Finding the Perfect Big Wall Aider

We reviewed eight of our favorite big wall aiders and used them on more than 100 walls, from El Capitan to Baffin Island. We evaluated aiders using five main criteria: comfort, ease of walking up, durability, ease of use free climbing, and top-stepping. We then chose our top aiders in three categories: aid-intensive big walls, free climbing-intensive big walls and best aiders on a budget. Aiders are the most frequently used piece of big wall-specific gear so getting a pair you love is as important as getting a harness that fits right. However, keep in mind that more important than the aider is the technique you use in walking up the aider.

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Review by: ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Aiders / Etriers Displaying 1 - 5 of 9 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Yates Big Wall Ladder
Yates Big Wall Ladder
Read the Review
Video video review
Yates Speed Wall Ladder
Yates Speed Wall Ladder
Read the Review
Metolius 8 Step Ladder Aider
Metolius 8 Step Ladder Aider
Read the Review
Video video review
Metolius 5 Step Aider
Metolius 5 Step Aider
Read the Review
Video video review
Metolius Alpine Aider
Metolius Alpine Aider
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award    Best Buy Award   
Street Price $45 (6 step) $50 (7 step)$53
Compare at 1 sellers
$39
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $29 - $36
Compare at 5 sellers
$30
Compare at 2 sellers
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100% recommend it (3/3)
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Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Comfortable, intuitive to use, durablecomfortable, intuitive to use, durableComfortable steps, easy to walk up, big grab loop.great top-stepping, comfortable, good valueSurprisingly comfortable webbing width, low bulk, good value.
Cons Heavy, bulkyheavy, bulkyNo spreader bar.not as durableBottom step flips inside out.
Best Uses Aid climbing on multi-day big wallsall-around big wall climbing, moving fast on aid-intensive wallsAid-intensive big walls, general big wall applications, learning to aid climb.big wall climbingMostly free big wall climbs.
Date Reviewed Feb 17, 2010Nov 25, 2009Feb 15, 2010Feb 13, 2010Nov 24, 2009
Weighted Scores Yates Big Wall Ladder Yates Speed Wall Ladder Metolius 8 Step Ladder Aider Metolius 5 Step Aider Metolius Alpine Aider
Comfort - 35%
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Ease Of Walking Up - 35%
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Ease Of Free Climbing - 10%
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Top Stepping - 10%
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Durability - 10%
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Product Specs Yates Big Wall Ladder Yates Speed Wall Ladder Metolius 8 Step Ladder Aider Metolius 5 Step Aider Metolius Alpine Aider
Style Ladder Ladder Ladder Etrier Etrier
Weight 15.6 oz 13.6 oz 11.8 oz 11.2 oz 6.8 oz
Step Width 1.75" 1" 1" 1" 0.8"
Length 67" 67" 75" 75" 60"
Warranty 1 year 1 year 1 year 1 year 1 year

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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Yates Big Wall Ladder Aider
Yates Big Wall Ladder Aider
$45 (6 step) $50 (7 step)
100
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93
Editors' Choice Award
Video video review
Yates Big Wall Ladder
$45 (6 step) $50 (7 step)
100
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93
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Yates Speed Wall Ladder
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87
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Metolius Alpine Aider
$30
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77
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Fish Smart Aider
$23.50
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73
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Petzl Quickstep
$35.00
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55
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Petzl GradiStep Etrier
$45
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54
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Black Diamond Etrier
$39
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72
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As Chris McNamara stresses in his How To Wall Climb chapters, it is your efficiency at aid leading that has the biggest effect on big wall success.

First off, lets get terms defined. We call an "aider" any type of webbing ladder used for aid climbing. There are two main styles of aiders: aid ladders and etriers. For more on info on this, check out the Buying Advice section. For a brief explanation: etrier-style aiders have loops on alternate sides of a main support fabric pillar, for your left or right foot. And that ladder-style aiders have a series of larger loops for either left or right foot. And with the support structures on either side, not one in the middle. This photo shows a ladder-style between two etrier-style aiders

Comfort
The Yates Aid Ladder with a layer of 1.75" webbing on top of 1" (the widest we tested), combined with a sturdy spreader bar at the top, stood out as the most comfortable to stand in. Second was the Metolius 8 Step Ladder. The most comfortable etrier style aider was the Metolius Aider due to the extra Biothane(tm) layer in the step, which gives it more structure to stand on while lowering the squeeze on the side of the foot. The Metolius Alpine Aider was surprisingly comfortable for being so small. The Petzl Gradistep was the only truly uncomfortable aider to stand in, but that was to be expected for such a lightweight and compact aider.

Ease of Walking Up
Overall, the ladder-style aiders were easier to walk up than etrier-style aiders. Most noticeable was the difference when first stepping in the aider on horizontal pitches. The etrier-style requires that you put your foot in the correctly oriented step, which is not always the step you want at the right height. Again, with its big reinforced steps the Yates stood out for its ease of walking up. We have noticed it is especially easy for beginning big wall climbers to get the hang of them. The Metolius Ladder Aider is easy to walk up until you get to the top steps, where a lack of a spreader bar makes it a little tricky to get your feet in the top steps. The Metolius Aider with its reinforced steps was the easiest etrier-style aider to walk up. All the aiders above also did well in the "fishing with your foot test" where you see how easy it is to get your foot in the aider the first time (without using a hand for assistance). Over time, most aiders without the reinforcement get harder to step into and the steps want to stay narrower. The lightweight aiders such as the Petzl GradiStep are the hardest to walk up because the lack of structure makes the steps harder to get you feet into once weighted. We found we often had to use a hand to get our feet in.

Durability
If you only climb a few walls, aider durability is not a huge issue. All aiders we tested held up for at least 10 walls. However, if you are going to climb a ton of walls, you might want to consider how well reinforced the steps are. Overall, the Fish was the most bomber aider. After 40-plus walls it was still going strong. The Yates after 20+ walls still does not show much sign of wear. After heavy use on 15-plus walls, the Metolius 5 Step Aider blew out (the stitching became abraided, causing the steps to completely blow out). This could be solved with either more bar tacks or an extra piece of webbing sewed over the key stitching point or maybe using PlastiDip. We didn't blow out any other aiders, but we also did not use them as much.

Ease of Use Free Climbing
In addition to being the lightest aider, the Petzl GradiStep can be put in its own bag, which makes it very low profile. You almost forget it is clipped to your harness when doing free moves. In contrast, the features that make the Yates Aid Ladder so comfortable mean it is very bulky when clipped to your harness and the reinforced steps easily get caught in cracks. The Metolius 5 Step Aider doesn't get quite as easily stuck in cracks, but the reinforcement that makes it so comfy can get really stuck. The Metolius Alpine Aider was surprisingly comfortable for being so lightweight and not bulky. Aiders without urethane reinforcement, like the Fish Smart Aiders, are less likely to get stuck in cracks when you bust a free move or two and want to let them dangle (as opposed to taking the time to bunch them up and clip them to the side of your harness).

Top-Stepping
Overall, the Metolius 5 Step Aider with sub steps in the top two steps gives you the most options for top-stepping. It also had the highest step so on low angle terrain this aider lets you reach the highest (unless you want to put your foot in the grab loop). Of the aid ladder- style, any aider that does not have a spreader bar (like the Metolius Aid Ladder) is very hard to get in the top steps if you are only using two aiders total. The Yates was better for top-stepping but the Metolius Ladder Aider did have a bigger grab loop so you can get you foot in for that occasion "super top-stepping" move.



THE BOTTOM LINE
The type of aider you choose will depend on the type of wall climbing you prefer. Almost every aider we tested excelled in a certain application or was a great value.

Best Aider for Most Big Wall Applications
The Yates Big Wall ladder stood out for its comfort and ease of use, especially on steep terrain. It is pretty expensive ($45 for 6 steps and $50 for 7 steps) but its durability means you won't wear it out. Chris McNamara uses the 6 step but you might want the 7 step for hard aid. The Metolius 8 Step Ladder was another great option if you don't mind it missing the spreader bar. It scored up there with the Yates and is $11 less expensive.

Best Aider for Free Climbing Walls
For a wall with a lot of free climbing such as The Nose or Salathe or Lurking fear, we prefer the optimal comfort-to-weight ratio as well as the affordable price of the Metolius Alpine Aider.

Best Budget Aider
For value, you can't beat the Fish Smart Aiders at only $47 a pair. Chris Mac did his first handful of walls with them and liked them until he started preferring aiders with more reinforced steps and more top-stepping options. Also, if you climb with four aiders (which we strongly discourage), using four of these aiders is going to be one of your lightest options and save you more than $100 over any other four-aider setup.

If You Prefer an Etrier-Style Aider
We like the Metolius 5 Step Aider ($36). Chris Mac did most of his El Cap ascents with these and loves them, except for the fact that they blow out after awhile. He usually uses the 4 Step but always takes the 5 Step on hard aid such as Reticent Wall. The Metolius gets our Best Buy Award because it is very high scoring while being one of the least expensive aiders we tested. If you prefer ladder aiders, the Metolius 8 Step Ladder would get the Best Buy award.

Chris McNamara
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