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A stair climber can give you a great indoor workout

A stair climber, otherwise known as a stair stepper, is an exercise machine that simulates the motions used when climbing stairs. The main purpose of these machines is to provide a cardiovascular workout as well as to help you tone and strengthen your lower body. Most stair steppers offer multiple levels of resistance and varying rates of speed, enabling users at any fitness level to get a quality workout. A few stepper models exercise the arms and upper body as well. There are two basic types of stair steppers -- your basic stepper and hybrids.

Basic stair steppers are small, often portable, and highly affordable. They can be little more than a pair of sturdy pedals on a frame. Other models may have bands to work your arms at the same time, a stationary bar to help keep your balance, or a movable handlebar for an upper body workout. Upgraded steppers will have features such as step tracking, speed, heart monitors or workout tracking. Reviewers say that, although they look basic, they can give you an excellent workout. They can also be easily stored in a relatively small space. Some are great for travel and can provide a portable workout.

Hybrid stair steppers offer the most versatile workout.  They combine the movements of a stepper with that of a treadmill and/or elliptical, which manufacturers say works more muscle groups that that of just a basic stepper. Many hybrids come with nice amenities, such as fans, water-bottle or magazine holders, heart-rate monitors, entertainment systems, and/or interactive programs for tracking progress. Most have easy-to-read and operate LCD screens and are ergonomically designed for maximum comfort.

Many people call hybrids "treadclimbers," but that term actually refers to a proprietary hybrid-type machine. The StairMaster TreadClimber is a machine made for commercial institutions; the Bowflex TreadClimber is the model made for home use. We cover the latter in this report.

Hybrids are at the high end of the price point. They can run from $1,000 to more than $3,000. The more basic stair steppers can be had for $100 or less. Compared to some other pieces of exercise equipment, they're highly affordable. Stair climbers have been on the market for years and continue to improve, but they're just one component of a well-rounded fitness routine. Our report on treadmills will help you find a model that lets you take long walks even in inclement weather. We also have a thorough report on elliptical trainers, which tend to be more versatile and offer a more intense workout than stair steppers, but are also pricier. Want to give up your gym membership altogether? See our report on home gyms for the best alternatives.

There aren't a lot of reviews for stair steppers, but ConsumerSearch editors pored through what was available, as well as polling our active friends and acquaintances for their top picks. The result is our picks for the top stair steppers with superior performance, ease-of-use and good durability to help you go the distance.

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