All About Aiders

Essential Aid Climbing Equipment

Trekking in the Austrian Alps
Aiders for climbing. David Trood / Getty Images

Aiders, step-ladders made from webbing, are one of the most important pieces of aid climbing equipment. Aiders are the basis for aid climbing. Aiders take the place of handholds and footholds on steep unfeatured rock. You stand and move your feet up in aiders to make vertical progress up a cliff face. Aiders are the one piece of aid climbing equipment that will make a big difference in your aid speed and climbing success.

Buy a good pair and you will be happy. Aiders are also called stirrups, aid ladders, and etriers.

Manufactured or Homemade Aiders?

Aiders are made from webbing. Most climbers use aiders that are sewn together, with plastic inserts in the bottom of each stirrup for rigidity and to keep the stirrup open for the climber’s foot to easily slide into it. If you don’t want to spend money on sewn aiders from the major manufacturers, then it is easy to make aiders by tying a long piece of one-inch webbing together and then creating steps with overhand knots. Homemade aiders should, however, be used only for routes that do not require much aid climbing since your feet will hurt from the lack of support in the rungs.

Aider Buying Tips

It is best if each of your aiders is a different color so that you can easily tell them apart while climbing. Also make sure each aider has a short grab loop at the top to make it easier to pull yourself up.

Step-stiffeners, usually plastic inserts, make sure that the steps stay open so that you can easily put your foot into the step. Get aiders that are constructed of one-inch-wide webbing if you are doing much aid climbing or doing a big wall. Ones with thinner webbing are lighter but are uncomfortable if you stand in them for much time.

Aider Length

How long should your aiders be? For most climbers, especially if you don’t do lots of aid climbing or big walls, then a standard aider length would reach from your toes to the middle of your chest. This is usually a five-step standard aider. For hard aid routes, get longer aiders that reach from your toes to your eyes.

Stiffeners and Extra Steps

It can be frustrating to hang on a piece of gear while trying to slip your foot into a step without stiffeners. Some aiders, like the Metolius 5-Step Aider, have smaller sub-steps on the top two rungs to allow you to make high top-steps so you can reach higher for your next gear placement.

3 Types of Aiders

There are three basic types of aiders:

  • Standard Aiders
  • Aid Ladders
  • Lightweight Aiders

Standard Aiders

Standard aiders, sometimes called etriers, are the most common type of aider. Most climbers use these for trade aid routes as well as short aid climbs. They are usually light and compact compared to aid ladders, so they can be easily tied up and clipped to your harness if you have to free climb on your route. Standard aiders usually come with five to seven steps, which alternate on each side of the aider. A five-step aider, like the Metolius 5-Step Aider or the Petzl Wall Step Etrier, is usually adequate for most aid routes, although you will use longer aiders and more steps if you are doing hard aid pitches.

The big problem with standard aiders is that they tend to get twisted and the steps, especially the ones at the bottom, get turned and twisted around. Aiders made of wider webbing don’t twist as much as thin ones.

Aid Ladders

Aid ladders are aiders with a ladder-like construction with rungs, usually eight, suspended between two exterior lengths of webbing. Aid ladders, including the Metolius 8 Step Ladder Aider and the Yates Big Wall Ladder, are best for long routes that require lots of aid climbing, including hard aid placements, and little free climbing. These ladders are less likely to twist than standard aiders. Other advantages are that you can step up into the steps without reorienting the aider as you would with a standard one and you can put both feet on a single rung. Make sure that any aid ladder you buy has stirrup stiffeners as well as a spreader bar at the top to keep the sidewalls separated without lots of sag.

Aid ladders, because they are long and sometimes unwieldy to handle, are not suited for routes with much free climbing since they are hard to carry and can twist into cracks and snag on flakes.

Lightweight Aiders

Lightweight aiders, sometimes called alpine aiders, are light and compact aiders that are best used on routes with minimal aid climbing, alpine ascents that require some aid, or to simply climb fast and light. They are made from thin webbing so they are uncomfortable and hurt your feet if you stand in them for more than 15 minutes. Because of their thin width, they easily twist as you climb with them. That said, they are great for lightweight ascents, especially aiders like the Petzl GradiStep Etrier, which folds into its own small stuff sack, which can be easily clipped to a harness gear loop. Some aiders, like the Metolius Easy Aider, has a single grab and clip loop at the top of a single piece of webbing. At the bottom are a wide step and a smaller sub-step. You place your foot on a rung, then pull webbing to instantly adjust the aider length.

Buy a Guide-Recommended set of aiders:

  • Metolius Easy Aider
  • Petzl GradiStep 5-Step Etrier in a Bag
  • Metolius 8 Step Ladder Aider
  • Metolius 5-Step Aider
  • Petzl Wall Step Etrier