Tire Chain Types And Shapes: A Complete Guide | Hunt or Shred

ATV owners use tire chains to keep their vehicles stable on snowy and icy roads. But you need to choose the right tire chain type and shape for your ATV.

If you live in an area covered with snow and icy roads, snow tire chains are a necessity. There are three types of tire chains: Diamond, Cable, and Alternative. This article will give you a breakdown of all chain types for better understanding.

While there are only three tire chain types, different chains within the same category have several factors that you need to consider before buying a chain for your ATV. These factors include chain link, chain design, wheel clearance, compatibility, and much more. Generally, snow chains are a cheap solution to slippery roads in winter. If you are out there occasionally, snow chains are a better option than spending hundreds of dollars on expensive winter tires. In some states, mounting snow chains over your tires is even required by law.

Whether you want to know about the tire chain types and shapes, compatibility with your ATV, or in search of an excellent tire chain, this guide addresses all your concerns. As someone who has ridden ATVs for years now, I have written all there is to know about tire chains in this article. You will also learn how to mount tire chains. These points are followed by FAQs that customers often find useful.

Table of contents


Snow Tire Chains

Tire chains have been a savior for every vehicle long before snow tires were invented. Unfortunately, some people lock their vehicles in garages when snowfall hits and all routes are covered in a white blanket. If you are one of those, you're missing out on a lot of fun and might be unable to do the utility work depending on your vehicle's mobility. Luckily, snow tire chains are here to save the day. You can choose from different chain types that suit your needs best.

What Are the Tire Chain Types?

These are the three types of tire chains:

Diamond Tire Chain

Diamond chains are most common in heavy snow-affected areas for one simple reason – they offer the best traction. Diamond chains have vertices shaped in a diamond-like structure — the traditional chain shapes you see in the market. The vertices, made of metal, are linked to form a chain. The general rule of thumb is that the more snow you face, the smaller your chain vertices. Diamond chains make a web pattern to cover the tire and create ground contact resulting in the best bite for your ATV.

Cable Tire Chains

This tire chain type is a remake of the first-ever tire chain introduced in 1904. It consists of distant cables made up of steel. The cables are linked to a chain in the center that runs in the center of the tire. While they offer sufficient traction, it is less than the diamond tire chain. On the other hand, more space between the cables means more ground contact for the tire resulting in better braking. The cable tire chains are lightweight due to smaller links, but that does not lower their traction. It also means that these chains are best for areas with a moderate amount of snow.

Alternative Chains

The alternative tire chains suggest an easier option for drivers who see snow rarely and simply want to be cautious if surprised by a challenge. These tire chains are not specially made for snow and icy roads but will work well with occasional snowfall and slippery conditions. You can find alternative chains in different materials with different shapes and styles.

Some use a strong fabric to keep traction, and others include slim-looking materials such as aluminum to keep contact with the ground. These chains are generally lightweight, so riders can carry them easily without unnecessarily increasing their vehicle's load. Moreover, these tire chains are rarely used in ATVs. They are best suitable for small cars and SUVs with smaller tires.

What Are the Benefits of Tire Chains?

Tire chains have several benefits that allow riders to drive on snow-covered paths. These benefits are:

  • Enhanced traction. Traditional tires have lugs that are typically designed to grab onto the gravel and provide a vehicle with the grip it needs to brake properly and turn without sliding or tipping over. When water or snow covers the road, it becomes smooth and diminishes the friction between the tire and the surface. In comparison, snow chains can make grooves on the surface because they are typically stronger than the snow covering the road. That way, tire chains provide traction to the vehicle for better handling in tough conditions.
  • Provide efficiency regardless of the terrain/condition. Tire chains are generally known for best use in snow-covered areas. However, they are also efficient on flat roads, cemented terrains, and frozen lakes. Apart from enhancing your grip and straight roads, they keep you safe on dangerous turns.
  • Safe Riding. Since ATVs are for abusive riding on adventurous paths, many people lose control as soon as they turn the handle. Nearly 164 accidents happen every year on snowy terrains due to losing control and slipping. Injuries count over 116,800 for the same reason. The tire chains help you drive safely by enhancing traction between your tire and the road, regardless of what condition you face.
  • Easy installation. This is the best thing about tire chains. You don't have to put in a lot of effort to increase the safety of your ride. With technological advancements, tire chains have become easier and easier to mount. Some chains are even equipped with self-tightening features. Later on in the guide, I have mentioned the best tire chains that are easy and quick to mount.

What Are the Key Features of Tire Chains?

Before you look up the best tire chains, know what factors make up a good chain so you do not end up buying an inadequate chain and risking your life and your ATV.

Chain Tension Setup

As you can imagine, tire chains bear enormous pressure because of the vehicle's weight. Keeping the chains mounted on your tires requires tension to ensure that they stay on the tires so they can give you the grip you need on snow-covered roads. With older chains, the only way to apply tension was by tightening the chain by hand. Fortunately, newer chains have self-tightening technology that helps keep the tension on through the ratchets placed on each side of the tire.

Ratchets create tension automatically when you mount the chain onto the tires and then slowly drive your vehicle forward. The chain grips your tires tightly and effectively provides grip for your ride. However, ratchets are the most vulnerable tools in the chain and break easily. You can avoid that by ensuring you mounted the chain correctly before moving your ATV.

Tire Chain Specification

Which category your vehicle or tires fall in a tire chain's classification is a vital factor to consider before deciding on a chain for your ATV? This factor may even be necessary for some riders according to their state laws. If there are no laws regarding the chain specification in your state, you should still consider this for the best performance. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) classifies tire chains according to performance against the vehicle type. There are three classifications for tire chains:

  • Class S: For regular size cars and SUVs.
  • Class U: For more demanding vehicles like ATVs and UTVs.
  • Class W: For lightweight trucks.

Release Structure

Snowy and icy roads are tricky, and the conditions can change in a second. You might need to unmount the chains just as quickly as you might need to mount them. A few roads are always cleared earlier than the others, and you don't need tire chains to ride on them. Tire chains come with a quick-release mechanism that allows easy uninstallation with a single tap or pull.

While buying a tire chain with automatic release, check its quality and activation. Moreover, when you mount the tire chain, ensure that the release mechanism is safely positioned to ensure that you don't accidentally activate the release mechanism while riding.

Chain Design

The chain design consists of two things: links and patterns. Links or vertices can differ in size. While larger links are useful in deep snow and areas with more humidity to generate higher traction, smaller links are sufficient for thin snow layers. In comparison, tire chain patterns are of several shapes. The patterns include diamond which is mostly used for passenger vehicles; rectangular patterns, which benefit highly on smoother surfaces like frozen lakes; and ladder pattern, which is best for ATVs for rougher terrains.


You will need chains that are compatible with your tire size. Buying tire chains without knowing whether they will fit your tire is of no use as smaller chains won't mount on your tires, and larger chains will be loose. Either way, you will not be able to use your tire chains when you need them. So ensure you know your tire's size when buying tire chains.

Chain Material

Material is yet another important factor to consider when buying tire chains. Chains provide you with traction, but they can damage the roads if they are not damp. Metal chains are the most harmful to the roads when not taken off at appropriate times. Chains are also available in rubber, which does not wear out your tires and is the least damaging to the roads but provides the least traction.


So you will want a chain that will offer a balance between performance and safety regarding your tire and the road. Steel chains are most popular for areas with moderate to heavy snow. Usually, steel chains are stainless, but you should watch out for some cheaper options available that are not stainless.

Structure and Weight

Picking the best chains is all about balance. Broader and heavier chains might seem better for deep snow and portray a long lifespan, but they can heavily affect your tires and affect your ride's performance as well due to the added weight. On the other hand, opting for extreme lightweight chains can also backfire as they might be too fragile. You should always buy lightweight chains with strong material so that they can be of value for a longer time.

Wheel-Well Clearance

Wheel-well clearance refers to the space between your tires and the inside of the fender. For example, you will need a thicker chain if your tire is too bulky. You can adjust the wheel-well clearance by slightly lifting your vehicle's suspension to accommodate. Going for a slimmer chain is another option you can explore.

How to Mount Tire Chains?

You don't need to be an expert to mount tire chains on your vehicle. However, you need to follow the procedure actively, or you can end up damaging your precious ride or breaking the chains. Moreover, it is better to mount the chains before the first snowfall hits; otherwise, you can be left stranded in the middle of nowhere.

You can mount the tire chains and continue riding your ATV by following these steps. 

Step 1: Preparing

Firstly, you need to identify whether your vehicle is front or rear-wheel drive. If your vehicle is front-wheel drive, the chains go at the front tires and vice versa.

Step 2: Laying the chains

Now, lay the chains in front of the tires and make sure they are stretched instead of laying loose. If you have a chain set with an automatic release mechanism, ensure that it is on the outside so you can access it easily and it does not activate while you're riding.

Step 3: Joining the chains

To join the chains, you will need to drive your vehicle slowly and place the tires over the chains. Now attach the chains with studs and connectors. Remember to switch off your vehicle for safety purposes. If your chain set comes with an automatic tightener or ratchet, drive the vehicle forward slowly, and the ratchet will tighten the chains. If not, then you need to tighten the chains manually.

Step 4: Checking wheel-well clearance

Before riding off into the snow-filled land, carefully check if there is enough space between the chain and wheel-well so the chain doesn't rub against it. You can do this by running your hand on the tire in a circle. If your hand passes the least space without touching the body, it will also be good for the chain.

Step 5: Driving

It is important to drive safely and slowly as the roads are still dangerous, and riding at a higher speed than 25mph can overstress the chains and damage them. This can also cause significant wear to your ATV's body and tires.

The Best Tire Chains for Your ATV

Below, I have listed the best chain sets for ATVs. You can pick any of these without going through this tricky situation of finding the best tire chain. These tire chains are of the best material. You can pick any of these, and riding on snowy, slippery roads will never be a problem. Fortunately, these chain sets are universal and will fit several tire sizes of ATV, UTV, or off-road vehicles.

Sedona Cycle V-Bar ATV Tire Chains

The Sedona tire chains are the best overall chains available for ATVs. They provide high traction for the best riding experience in snow and icy terrains at a fairly reasonable price. These chains have a V-bar shape and high-quality reinforced steel to enhance durability, giving the best value for your buck. The best thing is that this chain set comes in four different sizes, so you can easily find the right size for our ATV tires.

The traction is super with tire chains because they can be used with heavy-ply tires and aggressive lugs. The construction of these chains is such that they can withstand the pressure of heavy-duty tires. These tires provide excellent grip, and the chain top-off increases traction on sloppy roads covered with snow. The chain is a bit heavier, weighing eighteen pounds, but the vertices have wide gaps, resulting in better balance.

However, some riders install large tires in their ATVs and UTVs for the winter season, making mounting the chains harder. Sedona has introduced the D-sized chains in the same shape with ten-inch wide cleats to accommodate the larger tires. These ten-inch wide cleat chains offer better performance than other similar chains, which is why professionals and ATV enthusiasts highly recommend this chain set.

The chain set comes with additional hooks so you can ensure snug-fitting in more demanding conditions. Apart from snowy terrains, this tire chain works great with muddy conditions. While the tire chain set has a strong steel compound, it does not damage your tire or the road.

You can buy this chain set starting at $49.95 from Sedona dealerships.

Diamond Studded ATV Tire Chains

If your daily experience includes dealing with piles of snow, then you need tougher chains with bigger and closer links to deal with harsh conditions. The Diamond Studded ATV tire chain is often the name that pops up when someone asks for tire chains to deal with harsh conditions. As you can judge by the name, these chains have a diamond pattern, and by looking at them, you can guess how well they perform in thick layers of snow.

The robotic studs link the separate running chains on the tire's circumference in the middle to create a diamond shape. Apart from providing supreme traction, the studs keep the chains linked tightly and maintain tension. I highly recommend these chains for anyone who sees harsh winters with sloppy snow tracks since the unique pattern also results in increased friction, giving you better overall control of your ATV.

Many people mount these chains between the lugs, which works fine. However, a great way to get the best out of these chains is to mount them over the treads, which results in more depth and even better traction. Doing so will heavily affect your speed. So make sure you do not try to achieve a higher speed, or you will end up damaging your tires.

This tire chain set's rare and notable quality is the zinc coating which protects the chain from damage, making it more durable than other chain sets of the same caliber. The Polaris ATVs are highly compatible with this chain set as their recommended tire size is the perfect fit. While the Diamond Studded ATV chain set is highly durable and efficient, it weighs a staggering 38 pounds. That's 38 pounds dragging along with your ATV, slowing it down significantly. That's why you should only consider getting these if you face harsh snowy conditions. The chain set is priced relatively high for its strong build and high performance.

You can get the Diamond Studded ATV Tire Chain Set starting from $198.00.

Snow Tire Chains FAQs

Q. Will tire chains damage my tires?

A. Tire chains can be tricky to handle, and they need to be used with caution. Generally, chains do not harm your tires unless you use them in unfavorable conditions. Take off the chains when there is less than one inch of snow or if the road is cleared. Ensure you use steel chains where usable, and your tires will stay safe.

Q. How fast can I ride with the tire chains?

A. The maximum speed you can attain depends on the thickness and type of your chains. However, since you will be using chains in snowy conditions, you will be bound to keep your speed low. Depending on how thick the chain is, you can go up to 30mph, but it is recommended to stay below 25mph.

Q. If I have ABS brakes, do I still need chains?

A. ABS prevents tires from skidding when you hit the brakes, but it does not help when the vehicle is already at a halt but skidding on the icy roads. So, yes, you do need tire chains to prevent gliding.




45 years old. I'm in business marketing. I write for Hunt or Shred on the side. I love hiking, camping, and everything outdoors with my family. I have 6 years of experience working at an ATV shop selling, fixing, and test driving all brands and models.

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