These ladders have three sets of hinges along their length, enabling them to be configured in different ways. They can be set up as stepladders, straight ladders, stairwell scaffolds or working platforms, or stand-off ladders (where the top section is used to stand the ladder at a distance from the wall — it’s useful for cleaning gutters, for example). They fold into relatively compact shapes, so can be easier to transport and store than more conventional ladders.
Unfortunately, while they can be set up in many configurations, they aren’t easy to use. None of the ladders we tested scored more than 50% for ease of use, and three were judged to be ‘poor’. The joint locks can be hard to operate. The ladders are heavy and bulky and can require a fair amount of physical strength to manipulate them into shape.
A ladder that’s designed for one particular type of task, like a stepladder, will usually be lighter and easier to use for that task than a multipurpose ladder.
Multipurpose ladders aren't only versatile, they also fold up into a relatively compact shape, making them easier to transport and store than a conventional ladder. The downside is all the locking and unlocking of joints required - our testers didn't find any of the ladders tested easy to set up.
Only one model, the LOFTY Multi 6DL, passed all our tests this time around. Its unique dual-locking joint system is a good concept, designed to stop you accidentally locking only one joint of a pair. But it’s not as easy to operate as it could be, because the locking dowels can be difficult to align. While this ladder technically passed the unlocked joint test (see How we tested), the natural position of the locks when opened leaves the dowels partially engaged. In this position, a user might think the joints are locked when in fact they're not, and they could partly climb the LOFTY before it collapsed under them. When unlocking the joints you need to move the locking lever firmly all the way to be sure the dowels have fully disengaged.
The others all failed various clauses of the Australian standard, despite claiming to comply with it. Some of these ladders are structurally sound enough to be still worth considering, but others failed structural tests and aren’t recommended. See What to buy and the table for more details.
Multipurpose ladders clearly have a tough time with these tests, and the ladder joints are often the reason why. The joints are typically very stiff, which can help them pass some tests (such as the single joint lock test) but fail others (such as the unlocked joint test). Ideally, the joints need to be:
- easy to lock and unlock
- secure when locked
- easy to check if they’re locked or not
- easy to move when unlocked.
None of the ladders tested fully exhibit all these qualities.