Cover image courtesy Choss Boys ( – Photo: Nick Brown

There are more than a handful of really specific aider features and depending on the type of climbing you’re doing, some can be a big win. A few exist only on certain aider types, while some are quite common but are more useful in a particular style of climbing. We think it’s useful to consider each feature when comparing aiders because they can make such a big difference on your quality of life while using them. A few features may even have you rethinking what you need from your gear!

Full Steps in Aiders

The standard / very common

A full step is considered a step that is large enough to comfortably place your full foot into. Some etriers include half steps which are really only for your toe. (We’ll cover half steps in more detail later.) Broadly, the more steps an aider has the longer and more versatile it can be, allowing you greater access and flexibility in odd or reachy terrain. Downside: This also comes at the cost of extra material which means weight and extra space in your bag.

The number of full steps an aider has can greatly affect how usable it is in a given situation. For example, an aider with more steps means a longer reach. This may or may not be helpful, depending on your climbing needs. If you are over 6 ft tall and aid climbing on a big wall, a long ladder means you can use your long reach to its maximum potential and place your next piece very high yet still be able to step into the ladder. On the contrary if you are mostly jugging fixed lines, like in route setting or photography, you will likely be using the same step over and over, making those extra steps unnecessary, just added weight and bulk that can get in the way.

Full Steps in Aiders
Full steps(marked in green) should not be confused with Spreader bars or half steps (marked in red).

WeighMyRack Note: Some manufacturers make their spreader bar strong enough to be stood on and some do not. We only count steps that do not have a spreader bar in them. We’ll discuss spreaders more in a minute.

How Many Full Steps Do I Need?

  • More full steps means more versatility but also more bulk.
  • Know how long your reach is. If you have short arms, long ladders with many steps won’t likely be helpful. You can only push an aider as high as you can reach, so extra steps will just hang below you, unused and adding unnecessary weight.
  • Aiders that are too short for your reach are difficult to jug with. Standing into a too short aider above you is more tiring because your leg is forced to take a big step(the aider is too short to dangle the step low enough to reach you.) If you stand fully in a too short aider, your hand is now too low to pull upward comfortably (the top of the aider now isn’t tall enough to reach you.) To compensate you have to move in shorter and less effective ‘jugs’ per cycle of jugging, which is exponentially more tiring because your body is out of position for the movement.

Making Use of the Hero Loop

~50% of aiders

Historically there have been a couple of uses of the term “hero loop” in the world of big wall aid climbing, but the one that is settled on the most describes a sewn or tied loop of webbing at or near the attachment point of an aider. This loop is almost always used as a handle while the climber ascends the steps of the aider. In the case that you are standing high in your ladders, it also functions as a great temporary attachment point for a fifi hook.

So what makes you an aid climbing hero, worthy of the hero loop? When you’ve run out of steps in your aider, but, “–hey there’s this loop right here…” and you choose to heroically stand with your tip-toe in your hero loop, you gain even more reach for your next placement; you insane superhuman, you.

You can spot a hero loop usually because it is made to be a different color from the rest of the aider and it is often highly reinforced for durability. Hero loops are most often seen on ladder style aiders though many etriers have them as well. An aider can also have multiple hero loops (rare), which gives a couple of height options for grabbing and fifi hooking, but can make ‘hero stepping’ into them a bit tougher due to their usually smaller size openings.

Hero loops on aiders
Hero loops(marked in green) hang from the clip in point and are used as a handle or a precariously high step.

Do I Need a Hero Loop?

  • If you plan on ‘walking up’ your aider step by step, the hero loop is quite helpful for stabilizing your upper body as you step.
  • Big wall climbing often uses aiders for much more than just progress up the wall, especially at hanging belays and portaledges. Hero loops are a great way to hang onto and maneuver around without shifting the aider which may be in use for other purposes.
  • If you are planning on proving to your belayer that you have superhuman balance, a hero loop will help.
See All the Aiders that Have a Hero Loop

Spreader Bar

~70% of ladders

This feature is found only on ladders and is becoming the standard for anyone who needs to stand in an aider for extended periods of time. Usually made of some form of plastic, though sometimes found in fiberglass and even aluminum, the spreader bar sits below the clip in point and keeps the vertical sides of the ladder from collapsing inward as you stand in the ladder.

A spreader bar on a ladder aider
A spreader bar sits directly below the attachment point at the top of a ladder. Most are not made to be stood on and are not considered steps.

Ladders without spreader bars will collapse inward and pinch in on the sides of the foot when weighted and can be harder to walk up step by step as the upper steps are now narrowed. This isn’t as large an issue for those who use their ladders more to jug than to aid but if you spend a ton of time standing in a ladder, having the sides of your foot pinched can get quite uncomfortable.

Do I Need a Spreader Bar?

  • If you plan on standing in your ladder for long periods of time, and don’t want any extra pressure on your foot, the spreader bar is for you.
See All the Aiders that Have a Spreader Bar

Half Steps

~50% of etriers

Half steps are sort of halfway between full steps and getting superhuman in a hero loop. Rather than attempting to step higher into a loop that barely holds a toe tip, some manufacturers have included mini steps that are sewn inside of the top one or two full steps.

WeighMyRack Note: On our platform, when we count the number of half steps, we consider anything that is less than half the height of the other steps below it a ‘half step’. This means a half step can also be the very top step if it is small.

Half steps on an etrier aider
Half steps are smaller than full steps and are sewn inside or above full sized steps to increase the reach of the aider.

The important thing to note about half steps is that it can be difficult or impossible to fit the entire foot into them, especially if you are wearing mountaineering or ski boots, so don’t expect to be standing in these things all day. The big advantage is that they do give you that extra reach just a touch higher than aiders without them. Half steps are only found in etrier style aiders, as most ladders have varying step heights and all steps in ladders are full width and can accommodate the full foot.

Do I Need Half Steps?

  • If you want the highest reach possible while still keeping your aider lightweight and compact, the half step is for you.
  • The toes of climbing shoes fit into half steps much better than boots or approach shoes. If you plan on switching between free climbing and aid moves, these smaller steps are very beneficial.
See All the Aiders that Have Half Steps

Lower Clip-in Loop

~50% of etriers and extremely rare for ladders

A lower clip-in loop has a couple of purposes and is one of those features that you will use a lot or not at all. Most often it is used to extend the reach of an aider by providing a reinforced loop on the bottom step to clip a second aider. In the world of big walling where down climbing to back-clean gear happens regularly, being able to hang a second ladder below the one you are standing on means you have access to clean gear that you placed 15 feet ago. This means you have more gear, the pitches get longer, and you cover more ground per lead. Extending aiders this way can also be helpful to create easier access for followers around obstacles or even just a way to reach your haul bags if you need to hang them far below you at a bivy ledge.

A lower clip-in point on an etrier
Lower clip-in loops are useful for attaching extra steps to the bottom of an aider.

Another reason for this loop that manufacturers tout is the ability to hang heavier gear to keep your aider from blowing around in the wind. The idea is by keeping the aider taught, the loops are kept more open and thereby are easier to step into. In practice this may or may not work very well and depends greatly on the amount and direction of the wind. Some have found this is a great way to turn your approach shoes into a big wall kite.

Do I Need Lower Clip-in Loops?

  • If you want to extend your reach and chain two aiders together, this is the way to go.
  • If you want to add weight to anchor your aiders against the wind, these are helpful in some situations.
  • If you want to fly a pirate flag or rainbow kite below you, why not have a dedicated spot to clip it? (this will likely get in the way of any climbing, so maybe hang it from your haulbag?)
See All the Aiders that Have a Lower Clip-in Loop

Double Bottom Step

Rare for ladders, extremely rare for etriers

A double bottom step is a feature primarily seen on ladders, though it has been on the occasional etrier. In ladders it means that the bottom rung is wide enough to comfortably accommodate both feet. After many hours shifting weight on opposite feet, your legs and core can get quite fatigued. This added space to simply stand with your feet together can be a comfort and morale-booster when you’re on the ragged end of a long day aiding. Etriers with a double step simply have a second loop sewn opposite the bottom loop, effectively creating the same comfy place.

A double bottom step on a ladder
A double step allows a climber to put both feet in the same step while resting in an aider.

Do I Need a Double Bottom Step?

  • Planning on really long periods standing in your aiders? Being able to match feet and rest is great.
  • If you ascend rope with a chest setup, matching your feet in one aider allows you to use both legs in the classic frog technique.
See All the Aiders that Have a Double Bottom Step

Integrated Storage

Quite rare for etriers, extremely rare for ladders

Something that is becoming more common in etriers and even a few ladders is a built in storage solution. Because a lot of etriers are carried into alpine and backcountry as an emergency or backup, for example to ascend and free a stuck rope, they are often kept packed away until absolutely needed. Contrary to the ladder which is often deployed and used throughout a climb, having a way to ‘put away’ your aider but still keep it accessible is great for slimming down and decluttering your harness while you move through alpine terrain but is also a great advantage to have for switching between aid and free climbing on big climbs.

Integrated storage on a foot loop in use
Integrated storage solutions can be simple elastic straps or even sewn on bags that hold an aider when not in use.

Some brands simply sew a loop of elastic into the upper part of the aider which can be banded around a bunch of gathered steps, while others include sewn-on stuff sacks complete with drawstrings and clip loops which not only keep your aider small and tidy, but also protect it from scrapes and catching on gear or loose rock while you climb.

Do I Need Integrated Storage?

  • If you don’t want to make your own, and still want a fast way to get the ladder out of the way, this feature is for you.
  • If you’re switching between aid and free climbing a storage solution can be helpful to keep your aiders out of the way until you need them.
  • If you’re using the aider as a backup it can be nice to have it more efficiently stowed vs a jumbled mess, especially if it is stuffed into a bag.
See All the Aiders that Have Integrated Storage

Foot Retaining Strap

~60% of foot loop aiders and extremely rare for ladders

This feature refers to either an adjustable strap or piece of elastic sewn across the bottom step or steps of an aider, it is mostly found on foot loops. It is most helpful when ascending a rope (jugging), when you’re keeping your foot a constant distance from the ascender, performing the same step length over and over.

Without one, sometimes, if you lift your foot too quickly, you can step out of the aider, losing your footing and thereby your ability to keep jugging. A retaining strap can keep your foot where you need it.

A foot retaining strap on a foot loop
Foot retaining straps are useful for keeping aiders attached to feet

Another bonus to fixing your aider to your foot is in high wind conditions. Be aware that by attaching yourself to an aider, you will have extra steps to perform if you want to switch to free climbing or wish to escape the system for any reason.

Do I Need A Foot Retaining Strap?

  • Route setting, arboriculture and caving all benefit from jugging with an aider that can’t fall off your foot.
  • Can be handy when jugging rope in high wind.
See All the Aiders that Have a Foot Retaining Strap

Bottom Line

Once you know your climbing objectives, picking the aider type will be much easier. Most climbers pick the type of aider before choosing which features they want (a double edged sword).

The features available are different for the various types of aiders and will help you further nail down exactly what model of aider is best for you.

Now that we’ve covered each of these features you can head to to compare these unique features on the 60+ models made today.

See and Compare every Aider