While you may have been anxiously waiting for your baby’s first steps and hoped it would make parenting a bit easier, you probably didn’t think about what comes next. This is where baby gates can help. It won’t replace being an attentive parent, but baby gates can provide a solid line of defense against serious injuries, especially in-and-around stairs.
We tested six different baby gates and considered 13 different options when choosing the best baby gates to childproof your home. Early in our research, we discovered that hardware-mounted gates are generally preferred. They’re more secure and cause less damage than their pressure-mounted counterparts, especially when the gates inevitably fall over. In addition, we wanted to find a gate that suited nearly every possible scenario, which includes at the top of the stairs, a feature you won’t see on a pressure-mounted gate.
After reading instructions (again and again), installing and testing each candidate, we found the Cardinal Gates Stairway Special (available at Amazon for $78.95) is the best baby gate on the market. For those who want to spend less, the Regalo Easy Step (available at Amazon) is another good choice with only a few compromises.
These are the best baby gates we tested, ranked in order:
- Cardinal Gates Stairway Special
- North States Easy Close Gate
- Regalo Easy Step Gate
- Summer Infant Multi-Use Extra Tall Walk Thru Gate
- EvenFlo Top of the Stairs Gate
The Cardinal Gates Stairway Special is the best gate on the market thanks to several thoughtful design features and solid construction. Not only does the product come with a comprehensive installation manual, but their videos are an excellent tool for those who need a bit more help.
The gate is made to be mounted about six inches from the floor, which avoids the common installation issues that plague many gates. Often, molding, baseboards, or an intricate banister can prove difficult, but not for this one. We found the hardware to be logical and that the installation and subsequent uninstallation left minimal damage. The latch isn’t the prettiest or most obvious, but it’s simple to operate for an adult and not for toddlers.
One of the more uncommon features of this product is that this gate can be installed at a bit of an angle. While it may never be an issue if you have a fairly new home, often times an older home may have more quirks and non-standard openings, where this gate (and probably only this gate) would work, thanks to the adjustments made available by design.
The Cardinal Gates Stairway Special gate is constructed from sturdy yet lightweight aluminum. You should have no problem installing this, seeing as the instructions are particularly outstanding. For those who get a facial tick upon glancing at Swedish furniture instructions, trust that you won’t have to worry about losing your weekend over this one.
If you’re looking for a less expensive but still effective gate, the Regalo Easy Step Gate is a good alternative. We liked how quick and easy the installation was, and that it yielded a solid feel without too much fuss. The features that didn’t work as well are the slim opening (16 inches) and the odd two-step handle to open the gate. A lot of times, parents who tested this would turn sideways to fit through the narrow opening, which can be especially awkward at the top of the stairs. Overall the gate’s design does the job. This model uses screw-in wall cups to secure the gate to the wall and has a large, if only slightly, clunky-looking handle.
How We Tested
Most parents are focused on the security and installation of the gates, and how easily they can open and close them while ensuring that the little ones stay behind safe. We added a few more criteria to our tests, including how easy it was to understand the manual and how much damage was left behind after we were done testing.
In researching the category, we started by selecting best-selling and highly-rated gates that had been on the market long enough to have an ample track record. Once we had an initial set of candidates, we eliminated gates that had the lowest ratings, and many that had much higher than average price tags. We tested each product with parents and their kids, and asked for each parent to fill out a questionnaire about their experiences. We then calculated the scores and found our favorites.
All of these models we tested were adequate and would ultimately prevent a child from accessing a set of stairs. The features that define the winners and the losers are largely related to the ease of installation, and how quickly you can get through the gate. Gates that open fully, and that also do not have a threshold are the best options, and our scores reflect that. It’s much easier to walk through a gate straight on versus having to turn your body at the top of the stairs to step through.
What to Know About Installing Baby Gates
Most gates are made of metal with plastic hardware. It’s important to make sure that when you purchase your gate that you hold on to every part that is required for installation (even if you don’t use all it), both now and in the future. As your child grows, so may your home. What works in one space may require special hardware or those extra pieces you thought you would never use in another. One main challenge for a gate is the banister. Be sure to check the guidance on each product for how to work around them, or even try to use your gate at a safe angle, like the Cardinal Gates Stairway Special. There are also kits, like the Qdos Universal Stair Mounting Kit, designed to help you mount the gate against an irregular surface.
For those who are afraid of wall damage, there are products out there that can help. The Wall Nanny works great for pressure-mounted gates. It works on almost all gates, and it’s simple to install. If you have a hardware-mounted gate, you’ll most likely have some sort of wall cup design, which will help to minimize any damage. The best way to prevent damage is to install the gate correctly in the first place. This means measuring twice, and drilling in the place you are supposed to once (and not testing out four other spots). A final note: If you’re not handy, don’t sweat it, many people have installed a gate with no prior experience.
Other Baby Gates We Tested
This model did not score as high as our winner for two main reasons. One, the limited opening (19-inches wide) has a threshold you must step over. For contrast, the Cardinal Gates model opens fully (roughly the size of the gate itself). Two, we didn’t love the handle mechanism, which is a “slide and lift,” taking extra effort to get through. This model was the only pressure mounted gate we brought in for testing. We knew it wouldn’t work at the top of the stairs, but it can be used at the bottom. We found that even though this is one of the most popular models online, it just didn’t work all that well in practice. The gate felt flimsy, and even after lots of tweaking, it never got secure enough for our testers to be comfortable relying on it as a safety device.
The Summer Infant Multi-use Extra Tall Walk Thru Gate has the longest name of any gate we tested. Other than that, it’s performance and installation was pretty average. While some parents commented on the height (36 inches) as a pro, others thought that it was awkward, especially when going up the stairs. Add in a slim opening (17.5-inches wide) and you have a fairly mediocre option that doesn’t bring anything new or exciting to the category.
Retract a Gate is a great concept, and there may be future versions that complete the vision of an easy-to-use and retractable gate. We found that the gate was average in how it operated, but that the main attribute it lacked was a secure feel when in use. Reviewers online have commented about having dogs or cats that can get through the gate, whether it’s underneath of it or by ramming through it, so we worry about the durability of the material. We also thought that it could be possible for a child to get underneath the gate, especially if it wasn’t installed as intended. While future models may eliminate these hazards, we aren’t quite ready to give this one a recommendation.
Where to Buy
The EvenFlo Top of the Stairs Gate has an overly complicated installation that wasn’t easy to follow as the other gates in this guide. The four-point adjustments that can be made to tilt or arc the placement add unneeded complexity, and quite often you would have to go back and tweak a bolt. This model had more plastic on it than the other gates we tested, which in this model’s case felt like it could be a durability issue in the long run.