‘Aider’ is a broad generic term that describes devices made of webbing that are clipped to protection, bolts, or ascenders to create artificial steps, thereby ‘aiding’ climbers up a route. They are broken into four categories based on their overall shape and construction. 

  • Ladders have two parallel sides joined by horizontal webbing, forming box-shaped steps.
  • Etriers have steps that usually alternate on opposite sides of a strand of webbing; their loops form a more triangular or teardrop shape.
  • Foot Loops are a single triangular step that hangs from a length of cord or webbing; they usually have an adjustable length.
  • Russian Aiders use stirrups with metal hooks on the legs to walk up metal rings sewn into lengths of webbing which are separate and clipped to protection or gear.
All the aider types

All of these types of aiders are used to give a climber a place to stand while aiding, whether thats connected to ascenders to climb a rope directly or clipped to pieces of protection, making gradual process up a climb. Depending on the type of climbing you’re doing, each aider type has distinct advantages and features which are designed to overcome certain obstacles while aiding. Below we’ll touch on each aider type in depth, and discuss a few of the features that can make each one a better choice in the right situation.


Ladder aiders are so named because of their shape: 2 parallel sides with horizontal steps between them. Favored by aid and big wall climbers, aid ladders tend to have wider steps which are generally reinforced with extra stitching and material to handle the several hours of daily abuse that big walls require. This bulkier build means the steps are usually made of wider material which increases standing comfort, something that is important when standing in them all day is the task at hand.

Ladders also have wider step openings than other aider types which are easier to get your feet into, especially with larger shoes like mountaineering or ski boots.

All of this extra size, space and materials means that ladders are the heaviest of the aider types, so they aren’t typically the type of thing you carry around in an emergency kit or for backcountry alpine mountaineering.

Aiders Broken Down1 1

A common feature found on ladders is the hero loop, which functions as a handle when climbing the upper part of the ladder. Aid climbers also love this loop as a place to hook themselves temporarily with an open hook called a fifi (or fifi hook) which is attached to the harness and used to temporarily weight test gear placements.

Ladder Examples

The Ocun Ladder H Step is a classically designed ladder that has 6 reinforced steps and features a reinforced hero loop, spreader bar, and integrated draw string storage bag.

The über beefy Big Wall Ladder from Yates is made of thick tubular nylon and holds up to a ton of abuse. The trade off is the bulk and weight being some of the highest out there.

Ladder Summary

The Good

  • Wide large steps
  • Most comfortable standing for long periods
  • Heavy duty, durable, rugged
  • Most models include hero loops

The Bad

  • Larger, heavier than other aider types
  • Bulky, not very packable
  • Most expensive aider type

Best Used For

  • Big wall/aid climbing
  • Climbing photography
  • Situations where standing for hours is common


Etrier aiders have been around for a long time and are the style that most climbers think of when they hear the word ‘aider’. Etriers have steps made of loops that hang from a single strand of webbing. Because of the way they hang from the central strand, these steps form a triangular or teardrop shape. Etrier steps usually alternate from left side to right side but can be on the same side.

The steps in etriers are smaller and fold up much more compact than a ladder, which makes them the chosen aider type for climbers who mix a lot of free climbing in with aid objectives. Being less bulky and easier to stow on a harness is very key if you’re moving fast with occasional aid moves throughout your climb. If you’re looking to do the NIAD (Nose In A Day) this is likely the aider type you’ll consider. They are also ideal for carrying as part of an emergency or rescue kit or for use in alpine situations where weight matters a lot more than on a big wall.

Aiders Broken Down2 2

One thing that is more common in etriers is half steps which are sewn inside of full steps in order to increase the reach, allowing for a high step. Because etrier foot loops are already smaller than their larger ladder cousins, half steps in etriers are usually only large enough to accommodate the toe rather than a whole foot. This makes them uncomfortable to stand in for long periods of time, with the tradeoff of having a more versatile aider for standing and reaching at different heights.

Etrier Examples

Black Diamond’s Alpine Aiders are some of the lightest etriers out there, especially with 5 steps. The use of thin materials also makes them very compact, though this comes at the cost of being less comfortable for long aiding sessions.

The 5 Step Aider from Metolius is made of thicker materials and boasts an oversized hero loop and two half steps, all great features for a big wall aider that provides extra reach but less bulk than a traditional ladder.

Etrier Summary

The Good

  • Fairly light
  • Packable (often have incorporated storage)
  • Easily carried on harness or in backup rescue kit

The Bad

  • Thinner, less rugged materials
  • Less comfortable to stand in for long periods
  • Smaller steps, harder to walk up
  • Harder to step into than ladders

Best Used For

  • Alpine, ultralight racks
  • Mixed aid/free climbing routes
  • Emergency backup

Foot Loops

Foot loops are the smallest and lightest type of aiders. They are made of a single strand of webbing or cord with a single reinforced triangular step. This single strand is usually adjustable in length with a buckle or slider which makes them ideal for ascending setups where you only need one step and the distance between the step and the ascender don’t need to change once they are set.

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The single step in a foot loop is usually made of wide, reinforced webbing like those on a ladder, so it is more comfortable than most etriers and may support two feet at once. Foot loops can also include an adjustable strap or elastic to secure it to your foot, though this feature is sometimes seen on some etriers. Foot loops are very light and compact and work best in a frogging setup for climbing a fixed rope so are most often used in work at height, route setting, or caving applications.

Foot Loop Examples

The Footer XP from Singing Rock has a unique attachment point that is built into the aluminum adjustment buckle. The length of cord can be adjusted by lifting the attached buckle strap upward, even when weighted.

Petzl’s Quickstep foot loop features a double back buckle similar to what is found on most harnesses that also has a tiny hole for attaching a piece of cord for ease of adjusting on the fly. It also has a foot retaining strap for securing your foot while jugging or in windy conditions.

Foot Loop Summary

The Good

  • Very compact
  • Adjustable in length
  • More comfortable than etriers

The Bad

  • Only one step
  • Length requires a bit of dialing in
  • Floppy/difficult to step into without hands

Best Used For

  • Route setting
  • Caving
  • Backup/emergency
  • Crevasse rescue kits

Russian Aiders

A particularly novel addition to the aider world, ‘Russian aiders’ have had a couple of small swings in popularity in western climbing culture over the past 20 years though they still maintain a cultish following in the former Soviet Union. The interesting thing about them is that rather than being a standalone device that hangs from ascenders or protection, they are made in two parts that each attach to the climber and the gear, respectively.

The first piece is a webbing stirrup that attaches to the lower leg via a buckle system; a metal hook is fixed to the front of the stirrup just below the knee. The ‘aider’ portion is one or two lengths of webbing with metal rings sewn intermittently along them. These rings function as ‘steps’ for the metal hooks on the stirrups to ‘walk’ up rather than the typical loops of webbing found on other aiders.

The advantage of this form factor is that the force from the ‘step’ is spread across the entire lower portion of the leg, similar to a ski boot, which actually gives the climber some leverage to use their legs to stay more upright, rather than the mostly lower core required by traditional ladders or etriers.

Jugging with this type of aider also requires the ring ladders be clipped to the stirrups with a carabiner to keep them from falling away while ascending ropes.

Aiders Broken Down4 4

Russian aiders are particularly useful when aiding very overhanging terrain or in awkward formations such as tight corners, where stepping higher in a traditional aider can be difficult or impossible. They are also far less likely to be damaged by crampons as they are fixed to the foot so there is no chance of the crampon tearing them, making them particularly useful for icy alpine aiding.

Russian Aider Examples

Russian aiders aren’t very easy to find in the states, in fact they are so rare that only a couple of companies currently sell them or ship them to North America. You can find Krukonogi (which literally means ‘leg rings’ in Russian) aiders at VertiCall in Canada, and if you are more into the bespoke, you can custom order directly from the one man shop of Aideer Climbing who ships from Sweden.

Russian Aider Summary

The Good

  • Rings strands are compact and easy to deploy
  • Lower center of gravity on overhangs
  • Low fuss once you put them on

The Bad

  • Hard to find
  • Rings can get twisted and hard to hook in high wind
  • Connection between climber and wall less positive
  • Requires carabiner between stirrup and rings in order to jug

Best Used For

  • Overhanging/awkward position aid climbing
  • Long hanging stances
  • Switching between aid and ice while wearing crampons

Choosing aiders for your kind of climbing

The best way to choose between aiders is by finding a balance between the kind of comfort and weight you will need for the task at hand. Larger foot steps are more comfortable, but use more materials and are heavier, where lighter aiders have fewer, thinner steps that pack down well but are less fun to stand in all day.

If performing the same jugging maneuver repeatedly is all you need, a foot loop can be the best of both worlds of comfort and weight, though you lose the utility of different height steps without stopping and adjusting the length of the aider.

The rest of the nuance to guide you to a particular model will come from the flavor of climbing you do and how useful you think each aider feature will be.

Now that you know the basics, you can see and compare all the aider options at WeighMyRack.com/aider where we have filters for each of these aider types, along with price, sales, weight, a feature checklist, and more.

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff currently lives in the Midwest and spends most of his free time answering questions nobody asked. When not plugging gear on moderate warmups and calling it a day, he can be found whining about whipping on bolts in the gym or at the local pub waxing poetic about climbing saving humanity and the planet.

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