggers in mud, snow, or ice.
Would I purchase these tires for my own vehicle? Yes...if I were in the market for an M/T. With the type and amount of off-road driving I do in my Tacoma I can't justify the increased price and decreased life span, on road handling, and all around comfort over an A/T. However, if I were moving to Colorado or some other state with a good mix of snow and mud, I would consider the Hercules Trail Digger M/T in the top of my list of tires to choose. Are the Trail Digger's the best tire? No. Not hardly. But for the price and the features you get with a low cost, American made tire, they are certainly worth considering.
UPDATE: 4/15/12, 5,000 Miles
Finally hit 5,000 miles and rotated the tires for the first time. There are some small cuts and chips in the tread, but overall they are holding up very well. At this point I'm anticipating 20,000 miles out of these, which translates to about 40-50,000 for normal drivers. These tires perform the same no matter the surface they are on. I feel confident in complete traction whether I'm on asphalt, hard packed dirt, deep soft sand, light mud, sharp rocks, and/or boulders. The Trail Diggers see the most severe use on some of the worst terrain imaginable. Google Image search "Last Chance Canyon V Notch" to see an example of the areas they are being used in. I have not been stuck once with Hercules Trail Diggers due to lack of traction. There are only two reasons why I wouldn't purchase these for my personal vehicle: 1) They don't make a load range "C" in the size I need. 2) I'm already dead set on the Treadwright Guard Dogs. Other than that I wouldn't hesitate on making this purchase.
UPDATE: 7/27/12, 9,000 Miles
I was starting to dislike these tires, thinking that they were getting unmanageable as they wore. Then at 9,000 miles I had them road force balanced. What a difference! Back to being smooth as glass on the highway!
UPDATE: 12/22/12, 15,000 Miles
I can safely assume that I will get 20,000 useable miles out of these tires. They are still performing flawlessly even after some of the most aggressive driving over brutal terrain. There are a few cuts in the sidewall and good chunks taken out of the lugs. Tire pressure is almost always 25psi or less. With all of this in mind, I would estimate a normal person would get almost 40,000 miles on these. Verdict: I am extremely happy with the purchase and would recommend the Hercules Trail Digger to anyone wanting an affordable M/T that thrives in desert driving.
We had a late season winter storm come through the area. Precipitation was forecasted, but not the amount of snow that fell and stuck. A portion of Highway 14 in my area is high enough elevation that snow can become a hazard. With snow falling and Caltrans plows 30 miles away taking care of Tehachapi pass, I spent almost 2 hours slowly driving back and forth in a few inches of snow and slush with my code 3 lights on slowing down traffic and calling out spinouts to my dispatch as they happened. At near the end of their life, the Hercules Trail Digger M/T's still stuck to the pavement quite well. Reasonable speeds, proper throttle and brake pedal control in conjunction with 4 wheel drive and I never lost traction.
I also noticed that I have a nail in one of the tires and it isn't losing any air. Replacement tires are ordered but will take a few weeks before they come in. Until then, I am still fully confident that the HTD's will perform just as well as they have since day one.
END OF LIFE UPDATE, 4/22/13 - 20,000+ MILES:
The new tires have finally come in and the Hercules Trail Digger M/T's will be retired this week. Over 20,000 miles with the kind of severe abuse I put them through is absolutely outstanding. They are down to about 5/32's and while they still have a bit of life left in them, I am starting to see a little bit of sidewall cracking due to running them constantly hard at high speeds with pressures below 25 psi. I have only had one puncture due to a nail. Not a single sidewall gash or rock puncture through the tread. This is the first set of tires I've run out here where I can say that.
I would recommend the Hercules Trail Digger M/T without hesitation to anyone needing the looks and performance of a maximum traction tire. The only reason I am not buying them again is that a change in staffing has me driving the paved roads a lot more often than driving the back country. Stay tuned for my "first look" review of the Hercules Terra Trac A/T.