Comparing tripod ladders with step ladders for use in the garden

Anyone who has been gardening for a while will have their own fair share of war stories, and the scars to prove it.
When you’re working on sharp plants, with even sharper tools such as shears and loppers, there is always the risk of cutting yourself, and that’s why proper gardening gloves are a must. Not only that, but other equipment to protect the eyes from debris, or special stuff like chainsaw trousers, is essential at times.

However, a very large percentage of injuries in the garden come from falls. This can be through tripping on garden hoses, lawnmowers, furniture, etc., or from higher up, falling from a ladder or tower scaffold for example.

The risk of falling when using a ladder in the garden is always there, but you can lower that risk by simply choosing the right kind of ladder for the job at hand, and in this article, we will compare two of the most popular types of ladder: step ladders and tripod ladders, to see which is better for use in the garden.

This video contains some information on general safety when using a portable laddder-


The main difference that you will notice between step ladders and tripod ladders is the number of legs each one has.

Step ladders

Step ladders have four legs, and then a number of steps that often lead up to a small platform. This platform can sometimes have a safety bar or something to connect a harness, but not always. When a step ladder has a larger platform to stand on, they are also known as platform ladders.

These ladders are actually meant to be used to gain access to some other, more stable platform or a higher level of something, and if you actually read the instructions on your step ladder, it will tell you that you should never stand on the top step, or even the one below it, for safety reasons.

Step ladders are better suited to short-duration tasks and are far more stable on hard, flat, surfaces. Although they are often used by people to stand on their lawns or in the soil while trimming tall hedges, I would never recommend using a step ladder like this, or like in the second photo below-

Tripod ladders

Tripod ladders are so named because they have three legs instead of four, and these are set in a triangular position. This triangular shape gives tripod ladders a much wider base than step ladders.

The wider base of tripod ladders, when teamed up with their individually adjustable legs and wide, clawed, feet, gives them a lot more stability on soft, uneven ground when compared to step ladders or telescopic ladders, making them a much better choice for trimming hedges from inside your garden.

Like step ladders, tripod ladders are not meant to be used from the top steps, however, it is common on tripod ladders that a wider ‘platform’ step is actually situated lower down on the ladder, and then there are sometimes bars to lean your upper body into higher up. This creates a much more stable and safe working environment for completing tasks at heights that might take a while to complete. here’s a photo of someone using a tripod ladder t trim a tall hedge-


Comparing other ladder options

So, now we have explained above that tripod ladders are the best pick for placing on soft ground, here we will take a look at a section of other ladder options, and explain what kinds of gardening jobs they are best suited to.

Step scaffold

These resemble a couple of ladders that are connected by a large platform, although these days, many of these products are designed to be used as stepladders, traditional ladders, or a scaffold platform, and are sold as multi-purpose tools.
They are very handy for painting high fences or walls or checking the roof of your shed and garage, but I wouldn’t use one for working up really high. Nor would I use one on anything other than flat, solid, surfaces.

Extension ladder

When you’ve got to get right up there and clean or repair the second-floor guttering, or something similar, you need a very large ladder, and extension ladders are just that. Please make sure that the ground is level when using a standard or extension ladder.

I have to say that you should never, ever, use an extension ladder, or any other adder that needs to be leaned against something, on your own. You should always have someone holding the ladder steady for you at the bottom, and even then, you need to be extra careful and keep your time up on the ladder to a minimum.

Step stool
If you only need to shift some things to the top shelf in your garage or shed, then a step stool should be what you’re spending your money on. These easily collapsible and foldable ladders are nice and compact, lightweight, and come in very handy for specific jobs like this.


Ladder materials compared

Ladders are available in a variety of materials, each bringing something to the table, so we thought we’d compare them here for you, to try and make your purchasing decision a bit easier.


The most traditional material is, of course, wood and it has some helpful properties such as providing good insulation in both hot and cold temperatures. It is also a relatively cheap material.
On the other hand, wooden ladders are quite a bit heavier than some others, and you have to remember to keep them varnished, stained, or painted, to fight off damage from the elements or it might end up looking worse for wear like this one-


Aluminium is a great material for ladders of all types. It is very lightweight, yet still provides a good deal of structural strength. The best quality of aluminium though has to be that it is rust and corrosion-proof, and that’s why it used for making a wide range of garden equipment, from spades and shovels to all kinds of garden furniture.
The downsides of aluminium are that it doesn’t insulate very well when it comes to heat, and because it is very conductive of electricity, you have to be careful where you use it.


Steel ladders are the strongest and can handle the heaviest loads, and this makes them popular with professionals and for industrial purposes. They are made of stern stuff and can take a bit of a beating and still stay useable.
Steel is susceptible to rust though, so you have to make sure that you keep an eye out for any chips in the galvanized coating. Steel ladders tend to be heavier than the other materials too.


Fiberglass ladders are the ones to use if you are near any electrical wires or similar as this material doesn’t conduct electricity. Like aluminium ladders, fiberglass models are stronger than you would imagine.
This type of ladder will set you back a bit more than the others and are slightly heavier, but on the other hand, it should last you a while and is very versatile.

here’s a video that talks about the pros and cons of various stepladders-

About Terry Smith

I’m Terry Smith from, a professional landscape designer, hobbyist gardener, and barbecue fanatic with 20 years experience building and restoring. So as you go through my site you'll watch me document some of the professional garden installs I make as well as the major projects I take on at home. While sharing those experiences and guiding you, I'll be recommending some great tools I use to enable this along the way so you can really buy in confidence. Always feel free to pop me a message:

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