Finding the right ladder for the job isn't just a matter of measurements. Ladder design, location, and material can all be important factors in whether a ladder type is wrong or right. Come climb with us as we survey the diverse array of ladder types.
Ladder types can be categorized in a variety of different ways. Some people organize them by weight capacity, from industrial to commercial to household. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has safety guidelines that cover a variety of ladder designs, including step ladders, fixed ladders, portable ladders, and even single-rail ladders and ladders that are built on a job site. But for most shoppers, the best criteria for categorizing types of ladders are design, location of use, and material.
For general purposes, ladders can be grouped into two basic design categories: step ladders and extension ladders, aka telescoping ladders.
A step ladder is distinguished by its A-frame design, in which two sides (a climbing side and a supportive side) are joined by a middle hinge. Sturdy, secure, and easy to fold and carry, step ladders are the most popular choice for general household tasks (though if you just need a step up, step stools may suffice).
Like step ladders, extension ladders are also multi-part ladders, but with an important difference: the two (or more) lengths can be extended together vertically and leaned against a support to increase the ladder's height. Some two-sided ladders can function as either step ladders or telescoping ladders with a locking hinge.
Step ladders can be set up in the middle of a room - beneath a burnt-out light bulb, for example. An extension ladder can be leaned against a wall to provide access to a roof, or against a tree to rescue a stranded cat. But some ladder types are designed for specific functions or locations. These are some of the most common examples:
You've probably seen one in a movie - usually after the star hears noises in an abandoned attic and decides to go exploring. Attic ladders are distinguished by their compactly folding designs, which can fit neatly behind a hinged door in the ceiling, and quickly unfold when needed.
Plastic pool ladders often feature wider steps and hanging hooks for safe, slip-free access to above-ground pools.
Trampoline ladders are usually short and "temporary": a couple of steps, and U-shaped hooks at the top for quick attachment and detachment.
Wood, metal, and fiberglass are the standard ladder materials. Wooden ladders are functional and decorative, and recommended for electricity-related tasks (unlike metal, they're not conductive). Steel and aluminum ladders are durable and weather-resistant. Fiberglass ladders are a good all-around choice for strength, durability, and non-conductivity.