The problem in both cases was the warm temperature: there is plenty of traction when the ground is frozen and there are only a few inches of dry snow. But when the snow is warmer it plugs up the tread with slick “schmear”. When you are in a tight place and your tires start to spin, the expeditious thing is to throw on a set of chains.
Many people question my light attitude at putting on chains – but few people have my experience. In my younger days I spent a few winters hauling hay. At that time we put a set of three-rail chains on the dual wheels of the truck before we left the road to drive into the haystack, loaded twenty tons of hay by hand, took the chains off at the highway, and put them back on again when we left the road to unload the hay.
There are two tricks that make putting on chains relatively painless: 1) fit the chains to the tires in the fall when the ground is bare and dry, and 2) put the chains on before you are stuck.
Every pair of tires and every type of tire chains is different, so pick a relaxed time fit the chains on a bare & dry surface. You only want two extra links on each of the rail-chains - use a hacksaw to cut off the excess. And you only want enough cross-links to fit down on each side of the tire footprint – use a tire-chain tool to pry off the extras to save for replacements later on.
Here is a set that needs to be cut down to fit the tires. These will clatter and bang when the pickup speeds up, and may be lost in a snowbank.
You can see that the snow is gone, yet the operator hasn't taken them off. He was too lazy to fit them before he needed them, and to lazy too take them off when the need for chains passed.
If you are not yet stuck, it literally only takes a few minutes to drape a set of chains evenly over the tire, slide under and hook the back-side rail chains – remember to drop the two extra links – then use the clasp to connect the two ends of the front-side rail chain. Dust the snow off your back, and you’re off!
Of course sometimes the chains get twisted and tangled while they lie in the pile behind the seat – that can be a bit like a Chinese puzzle - and it can take a few minutes longer to get them straightened out and lying flat.
A properly fitted set of chains doesn’t need springs, twine, or bungee cord to take up the slack. If you have gotten stuck first, it can take a little more work, as you have to shovel all around the tire. And that’s when you may need those extra two links to get them connected. You can take out the slack when you get back on solid ground.
The worst situation is when you need chains to get out of the mud. I haven’t found a way to accomplish that without needing a shower and change of clothes afterwards. Again: put on the chains before you’re stuck.
Putting chains on a car is a little more work, as you generally have on inadequate clothes, and there is no room to slide underneath. In that case, you will have to drape the chains over the wheels, then back up a foot (with a front-wheel-drive car) so you can reach the inside hook from the front. It’s harder to get the chains tight this way, so you’ll likely want to stop and take up the slack before long. Once again, you want to do this in good weather the first time to confirm the fit.
Chains wear out with use, and the constant thumping over the cross-chains can’t be good for the tires. So I apply and remove chains frequently as conditions change. It only takes a few minutes, and can save you a lot of time shoveling.