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Published Dec 16, 2020 4:27 PM

Each winter, you’d swear half the drivers on the road mark the changing seasons by removing their brains and tucking them safely away until spring. With summer tires spinning, traction lights flashing, and a look of total shock on their faces, they slide right through busy intersections. Most of this is driver error; some of it is inappropriate equipment selection, although that’s also the fault of the driver. Spare yourself the yuletide humiliation by investing in winter tires, at a minimum. For deeper snow and boiler-plate ice, you’ll need to step up your game with some kind of enhanced traction. Snow chains are a tried and true solution, and many states require them under certain weather conditions. We’re certainly fans of classic snow chains, but a few other approaches deserve your attention, too.

Which option you choose will ultimately depend on how you plan on using it. Will you be covering long distances in deep snow, or do you just need a little help getting unstuck every so often? In either case, there’s something for you on this list. 

If you plan on doing extended driving in tricky winter conditions, take a look at a Security Chain Super Z6 snow chains. This design strikes an excellent balance between grip and driveability. Cables bite into snow and ice but roll much more smoothly than chains, so you get traction without all the noise associated with traditional snow chains. Tough, elastic connectors snap this system into place and provide a firm grip on your tire without any adjustment. Choose from 17 different sizes to get the perfect fit for your vehicle. This style doesn’t provide quite as much outright grip on snow and ice as traditional chains, but it offers improved performance on stretches of dry pavement and does a better job of integrating with your vehicle’s traction control and antilock brakes.

Chain-link solutions like these Fun-Driving snow chains have enjoyed decades of popularity for a reason. They’re simple, durable, and very effective. Traditional snow chains wrapped all the way around tires, which made them a bit of a hassle to install. These make life easier with three segments that can be strapped securely to each tire without moving your vehicle. Each kit includes two sets of six. If you want to equip all four tires, you’ll need two kits. Sizes are available for tires from 6.5 to 8.9 inches wide, and nine to 12.4 inches wide. Coated chain links resist rust and corrosion, while nylon straps protect your wheels from damage. A ratcheting mechanism locks each section in place with the help of the included tools. You’ll even get a carrying case and a set of gloves. For extra traction in significant snow and ice, these are hard to beat.

Fans of extreme off-roading will be familiar with Stegodon recovery tracks. Rather than wrapping around your tire, these are designed to be wedged underneath and driven on. By providing a solid platform, they can help your vehicle drive right over loose snow. The durable nylon construction makes these strong enough to use in extreme cold or heat. Aggressive tread moves snow aside and gives your tires a chance to grip the recovery track. With a load capacity of 10 tons, these tracks are strong enough to support just about anything on the road. They can even be used as snow shovels to get access to your tires in deep snow. Each track is 42 inches long, so this option will take up a significant amount of space in your vehicle. Keep in mind that they’re also meant for vehicle recovery, not driving.

Michelin Easy Grip Evolution snow chains offer a ride so comfortable, you might forget about them altogether. This system uses a unique composite material to wrap your tires in webbing that grips snow and ice far better than your tires alone. Because it’s so thin, it’s also much smoother and quieter than any metal alternative. The stretchy material is also lightweight and easy to install. Just wrap it around your tire and use the fastener to lock everything in place. Because this is a wrap-around design, you will need to partially install this system, then drive your vehicle forward or backward to finish the installation. This option is fantastic around town, just remember to take it off before parking overnight to prevent the material from hardening, and avoid prolonged driving on dry pavement.

The TracGrabber can get you out of situations where even traditional snow chains fail. Loose material like deep snow and sand requires extreme traction, and this system delivers with a massive block of rubber that can give your vehicle the edge it needs to get out of trouble. If you find yourself stuck, just place the rubber block on your tire, slip the nylon strap around your wheel, and fasten it in place with the easy-to-use D-rings and velcro. As you drive forward, the block will dig into the ground and lift your tire forward with each rotation. This option is for emergency use only, so you’ll definitely want to find another solution for daily driving. If you find yourself stuck off-road, though, this might be your best bet. This device can be purchased in sets of two or four.

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Types of snow chains

For decades, people have wrapped their tires in chain links for extra traction on ice and in deep snow. If you look closely at snow plows or heavy equipment, you’ll probably see just how effective this technique can be. By replacing chains with cables or synthetic mesh, some manufacturers have created a solution that provides almost as much grip with a much smoother, quieter ride. Either of these options can stay on your vehicle for an extended period of time. Other types of snow chains are designed to get you out of trouble and back on the road, where they should be removed before continuing on. These come in the form of grippy blocks that strap onto each tire for an extra boost, or a platform that can help your tire roll across slippery terrain like snow or sand. This style is meant to be used in a pinch, not as a sustained source of traction.

Key features of snow chains

  • Materials: All snow chains and their alternatives need to be build from very durable materials like metal, rubber, or dense nylon. Remember that they will need to function under the weight of your vehicle and in very low temperatures.
  • Size: It’s important to match any snow chain to the size of your tires. Most snow chains are pretty versatile, but verify that they fit (and that you know how to install them) before they become necessary.
  • Intended use: Are you more likely to drive through the mountains in a snowstorm or escape a messy parking lot after a snowplow blocks you in? Some snow chains can rack up mile after mile, while others are meant to overcome a few feet of troublesome snow.
  • Installation: Even the best snow chains only work when they’re installed properly. Failure to do so can leave you stranded or beat your car mercilessly when chains come loose at speed. Luckily, we found options that are easy to install and offer secure fitment. 

Benefits of snow chains

Snow chains are necessary for the harshest conditions and can give any tire extra grip when it’s needed. Remember that all-wheel drive is helpful, but it doesn’t do any good if your tires can’t grip the road. It also can’t help you turn or stop. To avoid building up speed only to blow through a stop sign, you need good old-fashioned traction. Snow chains should be reserved for the few situations when they’re called for, but they’re more affordable (and often more effective) than dropping a bunch of money on a second set of tires for winter. 

Snow chain pricing

A set of two basic snow chains can be found for as little as $45. The smoothest, quietest, most advanced options cost up to $135 per pair. Some people balk at spending that much money on something that spends most of its time in the trunk, but you’ll be glad to have them when the going gets rough. We’ll also point out that you’ll have an awfully hard time finding a single snow or studded tire for that price. They’re also a cheap way to avoid having to call a tow truck or your insurance agent.

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