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Nothing on your to-do list is out of reach with the right ladder. Available in many different sizes and configurations, a ladder is a must-have item for homeowners, handypeople, and construction professionals alike.
While a stepladder is the most common type of ladder for most around-the-house tasks, extension ladders, telescoping ladders, and multi-position ladders are popular options to consider if you need to reach higher up.
Stepladders are defined by their A-shaped frames that self-support on four legs. Multi-position stepladders allow you to balance the ladder on a staircase or other uneven surface. Stepladder heights range between 6 feet and 20 feet, although most people find a ladder that's 6 to 12 feet is sufficient.
Straight ladders are tall ladders that have to lean against something for support. They have only two legs. Extension ladders are basically straight ladders with adjustable heights. You'll find extension ladders with maximum heights of up to 40 feet, although for most people not needing to access the roof of a multi-story home, 12 to 20 feet is more than sufficient. Telescoping ladders are basically extension ladders that "collapse" when not in use for easier storage.
Typically, you’ll be choosing between lightweight aluminum ladders or more durable (but heavier) fiberglass ladders. Pay special attention to the duty rating—a Type 1A rating indicates the ladder is capable of handling loads up to 300 pounds and is typically considered the safest option, though you might only need a Type 1 duty ladder, which is rated for up to 250 pounds, if you yourself aren't too heavy and you won't be carrying much equipment with you onto the ladder.
Here are the best ladders for any job.
Best Overall: Werner Reach Fiberglass Podium Ladder
Multiple sizes available
Large, safe platform
For a sturdy ladder that provides enough reach for most household tasks, consider the innovative Werner Fiberglass Podium Ladder. This stepladder comes in heights from 4 to 10 feet and features a Type 1A rating to hold up to 300 pounds. The 7-foot-tall version allows for a 10-foot reach in all four directions around the ladder, thanks to the stable podium with toe-guard and HolsterTop. When compared to other platform ladders, this can be far more practical and sturdy. In addition, the HolsterTop has a convenient space to set your tools while you have a job in progress.
The extra stability and top-notch load capacity of this ladder make it a popular pick for homeowners and DIYers that want a stable platform to complete tasks. The fiberglass construction does make it heavy by comparison to some lightweight aluminum ladders, but it still folds easily for storage or transport.
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Little Giant Ladder Systems 15422-001 Velocity Ladder with Wheels
Wheels for easy transport
Available in several sizes
Safe and sturdy
Danger of pinched fingers
Unfolded, this multi-position ladder—which doubles as an extension ladder—folds out to 22 feet, so feel free to toss out that old wooden dinosaur in your shed and take full advantage of the many ways to put this ladder to use. Plus, it has two wheels for easy transport to wherever you need it.
Diversity is the name of the game with the Little Giant Velocity Ladder, which is designed for several different uses. In other words, this is a worthy addition to any home, whether you’re in need of a new staircase ladder, trestle-and-plank ladder, 90-degree ladder, A-frame ladder, extension ladder—or all of the above. You can expect to get a lot of use out of this ladder, but keep in mind that it weighs a little on the heavy side, clocking in at nearly 40 pounds.
Best Multi-Position: Little Giant Velocity Model 13 Multi-Use Ladder
Sturdy and safe
Available in several sizes
Danger of pinching fingers
No need for multiple ladders: Instead, Velocity from Little Giant gives you a stepladder, extension ladder, 90-degree ladder, or scaffolding (separate trestle kit is required) all in one. One ladder for many projects is a big win for homeowners that are short on storage space or don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on various types of ladders.
A big advantage of this multi-position ladder is its Rock Lock adjustment system that lets you reconfigure the ladder quickly and easily—but be aware that you’ll need to use caution not to pinch your fingers in the frame during set-up and folding. When you’re done using the ladder, its slim profile only measures 9 inches and fits in tight spaces in the home or garage. The Little Giant is made of lightweight aluminum and has a respectable 300-pound weight rating.
“This ladder is made with a special alloy of aerospace-grade aluminum that makes it 20 percent lighter than its competitors. At 38 pounds, I was impressed with how easy it was to carry this ladder around and fit it into tight spaces.“—Sarah Vanbuskirk, Product Tester
Best Telescoping: Ohuhu 12.5-Foot Telescoping Ladder
Easy to store
Available in several sizes
Danger of pinching fingers
This sturdy aluminum, telescoping extension ladder with a weight limit of 330 pounds unfolds to a maximum height of 12.5 feet, but you can partially unfold it if you don't need to reach that high. Fully folded, it will fit in the trunk of your car. Despite its telescoping design, it is very stable and steady.
The one thing to keep in mind is that it does collapse quickly at the touch of a button when you’re folding it for storage, so you’ll need to watch your fingers. However, it’s the perfect option for anyone that frequently needs to transport a ladder in their car or is limited on height and space for ladder storage.
Best Extension Ladder: Werner D6200 Fiberglass Extension Ladder
High enough to reach second story
Sturdy and stable
Hard to store
Reach new heights with this top-selling extension ladder from Werner. The D6200 model is a 24-foot fiberglass ladder that offers a sturdy design and a Type 1A 300-pound load capacity. While heavier than aluminum, fiberglass is an excellent choice for an extension ladder since it tends to be stronger and less prone to twisting or bending than aluminum; it also is resistant to electricity, making it safer if your work brings you around power lines.
While climbing to the very top of an exceptionally tall ladder can be nerve-wracking, this extension ladder provides reassurance with its secure, stable footing even when fully extended. Despite the extra weight from the fiberglass construction, it’s still light enough for a single person to maneuver.
Best Heavy-Duty: Little Giant Ladder Systems King Kombo Pro Ladder
Cushioning pad to protect drywall
375-pound weight limit
No platform for paint and other tools
The King Kombo fiberglass ladder from Little Giant is a heavy-duty ladder with a Type 1AA load rating of 375 pounds. However, this workhorse ladder is also a multi-position ladder, making it perfect for a wide range of tasks. It converts from an A-frame ladder to an extension or leaning ladder. A unique feature is the rotating wall pad that cushions the ladder when leaning it against drywall, siding, or other surfaces you don’t want to risk scratching.
In addition to meeting or exceeding all OSHA and ANSI standards, this heavy-duty ladder also was awarded the 2019 OSHA New Product of the Year award and the 2019 Pro Tool Innovation Award, in part thanks to its hard-to-beat stability and versatility. Professionals and DIYers alike are impressed with this ladder and love its features.
Best Budget: Werner 6-foot Aluminum Stepladder
Not too heavy
Tray for paint and other supplies
Not as durable as heavier ladders
250-pound weight limit
For a basic ladder on a budget, the Werner 6-foot Aluminum Stepladder is a top choice. This no-frills Type 1 aluminum ladder isn’t as robust as some other stepladders and only has a 250-pound weight limit; however, it shines as a lightweight and stable option for many everyday tasks around the home, job site, or garage. You'll also appreciate how easy it is to transport, thanks to the aluminum construction. In addition, this ladder is very stable—giving you confidence in the integrity of this budget-minded tool.
What to Look for in a Ladder
Height and Reach Height
Think about how high you'll need to climb on your ladder—your answer to that will tell you what height you should be looking at. Ladders range from small step stools with just one rung to giant extension ladders that can reach the roofs of multi-story homes. By choosing a ladder that's appropriately sized for your needs, you’ll avoid safety concerns, since a ladder that's too short may tempt you to lean and sway on the top rung, while one that's too long can become unsteady at the base.
But the actual height of the ladder isn't the most important number; you also need to consider reach height. It is not safe to stand on the top rung of a ladder, meaning you'll be lower than the ladder's full height. On a stepladder, you should avoid standing on the top two rungs. However, the length of your own arms adds to how high you can safely reach. As a rough guideline, a stepladder's reach height is 4 feet beyond its actual height, assuming that the user is an average height of 5 feet, 9 inches tall. So for example, a 10-foot stepladder has a reach height of 14 feet.
On an extension ladder, safety requirements are to avoid standing on the top four rungs. Also, because extension ladders must lean against something, rather than standing upright, you lose some of the total height. That reduces your reach quite a bit, typically to around a foot lower than the extension ladder's height. So for example, if you have your extension ladder at 18 feet, your reach height will be 17 feet.
Lightweight ladders are much easier to move—plain and simple. Aluminum ladders are among the lightest options, with some weighing as little as 20 pounds. Fiberglass options tip the scale at around 50 pounds and may require a bit of heavy lifting.
If you want the most bang for your buck, it might make sense to look for a versatile ladder with articulated joints. These special mechanisms allow the ladder to bend and lock in place to achieve different configurations. Some of the most popular multi-purpose ladders can do double duty as an A-frame ladder and extension ladder, while others are real multitaskers with up to seven different ladder positions available.
All ladders sold in the United States are required to have a safety specifications label affixed to the side that states the ladder's duty rating. This safety guideline states the maximum weight capacity of the ladder, which includes not just your own weight but also the weight of all tools and supplies you set on the ladder or hold in your hands while standing on the ladder.
The five categories of ladder duty ratings are:
- Type IAA (Extra Heavy Duty) 375 pounds
- Type IA (Extra Heavy Duty) 300 pounds
- Type I (Heavy Duty) 250 pounds
- Type II (Medium Duty) 225 pounds
- Type III (Light Duty) 200 pounds
How do you store a ladder?
When not in use, you’ll need to store your ladder. You’ll want to choose a spot where it’s easy to access the ladder when needed, yet not in the way of other household items or passersby.
- Store your ladder in a protected spot away from intense heat or freezing temperatures and where it won’t be subjected to excessive moisture or humidity.
- Fold your ladder for storage and retract any extensions.
- You can store your ladder by leaning it horizontally or vertically against a wall, but be sure it’s not extending into any area where it’s likely to be a tripping hazard.
- If you hang your ladder for storage, place a hook every 6 feet to prevent warping.
How are extension ladders measured?
There are several measurements to consider when choosing a ladder.
You’ll need to know the measurement of the ladder when fully extended. Keep in mind, however, that for safety, you should never stand on the top four rungs, nor should a ladder used to access a roof be more than three rungs higher than the height of the roof itself.
For storage or transport purposes, you’ll also want to know the length of the ladder when fully retracted and folded.
The width of the ladder’s base is also important when choosing a spot for storage.
Finally, the distance between ladder rungs should be 10 to 14 inches, with the same distance between every rung.
Are ladders safe?
Ladders are not inherently dangerous, but are easy to misuse, leading to numerous injuries each year. Keep safe by following these general guidelines whenever using a ladder:
- Don’t climb a ladder if you are feeling dizzy, tired, or unwell.
- Don’t use an extension ladder in high winds, severe storms, or when wet.
- Wear slip-resistant shoes when climbing a ladder.
- Climb the ladder slowly and carefully, without sudden movements or swaying side-to-side.
- There should never be more than one person on a ladder at a time.
- Always set a ladder on even, solid ground. Avoid muddy spots, puddles, slopes, or loose ground, such as gravel or pebbles.
- When climbing a ladder, face forward so your body is between the ladder’s side rails. Don’t lean to the side.
- Never move a ladder while it’s in use.
- Don’t place your ladder in front of a door that might be opened while the ladder is in use.
- Never stand on the top rung of a ladder. It’s best not to use the top two rungs.
- Stay off any ladder that is damaged, has loose rungs or sides, or is in generally poor condition.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article is edited and updated by Michelle Ullman, the tool expert for The Spruce. She has extensive experience not only in writing about all things related to the home, but also in carrying out various DIY projects, including landscaping, painting, flooring, wallpapering, furniture makeovers, and simple repairs. For this roundup, she considered dozens of ladders, evaluating each for basic features, extras, and feedback from both testers and customers.