The Best Christmas Tree Stand

The Krinner Christmas Tree Genie XXL is the best Christmas tree stand by a long shot. Of all the tree stands we tested in an outdoor tree lot in the pouring rain, it was the only one that could be set up by one person, thanks to its pedal-based cinching mechanism. What’s more, it was so stable that the force gauge we tested it with bent before the tree tipped.

Last Updated: November 15, 2014
All of our picks are back in stock for the holiday season. We'll be updating this guide shortly with fresh research, but our picks will remain the same.
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May 27, 2014: Both our pick and step-down option are no longer in stock. We'll be updating this guide again with new picks and research once we get closer to the holidays.

At $100, it’s not cheap, but it has several additional features that make it stand out from the competition, including a generous 2.5-gallon water reservoir and the ability to handle trees with trunk diameters ranging from 1-inch Charlie Browns to 7-inch behemoths (which translates to a 12-foot-tall tree!). Plus, it should last for many Christmas seasons to come, unlike the cheaper stands we looked at. (They would be lucky to survive just one or two intact.)

Its design made it easy to set up a tree, and it has a built-in water level gauge with a large water reservoir that would be difficult for pets to drink out of.

Who should buy this?

If you plan to buy a live tree for your family’s Christmas celebration (and according to the University of Illinois Extension, 63 percent of U.S. households do), you’re going to need a tree stand to keep it upright and alive. This might be your first year buying a live tree, or maybe it’s a long-standing family tradition and you’re sick of struggling with a decades-old tree stand that takes forever to set up and never seems to work right. (It should go without saying, but if you’re sticking with an artificial tree, no tree stand is necessary, since the tree is built into its own base.)

Tree stand basics

A tree stand has two basic functions: it holds the tree up and keeps it straight…
A tree stand has two basic functions: it holds the tree up and keeps it straight (even if the tree itself is a bit crooked). It also holds a reservoir of water that keeps the tree moist and “alive” (or at least prevents it from drying out and losing all its needles) for as long as possible.

Your tree stand has to be able to handle the trunk diameter of your chosen tree. If you live in an apartment and typically buy smaller trees, smaller tree stands will do the job—four to six inches will be sufficient. If you’re into huge trees, you’ll need a heavy duty stand with a wider base that can accommodate trunks of eight inches or more. The average Christmas tree sold in the U.S. is between six and seven feet tall, so I didn’t explore stands for really huge trees. The largest trees may need custom bases or even tethers, which is beyond what the average holiday decorator needs to deal with. Conversely, though shorter trees with trunks less than 3.5 inches wide can also be problematic because there’s less to grip, our pick and the runners up were able to handle them.

You also need to make sure your stand can hold enough water to meet the tree’s needs because a dry tree is not only ugly; it’s a huge fire hazard. The National Fire Protection Association reports that “Between 2007-2011, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 230 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year.” That’s not a huge number considering how many trees there are, but it’s still better to be safer on these matters when given a choice.

But how much water is enough? The Purdue University Extension’s “Tips for First-Time Buyers of Real Christmas Trees” recommends one quart of water capacity for every inch of trunk diameter. That’s 1.5 gallons for a six-inch diameter tree. This recommendation is a bare minimum—stands with a smaller capacity won’t make the cut, and a larger capacity is always better.

If a tree stand can’t keep a tree upright, it’s useless. A fallen tree can be expensive and potentially dangerous. This is why tree stands are so heavy; they lower the tree’s center of gravity.

There are dozens of methods for affixing the tree to the stand and holding it upright, ranging from a bunch of screws on low-end stands to fancy ratcheting mechanisms that can be set up with only one person. We think it’s worth spending more on a less-finicky mechanism because having to unscrew all the screws because you accidentally let the tree lean a couple degrees in the wrong direction is a total pain, whereas more advanced mechanisms are a literal cinch to adjust.

The cost of a tree stand obviously increases with the size of the tree. Smaller plastic stands are available in the $25 – $30 range, while heavier duty stands ranged from $50 to $100. While $100 might seem pretty steep for something you’ll use a few weeks out of the year, a well-made tree stand should last many years. It’s also a relatively small expense compared to the cost of the trees you’ll buy over the lifetime of the stand. The trees we tested with would have cost us $60 to $80. If you’re spending that much on the tree every year, it’s worth it to spend a little extra for the best stand. After all, it’s no fun spending $80 on a tree, then another couple of hours decorating, only to have it come crashing down at an inopportune moment (dangerous, too, if lights are involved, which could be a fire hazard). $100 is not too much to pay for piece of mind.

How we picked

stand_lineupThe tree stand industry is a bit wild and wooly. There are several stands made by large housewares manufacturers, but a lot of models are designed and sold by mom-and-pop outfits with their own websites. Some of these turn up on Amazon; some are only available from the manufacturer.

There haven’t been many serious comparison tests of tree stands. Sara Schaefer Muñoz at The Wall Street Journal tested several stands in 2006, one of the only real tests of tree stands we could find. Two of the stands she tested were among the four that we tested. A Christmas-themed blog called Miss Bee’s Christmas Tree did a broad overview of the category in 2011. Although not a professional reviewer, Miss Bee is pretty serious about tree stands, and while her overview didn’t include direct testing, she conducted a thorough metareview that has some good information.

Based on water reservoir capacity (it had to have enough water to accommodate the biggest tree it claimed to be able to hold), the Wall Street Journal testing, Miss Bee’s overview, Amazon and Home Depot rankings, and user ratings, we selected four tree stands for testing.

How we tested

tension_testWe took our top four stands to Adams Nursery in Tonawanda, NY. The staff members at Adams were extremely helpful, letting us conduct our testing right in their parking lot, allowing us to fill our water reservoirs from their tap, and letting us borrow a pair of trees to set up and take down. Both trees were Douglas firs, one of the most common Christmas trees sold in America. One was 6’8” tall with a trunk diameter of 3.5”. The other was 8’4” tall with a trunk diameter of 5.5”. The size difference of the trees let us gauge how well each stand could handle trees of different sizes.

As we set up each tree with each stand in the pouring rain, we noted how difficult it was to get the tree into the stand, position it and fasten the tree into the stand. Then we noted how difficult it was to adjust the tree in case it wasn’t perfectly straight on the first try. Then we filled the stand’s reservoir with 1.5 gallons of water (or the stand’s maximum, if it was less than this amount). We noted how difficult it was to fill the reservoir, and how prone it was to overflowing or spilling onto your floor. Finally, we tied a length of twine to the tree about a third of the distance from the top. Using a force gauge (a simple cylinder with a calibrated spring), we pulled on each tree to see how much force was required to make it tip over.

Our pick

krinner 2

It’s hard to overemphasize how stable this thing is. The Krinner Christmas Tree Genie XXL was able to max out the force gauge (50 Newtons) when testing with both small and tall trees. I literally bent the hook on the gauge trying to get it to tip over, and even snapped the twine at one point. This was surprising, because this stand appears to have a smaller footprint. It’s weighted such that it provides a very secure, stable base for the tree.

I literally bent the hook on the gauge trying to get it to tip over, and even snapped the twine at one point.
The Tree Genie was also the only stand that could be set up without the aid of an assistant. The fastening mechanism uses five very sturdy plastic “claws” that lift upright and out of the way so you can place the tree in the stand. Then you step on a foot pedal that works a ratchet mechanism. This is connected to a heavy metal wire running through all the claws. As you ratchet the pedal, it cinches the wire and pulls the claws down and in until they contact the trunk of the tree. A few final pushes on the pedal tighten the claws and hold the tree securely.

krinner1With the smaller tree, I was able to set it up entirely by myself (although it was easier with two people involved). I still needed help (from my wife, who was helping me with testing that day) with the larger tree, simply because it was so heavy and bulky I couldn’t place it in the stand and hold it upright while working the foot pedal. But with two people on the job, it was quite easy, and certainly much easier than screwing in individual screws.

While this stand doesn’t really offer a simple way to adjust the tree once it’s in place, it’s so easy to set up that unlocking the claws and resetting the tree is really no big deal. Again, it’s a lot easier than unscrewing and screwing in multiple screws.

zkrinner topOne of the Tree Genie’s biggest advantages is the ability to handle a wide range of trunk sizes. With the claws cranked all the way down, this stand will hold a tree with as small as a 1” diameter trunk. The maximum trunk diameter it will accept is 7”. That gives you a lot of flexibility as far as what size trees you might want to use in the future. The Cinco Express tree stand, for instance, could barely hold the 3.5” diameter test tree with the screws fully extended. It wouldn’t work with a tree any smaller than that.

The Tree Genie does not have an overflow basin, but it does have a floating water gauge. The gauge bobs up through a hole in the top of the stand, letting you know how much water remains with a very clear “Stop” indicator when you’ve filled it enough. That should make it difficult to overflow the stand onto your floor. You do have to be a bit careful when filling it, as you have to reach under the tree and pour into a relatively small space near the trunk. This wasn’t any worse than most of the other stands, though. In fact, it actually offers a side benefit: pets will not be able to easily drink from the water reservoir because the location of the hole makes it tough for them to get to it.

It has a smaller footprint than most of the other stands, making it easier to store during the non-Christmas months.
There are two other factors that work in the Tree Genie’s favor. First, it has a smaller footprint than most of the other stands, making it easier to store during the non-Christmas months. Second, it’s the most attractive tree stand of those we tested. If you want to set up a tree on your porch or some other area where a tree skirt isn’t practical, it will still look nice.

All of the tree stands we tested seemed very durable, and the Tree Genie was no exception. We didn’t conduct long-term testing this time around (though we’ll update you next year and so on thereafter), so there’s no way to really confirm or rebut user reviews, but it’s worth noting that a few user reviews complained of leakage, and the ratchet mechanism may be another weak point. These complaints were in the minority. This stand carries a 4.6-star rating over 140 Amazon reviews. It comes with a 5-year warranty just in case.

The Tree Genie may be on the higher end of the tree stand price scale, but it’s significantly better than all the other stands we tested, including the Emerald Innovations offering, which actually costs more! Its multiple advantages make it worth the step up in price.

The Wall Street Journal found this stand easy to use as well: “It was easy to get the tree straight, though it shifted slightly when we moved the base. Better yet, there is no need to get down on the ground, except to fill the solid green base with water.” [Note: we didn’t have any issues with the tree shifting during testing.]

Amazon users are similarly impressed. User M. DeMeo said, “we just got finished putting our tree in the stand – I never would have believed it, but I think it took less than 1 minute!! You just place the trunk in the center and crank the foot pedal and it’s done! I tried to shake the tree and it wouldn’t budge.” User Amazon Queen found the Tree Genie much easier to use than screw-in varieties: “For years I’ve bothered with the wobbly screw-in versions…. ‘a little to the left, a little to the right.’ We put the tree into the stand, pumped the arms in and the tree stood straight and firm the first time in under 1 minute!”

A few Amazon users experienced failure of the locking mechanism. But according to the manufacturer, this problem can be eliminated by using a small padlock, which has the added bonus of protecting it against accidental unlocking by children and pets. In our testing, we found it was a little tricky figuring out how to lock and unlock the foot pedal, but once we had it down the lock didn’t cause any problems.

The step down

Also Great
This stand also maxed out the force gauge, so it's sturdy. But: its water reservoir is more open, the screw-in system is less easy to use and it won't fit smaller trees.
For budget-conscious decorators, the Cinco Express stands up well to the Tree Genie in terms of stability. (It also maxed out the force gauge.) It has a more open 3-gallon water reservoir and an overflow basin to catch drips. This makes it easier to fill, but it’s also like putting a giant pine-scented water dish in your living room for your pets to drink out of.

It ultimately fell short because the screw-in system wasn’t as easy to use, although there are release levers that let you push or pull the screws quickly into position without having to turn them slowly by hand.

It also won’t work at all with trees of less than a 3.5” diameter trunk. This is the hardest problem to overlook, because if you’re looking for a budget tree stand, you’re probably also buying a smaller, less expensive tree, and the two just don’t work well together. But, if you’re willing to shop around when buying your tree, there’s enough variation in tree trunk diameter that you can find shorter trees with wider trunks. Just bring a measuring tape with you and be aware that your selection will be limited.

I still think the Tree Genie is worth the extra cost, but the Cinco costs about ⅓ as much, so if you’re willing to deal with its limitations (or possibly modify it by attaching some wood blocks to the screw ends or something like that), the Cinco is a very stable and rugged stand.

The competition

Two of the stands we tested, the Emerald Innovations and the Contech Steel Tree Stand, were not great. Neither was as stable as the Tree Genie—the Emerald Innovations started to tip at 30 Newtons of pulling force, while the Contech tipped at 25 Newtons. Performance was similar with large and small trees.

(Note that the Emerald Innovations model we tested appears under several different names and model numbers, including St. Nick’s Choice at Sears and the 1-Minute Christmas Tree Stand, which seems to be the most current Amazon listing.)

Like the Cinco, the Contech uses the screw-in method of securing the tree. The Emerald Innovations uses a separate “sleeve” that you fit over the tree’s trunk while the tree is lying down, securing it with screw-down clamps. Then you fit the sleeve and tree together into the base. Overall, this caused more hassle than any other method. I’d had high hopes for the Emerald Innovations, too, because the SwivelStraight technology let you adjust the angle of the tree by pressing a foot pedal and turning the tree on a large hemisphere like a ball joint. Its lack of stability and frustrating setup method outweighed this otherwise cool design. Both the Emerald Innovations and Contech stands had 1.5-gallon reservoirs—sufficient, but the smallest among tested models.

We dismissed many other stands before testing. Many of them didn’t offer the minimum water capacity suggested by the Purdue University Extension, including a smaller stand made by Emerald Innovations and Bowling’s Last Stand. We passed over several for having overly complicated fastening systems, like the Standtastic Stand; it requires you to screw wood screws into the tree (a huge pain if you need to adjust the tree after it’s set up). The Simple Tree Stand’s strap and ratchet system likewise belied its name. The Omega Tree Stand has poor Amazon reviews.

If you’re looking for a DIY option, there are a few how-tos online. However, many of them seemed more decorative than functional, and didn’t offer sufficient water capacity. Daryl Scott Greaser put one together at the caverpilot blog with 2x4s, eyebolts and a basin. It’s not the prettiest tree stand I’ve ever seen and it looks difficult to adjust, but it seems to have done the job. Several bloggers, including Ben Nyquist at The Modern DIY Life, used a large basin filled with stones to both hold water and provide ballast and support for the tree. I’m concerned that the volume of the rocks required to hold the tree up wouldn’t leave enough space for sufficient water capacity, but I think this could work well for a smaller tree.

Care and maintenance

There isn’t much you have to do to take care of a tree stand. Dry it thoroughly before storing it to prevent mold. Test it out in the driveway each year to make sure it hasn’t developed any cracks or leaks.

Wrapping up

I’ve never had a live tree, so I had no preconceptions heading into this. While the Cinco Express is a solid tree stand, especially for the price, the Krinner Christmas Tree Genie XXL excelled in enough ways that it came out a clear winner, despite the added cost.

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Sources

  1. Daniel Cassen, Tips for First-Time Buyers of Real Christmas Trees, Purdue University Extension (Forestry and Natural Resources), December 2010
  2. Miss Bee, The 2011 Christmas Tree Stand Review, Miss Bee's Christmas Tree, November 3, 2011
  3. Sara Schaefer Muñoz, Christmas Tree Stands, Wall Street Journal, December 7, 2006
  • Christian

    We’ve had a SwivelStraight stand for years, and had some huge trees in it, and it’s been rock-solid year after year for us. The pivoting function isn’t merely an afterthought, it is THE essential benefit of that stand—if the tree is slightly crooked, just press the foot pedal, move it, and you’re done.

  • Michael Aaron Marshall

    We bought a Krinner Christmas Tree Genie XXL this year from Amazon and used it for our tree. Though it’s true that it is amazingly easy to set up and ridiculously sturdy, ours had a leak that we didn’t notice until the next morning when a big puddle has developed on our wood floors. I advise anyone who buys this to heed Ed’s warning and test it for at least a few hours in your driveway first. We will be exchanging it with Amazon and hopefully we just had a defective model.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      The complaints about this have been minimal, but please report back on how the replacement works out for you.

  • ramenkage

    You neglected to mention that the Cinco Express stand comes in several sizes. The one you listed is for up to 12′ trees. The smaller ones can — surprise! — accommodate smaller trees, and are even cheaper. That negates your biggest concern with them.

    This was my first year using a live tree. I bought a 6′ tree and a Cinco Express stand for up to 8′ trees. and I had no problem putting it up with just one other person. I can see your point about pets drinking from the bowl, but I don’t have any. Then again, I feel like a tree skirt over the stand would keep pets out just fine.

    I can’t imagine spending $100 on a tree stand when I can get a perfectly good one for $15. (That’s another thing: definitely shop around. The Cinco Express 8′ goes for $20 at Home Depot, but I got it for $15 at an independent tree lot.)

  • The Weasel

    My cat would be mad for the lack of pine scented water one month of the year. Maybe I will get one and teach him how to use a straw

  • procload

    Also great: http://www.amazon.com/Jack-Post-Cast-Iron-Tree-Stand/dp/B000M2WESM

    Cast-iron Xmas tree stand. Should last a lifetime.

  • eaadams

    Now how about some tips on:
    1) How much water to have in tree stand?
    2) Do you buy the ‘tree stuff’ at the lot or do you add an aspirin to the water or what?

  • clozach

    Re: getting on the ground to water the tree…pick up a few feet of black flexible pipe from the hardware store and snake it up along the trunk with the bottom feeding into the stand.

    http://www.instructables.com/id/Christmas-tree-watering-hack

    It’s amazing how easy daily tree watering has become! The black pipe is invisible when tucked behind pine needles, and as a bonus, it serves the rest of the year as a toy instrument (twirl it around in the air). Simple. Genius.

  • ganzbeitrost

    Made in Germany.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Is that a bad thing?

      • ganzbeitrost

        No. I am German.

        • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

          That’s great me too!

          • ganzbeitrost

            Oh really? You mean your roots remain in Germany?

          • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

            Yes indeed!

          • ganzbeitrost

            But you don’t speak or understand german, right?

          • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

            Some, yes. German & French.

  • elaine

    i bought one of these rachet tree stands but on opening it the teeth are together how do i release it so can get tree in please

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Did it come with a manual? Not being snarky, very serious.

  • Charity Froggenhall

    Hi, will you be updating this guide soon? I want to buy one in the next couple of weeks for my tree!

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Yep it’s being worked on!

      • Charity Froggenhall

        Excellent, thanks. :)