How to Buy a Stair-Climber

Stair-climbers, also called steppers, have two foot plates you pump up and down to mimic the action of climbing stairs. Steppers usually have front or side rails that you hold onto for balance. Their consoles display time, distance, steps per minute (spm), number of flights climbed, and calories burned.

Most steppers have an independent action; that is, the movement of one pedal is not affected by the other. With dependent models, the act of straightening one leg to lower the step causes the other pedal to rise. This isn’t just a technical detail: Usually, you like the feel of one and hate the other.

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Almost all steppers in the $200 to $1,200 range use hydraulic pistons or air pressure to power the pedals. These cheaper steppers are nowhere near as smooth moving as the stair machines people line up for at the gym. Some people don’t mind the way they feel, but do stay away from the $200 models, and look for one that doesn’t wobble from side to side as you climb. Precor and Schwinn make decent ones at the low end of the price scale.

Consider the following when you shop for a home stair-climber:

  • If you want a gym-quality climber, go with the industry leader: StairMaster. StairMaster makes independent-action machines that use chains and cables to move the steps — and carry price tags of over $3,000.

  • Tectrix makes a respectable clone in the $1,500 range.

  • LifeStep manufactures the most popular dependent-action home climber in the same price range as Tectrix.

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