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Winter backpacking and 2WD cars with chains?
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Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
Winter backpacking and 2WD cars with chains? on 12/08/2012 17:42:54 MST Print View

I am going to start winter backpacking this year and wanted to get feedback on using my existing car vs buying a new 4WD car.

I will have chains and really just need to get to the trail head. This will be in the Tahoe / Yosemite region.

I guess if the roads are really bad I can always just pull over and throw chains on.

I'm just worried that I would get stuck if I went back to far.


Kenneth Houseal
.. on 12/08/2012 17:46:37 MST Print View

Front Wheel Drive or Rear Wheel Drive? FWD is much better for nasty roads...of course 4x4 is king.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: Winter backpacking and 2WD cars with chains? on 12/08/2012 17:48:47 MST Print View

It depends where you are going.

I recently bought a 4wd so I can get in (and out) of places that may exclude a 2wd or Awd.

I was in Canada last weekend and ended up using the 4wd to drive on some snow and ice covered forestry tracks.

Edited by stephenm on 12/08/2012 17:49:55 MST.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Winter backpacking and 2WD cars with chains? on 12/08/2012 18:03:20 MST Print View

Bring extra food and water in case you get stuck. Leave intenerary with someone so SAR could bail you out.

A couple years ago I drove FWD until I got stuck - snow was a little deeper than I thought so I bottomed out and quickly stopped. Put on chains and drove out. Maybe kind of stupid but I knew that road had some winter traffic and I had food and fuel for many days.

Don't go up a road that get's snowed over for months in the winter and not tell anyone where you went. There are occasional people that don't survive that.

Nelson Sherry

Locale: Mid-Willamette Valley
What four? on 12/08/2012 18:18:48 MST Print View

IMHO . . . okay, maybe my Not so HO, having grown up driving in lots of mud and snow, I think our society is not very smart about four wheel drives (4WD).

4WD does not improve the safety of a vehicle in any significant way. 4WD does not increase the amount of tread you have on the road. It does not increase the amount of traction for stopping or turning control (relative to front wheel drive). The ONLY thing 4WD offers is a whole lot more drive traction. If you want to drive your vehicle up a hill in slippery conditions, you will be able to go up steeper hills. If you are stopped, you will be able to restart on a slippery hill more easily. And yes, you will be able to drive through deeper mud/snow, although, surprisingly not much deeper because the height of the bottom of your care is what will likely stop you in either a 2WD or 4WD.

And, if you are willing to put on chains, a 2WD car has enough traction to go pretty much anywhere a 4WD car can in the snow . . . assuming equal ground clearance.

Anyway, that's my two cents worth. Almost without fail, the cars that cause all the trouble on snow covered roads in our area are overcautious people driving 4WD cars or 4WD SUVs . . . or yahoos driving their 4WD vehicles like they are invincible.

Edited by nsherry61 on 12/08/2012 18:22:03 MST.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
bring a shovel on 12/08/2012 18:25:53 MST Print View

Besides the other good tips, always bring a shovel.

When winter backpacking or hut tripping, I always take a small avy shovel anyway. It is permanently in my car during winter.

Besides being a useful piece of gear for backcountry winter activities, it is God send if you should get stuck.

I've actually used the shovel more to shovel OTHER people out who don't have this (IMO) mandatory piece of gear for driving to winter trail heads. 15-20 minutes of shoveling saves waiting for a friendly stranger to come by and shovel you out. :)

Costco currently has some dirt cheap avy shovels - 2 for $20. Not marketed as such, but that is what they are.

If I didn't already have one, I'd be tempted to pick up a set. :)

Edited by PaulMags on 12/08/2012 18:28:58 MST.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Winter backpacking and 2WD cars with chains? on 12/08/2012 18:40:48 MST Print View

What do you drive now? "68 Cutlass or a '74 VW Thing? Give us something to start with. I use to get all over Borrego off road in my "68 Mercedes 280. Depends a lot on the driver too.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: Re: Winter backpacking and 2WD cars with chains? on 12/08/2012 18:58:11 MST Print View

It really depends on the 4wd, my wife's new 4wd Escape could not cross the road without getting stuck (or recalled for that matter) but my 9 year old Toyota 4 runner will cross the road and climb the ditch behind it ;-)

Mike R
(redpoint) - F

Locale: British Columbia
chains are amazing ... on 12/08/2012 19:08:57 MST Print View

I used to have a FWD Honda Civic and with chains it was almost unstoppable. Chains can get you into, and out, of a lot of places. That said, a 4WD vehicle has a lot more clearance and that is of course the major issue with a 2WD using chains. I now have an AWD Subaru and it's a beast in the snow [with snow tires], that said, clearance can still be a limiting factor. The first time I used chains, I had been trying to get up a mountain road and I made it about 1/10th the way up in the 2WD Civic. I went back down into the valley below, bought some chains and then parked with the 4x4s at the trailhead. As you can tell, I'm a big fan, but they are no substitute for a 4x4 with chains. As others have said, it depends where you're going. A ploughed, but steep and snowy road would be OK with 2WD and chains, but for deeper snow on steeper grades, you may struggle with the gearing, clearance and lack of 4WD.

Steve G

Locale: Ohio
Re: Winter backpacking and 2WD cars with chains? on 12/08/2012 19:15:12 MST Print View

My FWD with snow tires has better stop/start traction than our Jeep. Ground clearance is an issue though. In slick situations I would rather be in the FWD.

Tim Zen
(asdzxc57) - F

Locale: MI
Re: Winter backpacking and 2WD cars with chains? on 12/08/2012 19:28:41 MST Print View

Are you on paved roads or dirt? I concur with others, if your vehicle is plowing snow, it doesn't matter if you have chains or not. Chains are a lot cheaper than a car.

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: Re: Winter backpacking and 2WD cars with chains? on 12/08/2012 19:50:38 MST Print View

Steve did you kick out the woman to sleep with a bike? ;)

Yes 1000
You think just like me on 12/08/2012 20:21:50 MST Print View

I'm planning to replace my perfectly fine Honda Accord with a brand new Subaru so that I can go snow camping. But realized that its stupidity to commit $30K for some winter happiness, went to Amazon and got myself a pair of Thule chains for the front wheels and a pair of cheap $30 chains for the rear wheels. A total of $100 and will let me make those 3-4 winter camping trips I intend to :-)

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
re: Winter backpacking and 2WD cars with chains? on 12/08/2012 20:54:56 MST Print View

A recent story, from near Tahoe:

They had 4WD.

I agree with most of the posts above. FWD + chains is probably enough for many secondary roads to THs but we should all use common sense. Many of the crashed vehicles near Mt. Hood or Santiam Pass in Oregon are SUVs, where people assume they'll be safe at regular speeds.

My worst/best car: I had an early Ford Explorer, 2-door and REAR wheel drive. This is when I lived in Boulder and I'd be white-knuckle driving on I-70 yet some VW bug would come flying past me over Vail Pass. I did several 360s around Minturn. I once got stuck in Boulder with the wheels merely sitting against the curb on 10th Street. Sigh. However, it was my first car, so I was sentimentally attached . . . .

David W.
(Davidpcvsamoa) - MLife

Locale: East Bay, CA
Humilulty and Common Sense on 12/08/2012 21:10:40 MST Print View

"Lane and her boyfriend, Roderick Clifton, 44, became stranded on Nov. 29 while traveling from his home in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights to her home in Gardnerville, Nev. Along the way, Clifton decided to test the four-wheel drive capability of his Jeep Cherokee and drove around a locked gate on a closed dirt road, Alpine County sheriff's officials said.

After traveling several miles, the vehicle got stuck in the mud and the two couldn't get it free, officials said. Clifton left the vehicle the next morning to get help. When he did not return after a couple of days, Lane left the Jeep as well. On her trek to safety, she came across his body"

Don't get to confident because you have 4wd.

In winter I am risk adverse when it comes to getting my car stranded or sliding around the road inside 3k lbs of steel. I like to stick to trailheads off major roads that get plowed regularly and avoid heading into the Sierra if a storm is forecast. Even that strategy sometimes fails in my 2wd sedan w/ chains. I nearly got stuck in the Mariposa Grove parking lot in Yosemite. The road was plowed but my car was in the parking lot overnight during a storm and they dont immediately plow the parking lot. CA 41 was shut down to traffic at the time because they plows couldn't keep up with the snow. It would have taken me 2 days to shovel a path out. Luckily I was saved by a kind soul with a large 4wd truck with front and rear chains who plowed a path for me to get out. I was relived to get back down the hill.


I would love a Subaru but its hard to justify the purchase for the handful of trips I make to the snow each year. When it does come time to get a new car I don't know if the gas mileage tradeoffs with be worth the sacrifice for me. A new car makes all this cuben stuff seem cheap.

Yes 1000
Re: re: Winter backpacking and 2WD cars with chains? on 12/08/2012 22:19:38 MST Print View

Just came across a head-on crash between 2 SUV's close to Timberline lodge today evening, these SUV drivers drive like maniacs due to the false sense of security the vehicles provide.

Stuart .
(lotuseater) - F

Locale: Mountains
Chains are a PITA on 12/08/2012 23:02:29 MST Print View

I'm surprised no-one has commented how much hassle - and how unpleasant - it can be to fit chains. Too many people buy chains but have no idea how they actually go over the tires. You're invariably wriggling around on your belly in the snow, reaching around the back of each wheel in freezing temps blindly trying to get two metal connectors to mate. It's not fun. I consider them to be my last line of defence for winter driving in the mountains and foothills of Colorado. I carry them in my vehicle all winter but hope I don't have to use them more than once or twice a year, and if I do have to, keep the mileage really low - single digits if at all possible.

To me, first line of defence is proper snow tires. Not All Seasons, true winter tires that are only optimal when temps fall below 40F. Second line of defence is ground clearance. Too many AWD cars and crossover cute-utes lack the clearance for an 8" snowfall, and if the tires don't touch the ground, it's game over. Third line of defence is drivetrain. 4WD with low ratio is best for roads that aren't plowed regularly. AWD would be my next choice, but it works best in town and on the highways. Then comes FWD. Manageable, but not ideal. Take it really slow and be prepared to turn around even if you have snow tires and good ground clearance. RWD I would leave at home.

None of the above counts for a damn if you don't slow down and engage your brain.

Charles P
(mediauras) - F

Locale: Terra
Re: Winter backpacking and 2WD cars with chains? on 12/08/2012 23:37:33 MST Print View

Maybe you could just rent a car and get the clearance you might need for the couple of trips you'll make. Why buy a serious piece of gear like that for something you don't even yet if like.

Alex Wallace
(FeetFirst) - F

Locale: Northern California
tires and know how on 12/08/2012 23:45:09 MST Print View

Front wheel drive cars w/ cables/chains will do fine on the highways up to Tahoe (80 & 50)and Yosemite (120 & 140), but I would recommend that your tires have at least 50% tread life. If you have summer tires then all I can say is good luck. All season tires are a much better choice if you're heading to the mountains regularly. Even better, switching to winter tires during the colder months. This is true for FWD, RWD and AWD. While I love my Subaru (AWD), it doesn't mean anything unless my tires are up to snuff. For me that means a set of all season (mud + snow on sidewall) that have at least 50% tread life. If you have all season or winter and encounter super slick conditions, drop a couple of PSI out of the tires (maybe 3-4 PSI). It makes a huge difference. I lived in South Lake Tahoe for a couple of years and snow tires (studless) on an AWD with reduced pressure was the standard.

If you're on roads that aren't plowed (think small access road and forest service roads) all bets are off. You're on your own and if a storm hits while you're parked you'll have to get out over new snow. Not only traction but clearance becomes an issue. Many folks have been forced to leave their cars/trucks over the winter due to this situation.

What car/truck do you have and what trailhead are you thinking about?

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
Re: Winter backpacking and 2WD cars with chains? on 12/09/2012 00:20:15 MST Print View

Lots of good advice from all.

more thoughts

CA requires all (2 & 4 wd) to carry chains when chain controls are on. Sometimes they require them to be attached to the
wheels if things are bad enough or you don't have all season tires.

Practice putting on chains and make sure they fit and don't hit brake lines, fenders etc in a warm well lit place.

Bring some extra links such as Lap links and pliers to close them for repairs.

The larger the links, the deeper the snow you can get through. Cut down dump truck chains will get you through
snow pushing on the grill.

Bring a piece of plastic to lie on when installing chains.

Buy a pair of these (polyester versions) at your hardware store and keep them with your chains to keep your hands from freezing and chapping when installing.

Shovels for sure.

Don't drive around or open closed gates on forest roads.

Double check your GPS against maps.

Don't head out on a falling barometer.