The 7 Best Ladders for Your Next Home Improvement Project, According to Our Lab Tests

Out of the 23 models we tested, we recommend the Bauer Corporation 6-Foot Fiberglass 350 Series Step Ladder because it’s sturdy and dependable. 

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Ladder Testing
Real Simple / Dera Burreson

Whether you're looking to paint a ceiling, change a lightbulb, or trim tree branches, a trustworthy ladder is essential for many types of home improvement projects.

To find the best ladders, we tested 23 models in our Lab—including extension, multi-position, and step ladders—and evaluated them based on qualities like design, portability, overall value, and more. We also spoke with Susan Orenga, executive director of the American Ladder Institute, to get expert advice on what to look for when shopping for ladders—plus, tips on how to use them safely and securely.

One of the most important things to consider when choosing a ladder is the weight limit. "Do not assume that a longer ladder has a higher weight capacity," says Orenga. "There is no relationship between ladder length and weight capacity."

Our top pick is the Bauer Corporation 6-Foot Fiberglass 350 Series Step Ladder because it's a sturdy, reasonably priced model that's very easy to set up and use.

Keep reading to learn more about the best ladders, based on our extensive testing.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall Ladder: Bauer Corporation 6-Foot Fiberglass 350 Series Step Ladder

Ladder
wayfair.com

Who it's for: People who want a sturdy, dependable ladder that requires no assembly.

Who it isn't for: People who need a taller or more versatile ladder.

By far the best ladder that we tested in our Lab was this foldable step ladder from Bauer Corporation. Our testers described it as a lightweight yet "secure and sturdy" ladder, so it'll give you all the stability you need when working on your next project. Made with solid fiberglass and designed with deep treads on the steps for foot support, this bright yellow step ladder also has rubber feet to add traction and prevent damage. We also appreciate that it comes with a sturdy locking mechanism to prevent any accidents from occurring during use.

Testers found that this ladder is reasonably priced compared to similar high-quality models, especially considering that it comes with helpful features like a small parts tray and six tool holders. It doesn't have wheels, but we think it's lightweight enough that transporting it from room to room won't be much of a hassle, especially since it easily folds up. It can be used both indoors and outdoors, but the only downside is that this five-step ladder is only 6 feet tall, so if you need a ladder with more height, you might want to go with a larger-size model.

Product Details:

  • Type: Foldable
  • Height: 6 feet
  • Weight Capacity: 375 pounds
  • Material: Fiberglass
  • Ladder Testing
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Best Extension Ladder: Louisville Ladder 16-Foot Fiberglass Extension Ladder

Ladder
amazon.com

Also available at Home Depot.

Who it's for: People who want a tall, extendable ladder with minimal wobble.

Who it isn't for: People who would rather have a shorter step ladder for indoor purposes.

For home projects involving high ceilings, rooftops, or tree branches, you'll need an extension ladder that gets you where you need to go—and we recommend this one from Louisville Ladder. During testing, we found that this model can smoothly extend and retract as needed (once we got the hang of it), and one tester says it provides "minimal wobble." Even though stability is an important factor for all ladders, it's especially essential for extension models that take their users to far-reaching heights.

The ladder is made of strong fiberglass and features D-shaped rungs that are sturdy and easy to stand on. This durable pick has solid, supportive feet and is surprisingly lightweight for its height, according to testers. Since fiberglass ladders are generally pricier, we think this one is on the average side. Just make sure the height of this extension ladder is right for your home's specific needs. The brand also makes 20- to 40-foot versions of this model, which could be a better fit for certain DIY projects.

Product Details:

  • Type: Extension
  • Height: 16 feet
  • Weight Capacity: 300 pounds
  • Material: Fiberglass
  • Ladder Testing
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Best Telescoping Ladder: Ohuhu 12.5-Foot Aluminum Telescoping Ladder

Ladder
amazon.com

Who it's for: People who want a super portable and easy-to-store ladder.

Who it isn't for: People who would prefer a ladder with extra features or a higher weight capacity.

Telescoping ladders are great options for people with limited storage space, as well as anyone who just values convenience. The best telescoping ladder we evaluated in our Lab was this 12.5-foot option from Ohuhu. Our testers found it quite easy to set up and use, thanks to the one-button operation that lets you extend and retract the ladder. It's made from heavy-duty aluminum alloy that gives it serious stability, and the rungs are "solid and wide enough to be comfortable," says one tester.

The ladder earned a 5/5 score for portability since it was easy to carry and hold once collapsed. And thanks to features like non-slip end caps that hold the base in place, our tester says it "felt very sturdy even towards the top." Plus, the rungs lock in place to prevent sliding—they only retract once you push the button. Even though this ladder performs its basic functions with ease, we wish that it came with some of the extra features that other models have.

Product Details:

  • Type: Telescoping
  • Height: 12.5 feet
  • Weight Capacity: 250 pounds
  • Material: Aluminum alloy

RELATED: The 7 Best Tool Kits for Every Type of Household Project

Ladder Testing
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Best Step Ladder: HBTower 3-Step Ladder With Handrails

Ladder
amazon.com

Who it's for: People who want an affordable ladder for lower-level projects.

Who it isn't for: People who need a tall ladder that can be used for a wide variety of tasks.

For a lightweight, affordable, and easy-to-use step ladder, look no further than this one from HBTower that won our testers' approval. The budget-friendly ladder features three wide and sturdy steps that stand 27.6 inches off the ground, which is ideal for regular use around the home. One tester says it's ideal for people who need to "reach over their head to screw in a lightbulb or get into a high cupboard."

This step ladder is made from tough, heavy-duty steel with a metal buckle that automatically locks into place when you take your first steps. (During testing, we noticed this happening thanks to the "cracking" noise.) The sponge-covered handrails in the front will come in handy whenever you feel like you need a little extra stability, and the rubber feet are designed to prevent scratching on the floor. We also like that this multipurpose step ladder comes with an attachable, multi-pocket tool bag that you can use to store items like screwdrivers or paint brushes while you complete your project. It requires minimal assembly, although it's worth noting that our tester had to use a bit of muscle to take it down.

Product Details:

  • Type: Step ladder
  • Height: 27.6 inches
  • Weight Capacity: 500 pounds
  • Material: Alloy stee
  • Ladder Testing
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Best Lightweight Ladder: Rubbermaid 3-Step Aluminum Step Stool

Ladder
amazon.com

Also available at Target and Home Depot.

Who it's for: People who want an easily transportable ladder with bonus features.

Who it isn't for: People who prefer taller ladders that can reach ceilings.

Many types of ladders can be bulky and heavy, but the Rubbermaid 3-Step Aluminum Step Stool is a lightweight model that's easy to transport around the house. At just 11 pounds, this step ladder is extremely portable (it folds up easily) yet still sturdy enough to ensure its users' safety. One tester said they "felt no wobble on the highest step," due in part to the ladder's wide steps and non-slip, non-marring feet that stay firmly in place during use.

In addition to portability, this ladder also earned a perfect score for its features. It comes with a magnetized project tray, which can be conveniently used to store items like tools, paint cans, and brushes. Testers also appreciated that it includes a box to hold screws and nails, as well as a bar that can hold a roll of paper towels (although we found that the latter was a bit flimsy).

Product Details:

  • Type: Step ladder
  • Height: 4 feet
  • Weight Capacity: 250 pounds
  • Material: Aluminum
  • Ladder Testing
    Real Simple / Dera Burreson

Best Heavy-Duty Ladder: DeWalt 4-Foot Fiberglass Step Ladder

Ladder
amazon.com

Also available at Walmart.

Who it's for: People who want a ladder with wider-than-average steps and no wobble.

Who it isn't for: People who would rather have a ladder with wheels for maneuverability.

For jobs that require more support than usual, you'll want to pick a heavy-duty ladder like the 4-Foot Fiberglass Step Ladder from DeWalt. During our testing, we found that the extra-wide, double-riveted steps and large, sturdy base help prevent this step ladder from wobbling during use. The ladder's wide, grippy feet provide added stability on any surface, too. Other heavy-duty features include impact-absorbing bottom braces and a non-marring and slip-resistant foot pad.

Although this ladder is seriously strong, it's also fairly lightweight and easy to set up and carry around when collapsed, despite its lack of wheels. We also like that it comes with a full magnetic workstation system that features trays and holders you can use to store tools and accessories. Thanks to features that our tester says are "useful for most homeowners," we think this DeWalt ladder is a great choice for anyone who needs a reliable, heavy-duty step ladder.

Product Details:

  • Type: Step ladder
  • Height: 4 feet
  • Weight Capacity: 300 pounds
  • Material: Fiberglass
  • Ladder Testing
    Real Simple / Dera Burreson

Most Versatile Ladder: Gorilla Ladders 19-Foot Reach MPXT Aluminum Multi-Position Ladder

Ladder
homedepot.com

Who it's for: People who want a ladder that can be used for any type of home project.

Who it isn't for: Beginners who need a basic, easy-to-use ladder.

This multi-position model from Gorilla Ladders is the most versatile ladder that we evaluated in our Lab. We like that it can be used for a variety of project types since there are so many different configurations, including step ladder, extension ladder, wall ladder, and stairway ladder. According to one tester, this ladder feels "safe and sturdy, even when extended fully and leaned against the wall," which is likely due to its oversized hinges that prevent sway while climbing.

However, testers found it a bit more complicated to figure out than other ladders, so it will probably require a read-through of the instruction manual before use. But we like that the top has a project tray that can hold paint, tools, and other items, and it also serves as a platform step when the ladder is in extension mode. Because of all these features, this multi-position ladder is a bit bulkier and heavier than some other models, so transporting it around the house may be a bit of a hassle. It does feature built-in wheels to help with portability, though.

Product Details:

  • Type: Multi-position
  • Height: 19 Feet
  • Weight Capacity: 375 pounds
  • Material: Aluminum
Ladder Testing
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Final Verdict

Our top pick is the Bauer Corporation 6-Foot Fiberglass 350 Series Step Ladder, due to its simple portability, sturdy feel, and lightweight design. But if you need a more versatile ladder, we recommend the Gorilla Ladders 19-Foot Reach MPXT Aluminum Multi-Position Ladder because it can be configured into multiple positions for various uses.

Our Testing Process

We tested 23 ladders of various types—including step, extension, and multi-position models—in our Lab and evaluated each on its design, effectiveness, portability, features, and value. First, our testers opened each ladder and noted how easy this process would be for most people. Since telescoping and extension ladders work a bit differently, we made sure to extend those models all the way and take note of how smoothly they glide and if they can be locked into place. We did the same for multi-position ladders: Testers went through every possible configuration and evaluated how difficult and time-consuming it was to adjust to and from each position.

We then stepped and climbed on every ladder, making sure to follow the manufacturer's guidelines and any weight capacities. For safety purposes, we had people spot our testers as they climbed up taller ladders. While on the ladder, testers judged how comfortable and secure it felt. With their shoe sizes in mind, we even noted how spacious the steps/rungs were. (Did their entire foot fit, or was it only wide enough for the ball of their foot?) Finally, we tested out any additional features—like magnetized trays, tool slots, and paper towel holders—to see how well they work.

Ladder Testing
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How to Shop for Ladders Like a Pro

Type

The type of ladder that's best for you depends on what kind of projects you need to tackle. A compact and foldable step ladder is great if you need something easy to transport from room to room, while an extra-tall extension ladder is ideal for tasks involving high ceilings, tree branches, or rooftops. Consider your home's particular needs before settling on a ladder type.

Height

Ladders can range in height from 1–12 feet, but the "right" height of a ladder comes down to what you need to be able to reach. Opt for taller and extension models if you're planning on using your ladder primarily to reach extra-high places, or go for shorter versions if you just need the occasional boost to access a hard-to-reach spot.

Portability

If you know you'll be using your ladder for a variety of projects in and around your home, then you should choose one that has wheels or other portability features. Telescoping ladders are particularly good in terms of portability since they extend and retract as needed. They're also relatively lightweight once collapsed, making them easy to carry. Step ladders are typically quite portable due to their smaller size compared to other types of ladders.

Features

Some ladders come with extra features like attachable workstations, tool bags, or project trays to help you store any small items you might need during your task. Other features to look for include wheels (for enhanced portability) and paper towel holders.

Ladder Testing
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Duty Rating

"Safety standards require a duty rating sticker to be placed on the side of every ladder," says Orenga. This rating refers to its maximum safe load capacity, aka the greatest weight (including the person and any accompanying gear and tools) it can hold—but Orenga notes that it has nothing to with the ladder length.

Here's a breakdown of the five types of duty ratings and their corresponding weight limits:

  • Type III: 200 pounds (light duty)
  • Type II: 225 pounds (medium duty)
  • Type I: 250 pounds (heavy duty)
  • Type IA: 300 pounds (extra heavy duty)
  • Type IAA: 375 pounds (heaviest duty)

More Ladders to Consider

Little Giant Ladders Velocity Ladder: This extendable ladder is sturdy and versatile, and we like that it has wheels and can be converted into several positions. However, it's fairly heavy (which can make transportation difficult) and we wish it came at a more affordable price point.

Cosco Signature Series Step Ladder: A collapsible and portable step ladder that includes two project trays to store tools and other items, there's a lot to love about this model. Yet despite its relatively high price, it doesn't include an extension feature and may be too small for some home projects.

Questions You Might Ask

What are some safety tips for ladders?

First and foremost, don't climb up a ladder "if you feel tired or dizzy or are prone to losing your balance," says Orenga. When you're ready to go, make sure it's in good working condition (no swaying or missing parts) and is placed on "firm, level ground without any type of slippery condition present at either the base or top support points." You should also check that the ladder isn't placed in front of a door that could open toward it—and if you're outside, make sure the weather is clear without any high winds or storms.

Once you're on the ladder (in slip-resistant shoes, of course), Orenga says you should always "have two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand, in contact with the ladder steps, rungs, and/or side rails" so "the climber is not likely to become unstable in the event one limb slips during the climb."

Additionally, keep in mind that "it is unsafe to use a ladder that is too long or too short," says Orenga. "When using a step ladder, for example, standing on the top cap or the step below the top cap" is dangerous since you could easily lose your balance… When using an extension ladder, the top three rungs are not to be used for climbing."

What's the best way to store a ladder?

When you're finished using the ladder for the day, fold it up as much as possible and place it in a well-ventilated location that won't get too hot or too moist. If you're using a horizontal storage rack, make sure that it has "sufficient supporting points to avoid sagging, which can result in warping the ladder," says Orenga. Mounting your ladder on the wall is also an option—just make sure it's in an area where it won't fall on anyone walking nearby or get jostled by any other equipment.

Ladder Testing
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Take Our Word for It

This article was written by Rachel Simon, a writer for Real Simple, Better Homes & Gardens, The New York Times, and many other publications. To come up with this list, we tested 23 ladders in our Lab and evaluated each one for factors such as design, effectiveness, portability, and overall value. For expert insight, Rachel spoke to Susan Orenga, executive director of the American Ladder Institute.

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