There are more types of ladders on the market than most people realize, and each has its uses.
Here’s what you should know about the different types of ladders currently available.
Types of Ladders: A Summary
Ladders are primarily categorized by height and unique features, such as extendable sections or places to put tools.
Having the right ladder for a job can make a task faster, safer, and easier than it would otherwise be. Ladder terms help define these features, though not every ladder has every option.
The 17 Main Types of Ladders to Buy
Here are the primary types of ladders currently on the market.
1. Straight Ladder
The classic option, straight ladders are as simple as it gets, with two side rails and rungs between them.
Straight ladders are usually eight or more feet long and can hold upwards of 250 lbs.
Common material choices include metal, fiberglass, and occasionally wood. Better versions of straight ladders have adjustable feet to balance better on the ground.
2. Step Ladder
Step ladders are short ladder options, usually about three or four steps high. These have wide platforms that people can stand on, more like a small floor than the rungs of typical ladder designs.
Step ladders are a good choice for things like painting a ceiling or reaching up and changing a lightbulb.
While they don’t offer more than a few feet of elevation, being so low to the ground ensures that they’re much more stable.
3. Step Stool
Although debatably not a ladder, step stools are the shortest and cheapest ladder option available.
These offer a single step up for reaching slightly higher in a home. Many modern step stools are foldable, which makes it easy to store and hide them in a house when they’re not in use.
4. A-Frame Ladder
A-frame ladders are more of a design choice than anything else. Unlike straight ladders, A-Frames have a bend in the middle and rest on at least four feet instead of two.
This forms a shape similar to a capital A. These are significantly more stable than straight ladders, and most other ladder types are available in this design.
5. Attic Ladder
Attic ladders are usually foldable ladders that connect to a hatch in a ceiling, allowing for easy access to a high area. Some attic ladders are sliding instead of foldable.
But they’re designed to fit openings of specific sizes so the attic door can close all the way. Most attic ladders have flat steps instead of round rungs, allowing for more stability when going up and down.
6. Extension Ladder
Extension ladders have variable heights, allowing you to adjust the number of rungs easily usable. These are much easier to store than most other ladder types, while also being easy to maneuver into position.
Extension ladders are excellent for reaching places that typical straight ladders are too fall for. Extension ladders are generally just as safe as traditional ladders when used correctly, although they’re not quite as flexible as telescoping ladders.
This is the most popular choice for ladders above eight feet, as it’s possible to get exceptionally long extension ladders. Many longer extension ladders come with a rope to help control their height.
7. Flexible Ladder
Flexible ladders stand out because they have movable sides, rather than the rigid sides most ladders have. This category includes things like portable fire escape ladders.
Most people don’t use these very often, but they’re popular in areas where you want to start at a high point and go down rather than ascending from ground level.
Flexible ladders often have much higher weight limits than regular ladders because they may need to support several people using them simultaneously.
However, since they need to attach to a sturdy point, they can be challenging to anchor correctly without a window or other permanent attachment points.
8. Folding Ladder
Folding ladders are a little bit of everything. Traditional designs have four rigid sections attached by hinges that allow you to set the ladder at different angles.
Depending on how you set it up, a folding ladder could act as a straight ladder, an A-Frame, or even something more unusual like an L shape. Folding ladders aren’t as adjustable up or down as an extension ladder.
But it’s usually possible to get them close enough to the right height for regular use. Folding ladders are a good default choice if you’re not sure what type of ladder to buy.
9. Multipurpose Ladder
Multipurpose ladders technically include many other ladder types, including many folding and extension ladders. Some models can have more than a dozen specific functions.
So higher-end options are popular with handymen, construction workers, and other people with unpredictable ladder needs.
10. Platform Ladder
Platform ladders are similar to most step ladders, featuring wide and flat steps that are easy to stand on for extended periods.
However, instead of having the steps go all the way to the top, they usually stop about three steps of distance below the top of the ladder in favor of having a single extra-wide platform to stand on.
Platform ladders can be a little taller than step ladders, but having the wide step at the top gives extra durability and room to move around while doing things.
This ladder is an excellent choice for painting and other tasks where you may stretch in different directions.
Many platform ladders come with a folding tray where you can place things like tools or paint cans, but that’s not a universal feature.
11. Podium Ladder
A podium ladder is similar to a platform ladder, except much taller. Platform ladders may also have extra-wide steps all the way down, but podium ladders usually reserve those for climbing in favor of having a single place to stand at the top.
Podium ladders are most effective when you want to be at a specific height for long periods, especially when that’s higher than platform ladders typically allow.
They’re not quite as good if you want to do a lot of work at different heights, though it’s still possible to use most of them for that.
12. Pool Ladder
Pool ladders attach to the side of a swimming pool to give people an easy way to climb in and out of the water.
Most are made with aluminum, stainless steel, or resin, which can help resist the corrosive effects of pool chemicals.
Pool ladders are available in two main designs. Single-sided designs are for below-ground pools where people can climb in or out directly.
Pool ladders also come in A-frame shapes, which are for above-ground pools where you need to climb over the edge before getting in or out.
Unlike most other ladders, pool ladders usually attach firmly in place and stay there, rather than being something you move around.
However, some movable options are available to let you do things like put a cover over the pool when it’s not in use.
13. Portable Ladder
Most ladders are technically portable, but this term refers specifically to ladders with wheels that make them easier to move around.
These come in several formats, including A-frames and some stepped designs that are more like portable stairs.
For A-frame designs, the wheels are usually set so they’re not in contact with the ground unless you tilt the ladder.
This stops them from becoming dangerous while you’re using the ladder without meaningfully sacrificing its versatility.
14. Rope Ladder
Rope ladders are similar to flexible ladders, except they have a much lower weight capacity and usually aren’t as fire-resistant.
These are popular options for children’s play areas, like tree houses, and other areas where cheap ladders suffice for occasional use.
Most rope ladders are not as safe as any other rope option and some won’t hold an adult’s weight, so be sure to check the specifications carefully before you buy.
Also, most rope ladders anchor permanently in place, though some fire-escape ladders are portable instead.
15. Telescoping Ladder
Telescoping ladders have become more popular in recent years, though they have more moving parts and potential points of failure than most other ladders.
These are similar to extension ladders, but usually shorter, allowing you to adjust the exact number of rungs you want access to. The main value of telescoping ladders is their compact size.
They take up far less room than nearly any other type of ladder, especially those that can reach past twelve feet, so they’re an excellent option for anyone short on storage space.
16. Trestle Ladder
Trestle ladders allow people to climb on both sides simultaneously. This is most common in designs like A-frames, which naturally support it.
Many ladders these days are trestles by design, though you’ll still occasionally see designs that aren’t. Their main value is allowing two people to work simultaneously, making them popular in construction areas.
17. Warehouse Ladder
Warehouse ladders are among the most expensive options available.
These are more like portable stairs than even step ladders are, with fixed heights, rigid bases, and wheels to make moving them around easier.
Warehouse ladders also have wide steps for walking on, and many have handrails for added protection.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions people have about the different types of ladders.
What is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 ladders?
Type 1 ladders have a heavier-duty rating, supporting at least 250 pounds. Type 2 ladders are a medium-duty design, supporting at least 225 pounds. The lower the rating, the stronger the ladder is.
What do ladder colors mean?
Ladder color meanings vary by manufacturer, but usually serve as a way to define weight ratings at a glance. Some colors mean heavier-duty ladders, so construction workers can tell which one they need to get without examining each ladder closely.
What is the 4 to 1 rule for ladders?
The 4 to 1 rule says that the base of a ladder should be one foot away from a wall or building for every four feet it goes up. This helps ensure adequate safety and a safe angle of ascent and descent.
What is the biggest cause of ladder accidents?
Human error is the main cause of ladder accidents. Modern ladders use technologies like adjustable feet to help mitigate this risk, but you should only use ladders as the manufacturer describes.
How do you keep from falling off a ladder?
The best way to keep from falling off a ladder is to maintain three points of contact, avoid the top steps unless they’re marked for standing on and have another person stabilize the ladder when you’re moving up or down it. (For more on ladder safety, check out the OSHA guide.)
So, What Are the 17 Main Types of Ladders?
There are so many types of ladders that it can be hard to keep track of them.
To pick between them, think about the different types of situations where you want to use them, then look for a single ladder that meets all those needs.
A folding or multipurpose ladder is a good default for most people.