In this article, we review the top 3 studded tires for your vehicle this winter.
Studded tires are a godsend for people who see ice and snow for months without any trace of dry or even wet roads – and yes, many of us do live in places like that. Studded tires thrive in conditions where even dedicated (but studless) winter tires are outside of their comfort zone: on ice and heavily compacted snow.
Should you get studded tires for the winter?
Research shows that, while metallic studs reduce the contact area between the ground and the tire, they increase traction on hard and slippery surfaces by hooking into the ground. Therefore, studded tires provide additional grip on ice and compacted snow, but they offer little or no benefit in loose snow due to a lack of hooking action.
Figure 1. Metallic spikes or studs dig into ice and compacted snow surfaces to provide traction even in most slippery conditions. Source: Priority Tire.
There is also evidence that studded tires work optimally in close to freezing temperatures only. In temperatures below freezing, the ice may get too hard for the studs to properly dig and achieve grip. And at higher temperatures, the ice may not be sufficiently tough to provide resistance to the impressed studs, thus reducing available grip.
Dynamic tests have also shown that studded tires are detrimental to driving in dry and wet conditions compared to studless tires – they have significantly longer stopping distance and unpredictable handling characteristics. Metallic studs also make these tires extremely noisy on all surfaces except snow, and worsen the ride quality.
With that being said, studded tires are a proven choice for people who face long and extreme winters with a lot of ice and compacted snow. If you do not see the pavement during winters in your area, face steady near-freezing temperatures, and can afford a separate set of tires for non-winter months, studded tires are for you.
Figure 2. Studded winter tires are prevalent in countries near the Arctic circle that face harshest winters on the planet. Source: Traction News.
What makes a good studded winter tire?
There are two components to a studded tire – the stud pattern and the stud design. The stud pattern determines the placement and number of metallic studs on the tire. More aggressive winter tires are usually packed with a larger number of studs. However, this may further undermine tire’s ability in the dry and wet conditions. A good studded tire will, therefore, provide optimum ice traction while delivering decent drivability on the road.
Most winter tires, including the ones in extreme climate, are predominantly used on dry and wet roads as opposed to ice and snow. This is why manufacturers have started offering ‘studdable’ winter tires, with studs only being an option that may be added on later. These tires have predetermined holes for installation of studs but do not come pre-equipped with them. It is usually possible to choose between several stud shapes and designs depending on your vehicle and driving habits.
Figure 3. Tire studs come in many shapes and sizes, each tailored for a different use. Source: Auto-Blogger.
Also, tires with metallic studs damage roads and concrete surfaces, and hence are restricted or outlawed in many states. However, there are some hard rubber studs that do not have this issue. We recommend you to check your local regulations regarding the use of studded tires during the year.
The following are our top 3 studded winter tire picks for you to tackle ice and snow with confidence this winter –
Hakkapeliitta 9 (pronounced Hah-kah-peh-lee-tah 9) from the Finnish manufacturer Nokian is one of the few pre-studded winter tires available in North America today. Although not a household tire name in North America, Nokian is among the highest regarded makers of winter tires due to its Nordic roots and strong legacy of tire development for populations across the Arctic-European landscape.
Figure 4. Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9 comes equipped with two types of studs that are geared towards longitudinal traction and cornering respectively. Source: Nokian Tires.
Even in northern Europe where studded tires are commonplace with many premier options available, Hakkapeliitta 9 is one of the best tires for driving on ice. It comes pre-equipped with two different stud shapes – the ones in the center are focused on acceleration and braking, whereas the ones on the edges are designed for cornering.
Dynamically, Hakkapeliitta 9 is a superior tire on hard slippery ice, and also offers respectable performance in snow. It is also one the quietest and most comfortable tires in its class, although still pretty noisy when compared to studless tires. There is also some room for improvement in the drivability on dry surfaces.
“Nokian is generally regarded as the best brands out there for winter traction. The pre-studded [Hakkapeliitta 9] will handle just as well [as any studless winter tire]. It is a very good all-round winter tire,” a tire expert at Sullivan Tire told us.
Nokian offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee only on full four-tire sets of Hakkapeliitta 9. It is available in 14” – 20” sizes, along with a Hakkapeliitta 9 SUV version for bigger vehicles. Hakkapeliitta 9 starts at just over $125 and you can get your set at Vivid Racing.
There is a much larger selection of studdable winter tires available in America than that of pre-studded winter tires. Studdable winter tires do not come pre-equipped with studs but have provisions for their installation if so desired. Our top recommendation in this category is the Cooper Evolution Winter.
Evolution Winter is well suited for compact cars, sedans, minivans, crossovers, and SUVs. Its driving behavior is biased in favor of low noise and comfort, which makes the tire respond relatively slowly to driving inputs on dry pavement. However, without studs installed, Evolution Winter is a quiet comfortable tire in all conditions with sufficient traction available.
Figure 6. In the spectrum of winter tires, studded tires are the noisiest and the harshest on most commonly driven surfaces. Source: Tyre Reviews UK.
With short stopping distance and predictable handling, Evolution Winter offers an assuring performance in the wet without studs. A specialist at Cooper Tires told us, “[Evolution Winter] has a Sawtooth Circumferential Center Rib for enhanced stability in all weather conditions, and its multi-angle sipe pattern provides ice and wet grip.” However, expect this to deteriorate a little with the studs on.
In the snow and on ice, Evolution Winter can hold its own without breaking a sweat. The addition of studs will only increase its capability on ice further. “Evolution Winter is Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake certified. Cooper’s Snow-Groove technology helps increase snow traction by trapping snow in the treads, and [the tire has] strategically positioned stud pin holes for extreme winter conditions,” the same specialist continued.
Figure 7. Cooper Evolution Winter accepts TSMI #12 silver metallic studs as per Cooper Tire’s specifications. Source: Cooper Tires.
Evolution Winter comes with a limited workmanship warranty and a 45-day trial period, but Cooper does not offer any treadwear mileage warranty. It is available in 14” – 19” sizes and starts at just over $80. You can get your set of Evolution Winter tires at Vivid Racing.
Winter tires are usually made out of soft compounds that can be easily scraped and chipped, making them unsuitable for off-road use. That is why our last pick in this article, the General Grabber A/Tx, is not only a star-performer in winter, but also tough enough to take some beating on the path less trodden. By its nature, it is available for SUVs and light trucks only.
We are no strangers to the General Grabber A/Tx as we have already hailed it as one of the best all-terrain tires for snow. It is an accomplished off-road performer with all the bells and whistles and can comfortably tread through snow and ice even without studs. While it offers a refined, quiet ride without studs installed, do not expect the same experience with them on.
The addition of studs to the Grabber A/Tx would only multiply its capability on ice and dense snow. General Tire also offers a generous 60,000 mile / 6-year treadwear warranty on the Grabber A/Tx in addition to the 45-day trial period, which makes it a better value proposition as most winter tires do not have treadwear mileage warranties on them.