It’s not unusual when driving in mountainous areas during winter to see a sign warning that chains are required. That’s a sign you don’t want to ignore—first, because it’s dangerous to proceed without them, and second, because you’ll get fined if you’re caught without the chains. The fines can be a lot deeper than the snow. What exactly do you need to meet these requirements? Chains are proven effective on packed snow and ice, but these days other products also can effectively increase traction and satisfy authorities as chain alternatives. Check online for the rules of the highway department in the state you intend to visit, or of national and state parks that often post chain requirements. Whichever you choose, you’ll be limited to 30 miles per hour, or maybe just 20 or 25, depending on the device. Given the conditions of snow- and ice-bound roads, it’s not likely you’ll need to go faster. Let’s take a look at what traction devices will keep you and your RV safe and out of a legal quagmire. Chains Link-type chains are, without question, a safe and legitimate traction multiplier in deep snow and on packed snow and ice for tow vehicles, trailers and motorhomes. They do have some negative aspects. Link chains are: Heavy—not good if you’re trying to keep weight down. Easily tangled in storage, requiring untangling before installation. Harder to install than some newer traction devices. Watch a video on installing link chains or cable chains. Vehicles with minimum clearance between the tire tread and wheel well—just under 1.5 inches— should use Class S chains. Chains that meet Class S requirements are Z-Chain, Super Z LT, Radial Chain, and Quik Grip PL. Chains, like all traction devices for tires, must be placed on the drive wheels but can be placed on other wheels as well—on trailer tires, for instance, or on non-drive front tires. On motorhomes and tow vehicles with dualies, chains go on the outermost drive tires. On 4- and all-wheel-drive vehicles, chains should be installed at all four corners. Before installation, most link tire chains look like a tiny ladder, with long sidewall chains running parallel to each other and cross chains linking them, sometimes on a diagonal. Once chains are draped over a tire, the cross chains run from one edge of the tread to the other. The sidewall chains align with each sidewall to form a roughly circular shape and help pull the chains tight. Install chains on level ground. Once chains are draped on the tires, drive forward or back about 18 inches so the ends of the sidewall chains can be hooked together on the inner and outer sides of the tire. If the chains have tightening hardware, use a tool to tighten them. On chains without tightening hardware, use a bungee cord in a circular shape, with hooks that intermittently attach to the sidewall chains to tighten everything, or a ready-made tensioner that does the same thing. Premade tensioners are available even in sizes to fit a large Class A RVs. Don’t fail to tighten chains. Loose chains are not only ineffective, but also a threat to the bodywork of your RV or tow vehicle, and to the wheels. Easier to use but sill quite effective are cable chains. They are lighter, tangle less easily, tighten with less effort and sometimes install without having to move the vehicle. Cable chains with a diagonal pattern are actually recommended for trailers because the diagonals provide much more sway control than ladder types, which are better for accelerating and stopping. Traction Straps For similar performance without the hassle of chains, consider tire traction straps. Each strap performs like a cross piece on chains, running across the tire tread to bite snow and ice. Usually made of a textured, solid nylon, the traction part of the device has nylon straps on each end and a buckle or fastener. The straps run around the tread and sidewall, passing through holes in the wheels. This design often allows installation without moving the RV or tow vehicle. Some traction straps have link chains that lie against the tread, with tightening straps that go through holes in the wheels to hook together and tighten. Traction straps come in different shapes and sizes, so you can find a size to fit your tires. Bigger traction straps will do better in mud and deep snow. Keep in mind that the bigger the device, the rougher the ride and the more clearance will be needed between the device and wheel well. Snow Socks If you’ve ever spent time in the snow wearing a knit cap or mittens, you’ve seen how snow sticks to the cloth. Snow socks, developed in Scandanavia, work the same way once they’re wrapped around a tire. These textile donuts, open only on the inner side of the tire to allow installation, use that adhesive property to grab the surface of snow and ice to generate traction. That may sound like fairytale logic, but snow socks really do work. And the more they soak up water, the better the traction. Some also get “hairier” with use, which in turn increases grip. In addition to being lightweight, snow socks install without tools. They do, however, require moving the vehicle a few inches the same as chains do to complete installation, and stretching the socks over a cold tire takes some work. What is not required is mechanical tightening. Snow socks are purchased in a size to fit your tires. The socks center themselves on the tire as the tire rolls. In addition to weighing little and requiring light effort to install, snow socks result in a better ride quality than chains or straps. Use Caution Adventurous souls may scoff at the notion that snow should slow them down, but if roads are so hazardous that chains are required, you may want to think twice about proceeding. That goes double if you’re inexperienced driving your RV in snow. Consider rescheduling your drive—a week, a few days or even a few hours—if conditions require or suggest the use of traction devices.