The Best Step Stool
The best step stool for your home and garage (and the one I’ll be using in my garage from now on) is the $25 Gorilla EasyReach aluminum 2-step ultra-light step stool. After looking at almost 43 different step stools and thoroughly testing four finalists with 23 testers, the Gorilla was the overall winner for an overwhelming majority of our testers. It’s secure and stable, and you feel safe standing on it thanks to a supportive safety bar that you can rest your knees against. An update in September kept the stool the same except for a plastic tool tray attached to the safety bar, which makes it even better. It’s surprisingly light, folds up neatly and gives you a bigger lift than the other step stools we tested.
If you can’t find the Gorilla because it goes out of stock, our runner-up pick is the Hailo 4343-001 Safety Plus. Its steps are wide and secure, and the tool tray mounted to the top of the safety bar has magnets on either side that will hold metal tools. But it’s a little on the expensive side and it’s pretty heavy.
We didn’t test 3-step stools (keep reading for why we didn’t) but if you do need more height, we recommend the Gorilla Easy Step in the 3-step version, which offers a 36” boost.
Our main pick is rated to handle up to 225 lbs., but if you need more weight capacity, go with the Rubbermaid EZ Fold, which is rated for up to 300 lbs. It wasn’t a top pick among our testers, but it can get the job done.
Why do you need a step stool?
To narrow the focus, we set aside stools aimed mainly for kids. (We might tackle that as a separate guide eventually.) The stools we tested will generally work just fine for kids, but they’re intended for use by adults.
We also didn’t consider 3-step stools. If you frequently need to reach higher spaces, a dedicated step ladder is going to more useful and versatile in the long run because it’s tall enough for cleaning gutters, trimming branches and other tasks. If you really want a 3-step stool, our top pick also comes in a 3-step version. We didn’t test it, but it seems like a logical way to go for a height upgrade.
How we picked
We started by looking for previously published tests by reputable publications. Real Simple had the only guide we found backed by thorough, extensive testing. There were others like this and this from Apartment Therapy and this from KitchenDesigns.com, but the articles were just brand suggestions with no mention of hands-on experience. Ideally, we would have started with a greater number of sources, but since there’s not a whole lot out there, the Real Simple guide was a solid starting point.
Real Simple assistant editor Stephanie Sisco told me they tested about 70 stools. Their process consisted of having their testers climb up and down, then “rate them for sturdiness, collapsibility and function. It was easy to eliminate some rather quickly: They didn’t have a safety lock, the steps felt too slim to hold large feet, too bulky, etc.”
Real Simple had multiple picks for kids, design and looks, but we were only interested in their purely utilitarian “most supportive” pick, the Gorilla EasyReach 2-Step.
The Rubbermaid EZ Fold was also among Real Simple’s top picks. Further supporting Real Simple’s recommendation of the EZ Fold is my own personal experience—I’ve owned one for almost ten years and still use it weekly around the house.
The Cramer Kik Step made our top four based on extremely strong Amazon user ratings (4.7 stars over 262 reviews), and its 50-year history as the stool of choice for libraries, schools and other institutions. Some of our editors also had friends and family members who loved the Kik Step’s ability to roll around where you need it by just nudging it with a foot.
The Adams Quick Fold also has strong Amazon user ratings (4.4 stars over 96 reviews) and is the smallest and lightest stool with a high weight rating we could find. Its combination of reliability, strength and portability is unmatched.
Other stools didn’t make the cut for a variety of reasons. Anything rated for less than 225 pounds was eliminated for reasons we’ll explain further below in the “What makes a step stool great?” section.
Some stools didn’t offer any kind of portability, like this Rubbermaid Molded stool. Some, like the Kikkerland Rhino and Range Kleen Double Step, had a pattern of user complaints about breakage. We also set aside stools made of wood, since wood tends to be prone to warping, splitting and/or dry rot, especially if not cared for properly. Finally, a lot of step stools were simply too expensive. We normally wouldn’t eliminate something solely based on price, but it was clear that moderately-priced stools were going to be as good or better than higher-cost counterparts.
In the end, our top four step stools we ended up testing during the first round of tests in January 2014 were the Rubbermaid EZ Fold, Adams Quick Fold, Gorilla Easy Reach and Cramer Kik Step. In a subsequent round of testing in September 2014, we also tested the Werner 222-6 Type-II step stool, Hailo 4343-001 Safety Plus, and the Xtend & Climb FT-2 Ultra Lightweight Aluminum Stool against the Gorilla.
The Gorilla EasyReach gives you plenty of reach, with a top step height of 21.5” (the next highest was a Rubbermaid at 17.5”; the Kik Step gives you 14.25” of height), yet it folds down to a 3” depth, easy to store next to a cupboard. The only stool with a smaller folded depth is the Adams, which shaves off a quarter inch. The Rubbermaid’s folded form is six inches deep. The Gorilla is also light enough, at 5 lbs., to hang on a sturdy hook. It isn’t the lightest among the stools tested (the Adams weighs half as much and the Kik Step is just slightly lighter at 4.8 lbs.), but testers always seemed impressed by how light it felt compared to its size.
The top step on the Gorilla is very large, providing secure footing. It has a safety rail at roughly knee level so you can brace yourself, and the aluminum frame has an ANSI Type II weight rating of 225 lbs. It locks securely in place when opened up and just takes the click of a release button to fold it down.
Users at Home Depot’s site had plenty of positive things to say about the Gorilla. “It barely weighs a thing but it is strong and solid so I never feel like I am in danger of tipping,” wrote user Brindisn. A user named economod found that it was the ideal height for eight-foot ceilings, while fsnyc said, “My favorite feature is the wide and very safe heavy duty plastic step. It has ridges to prevent slipping. Best of all, it folds flat and stores easily in a closet or in a slim space, like beside a refrigerator, for example.”
Indeed, it’s difficult to find many criticisms of the Gorilla—some users, like our testers, wished it latched shut in the folded down position. A few others were put off by the oddly-difficult-to-remove label covering the top step.
The Gorilla’s advantages were amply supported by the test results as well. In overall stability, it was rated significantly better than the nearest competitor, the Kik Step. In step security (does the stepping surface feel large and grippy enough?), it led by nearly two rating points. It was similarly dominant in height and ease of unfolding, and won on durability over even the Kik Step. The only categories the Gorilla wasn’t rated first in were portability and storage; though the Adams Quick Fold took those, the Gorilla wasn’t too far behind despite the size difference.
But more important than abstract scores and points, most testers had only good things to say about the Gorilla. They “liked the wide step and safety bar” and one tester said, “This step stool is a mother’s dream! It is very sturdy and has a built in handle for climbing up. The fold is so easy that one could fold it while holding an angry, thrashing child if need be.” Another called it “My favorite! I really like the handle for extra support.”
The one flaw some testers didn’t like was that it does not lock when folded, so if you’re carrying it one handed, it tends to flop open. It locks in place when open for use, however.
In the end, the Gorilla combines solid portability, excellent stability and a reach that will get you to all but the highest shelves. It does everything you want a step stool to do very well. Note that the Gorilla branding isn’t very prominent on Home Depot’s packaging; I overlooked it several times before I realized it was the one I was looking for.
The runner up
We have a solid runner-up in the Hailo 4343-001 Safety Plus, if for some reason the Gorilla gets hard to find. Its steps are wide and secure, and the tool tray mounted to the top of the safety bar has magnets on either side that will hold metal tools (strong enough to easily hold a hefty wrench, as you can see below). The inside of the tray also seems to be slightly magnetized, so it might keep smaller screws and washers from getting lost if the stool tips over. The tray has molded-in curves that your legs rest against that add a bit more security if you’re leaning one way or another, like when you’re painting. Plus, the Hailo is rated to hold more than 300 lbs. (its Amazon listing shows 300, while the sticker on the stool itself says 325).
Unfortunately, the Hailo has a few flaws that hold it back from top honors. It’s twice the price of our main pick, and has a lower height than the Gorilla, making it tough for me at 6’ tall to reach into my garage gutters. It’s also the heaviest stool of the bunch at nearly 17 lbs., so it can be difficult and awkward to carry around. This was an inconvenience for me — so a smaller or weaker person who needs to haul out a stool now and then to reach the high kitchen cupboards is going to have a bear of a time wrestling with this thing. But if you’re a hefty person and you’re worried that you exceed the Gorilla’s 225-lb. weight limit, the Hailo’s 300-plus weight rating should handle the job (and in this case you’re probably also large enough to haul around the Hailo’s own considerable bulk).
If you need extra height
Less secure, but higher capacity
If you need a higher weight rating than the Gorilla’s 225 lb. ANSI II certification, the Rubbermaid EZ Fold’s ANSI IA 300 lb. rating will support you around the house.
Long-term test notes
We’ve had our picks on hand for the last eight months and while a step stool just isn’t something we subject to daily use, we did give our picks a good run recently when painting our living room. Since there were two of us painting, we used the Gorilla EasyReach side by side with the Rubbermaid. The Gorilla’s higher reach was definitely an asset, and the safety bar made using it very comfortable, even when leaning to reach a ceiling corner. It did a great job, with two caveats: my wife thought the lower step was too narrow and a little uncomfortable, and I (at 230 pounds) could definitely sense that the I was at the upper limit of the Gorilla’s weight range. The Rubbermaid held me up without complaint. My wife still preferred the Gorilla despite this, and I’d definitely prefer the Gorilla once I lose a few pounds.
The Adams Quick Fold is the smallest and lowest stool we tested, but it was highly rated by Amazon users. It only offers a top step height of only 8.5”, but its folded dimensions are a petite 16” x 13” x 2.75” (HWD) and it only weighs 3 lbs. Despite its small size, it’s rated for 300 lbs. Like with the Rubbermaid EZ Fold, a portion of the legs extends up along the sides of the step, giving the user something to brace his or her feet against. Testers felt unstable on the small top step, despite the low lift. It might be okay for situations where portability matters more than stability, like getting into and out of a truck, but the Gorilla is better for everyday use.
The Kik Step (4.9 pounds), on the other hand, doesn’t fold up at all. It’s sort of like an upside down steel bucket on wheels—the wheels retract under weight (a minimum of 30 pounds, making it unsuitable for very young children). It gives you a top step height of 14.25”. The Kik Step is round, with a diameter of 16”. It has the highest weight rating of the tested stools (at 500 lbs.) and costs $55.99 at Amazon. While some testers appreciated its ability to handle abuse and be moved around hands-free, the lack of anything to brace your feet or knees against on the top step hurt its scores. If you’re using a stool in a place where it will see constant and frequent use and abuse, the Cramer Kik Step will take whatever you can dish out.
We used the Kik Step in a high school science classroom for the last year, and its incredible durability and ability to get literally kicked around a room makes it ideal for this kind of institutional use, and we can report it’s done very well under heavy use by teachers and high school kids, who are generally not known for treating school property gently. That makes the Kik Step an interesting alternative for very specific usage scenarios.
We also considered this Polder stool, but it lacked anywhere to brace feet or knees, and had complaints of the carrying handle breaking. Some users complained that the folding mechanism pinched their hands, while user Hack Lennock reported, “What may be a design flaw…allows a wire support arm to easily and regularly slip out, after limited use in our case.”
The Xtend & Climb FT-2 Ultra Lightweight Aluminum Stool has one thing going for it — it weighs almost nothing (less than 4 lbs). That’s great when you’re carrying it around, and it’s rated to hold 225 lbs., our minimum threshold for step stool safety. However, it doesn’t offer as much lift as other stools, making it impossible to reach into my gutters. There are three and four-step versions, but at that point you should probably just get an actual step ladder. The Xtend & Climb’s biggest problem? Narrow steps. I felt entirely uncomfortable with my feet on those tiny wafers of aluminum. No thanks.
The Werner 222-6 Type-II step stool is a decent step stool, with nice wide, grippy steps. But I found the safety bar too low compared to other stools — it’s a few inches shorter than the Gorilla’s safety bar, hitting me well below the knees. When I leaned a bit to get a better angle while taking some photos, it left me feeling unstable. This might be less of an issue for users who aren’t as tall. It also weighs nearly twice as much as the Gorilla, with no real increase in stability or height to make up for it.
This stool from Werner is basically a very small stepladder which lacks anywhere to brace yourself despite the high weight rating.
This mahogany stool from Cosco was too heavy (more than 16 lbs.) to carry around easily. As user DoctorLA put it, “Looks nice but the metal ones work a lot better.”
This 2-step stool from Cosco seemed like a good candidate, since some sites listed it as having a weight limit of 225 lbs. However, in reality it is only rated at 200 lbs., not enough to meet our criteria.
This molded plastic stool from Rubbermaid has a generous weight rating of 300 lbs., but it’s bulky and doesn’t fold up, which would make it difficult to store.
BR Plastics offers this small stool, comparable in portability to the Adams, but it has nowhere to brace your feet on the top step, and suffered from enough user complaints about fingers getting pinched while folding/unfolding that it didn’t make our shortlist.
What makes a step stool great?
The first thing you should look for in a step stool is height, although how much you need does depends on how tall you are and how you want to use it. I spoke with Shannon Lessner, the product manager for step stools at Werner Co., to see what they think makes for a great step stool. “Generally speaking, a consumer should first understand what height they need to be at to achieve their given activities. For example, if they have high ceilings and/or tall cabinets, then a step stool with three steps would be an adequate choice; otherwise a two step stool will suffice.”
Our finalists ranged from 8.5” to 21.5” high. We were curious if testers would start to feel unsafe on higher stools, but in general everyone preferred more height. Of course, the specific height you might prefer depends on what you plan to use the stool for. Lower stools are ideal for use as “booster steps” for getting into or out of vehicles.
There are a range of features that will help you feel more secure with your step ladder. A handle or grip to keep you stable while you’re on the top shelf can’t be undervalued. “If you are getting anything beyond one step, you should get the type that has a hand grip to hold while on the stool,” said John Galeotafiore, associate director of Home Improvement, Auto Aftermarket & Family at Consumer Reports. Lessner said to keep an eye out for “a stable-feeling platform and steps, slip-resistant steps and a comfortable grip.”
While the danger of a step stool accident isn’t as serious as it is with ladders, you can still do some damage to yourself taking a tumble from one or two feet off the ground. It turns out step stools are governed by the same American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards as step ladders. A few years ago, ANSI was considering creating a separate standard for step stools, but it hasn’t happened yet, so the step stools still fall under the ladder standards (specifically ANSI ASC A14.2-2007).
You’ll want to look for at least an ANSI Type II step stool, which are rated for 225 pounds. ANSI Type III step stools (and ladders) are rated for 200 pounds, too low to be a suitable rating for a general-purpose step stool. You can go higher, but probably don’t need to: Type I gets you up to 250, while Type IA are rated for 300 pounds. I crossed all step stools rated at Type III off the list, because 200 pounds seems insufficient, and there were plenty of Type II stools to choose from that weren’t terribly expensive. Simply put, I’m too heavy to use a Type III step stool, and I couldn’t in good conscience call something “the best” if I personally can’t even use it.
Consumer Reports hasn’t done a comprehensive guide or review of step stools, but they have covered stepladders. When it comes to ladders, they recommend only buying ladders rated ANSI Type 1A, 300 lbs. Unfortunately it’s difficult to apply the same strict guidelines to step stools, since few are made to the 1A standard.
I spoke with Consumer Reports’s Galeotafiore to make sure I wasn’t overestimating the weight rating issue. “I agree that it is hard to find a type 1A step stool, so the advice would be to buy the highest weight rating you can find and make sure all users don’t exceed the limit,” Galeotafiore told me. “I’m a little flexible on [the recommendation to only buy 1A rated ladders] since even though you can get seriously injured falling from two feet it’s not the same as being 20 or 25 feet above the ground on an extension ladder.”
As such, we set 225 lbs. as our weight rating cutoff for step stools. Anything below that wasn’t considered. If heavier people will use your step stool, top picks like the Rubbermaid EZ Fold and Kik Step are rated to 300 lbs. or more.
Another important factor was durability. We didn’t do a long term test, but we asked testers of their impression of how tough the step stool seemed. You not only want this thing to last a while; you really don’t want it breaking while you’re on it. A good step stool should feel stable under your feet: not wobbly or lopsided, but very solid on the ground.
Finally, a good step stool should be portable. Our top four stools ranged in weight from 3 lbs. to almost 7 lbs. The most portable stool, the Adams Quick Fold, folds down so flat that it’s less than three inches thick when folded. The Cramer Kik Step, on the other hand, doesn’t fold up at all. It is mounted on wheels, allowing you to easily kick it from one location to another. The wheels retract when you stand on it. So while the Kik Step can’t be tucked behind the seat of your car, it’s very portable within the area you’re using it.
There’s a surprisingly wide price range among step stools, from $15 up to several hundreds. While some of the high-priced stools are also high-quality, research showed that plenty of the more moderately priced stools were just as good. Our finalists ranged in price from $15 to $60.
How we tested
Testers then folded the stool up and stowed it in the backseat of my car (a fairly small area, as I drive a 2001 Toyota Echo). After testing all four of our finalists, the testers filled out a questionnaire rating each stool in seven categories. Then I asked them, “If you were buying a step stool right now and they all cost the same, which one would you buy?” In the end, I tested all four stools with 23 different testers. It was not a strictly scientific test, since self-selecting testers are never completely random. The mix included both men and women representing a range of heights and weights—from 5’2” tall and 110 pounds to 6’ tall and 220 pounds.
Two of the testing categories need asterisks. First is durability. Since this wasn’t a long-term use test, this really measured how the testers perceived each stool’s durability. They seemed to rate the plastic stools lower, even though those stools tend to have a higher weight rating than steel or aluminum stools. So take those ratings with a grain of salt. If you think you or your family members are less likely to use a step stool because it feels less durable (even though you know it has a sufficient weight rating), then this ranking may be more significant for you.
The other one is height. We can objectively measure the height of the top step of a stool, but we wanted to use this rating to get a feel for how people felt about a stool’s usefulness. And indeed, some testers with specific uses in mind (such as getting in or out of trucks or RVs) were more forgiving of the Adams’ low lift because it was better suited for their purposes. Aside from that specific exception, users preferred the stools that gave them more lift. We also wondered if there was such a thing as “too high.” No one rated the higher stools poorly due to feeling unsafe.
Wrapping it up
You’d be hard pressed to find more decisive test results than this. The Gorilla Easy Reach was our testers’ favorite by far, offering a higher reach and a more secure and stable feeling on the top step, plus now it has a very handy toolbar on top. It doesn’t sacrifice portability and ease of folding. It cost me around $25 at my local orange box, which is certainly a reasonable cost for a top pick that does everything you need a step stool to do.
Associate Director of Home Improvement, Auto Aftermarket, & Family at Consumer Reports, Interview, July 22, 2013,“We haven't tested step stools but some of the same advice we gave for larger ladders does transfer. I agree that it is hard to find a type 1A step stool so the advice would be to buy the highest weight rating you can find and make sure all users don't exceed the limit. I'm a little flexible on that since even though you can get seriously injured falling from two feet it's not the same as being 20 or 25 feet above the ground on an extension ladder. It would also be my opinion that if you are getting anything beyond one step, you should get the type that has a hand grip to hold while on the stool.”
Product Manager for step stools at Werner Co., Interview, July 25, 2013,“Werner tests all of their Steel and Aluminum step stools to ANSI Code: A14.2 [This standard prescribes rules governing the safe construction, design, testing, care and use of portable metal ladders of various types and styles.] Load (Compression), Side-Rail Bending, Platform Bending, and Stability Test are all conducted on each design to ensure the step stool is compliant with the ANSI Standard...Prior to using a step stool, be certain that it is on a completely flat surface to prevent tipping. Also, ensure that the latch is completely engaged prior to standing on the step stool. As always, take caution, maintaining your balance upon climbing step stools.”
The Best Step Stools, Real Simple,“Most Supportive: EasyReach 2-Step Ultra-Light Aluminum. An extra-large platform and a grip up top offer a particularly solid stance. And what a bargain.”
Assistant Editor at Real Simple, Interview, July 19, 2013,“To start, we took a poll at the Real Simple office and asked what each person looked for in a step stool— a leg up to a kitchen cabinet or a more versatile piece that gets them high or low. We got in between 60 to 75 stools and had multiple people climb them and rate them for sturdiness, collapsibility, and function. It was easy to eliminate some rather quickly: They didn't have a safety lock, the steps felt to slim to hold large feet, too bulky, etc. The eight finalists we ended up with offered a selection that was bound to have something to satisfy. Our top three favorites were the Gorilla Ladder EasyReach 2-Step Ultra-Light Aluminum, Polder 3-Step Stool, and Rubbermaid EZ Fold.”
Ladder Buying Guide, Consumer Reports, June 2013“House ladders typically carry a label listing the maximum weight they're designed to safely support. This voluntary rating, based on a standard published by the American National Standards Institute, includes these classifications: Type IA (300 pounds); Type I (250 pounds); Type II (225 pounds); and Type III (200 pounds). To meet the standard, a ladder's steps must resist bending under a test load up to four times its weight rating, as well as pass side-twisting tests. But the added stresses of climbing and weight shifting can add to that load. We believe that ladder safety standards should be mandatory and based on updated tests. We also believe that all house ladders should be designed to meet the maximum 300-pound Type IA standard. Meanwhile, we recommend choosing only Type IA ladders for any home use.”
Steps to Ladder Safety, Consumer Reports, May 2009“Opt for a type 1A ladder to handle users of different weights.”
Originally published: September 11, 2014