What to Know About Telescoping Ladders

Telescoping ladders provide a portable, easy way to work at modest heights. We'll look at their pros and cons for DIYers.

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A telescoping ladder may not be perfect for every situation, but they’re extremely handy for DIYers with limited storage space or who work at multiple locations.

The first time I saw a telescoping ladder, I was skeptical. But after I tried one out, it became a carry-along for maintenance runs and warranty calls.

I especially loved how easy it was to transport. When fully collapsed, it fit well in my truck cab or the trunk of the family sedan. Better yet, telescoping ladders can easily be carried through a home, navigating tight turns and stairways without fear of knocking over valuables or damaging walls.

What Is a Telescoping Ladder?

Telescoping ladders are difficult to describe, but easy to understand when you see one in action. They’re based on a series of metal tubes, each slightly smaller than the last, like an antique telescope that a pirate might use to peer across the ocean.

Users can extend a telescoping ladder to its full height or an intermediate one, depending on what the project requires. As each segment extends, a safety latch kicks in, ensuring that the ladder won’t collapse until the user manually retracts it.

When fully collapsed, a telescoping ladder is often no more than two or three feet tall, and can be lifted and carried under one arm. This makes transportation and storage a breeze. By contrast, a collapsed 16-foot extension ladder is eight feet long and takes up about three times as much storage space as a 16-foot telescoping one.

Also, a fully extended extension ladder still has overlap between the sections, while a telescoping ladder can extend to its full length.

Who Needs a Telescoping Ladder?

A telescoping ladder works for any project requiring an extension ladder. If you have a telescoping multi-position ladder, you can also substitute it for a stepladder. Telescoping ladders are particularly useful for DIYers in the following situations:

Tight on storage space

A typical telescoping ladder collapses down to about 36 inches tall and may weigh as little as 35 pounds. This makes it easy to store in the garage or even a closet. Many homeowners with panel access to an attic without a built-in ladder or stairs (AKA scuttle hole access) use a telescoping ladder.

Ladder must be easy to transport

The compact size makes a telescoping ladder the perfect choice to keep in a vehicle. Having a ladder always on hand is a huge asset, particularly for DIYers with rental properties, and those who frequently find themselves recruited to help family members with projects.

Ladder must be convenient to move around indoors

The compact size shines when carrying it through a home. If you’ve ever had to navigate tight spaces with a large extension ladder, you’ll immediately recognize the convenience of a telescoping model.

Nothing above 15 feet

Telescoping ladders can’t reach the heights of a similarly priced extension ladder. If you’re working at heights above 15 feet, go with the greater reach of an extension ladder.

Are Telescoping Ladders as Safe as Regular Ladders?

When used properly, telescoping ladders are every bit as safe as a standard straight or extension ladder.

The majority of ladder-related injuries happen users try to stretch beyond the safety zone, or set them up on unsteady ground or at an unsafe angle. Also be mindful of weight limitations. All ladders are rated to hold a maximum weight, which includes the user and any tools or materials they might be carrying. If you weigh 170 pounds and plan to carry a 60-pound bundle of three-tab shingles, don’t choose a ladder rated for 200 lbs.

Ladder manufacturer Werner releases a series of webinars on ladder safety every year in March to mark ladder safety month. These webinars are free and available online.

Important safety tip: Always wipe down the rails before collapsing and storing. DIY work often leads to spatters of paint, sawdust or drywall dust. All of this debris can gunk up the action of the rails and safety latches on telescoping ladder. Take the time to wipe down the rails as you prepare for storage and you can potentially add years to the lifespan of the ladder.

How Much Does a Telescoping Ladder Cost?

Telescoping ladders vary in price depending on their length and weight capacity. In general, a telescoping ladder costs between $150 and $500. Most DIYers can find a telescoping ladder in the $150 to $300 range. (Models that include multi-position or integrated platforms cost more.)

Note that a telescoping ladder costs more than a traditional extension ladder of a similar size. An XTend + Climb type 1 15-ft. aluminum telescoping ladder runs around $340, while a Werner type 1 16-ft. aluminum extension ladder costs $219.

Dan Stout
Ohio-based freelance writer and author Dan Stout is a former residential remodeler, commercial site supervisor and maintenance manager. He’s worked on nearly all aspects of building and DIY including project planning and permitting, plumbing, basic electric, drywall, carpentry, tiling, painting and more. He also publishes noir fantasy thrillers, including The Carter Series, from Penguin imprint DAW Books.