It’s an overlanders nightmare—you’re ready to leave the lake and realize you’re stuck in the sand spinning your tires deeper every time you press the gas. Or hitting a steep berm too slow and sliding your rig down the side of the obstacle, unable to get out.
I’ve needed rescuing from both of these situations in my Tacoma overlanding rig. I was able to get out of both thanks to a kind group of young guys willing to help dig and push me out of the sand, and the Utah Off-Road Recovery Team (thanks, Alex!).
I learned some valuable lessons both times. One of which being—never push your luck without having the necessary recovery gear on hand.
Always have a shovel, winch, traction boards, recovery ropes, and, of course…a tire deflator.
Recovery would have been much easier for me in both of these scenarios had I just aired down my tires. So I did some research and found the best tire deflators to air down in sticky situations—here they are:
What is a Tire Deflator?
A tire deflator is a tool that is used to help you lower the tire pressure in your vehicle.
A good tire deflator works by quickly and accurately removing air from your tires—typically by removing the valve core from your tire’s valve stem—to help you get to your desired pressure.
Why Do You Need a Tire Deflator?
Lowering your tire pressure can help you in a few ways—first, lower air pressure means your tires will have more surface area on whatever terrain you’re driving on. More surface area means more traction.
If you’re driving on a rocky off-road trail, through deep sand, or on a slick surface, having a lower tire pressure will help your tires stick to the surface.
This is the same reason snow shoes are so valuable in deep powder—they help create more surface area to keep you from sinking in.
Important Note: Bear in mind that while lower tire pressure can help in tons of off-roading situations, it’s important to re-inflate your tires back to your usual PSI before getting back on the freeway.
Either head to a nearby gas station, or better yet, get an off-road air compressor!
Forgetting to reset your tires to the correct PSI at best will negatively affect your gas mileage, but at worst, the extra friction can also cause your tires to catch fire! Please don’t let your vehicle catch fire.
How Much Should You Deflate Your Tires?
How much you deflate your tires will depend on what kind of terrain you’re driving on.
For instance—if you’re venturing onto a moderate off-roading trail with some steep passes or small boulders, it’s recommended to deflate your tires about 25 percent. So if you generally keep your tires around 30 PSI, you’ll want to air down to about 22.5 PSI.
For more aggressive trails you could deflate your tires 30-35 percent. This will help your tires hug the uneven and unpredictable terrain.
Lastly, if you’re in deep sand you’ll want maximum traction and surface area to help you from sinking in. You can air down about two-thirds of your standard recommended PSI. So again, if your tires are typically at 30 PSI, you can safely drop them down to 10 PSI.
Another word of caution: The lower your PSI is the lower your speed should be. Fast speeds and low tire pressure are a dangerous combo.
The 7 Best Off-Road Tire Deflators
Here are our top picks for off-roading and overlanding tire deflators:
1. Staun Tire Deflator
The number one choice for many off-road enthusiasts is the Staun Tire Deflator. This tire deflator attaches directly to your valve stems and quickly removes air to whatever PSI you set it to.
There’s no need for constant monitoring or checking—this tire deflator is able to monitor the pressure and automatically stop when you reach your desired tire pressure. The Staun tire deflators are incredibly portable and the whole set can fit in just the palm of a hand.
I like them because you can set the exact PSI you want, unlike other tire deflators, which need you to watch a gauge to predict when to stop letting air out.
2. All-Top Digital Tire Deflator Kit
If you’re looking for a great budget option that maintains accurate tire pressure gauges, the All-Top Tire Deflator Kit may be the best choice for you.
This kit has a backlit digital tire pressure gauge that gives you an accurate air pressure reading on the spot.
The All-Top system works by removing the valve core, which allows for up to 1 PSI of pressure to be removed per second. So although you’ll have to air all of your tires down individually, the process should be pretty quick and painless.
3. ARB E-Z Deflator
ARB is a leader in manufacturing great off-roading products. The ARB E-Z Tire Deflator kit is an excellent, moderately priced deflator that you’ll know you can rely on.
This system also works by removing the valve cores to quickly release up to 1 PSI of pressure per second. The brass bourdon gauge measures your PSI in 1 PSI increments and ensures environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and altitude won’t affect the accuracy of your reading.
I have one of these that I keep on hand in my 4×4 van and it works great. It takes a while to air down each tire individually and you have to re-insert the valve stem to get an accurate PSI reading, but that’s an issue most tire deflators have.
4. Boulder Tools Rapid Tire Deflator
For those who want an all-in-one kit—the Boulder Tools Rapid Tire Deflator Kit is another great option. The internal mechanisms of the reader are made of brass to quickly and accurately air down your tires to your desired PSI.
This kit also comes with extra valve caps, tire cores, and a valve core remover for even quicker deflating. We love this carrying case because it’s rugged, keeps everything compact, and even has a button strap on the back for mounting.
5. TeraFlex Air Deflator
Maybe you’re not looking for the best air deflator on the market, but rather, something you can keep handy in case of emergencies. The TeraFlex Air Deflator is by far the most compact, inexpensive, and light-weight tire deflator.
To use this little device, simply remove your valve caps and unscrew each of the four pieces on this device. Screw each piece onto your tires valve stem. You will need a separate tire pressure gauge to get an accurate reading, but this tire deflator works surprisingly quickly.
One pro tip we have for this device is to move in a circle around your tires. You can deflate all four tires at the same time, but you should move systematically to ensure you don’t remove too much air.
6. Lisle Tire Deflator
Another ultra-portable design that is ideal for those who just want a simple, affordable, and easy-to-use deflator is the Lisle Tire Deflator kit. This compact design fits easily in the palm of your hand and can be tucked away in the glove box or center console.
Similar to the TeraFlex Air Deflator, the Lisle Deflator also replaces the valve cap on your tires to release air. This tool won’t monitor your tire pressure, so it’s important to have a separate tire pressure gauge handy as well. It also doesn’t require the removal of the valve core, so no need to reset your TPMS when you’re finished.
7. Rhino USA Rapid Tire Deflator
For those who love to support family-owned companies—you’ll love Rhino USA. They’re an American-owned and family-operated company that prides themselves on not only their great customer service, but their wealth of knowledge in the outdoor space as well.
The Rhino USA Tire Deflator works by removing the valve core for rapid deflation. This kit comes with a valve core remover tool, four extra valve stems, four additional valve stem caps, and a handy carrying case.
This deflator is made from braided steel and brass to ensure it won’t leak and will always give you an accurate pressure reading. Plus it glows in the dark! I’ve had to deflate tires in the dark more than once, so this certainly comes in handy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some commonly asked questions about tire deflators:
What is the lowest drivable PSI?
10 PSI is the lowest you should ever drop your tire pressure, and this should only be in appropriate conditions such as driving on the beach or in deep mud.
How do you adjust automatic tire deflators?
While each tire deflator design will vary, you’ll typically either have to twist a ring to manually set your desired PSI or pull a lever to indicate how much you want your tire pressure to drop.
Once this number is set, automatic tire deflators should do the rest of the work without you needing to monitor them.
Can you drive with tire deflators?
No. Driving with tire deflators on is dangerous and can cause severe damage to your tires. Always be sure to remove your tire deflator tools and replace your valve stem caps before hitting the trail.
There are tons of great tire deflator designs on the market, and finding the right one for you will be dependent on your needs.
If you want an all-in-one design you’ll probably want the Boulder Tools tire deflator. If you’re just looking for something small to throw in your emergency bag, the Lisle or TeraFlex tire deflators may be the best option for you.
Regardless, always remember that the lower your tire pressure is, the slower you should drive—and never get on the freeway before returning your tire pressure to the recommended PSI!