Studded Snow Tires: Haul out the Big Guns

studded tire
Nokian Hakkapeliitta 7 studded tire. Ilya Plekhanov/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

If you stick small pieces of metal into your tires, they're probably going to grip better. I think we can all agree on that. Studded tires will always give you a considerable grip advantage, particularly on ice and hard-packed snow, but those advantages are balanced by some big disadvantages too.

The biggest problem with studded tires is that when there is no ice or snow on the ground, the studs become extremely loud, as one might imagine would happen if you put a bunch of small pieces of metal in your tire, and they cause quite a bit of damage to dry road surfaces.

Studded tires are therefore really best used in places where the snow and ice come in and stay around all season. Many states regulate when studded tires can be put on your car and when they must come off.

Of the very few studded tires actually available, most are “studdable” heavy-duty snow tires designed to accept studs as an extra option. These include:

Firestone Winterforce

Firestone's Winterforce is an aggressively treaded snow tire for cars and minivans that is made to accept optional studs.

Pirelli Winter Carving Edge

Pirelli has long been a major force in the Ultra High Performance winter tire market—their SottoZero II studded tires were briefly the world record holders for land speed on ice. The Winter Carving Edge tires are not quite as aggressive but are built for somewhat more normal cars! The Carving Edge, like most Pirelli tires, are also free of aromatic oils as part of Pirelli's “ACT” effort to build ecologically sustainable tires.

General Altimax Arctic

General tends to build decent, tough, and inexpensive if somewhat unexciting tires. The Altimax Arctic, on the other hand, has long had a reputation as being among the best of the limited list of studdable snow tires.

Nokian Hakkapeliitta 7

Nokian makes one of the few tires designed specifically for studded performance, and once again the Finns prove that they are darn serious about their snow tires.

The Nokian Hakka 7 is so different from traditional studdable snow tires that it might as well be in a class by itself.

Traditionally, studs have been made as circular points. Some time ago, Nokian began making square studs, providing better grip by giving the studs biting edges. The Hakka 7 now features trapezoidal studs set into purpose-built tread blocks with specialized siping patterns designed to help the studs work better. Nokian's “Eco Stud” system also places a cushioning layer between the back of the stud and the hard rubber of the tire. These studs tend to damp out some of the noise that ordinary studs produce and may reduce some pavement damage as well.

Bottom Line

Studded tires are undoubtedly the “big guns” when it comes to snow and ice grip. You just want to be sure that you really need the big guns before you go to the trouble of hauling them out. Conditions that change from day to day or week to week are not the best situation for studs. If you get snow that melts away during the winter, or if the majority of your driving is on plowed streets, studded tires are probably not your best choice. If you really need them, you'll usually know it.