So your toddler is now on the move. The good news: There’s a baby gate to suit every need and lifestyle, whether you’re looking for a top of stairs baby gate, a sleek retract-a-gate, a walk-through gate or a large, wide safety barrier to block off the fireplace. Need further proof — besides observing your curious and active child — that a baby gate is a good idea?
Consider this stat from a 2012 long-term study in the journal Pediatrics: “A child less than 5 years old is treated in a US emergency department, on average, every 6 minutes for a stair-related injury.” Scary numbers aside, even if you don’t need a baby gate for stairs, sometimes you just need to keep your infant or toddler contained and away from things like the cat litter or a hot stove, and a sturdy-yet-moveable barrier can help you do just that.
Plus, adds pediatrician Dr. Ben Hoffman, a baby gate is a must if your child is sleeping in what he calls a “free-range bed,” meaning one which he or she can leave at will, and can encounter stairs.
The best baby gates keep would-be ninjas contained but don’t look like eyesores. Before you buy, check out these tips from Baby Safety Zone, the parents’ web site for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, who offers companies the chance to get additional safety certification for their gates (look for the JMPA seal).
Baby gate guidelines:
- It might sound like a “duh,” but before you shop, measure the opening. If you’ve got a dog who might leap over a gate (and you don’t want him to), look for an extra-tall style.
- At the top of the stairs, you should always use a hardware-mounted gate, meaning one that screws into the wall or door frame. A pressure-mounted baby gate, which stays up due to force, can be dislodged from its position, leading to an unwanted tumble.
- Top of stairs gates should always open away from the steps, never towards them. For child gates that swing both ways (not all do), some companies include an optional bracket, or “stopper,” to prevent the gate from opening over stairs. You also need a baby gate for the bottom of the stairs, but a pressure-mounted one is fine here.
- Don’t climb over the gate, especially when you’re holding your child.
Check out these suggestions for great baby and toddler gates, and if you aren’t particularly handy, there’s no shame in having a pro come install it for peace of mind.
Best Baby Gates and Best Baby Gates for Stairs
Now you see it, now you don't: That's the basic idea between this splurgy, stylish, retractable gate that can retract when not in use. You can also purchase extra mounting kits if you'd like to be able to move the gate around to different locations.
Dimensions: Up to 52 inches wide (adjustable); 34 inches high
Pros: It’s tough to argue with its clean, minimal profile. Unlike earlier models of these types of gates, this one opens quietly rather than with a loud snap, so you’re less likely to wake a baby if they’re napping nearby.
Cons: It’s certainly an investment, and some reviewers said the “one-handed opening and closing” was not accurate and that it took more effort. A few people also pointed out that the fabric made it especially easy for small dogs to slide under (not good if you’re also hoping to corral pets).
This top of stairs baby gate is intended to be used in doorways and stairs.
Dimensions: 29.5 inches tall and 29.5 – 40.5 inches wide
Pros: This baby gate actually looks a designer piece. It’s easy for adults to open; you just pull and lift the handle one-handed. And it’s equally easy to close, by pushing back the gate to close and lock it. It has automatic self-closing hinges. You can install it using either pressure mounting or hardware.
Cons: Some complain that the baby gate is loud when you open or close it.
This baby gate adjusts even when your walls are uneven, and is a solid pick for the top or bottom of stairs, hallways, and doorways.
Dimensions: 26.5 to 40 inches wide; 30.5 inches high
Pros: This baby gate looks good, and works even better. It has an indexed sizing system that adjusts for a perfect vertical fit when walls aren’t level, and a tuning system that lets you adjust the width. You can use it at the top of stairs, the bottom of stairs, or between rooms. It has a double-locking system that’s easy for adults to use, but a challenge for kids.
Cons: It’s difficult to install.
This simple gate can be either screwed into the wall (using included hardware) or installed as a pressure gate.
Dimensions: 29 to 38.5 inches wide (adjustable); 30 inches high
Pros: It’s both affordable and adjustable, and most reviewers found the installation to be both easy and fast, especially as a pressure gate.
Cons: Even when the gate is open, there is still a bar at the bottom, and some parents found themselves tripping over it. When used as a pressure gate, the rubber feet can also leave marks on walls.
This hardware-mounted gate was designed for quirky stairway openings (like when walls are different lengths), and can be installed at an angle of up to 30 degrees. You can also purchase separate extension kits that will make it nearly 65 inches across.
Dimensions: 27 to 42.5 inches wide (adjustable); 29.5 inches high
Pros: The latch is tricky for kids to figure out, but relatively easy for parents to open and close. The gate can swing both ways, or you can use the optional stop bracket and choose the direction you prefer (especially helpful when it’s at the top of a staircase).
Cons: In some cases, the bars arrive misaligned, but the company has a helpful video to explain how to fix it. Many customers were unhappy with the supplied hardware (such as flimsy plastic anchors), and found themselves needing to buy additional screws.
For those who want to keep their pets contained as well as their babies, this gate is extra-high (three feet) for dogs with a tendency to leap. It can be used as a pressure gate or mounted with hardware for more peace of mind.
Dimensions: 28.5 to 45 inches wide; 36 inches high
Pros: It’s a bit more stylish than the average baby gate, and won’t break the bank, either. There’s an optional stopper that can be installed at the top of stairs that will prevent the gate from opening over them.
Cons: Some parents had difficulty installing the extension pieces, others found the 16-inch walk-through opening a little narrow, especially when carrying kids or stuff in their arms.
This generously sized hardware-mounted North States baby gate works well at the top of stairway openings and is great for wider spaces, too.
Dimensions: 28.68 to 47.85 wide (adjustable); 31 inches high
Pros: It has a self-locking mechanism, so there’s no risk of accidentally leaving it open. It’s also one of the widest adjustable gates on the list.
Cons: Some parents reported that the lock started opening unexpectedly on its own over time, others felt the installation instructions could have been written more clearly. Also, the auto-close feature means it can’t be left open (like if you’re shuttling stuff back and forth), which is smart from a safety perspective, but some parents found annoying.
This hardware-mounted aluminum gate has a powder-coated finish that's rustproof and weatherproof, so it can be installed on the stairs of a porch or deck.
Dimensions: 27 to 42.5 inches wide (adjustable); 29.5 inches high
Pros: If your opening isn’t totally symmetrical, the gate—like the Cardinal Stairway Angle mentioned above—can be installed at an angle of up to 30 degrees. Although the gate can swing freely both ways, the company also includes an optional stop bracket that prevents the gate from being opened in whichever direction you choose (such as over a staircase).
Cons: Some reviewers complained that the latch was difficult to open and also that the hardware became hot to the touch on sunny days.
If you want to block off a giant area, this Regalo baby gate is for you. It's 192 inches wide, and can convert from an eight-panel play yard.
Dimensions: 192 inches wide (adjustable); 24 inches high
This is the superhero of baby gates. It can expand to fit openings that are 192 inches wide, and comes with eight 24-inch panels. The panels connect to hinged posts that offer a variety of shaping possibilities, including a play yard to keep kids contained.
Pros: This baby gate is made from steel, so it’s sturdy. It’s PVC-free and meets the safety standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). If you opt to use it as a play yard, it can create 19 square feet of play space. It’s easy to take down, and it folds for storage. The baby gate also features a walk-through door designed with a double lock lever handle.
Cons: The latches are easy to use. So easy, that some kids figure out how to open them.
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