We found the best tire chains for snow to help improve your traction control when the roads and weather demand it.
While there are plenty of risky (and fun!) activities to do during the winter months, icy roads undeniably present one of the greatest dangers of the season. Tire traction chains are a time-tested way to improve your grip on slick roads.
It’s also worth noting that special winter tires are highly recommended in the snowiest and most mountainous environments. And, no matter where you are, there are certain things to avoid when driving in winter. Beyond safe driving practices, it is also wise to keep a winter driving emergency kit in your car for worst-case scenarios.
Of course, the ultimate goal is safe winter travel in all conditions, and buying the best snow chains available for your vehicle is an excellent way to ensure this. If you are new to purchasing tire chains, be sure to check out the Buyer’s Guide and Frequently Asked Questions toward the end of this article.
Best Tire Chains for Snow: Winter 2020-2021
Security Chain Company has been in the tire chain business for a while and has worked tirelessly to perfect their art. The SZ143 Cable Tire Chain ($117) is the product of years of tinkering and seeking perfection in manufacturing. As such, they are some of the best cable tire chains on the market.
The SZ143 Cable Tire Chains boast a utilitarian design and can be used on passenger cars, SUVs, and trucks alike. The low profile of these chains allows them to sit comfortably in virtually all wheel wells. So, clearance between the tire and the car body is rarely ever a problem.
Of course, the primary reason to buy chains for your car is for traction, and the SZ143 from Security Chain Company provides some of the best traction available for cable-style chains. The cable system was designed to improve the traction provided by the original styles. The all-embracing design provides traction across your entire tire. Plus, the rubber tightening device helps ensure that they will fit snugly and not fall off while driving.
For many people, one of the most intimidating things about buying snow chains is installation. The SZ143 has addressed this, and many users have noted their relatively easy installation design. If you’re looking for a cable chain system that provides ample traction, is relatively easy to install, and can work on most vehicle types, then look no further than the Security Chain Company SZ143.
Weight: 1 pound
- Versatile design works with virtually all vehicle types
- Very low profile on the tires
- Relatively easy to install
- On the more expensive side
- Installation can be finicky with small components in cold weather
- Chains can slip off if not installed properly
If you are searching for tire chains with a more classic chain link design, consider what Peerless has to offer. The Peerless Auto-Trac chain ($134) fits light trucks and passenger cars with ease, and the ease of installation is certainly their crowning feature.
Many users will argue that of all the chains on the market, Peerless Auto-Trac tire chains are the easiest to install. To properly install other tire chains, users were often required to lift their vehicles on a jack. Not with the Auto-Trac!
The ratcheting system on these chains automatically tightens them to your tires when you start to drive. All you need to do is connect the internal cables and exterior tighteners, double-check that you did so correctly, and hit the road.
The durability of the Peerless Auto-Trac chains is also worth noting. The manganese alloy steel construction promotes overall strength and lifespan.
With the added strength provided by the steel alloy material, the chains themselves can be narrower and lighter than comparable models. In turn, this construction style increases its grip on the tires and creates more surface area for increased traction on the road.
While you will undoubtedly feel the rumble of any chains on your tires, the Peerless Auto Tac diamond design makes for a smoother ride compared to many other chain styles. If you would prefer cables to traditional chains, check out the Peerless Super Z6 for a comparable alternative.
Weight: 15.5 pounds
- Easy to install and remove
- Self-tightening ratchets tighten chains upon driving
- Smoother ride than comparable chains
- Increased surface area on both tire and road; provides a solid grip to tire and superior traction on the road
- Tricky sizing; can be difficult to match chain size with tire size online
- Some questions of ratchet durability
For those in the market for a simple yet elegantly designed chain that also happens to be budget-friendly, look no further than the König CB-12 tire chains ($35). König tire chains are not particularly flashy, but they don’t have to be. Their simple design is time-tested. And König’s lack of revolutionary features is one of their biggest draws.
Despite being simple in concept, the Konig CB-12 chains are heavy-duty enough for the snowiest of climates. Many mountain drivers gravitate toward König, as they have long proven their ability to make steep and scary drives over icy mountain passes easier to manage. The surface they cover on your tires allows for a smooth ride on snow while also limiting rumbles when passing over exposed asphalt.
Given their traditional design, these chains are relatively simple to install. Similar to the Peerless Auto-Tracs, you do not need to jack up your car to install these traditional-style chains. While the König CB-12s have a manual tensioning system, it is both effective and easy to learn. As a bonus, these chains come with a mat to kneel on when installing them in the harsh winter environment.
While they are high quality and simple, they do not meet Class S requirements. They will not work on all cars – particularly those with less clearance in the wheel well.
Weight: 7.89 pounds
- Simple, no-frills, and effective design
- Affordable price point
- Smooth riding on snow
- Generally easy to install for traditional tire chain system
- Not the most durable chains on the market
- Hard to match to tire size online
Relatively new to the market, the Issue-Shark Snow Sock ($87) is a tire traction device for those looking to move away from the fuss of fighting with snow chains. Chains certainly serve their purpose and have for decades.
However, some people are put off by having to untangle them if they’re not stored correctly, the installation process when it comes time to use them, or the rumble they create while driving. The Snow Sock is here to address those problems.
The Issue-Shark Snow Sock covers your entire tire and is made of a polyolefin fabric that, like chains, is not meant to be driven on faster than 30 miles per hour. The flexibility of the fabric, low-profile design, and variety of sizes means that Snow Socks will fit virtually all tires from small passenger vehicles to large trucks.
For those concerned about installation, the Issue-Shark Snow Socks are incredibly easy to get on your tires. Once installed, you won’t experience the rumble and vibration that is commonplace with all other chain styles. Because they are made of fabric, there is no risk of damaging your vehicle, which can be a concern with some tire chain styles.
While the Snow Socks may not look as rugged as chains, they provide excellent traction in the same demanding and dangerous snowy conditions. Because some areas prohibit the use of snow chains, the Issue-Shark Snow Socks are an outstanding legal workaround to provide added traction where chains are not allowed.
Weight: 2.25 pounds
- Good alternative for drivers looking to avoid classic chains
- Easy installation
- Appropriate substitute for roads completely covered in snow
- Workaround for areas that do not allow classic tire chains
- Not the most durable product on the market
- Vastly shortened lifespan when driven on asphalt
Soyond Snow Chains ($38) are an excellent and unique winter tire traction device that is a great choice for the budget shopper. If you live somewhere where snowy weather is not a common occurrence, or you rarely drive over icy mountain passes, consider the highly affordable Soyond Snow Chains.
At first glance, the Soyond Snow Chains look completely different from other competitors on the market. However, the unique construction serves a purpose. The hollow design eliminates snow buildup on the tires while simultaneously promoting traction on slippery roads.
The thermoplastic polyurethane plates were created to prevent harm to both tire and road. Each plate is reinforced with steel studs for added grip and friction on the iciest of roads. These studs can also efficiently break down icy surfaces as you drive over them.
Soyond Snow Chains are easy to install. Just pull each strap taut as you attach it to the tire. Like the Snow Sock reviewed above, these chains are easy to store without tangling and can be put on the desired tires without moving the vehicle.
With proper sizing, these chains can work with most vehicle types — from the smallest sedans to the most imposing trucks. Avoid the Soyond Snow Chains if your car or truck has a steel or iron wheel hub, as either has greater potential to cut through the ribbon at its attachment point. Each order includes six chains, one snow scraper, and a pair of nylon gloves and wrench to assist in installation.
Weight: 9.18 pounds
- Highly affordable snow chain option
- Easy to install
- Unique design creates ample traction on snow and ice
- Does not hold up on asphalt or cement surfaces
- Not the most durable option on the market
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose Snow Chains
Like any other piece of outdoor gear, the closer you are to purchasing, the more little details emerge that differentiate one product from the next. Choosing the best snow chains for your specific situation is especially important. It can spell the difference between a safe commute and getting into an accident on an icy road.
When deciding between different styles of snow chains, here are a few essential things to consider.
Many modern, higher-end chains on the market offer self-tensioning technology, which can help the installation process. As the vehicle moves and the tires rotate, self-tensioning chains will center and adjust with built-in ratchets.
In turn, this eliminates excess slack in the chain, which increases their overall performance on the snow. If you anticipate using your chains often, self-tensioning chains are the way to go.
There are plenty of assisted tensioning and manual tensioning chains on the market, as far as other options go. These chains are often more affordable and easier to initially install. However, they require drivers to retighten them after they begin to drive.
Before fully committing to either manual or self-tensioning chains, be sure to put some critical thought into the pros and cons of each as they pertain to your particular vehicle location.
Many premium tire chains include an automatic release. If you drive over big mountain passes with variable snow conditions or cover many miles that may require chains, the automatic release function can be very beneficial.
Driving on bare asphalt or pavement with chains can damage both the road and the chains, and the automatic release feature is meant to remedy this.
No matter what style of chain you choose and its features, it is imperative to purchase the correct size. This is critical for the chains to fit appropriately and function as they were designed.
Thankfully, it is easy to identify your tire size. Your tires’ size should be printed on the tire sidewall — giving dimensions for tire width, height ratio of the sidewall compared to width, and diameter.
Don’t worry too much about the size specifics. All you need to do is match the overall number to the model number provided by the chain manufacturer.
Tire traction chain technology has evolved over the past few decades. Some classic materials are still being used, and some newer innovations have been introduced to the market.
Generally speaking, higher-end metal chains are constructed with manganese, titanium, and nickel steel alloys. This offers superior strength and durability. Middle-of-the-road and economy chains are generally made of hardened steel.
While metal chains typically provide more traction control than alternative materials, they can also cause more damage to roads and vehicles. To combat this, rubber chains and snow socks have been introduced to the industry. While they may not be the best choice for extreme environments, they are certainly more friendly to your vehicle and the roads you drive on.
As you shop around for the right set of tire chains for your vehicle, you will notice differences in weight. Lighter chains will provide adequate traction and better fuel economy, and they’re easier to store.
While worse for overall fuel economy, heavier chains will provide much better friction and are more durable. Heavier chains are more cumbersome to transport, carry, and store than the lighter-weight alternatives.
Seeing as you will likely not be driving for more than a few miles at a time with chains on your tires, don’t get too worked up about fuel economy. Similarly, if you are buying chains merely as an added winter driving precaution and don’t plan on using them often (or perhaps at all!), don’t invest in the heaviest option. Regardless of your choice, safety should always be your top concern.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Type of Snow Chains Are Best?
Everyone always wants to know what type of chains are best. Like all pieces of outdoor gear, the correct answer is usually personal. Examining differences in things like material, link patterns, weight, style, and price allows you to make the most informed decision regarding the best snow chains for your situation.
If you anticipate frequently driving in bad road conditions and using your chains often, invest in a higher-end, more heavy-duty model. Instead, if you would like to have a set of chains to keep in your car just for emergency purposes, maybe a more budget-friendly option will suffice.
Ultimately the decision is up to you, as each snow chain on the market has its own set of pros and cons.
Are Snow Chains or Snow Socks Better?
Snow socks can be a good alternative to snow chains in certain situations. In general, snow socks do not provide the same level of traction as chains.
Also, snow socks’ fabric wears down more quickly than more durable metal chain options. That said, snow socks are a great option for folks that do not plan on regularly driving in the most demanding winter conditions.
Further, some vehicle manufacturers strongly suggest that drivers do not use snow chains on certain models of their vehicles. This is often an issue with low tire clearance, and snow socks can be a good remedy for this. They may not provide the same level of traction as metal chains, but snow socks are better than nothing for cars that cannot handle the increase in volume created by chains.
How Do I Install Snow Chains?
Installing snow chains truly is a practice-makes-perfect type of skill. And every brand and style of the chain will install slightly differently. Each set of chains comes with a specific set of instructions, and there is a general method that all drivers should follow.
First and foremost, purchase the correct size chains for your vehicle. Once you have them in hand, we highly recommend that you practice installing them before the winter hits. It will be much easier to throw on your chains in a subzero blizzard on the side of the highway if you have practiced! The more practice, the better.
As you make a plan to store your chains in your vehicle, build a quick winter emergency kit to go with them. If you get caught off guard and need to put chains on, it is nice to know that you have a set of gloves, a spare coat, a headlamp, and something to kneel on ready in your car.
When the time comes to install your chains, pull well off to the side of the road. Make sure you bundle up in winter layers, put on your four-way flashers, and safely move to your targeted tires.
For front-wheel-drive vehicles, install the chains on the front tires. And for rear-wheel drives, they will go on the back. If you have an all-wheel or 4WD vehicle, the chains will likely work best when installed on the front tires, but check the owner’s manual to be sure.
From here, all installations will differ slightly. It is best to follow the included instructions for your particular set of chains.
In general, you will want to unpack them, untangle them, and start wrapping them around your tire — attaching the connection points where appropriate. Repeat this process for both tires.
Once the chains are attached, you can slowly drive forward 10 to 20 feet to allow the chains to settle. If you do not have self-tensioning chains, get out, and tension them yourself to remove any slack. After you are confident that they are attached tightly and correctly, slowly pull onto the road and begin your drive.
It is normal to hear and feel a slight rumble with most chains, but stop immediately if you hear any loud noises. This can indicate that your chains are not tight enough and are knocking against your wheel well. Pull over safely and readjust them.
Can Snow Chains Damage My Car?
There is the possibility that snow chains can damage your car. However, they are all intentionally designed to avoid such a negative outcome. When cars get damaged by tire chains, it is almost entirely the installer or driver’s fault.
Snow chains need to fit your tires properly. If they don’t, they may cause damage to your wheel wells while you’re driving. Additionally, if not installed properly, they can come loose and damage the underbody. When putting on your chains, check and double-check that they are installed tightly and correctly.
All chains come with a driving speed recommendation — usually around 30 miles per hour. Exceeding the recommended speed can break the chains and cause further damage to your vehicle. When driving with chains on your tires, be extra cautious if you’re passing over areas of bare pavement.
While tire chains can cause damage, they are designed primarily for traction and safety. If you install them properly and heed all manufacturer advice, snow chains shouldn’t cause you any trouble. If you are concerned, consider snow socks as an alternative traction device.
Can Snow Chains Be Used in the Mud?
While many snow chains are designed with packed snow or ice in mind, they can also be a great help in muddy situations. Tires generally tend to lose traction when their treads get packed with foreign material (snow, ice, or mud).
Chains act as an additional traction device and allow for more friction. Some snow chains translate better to mud than others, and individual manufacturers should address their chains’ effectiveness in the mud.
Winter driving is not something to be taken lightly. Thankfully, there are plenty of tools out there to help you navigate snowy and icy roads with safety and relative ease. Snow tires are a great asset in wintry, mountainous environments, but replacing a full set of tires is expensive.
While you may not need them, snow tire chains are a great tool to keep in your car when conditions get especially rugged.
Have a favorite tire chain set we missed? Let us know in the comments for future updates to this article.