The best stair climber has:
- Some feedback options. At a minimum, you will want to know your pace, as well as the distance covered and time elapsed. Calories burned is a nice feature as well, but the more features you have, the higher the price.
- Varying levels of resistance. This will let you start slowly if you need to -- stair climbers can be a challenge when you first try them -- but increase your intensity over time and ramp up your workout as you get in shape.
- A stable base. Since you will be shifting your full weight, be sure the stair climber can hold you steadily and comfortably. If you feel like balancing on a basic stepper may be hard, consider paying a bit more for a model with handlebars.
- An appropriate weight limit. Most steppers can support between 220 and 250 pounds, but there are a few models that have upper weight limits of 300 pounds.
- Easy assembly. Confusing instructions, holes that don't line up or missing hardware can make assembly frustrating. If a model gets a lot of negative feedback for this issue, you may want to look elsewhere.
- A solid warranty. While the inexpensive stair climbers we cover have fairly scant warranties, some hybrid stair steppers are pricey investments with a lot of moving parts. A good warranty will ensure that your expensive piece of equipment doesn't turn into a clothes hanger. Also, find out how the equipment will be serviced -- if you have to drive hundreds of miles for help, it might not be your best choice.
Know before you go
How many people will be using the stepper? If more than one, choose a heavier stepper with a more comprehensive warranty. The ability to track the workouts of more than one user is also a nice feature.
How often will you work out? If you only plan to use the stepper a few times a week, you can choose an inexpensive model. If you want a gym-like routine, look for a more heavy-duty machine. Experts say it's worth investing in a top model if you use it on a regular basis.
Do you want premium features? Top stair climbers have interactive LCD screens, built-in preset workout programs, heart rate monitors, Bluetooth connectivity and more. Of course, the more you get, the more you pay, but if you love all the bells and whistles, it may be worth making the splurge.
Do you prefer dependent or independent pedal movement? On dependent stair steppers, the pedals are linked, so that as one goes up, the other goes down. Independent pedal movement more closely simulates the motion of walking upstairs, because the pedals are not linked.
Do you want an upper-body workout? If so, choose a model with a twisting motion, resistance bands, or moving arms or handlebar so you can exercise your arms or upper torso as you step.
Do you want to run? Stair climbers just offer an up and down motion, with an upper speed limit of about 4 miles per hour, so there is no option to run (although they are good for incline training if you're a hiker). If you need something that gives you the option to either walk or run at speeds up to 10 miles per hour, see our report on treadmills.
Where will you keep it? A basic stepper can have a very small footprint, and some even fold compactly to store easily in a closet or under the bed. However, some models are very large pieces of equipment that can take up quite a bit of room. Still, they do take up less room than a treadmill.