Jun 02, 2023

The Best Baby Gate

We’ve updated this guide with long term testing notes on our top pick and otherwise confirmed that all our picks remain dependable and available.

After talking to four childproofing professionals and then installing and testing 20 baby gates, we have determined that the best one for most situations is the Cardinal Gates SS-30 Stairway Special. (And it's the best for dogs as well.) We have additional suggestions for wide openings, retractable gates, and freestanding enclosures—but we don't recommend pressure-fit gates, a popular option that is less secure than our picks, not much easier to install, and actually likely to do more damage to your walls.

With the most durable frame and latch we tested, this all-metal gate isn't the cheapest of its kind—but it's the best value. Opening it is easy for adults, and it's easier to securely install (in more situations) than its competitors.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $50.

The Stairway Special by Cardinal Gates is the only one we tested with an all-metal build, including the latch, making it a very durable gate, one that could even hold the weight of a 180-pound person without having it flex (like the plastic gates did). The latch mechanism is simple for an adult to use, yet confounding to a toddler, and the gate can be easily opened midstride. It can also be set up at an odd angle (unlike the majority of its competitors, which install only perpendicular to a wall), making it a more versatile choice. The Stairway Special is also among the easiest gates to install, needing just four screws and taking less than 20 minutes to complete. Last, it has a swing stop, so the gate can be prohibited from swinging out over a set of stairs.


The North States gate is easy to use and install. It's less expensive than our main pick, but it has a lot of plastic in the locking mechanism and can't be set up at an angle.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $44.

If our main pick is not available, we also like the North States Easy Swing & Lock Gate. It's less expensive than our main pick, but it has a plastic latch, so it lacks the strength of the all-metal locking system. It also can't be set up at an angle, so it will work only in doorways or other areas where it can be mounted perpendicular to the wall. But it's a snap to install, easier than some to open and shut quietly, and far more secure than comparably priced competitors, including pressure-fit gates.

The costliest type of gate we recommend uses a sheet of fabric (rather than a swinging gate), so it is good for tight spaces and has a nicer handle and easier latch than other retractable gates.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $135.

For a tight space without room for a swinging gate, or if you just prefer a discreet look, we like the Retract-A-Gate by Smart Retract. It's a piece of mesh fabric that unspools across an opening and hooks on the other side. We looked at three retractable gates, and the Retract-A-Gate stood out for its simpler handle. It was also the easiest to hook in the closed position, and the sheet never got bunched up during testing. The downsides are that it has a multistep lock that can be tedious, and it's also expensive.

The Deluxe Decor can fit in an opening up to 6 feet wide and has a larger opening than similar models and a manageable latch.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $70.

If you have to gate off a wide opening up to 6 feet, the North States Deluxe Decor Gate will serve you well. It's like a small fence with a doorway in the middle. We tested three wide-opening models, and the Deluxe Decor really impressed us—it has a large door, plus a latch that's secure yet easy for parents to use.

For closing off a larger area like a fireplace hearth, the six-panel North States Metal Superyard offers a nice latch and an easy installation. It can also be configured into a small stand-alone play yard.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $171.

For keeping kids from touching wood stoves, fireplaces, AV cabinets, or other dangerous or sensitive areas, we like the North States Metal Superyard. It's a six-panel adjustable fence, complete with a door panel. The ends can be secured to a wall, or to one another to make a small play yard. The Superyard distinguished itself with a nicer latch and simpler installation than the competition.

With the most durable frame and latch we tested, this all-metal gate isn't the cheapest of its kind—but it's the best value. Opening it is easy for adults, and it's easier to securely install (in more situations) than its competitors.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $50.

The North States gate is easy to use and install. It's less expensive than our main pick, but it has a lot of plastic in the locking mechanism and can't be set up at an angle.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $44.

The costliest type of gate we recommend uses a sheet of fabric (rather than a swinging gate), so it is good for tight spaces and has a nicer handle and easier latch than other retractable gates.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $135.

The Deluxe Decor can fit in an opening up to 6 feet wide and has a larger opening than similar models and a manageable latch.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $70.

For closing off a larger area like a fireplace hearth, the six-panel North States Metal Superyard offers a nice latch and an easy installation. It can also be configured into a small stand-alone play yard.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $171.

In researching baby gates, we found no credible reviews that covered more than one or two gates at time. So to learn more about the ins and outs of baby gates, we turned to the people who install them every day—experts in babyproofing. I spoke with four from different areas of the country: Ryan Schecter of Atlanta's Safe Nest Babyproofing; Louie Delaware, then of Colorado Childproofers and author of How to Childproof Your Home; Neal Onos of Safe Beginnings Childproofing, servicing the Boston area; and Tom Treanor of All Star Baby Safety in New York. In addition, we corresponded with Kelly Voelker, director of public relations at the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, an advocacy group for manufacturers.

As for myself, I have shepherded four kids through the baby gate phase. Since the first came along, I’ve lived in three different houses, each with its own specific baby gate needs. Over the past twelve years, I’ve installed close to 10 baby gates in my own homes. I also spent 10 years in construction as a carpenter, foreman, and jobsite supervisor, so I have an understanding of materials and hardware that helped me assess which gates are built to withstand constant abuse and which ones aren't.

After researching the topic and talking to our experts, we looked for gates that had certain characteristics.

JPMA certification: We only looked at gates certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. This organization independently tests child products to confirm that they adhere to the standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials, an international organization that develops technical standards for both products and materials. Ryan Schecter of Safe Nest Babyproofing told us, "All of the gates I use must meet or exceed the voluntary standard set by the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association." Like Schecter said, JPMA certification is entirely voluntary, but we found that all of the major manufacturers of baby gates are in compliance. While it's possible for a non-JPMA–approved gate to be completely safe, we felt that with all of the major manufacturers represented, there was no compelling reason to go outside of the certification for a recommendation. We also found that companies that have not undergone JPMA certification tend to be those that don't specialize in child safety, and in recent years there have been three recalls of non-JPMA approved baby gates (one from Madison Mill and two sold by IKEA).

Hardware-mounted: Because security and stability are the top concerns with any baby gate, we feel a successful one must be hardware-mounted, meaning it is attached to the wall with screws into wood (whether a wood door jamb, a newel post, or a stud behind drywall). The most popular alternative is a pressure-fit gate, which is held in place through pressure against the wall. But after testing five of them, we’re certain that they have too many drawbacks to recommend. We have more information on this below.

But not all hardware-mounted gates are safe. In a blog post on his site, Schecter explains, "Never use an accordion-style gate or one with V-shaped or diamond-shaped openings. There have been several recalls on this style of gate due to the risk of a baby getting their head entrapped in these openings. In addition, older children have been able to use these openings as a foot- or handhold to climb up and over the gate."

One-handed operation: This is not only a convenience issue, but also a safety one as parents will often have a baby in their arms. We found that there are enough good one-handed gates to not have to bother with needlessly difficult two-handed models.

Versatility: Many gates are limited in their setup and can only be used if the hinge hardware and the latch hardware are directly across from one another (putting the gate perfectly perpendicular to the walls). This setup will work in many cases, like in an existing doorway, but for a hallway or the top of stairs, "it's rare that wall studs are located perfectly across from each other," Schecter told us. "Gates that mount on angles are much more practical." Delaware, the professional babyproofer from Colorado, agreed: "For hinged gates, I only use ones that can be mounted at an angle as studs or posts are not always across an opening." Professional childproofers also prefer angle mount gates because they offer the most mounting options, which is a big plus if you’re unfamiliar with the home or if the gate just doesn't work in the originally planned location.

Easy setup with clear instructions: No one wants to spend an entire day deciphering instructions to set up baby gates. In our testing, some gates took as little as 15 minutes to install while others cost us nearly an hour. We preferred gates that use the fewest screws (while still remaining secure, of course). Gates are a short-term installation, and the less wall patching and painting when they’re removed, the better.

Average height: For the most part, we kept our search to standard-height gates of about 28 to 32 inches tall. Some models are sold as "extra tall," and those reach a range of 36 to 38 inches. "If a child is old enough or strong enough to climb over a standard-height gate, then I’m not sure a few more inches will make much of a difference," Schecter told us. Delaware said something similar: "Once a child can climb over a 30-inch gate, it won't take long for them to figure out how to get over one that is 36 inches." The bigger issue, he said, is that another 6 inches will hurt when the child falls onto the floor. Schecter pointed out that added height also adds weight to the gate, which can mean the need for more or larger screws to attach it securely to the walls and ultimately make the gate harder to open one-handed.

Good value: We found that the majority of swinging hardware-mounted gates cost between $40 and $100, with a few outliers on each side. Retractable gates are more expensive, starting around $60 and cresting at almost $200. We focused our search on the average-priced, mainstream models.

We tested the gates’ stability by repeatedly opening and closing them, pressing against them, sitting on them, banging into them, and grabbing on to each one and simply throttling it.

Focusing our attention on these characteristics and features, we searched retailer and manufacturer websites and selected 20 gates to test. This included the few gates that can be set up at an angle and a variety of gates that can be set up only perpendicular to a wall. We tested retractable gates, wide-opening gates, and multipanel enclosure gates that can shield off a dangerous area or convert to a free-standing play yard. We also tested five pressure-mounted gates.

To test the gates, we used stock lumber to frame out two 32-inch doorways—a standard size—and installed each gate across our mock thresholds. Then we tested the gates’ stability by repeatedly opening and closing them, pressing against them, sitting on them, banging into them, and grabbing on to each one and simply throttling it. We also opened them delicately (and quietly) and after that quickly (and loudly). We tested our finalists by installing them in a few real-world doorways at home to see how they held up over a couple of weeks of routine use. Finally, we had three kids, ages 3, 5, and 8, go to work on the installed gates, by pushing, pulling, locking, unlocking, and generally abusing them.

With the most durable frame and latch we tested, this all-metal gate isn't the cheapest of its kind—but it's the best value. Opening it is easy for adults, and it's easier to securely install (in more situations) than its competitors.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $50.

Of all the gates we tested, the Cardinal Gates SS-30 Stairway Special offers the best combination of stability, durability, and versatility. Out of the box, the setup is faster and easier than most competitors, taking less than 20 minutes. This gate also has the rare ability to be installed at an angle, so it can accommodate odd situations where the gate isn't perfectly perpendicular to the walls. Once installed, it has a simple latch that's easy for adults to undo, but confounding to anyone under 2 years old. It is the only tested gate with a 100 percent metal locking system and, properly installed, the gate had no problems supporting 180 pounds of weight (me, sitting on it) without any flex. No matter how much we throttled, kicked, and rattled it, the gate didn't budge, while other gates, with plastic hinges and latches, strained under weight, and even came loose with a few aggressive pulls. Usually sold for around $70, the Stairway Special is one of the more expensive models we tested, but we feel the value you get is worth the investment, particularly knowing what's at stake when you’ve got a 1-year-old standing at the top of a set of stairs. This gate fits openings 27 to 42½ inches and is available in white and black.

Like the majority of baby gate locks, the lock here is built around two opposing motions. In this case, you press down on two little metal tabs that unhook the gate from the latch, then the gate can be lifted in order to open it. The metal tabs sit loose on the gate and fall into place through gravity, so with this simplicity, we saw little room for any kind of mechanical failure.

Once engaged, only the two-part process will open the lock. Our testing showed no way for the gate to be battered or shaken open. On numerous occasions, we stood and aggressively shook the gate back and forth, side to side, and up and down, and it never released or showed any signs of weakening. Many of the plastic latches on other gates also survived this treatment, but we could see how parts could wear or break over time (one of them, we were able to wrench open with a few rough pulls). No other gates we tested gave us the long-term sense of security that the Stairway Special did.

The lock is not only secure, but also a snap to use. Once we got used to it (we had to get used to all of the gate locks), we found it to be an easy one-handed motion, and we could do it quickly as we approached the gate, almost without breaking stride. We also liked that the process includes lifting up the gate. This wasn't the case with all of the latch systems, and we found that we had more confidence in the ones that had it, given the strength it takes to lift the gate.

Our main pick was among the easiest gates to install, with a setup time of 15 to 20 minutes (here's a video tutorial). The instructions fit on a single page and are clear, which is in stark contrast to the hieroglyphics supplied with other gates, some of which took more than an hour to install. Along the edge of the instruction sheet is a printed ruler that has the only measurement needed to get the gate in. A lot of the other gates came with cut-out templates that were essential, but a bit of a pain to deal with.

We also liked that the Stairway Special uses only four screws. Not only does this make for a quick installation, but when the gate is no longer needed there is also minimal patching to do—in most cases, just a few fingertips of joint compound and a little touch-up paint. No other gate used fewer screws; most needed more, often many more (one gate required 10).

Our pick has the rare ability to be installed at odd angles, while many competitors can only install at 90-degree angles, perpendicular to the walls. Most manufacturers recommend that the gates be screwed directly into wood, whether it's a door jamb or the studs behind drywall. (Some, though, supply drywall anchors with their gates, but due to our own experiences with the long-term stability of drywall anchors, particularly those under constant strain, our recommendation is to always mount your gate into wood). If a gate is being installed in a doorway, a 90-degree angle is easy because both wood sides are directly across from each other. At the top of a set of stairs or in a hallway, though, there is no guarantee that studs or woodwork are going to line up across from one another. Because of how its hinge and lock work, the Stairway Special can be safely installed even if it skews up to 30 degrees. This image, from babyproofing company Baby Safe Homes, shows the gate (with an extension) set up at an angle—there is no other way to install a gate in this location.

This gate can be used in any opening measuring 27 inches to 42½ inches wide. If you have a wider than normal opening, additional gate pieces can be added to make it compatible with up to a 64-inch space (a 10½-inch extension and a 21¾-inch extension are available). We didn't test out the extensions, but just be aware that 64 inches is a lot of gate and would require a good bit of swing room. Like most of the gates we tested, the Stairway Special has a removable swing stop that can prohibit the gate from swinging out over a set of stairs for safety reasons.

Two of the experts we spoke with specifically recommended this gate. "It's far from perfect, but it's the best I’ve found," Schecter told us. Tom Treanor also likes what Cardinal Gates has to offer and specifically called out the SS-30 as one he uses often. Wirecutter senior editor Erica Ogg used the Stairway Special for several years and found it sturdy and easy to open and close: "It's been great! I’ve never had any problem with it," says Ogg, who ended up buying another one for a different part of her home.

The SS-30 is available in both a white and black finish. There is also an outdoor version of the SS-30 (SS-30OD) that can be used on a deck. The only difference is that the hardware is stainless steel.

The SS-30 carries a one-year warranty. The Cardinal Gates website also offers a wide selection of parts, should a piece ever be lost.

In October 2016, the SS-30 was recalled in Canada due to a chemical in the black paint and the potential for a choking hazard presented by the plastic endcaps used in the gate frame. In response to questions from readers after this guide was published, we spoke to a representative at Cardinal and they informed us that the SS-30 is now in compliance with Canadian safety standards. To remedy the situation, they changed the composition of the black paint and redesigned the plastic endcaps. It's worth noting that the gates were always in compliance with US safety standards, even before the recall. Additionally, the Canadian recall points out that there were never any reports of incident or injury concerning the SS-30.

This gate has several drawbacks, but none of them offset its secure locking mechanism and its overall strength and durability.

While many gates are made of stained wood or have sophisticated finishes, the SS-30 is available in either bright white or pitch black. As mentioned above, this is a sturdy gate, but it is not compatible with any extensions. Also, by virtue of being made entirely of metal, the SS-30 will have greater durability.

Another downside is that the all-metal latch and hinge is noisier than latches on gates with plastic locks. With a little practice, we could lock and unlock it without much sound, but a quiet unlock takes a more delicate touch than with the other gates we tested, which all have plastic latches and are naturally quieter. Also, if someone were to rattle the locked Cardinal, you get the clanking metal-on-metal sound, rather than plastic on plastic. It's something to keep in mind with young kids sleeping nearby.

The SS-30 also lacks any kind of auto-latch mechanism, so you have to manually lock it each time you pass through. Auto-lock gates are convenient—just give them a firm push and they re-latch on their own—but we found that the latch and the gate need to be perfectly lined up for this to be a flawless action. In our testing, we found that if things were even slightly off, an auto-lock gate would only half latch or wouldn't latch at all. On the bright side, the need to manually close it naturally lets you check that it's fully secured each time. Obviously, at the top of a set of stairs this security is crucially important. Cardinal Gates offers an auto-lock gate, and we have more information on that in the competition section.

Very large baseboards pose a slight problem with installation. The design of our main pick allows it to be easily installed on a wall with a baseboard measuring less than about 5½ inches tall.1 If the baseboard is taller than that, the upper screws of the hinge bracket screws need to be padded out from the wall with a block of wood in order for everything to line up. It's rare to see baseboards that tall in new American homes, and adding a block is not a terribly difficult task, but if you’re uncomfortable with basic carpentry, it's an obstacle to consider.

Finally, as far as cost, the Stairway Special is heading toward the upper price range of hardware-mounted gates. If you’re purchasing more than one, the dollars will add up quickly, but we feel this is a worthy investment because it's so safe and so well made. Such a durable model should have no issue lasting through multiple children over the course of many years. Again, we don't feel that "top of stair" security is worth sacrificing for a few dollars.

The North States gate is easy to use and install. It's less expensive than our main pick, but it has a lot of plastic in the locking mechanism and can't be set up at an angle.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $44.

If our main pick is not available, your budget is limited, or you simply don't need the most secure option, we also like the North States Easy Swing & Lock Gate. At around $40, it costs much less than the Cardinal SS-30, but it doesn't have the durability of the all-metal build or the ability to be mounted at an angle. What it does offer is a fairly simple setup and a design that can handle a baseboard of any height without any additional work. The Easy Swing & Lock also has an auto-lock feature, so it can re-latch with a solid push, rather than only by manually setting the gate in place, like with our Cardinal Gates pick. We feel this is a fine option for separating two rooms, but we strongly recommend the Stairway Special for the top of stairs, due to the added stability. The Easy Swing & Lock can fit an opening between 28.68 inches and 47.85 inches and is available in matte bronze.

The installation on this one took us about 20 minutes, so it's in the same ballpark as our main pick. It requires eight screws, so in the end there will be more wall patching than with the Stairway Special. It also uses a fiddly template to place the screw holes, which is a little tedious.

Once installed, the gate feels secure, and the two-part latch is easy for an adult. When a thumb lever is pressed, the gate can be lifted up and out of a little holder piece. The gate is re-latched with a firm push. There is no need to lift it back in place, like with the Cardinal Gates pick. As we said above, this may sound like a convenient feature, but we don't recommend relying on it, especially if you decide to mount the gate at the top of the stairs. In our testing, we found that if the gate is even a little misaligned, it doesn't properly re-latch. We prefer manually closing the gate each time because it allows us to give it a little shake to check that it's properly closed.

We didn't have any issues with the strength of this gate, although the plastic hinges and latch did show some flex when we really leaned into it. The lock is firm, but the majority of it is plastic, and we felt much more confident in the all-metal Stairway Special.

This runner-up pick is similar in style to a number of competitors, including the KidCo Safeway Gate and the Munchkin Push to Close, which both look (and lock) the same way.

The downside of this runner-up, other than the durability when compared with our top pick, is that it cannot be set up at an angle. This means that to install it, you must be certain that there is wood to screw into directly across the opening. In a doorway, this shouldn't be an issue, but for more complicated stairway setups, this may be a problem (one that our pick nicely solves).

The costliest type of gate we recommend uses a sheet of fabric (rather than a swinging gate), so it is good for tight spaces and has a nicer handle and easier latch than other retractable gates.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $135.

Retractable gates are hardware-mounted screens that use a sheet of mesh fabric pulled across an opening and hooked to the other side instead of a swinging metal door. We don't think they’re a great fit for most people due to their expense and two-handed operation, but there are enough situations in which a retractable gate is a good option for us to make a recommendation. The plus side of retractables is that they're discreet and can be used in tight areas like an entryway or in an old house with tight hallways, where a swinging gate would simply get in the way. They are also a good choice for a relative who might want a gate for young kids’ visits, but doesn't want to deal with it all the time.

Of the three retractable gates we tested, we prefer the Retract-A-Gate. Like the Cardinal Gates pick, it can be set up at an angle. It is also the easiest to pull and unspool. Other models would get hung up a little or they wouldn't fully retract when we wanted them to. The Retract-A-Gate also has the most forgiving latch system among its competitors. Its two hooks catch the bar at the leading edge of the fabric mesh, and the hooks are large, so it's easy to get them to catch. Other models require a more precise lining up of the parts in order to hook on. With those, if the latch side is even a little bit off, it's hard to get the parts to connect. The Retract-A-Gate can fit an opening up to 52 inches wide. A larger model is available that can reach 72 inches.

The handle on the Retract-A-Gate sheet, which is really just a cut-out in the mesh, is easy to grab and pull, regardless of which side of the gate you’re standing on. The two other retractable gates we tested had designated handles that only protruded on one side of the sheet and were awkward to hold from the other side.

The locking mechanism on the Retract-A-Gate is functional, but it's fussy when compared with the simplicity of the more traditional Cardinal or North States gates. To use the gate, a locking dial on the spool side needs to be turned to unlock, then the mesh sheet can be pulled out of the spool and hooked on the other side of the opening. Once it's attached, the locking dial needs to be turned again to the lock position. This can all be done with one hand, but it's time-consuming and it is quicker with two. As the childproofing professional Onos told us, "They’re not necessarily easy to use."

One negative of the Retract-A-Gate is that the mesh can be pulled across the opening and attached to the other side while the dial remains unlocked. In this situation, the gate looks secure, but any pressure on the mesh will cause it to further unspool. Parents are likely to program themselves to lock the gate after each use (Wirecutter employees who use the Retract-A-Gate confirm this), but we have concerns about siblings or those unfamiliar with the gate, like a babysitter.

Another drawback is that the Retract-A-Gate comes at a very high price. At the time of our research, it cost about $120, roughly $50 more than our main pick, which is already on the expensive side for a swinging hardware-mounted gate.

Colorado Childproofers's Louie Delaware told us that he limits the length of retractable gates to about 54 inches. A larger model reaches to 72 inches (as opposed to our pick's 52-inch span), and based on Delaware's input we didn't test the 6-foot version. The Retract-A-Gate is available in white, tan, and black.

The Deluxe Decor can fit in an opening up to 6 feet wide and has a larger opening than similar models and a manageable latch.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $70.

If you have a wider opening that you need to secure, we like the North States Deluxe Decor Gate. This gate can cover an opening 72 inches wide, or up to 87 inches with an added extension, sold separately. We looked at three versions of this style of gate, and the North States model stood out because its gate door opening is wider and its lock is easier to use than on similar gates (for adults, not kids).

The Deluxe Decor consists of three panels, the center of which has the gate door. The three panels are fixed in width and will stretch straight across a 72-inch opening. But if the opening is less than that, the gate installs at an angle and arcs into one of the rooms, sort of like a bay window. This actually adds stability to the gate. When it's installed straight across an opening (with no angles), it has more of a wobble to it.

To open the Deluxe Decor, press a button at the top of the gate and lift the whole thing up. The gate closes and (sometimes) latches on its own. This lock works but is not as secure as the Cardinal or even the North States Swing & Lock. We found this to be true of the locks on all the multipanel gates we tested, including the larger enclosure style gates. When you have multiple panels connected to one another, we discovered, there is so much flex inherent in the design—as opposed to a single panel mounted on each end, with no joints—that with a few very aggressive pulls of the gate, you can get it open.

Because of the multipanel design, the Deluxe Decor has a threshold piece that crosses the door opening and presents a tripping hazard. That said, this isn't a gate that can be used at the top of a set of stairs, or, if it is, gate manufacturers and childproofers recommend it must be at least 2 feet away from the top step. Delaware of Colorado Childproofers told us this is "to allow an adult to recover in case their foot trips on the bottom rail."

The door panel of the Deluxe Decor is 27 inches wide, which is significantly larger than the others we tested. The width makes it easy to walk through while carrying a kid or something else. Another model we tested, the KidCo G3010, has only a 16-inch door, which we feel is a very tight doorway to maneuver through, particularly considering that the entire gated opening is as wide as as 6 feet.

A downside of the Deluxe Decor gate is that it can be opened in only one direction, and that direction can't be changed. It comes in dark brown or white.

For closing off a larger area like a fireplace hearth, the six-panel North States Metal Superyard offers a nice latch and an easy installation. It can also be configured into a small stand-alone play yard.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $171.

If you’re trying to cordon off something like an audio cabinet or a wood stove, we like the North States Metal Superyard. This is similar to our pick for wide openings, with the same general design, locking mechanism and one-way door design. The difference is that it's a six-panel setup rather than a three-panel one. The ends can be fastened to walls or connected in a ring with one another to create a small play yard. Compared with the Regalo Super Wide Gate and Play Yard, the other model we tested, the North States Superyard has a nicer lock and a wider door. The North States has a total length of about 12 feet and is only available in white. An eight-panel version is also available that is about 16 feet in length.

If you’re using this style of gate to enclose a potential hazard that's placed in the corner of a room or against a wall, the ends need to be hardware-mounted, Schecter told us. "I would not suggest a true free-standing gate or a gate that does not attach to the wall at the end as there is nothing stopping the child from either knocking it over, which could cause injury, or moving the end out off the way and going around it." If you’re using this gate around a woodstove or a fireplace, Delaware said it needs to be placed at least 20 inches away "to prevent hands from trying to reach through the vertical rails to make contact with a hot surface."

Another style of baby gate, and a popular one, is the pressure-fit gate. These are secured in an opening with rubber pads that unscrew from the gate sides and press against the wall, holding the gate in place. The perceived benefits of these gates are that they won't damage your walls the way screw-mount gates will and that they’re quick and easy to set up and move around your home. Through research and testing, we found that none of these arguments is entirely true. We also found that: pressure-fit gates loosen over time; they’re not all that secure to begin with; they require a threshold bar that creates a trip hazard; they can't be used at the top of a set of stairs (and aren't recommended for the bottom either); and because the hinge and latch are not mounted directly to the wall, the passable width of the doorway is reduced. We tested four pressure-fit gates with the full intention of making one of them a recommendation, but in the end, due to our own standards of safety, we simply couldn't.

It may seem that a benefit of pressure-fit gates is that they won't damage the wall like a hardware-mounted gate will. The baby proofers we spoke to told us otherwise. As Neal Onos of Safe Beginnings Childproofing said, "If [a pressure-fit gate has] been up for a long time, it might do more damage than a mounted gate." What happens is that the pressure pads stick to the wall and can pull off chunks of paint and drywall when removed. This is much harder to patch than four or six small screw holes. The pads can also cause a serious scuff (or remove some paint) if anyone accidentally runs into the gate and bumps it out of position. Along these same lines, Delaware remarked that the threshold piece can "scuff up a wood or other soft floor, due to it moving each time it is used."

We tested four pressure-fit gates with the full intention of making one of them a recommendation, but in the end, due to our own standards of safety, we simply couldn't.

Pressure gates are supposed to be installed without using any tools (in reality, you often need at least a wrench to get them sufficiently tight), so there is also the notion that they can quickly be moved from location to location. But this relocation is actually often an involved process. If using one gate in multiple spots at different times is how you want to approach your babyproofing, we recommend getting additional hardware packs for our picks and mounting them in the other locations. Once the extra hardware is installed, moving the gate is much easier and quicker than relocating a pressure-fit gate.

One major drawback of pressure-fit gates is their overall security. As Schecter told us, "They tend to loosen over time and unless frequently tightened, they may fall if the child was to push against it." The thing is that they’re not attached to anything. The gates come out of the box pretensioned, and as the pads are tightened against the wall, they press against this force. We had the same experience that Schecter described: Of the two gates we set up for semi-long-term testing, both loosened within 10 days of regular use. Even when fully tightened, we could wrench the gates out of their door openings. Gripping them, and not using an excessive amount of force, we could rock them back and forth and "walk" them away from their original location.

Pressure-fit gates also present a tripping hazard. Because of their design limitations, they need to have a threshold bar to hold the two sides together. This is usually a 1-inch square metal tube that runs across the bottom of the gate opening and remains in place whether or not the gate is opened or closed. "In the first year of a child's life, about 25 percent of all falls occur in the arms of a parent," Delaware told us. Schecter said,"I have had several parents tell me they fell down the steps after tripping on this bar, especially at night." In our own testing, we also had a few stumbles and one solidly stubbed toe.

If you want to use a single gate in multiple locations, we recommend buying additional hardware packs. Once the hardware is installed, moving the gate is much quicker.

Pressure-fit gates also should not be used at the top or bottom of a set of stairs, for a number of reasons. Obviously, the stability is a problem. In addition, "a pressure gate against a railing is a bad idea," Tom Treanor told us. "What happens is that the gate pushes on the baluster or newel post and then requires more tightening … until it's totally loose." This is not only unsafe, but it can damage the newel post, which could be a costly repair. At the bottom of a set of stairs, the threshold piece can be stepped on which is not only unsafe, but, "painful on bare feet" as Delaware told us.

Another design issue with pressure gates is that they drastically reduce the size of the passable opening. Onos told us that "when you open a mounted gate, you have the entire stairway to use," but because of the side panels—which are needed for the pressure fit—a pressure gate usually only allow a passable width of about 20 inches, sometimes less. We saw one with as little as 16 inches.

Another specific style of pressure-fit gates are the kind that are simply a barrier, with no swinging door, which need to be completely removed—or stepped over—to pass through. "Gates that don't actually open, but must be fully removed are another red flag," Schecter told us. "Most people just step over these, which then teaches the child that they too should attempt to climb over the gate."

We feel there are just too many hassles and security concerns associated with pressure-fit gates to justify recommending one. Even the cost savings aren't significant. The models we tested ranged from about $30 to about $60. Our runner-up gate, the North States Swing & Lock gate, is currently well within this range, and our top pick is just above it. It's true that the installation time is a little faster with pressure-fit gates, but with the best of the hardware-mounted gates taking less than 20 minutes, we don't think this is a real reason to bring a pressure-fit gate into your life.

Basically, we realized that we wouldn't recommend a pressure-fit gate to our own families, so how could we recommend one to our readers?

The KidCo Angle Mount Safeway is a nice gate, and two of the baby proofers we spoke with use it often. Like the Cardinal, it can be set up at an angle, which we like. Unfortunately, installing it took us almost an hour, and the instructions are so confusing and unhelpful that we often weren't sure if what we were doing was correct (in one case it wasn't, and we had to backtrack a couple steps to correct an issue). We’re not the only ones who feel this way, the Amazon feedback is filled with people saying that it's a great gate, but very difficult to install. In some cases, people mention taking multiple hours to do it. With the ease of the Cardinal, we felt there was no need for this kind of aggravation.

The Munchkin Loft was the priciest gate we looked at. It has a fairly easy installation at about 20 minutes, and it is clearly the most stylish gate we looked at. The downside is that there is no swing limiter, so it's not an option for the top of the stairs. If you like the look and you’re willing to invest, it's a nice gate for separating two rooms.

The Summer Infant Deluxe Stairway has an attractive stained-wood look, but it has a hard time with baseboards, so an additional purchase or a little extra DIY work is needed. It also has a plastic latch and handle, and after testing all of the gates, we felt much more confident with our top pick's metal latch.

Evenflo's Easy Walk Thru Top of Stairs Gate has a bulky handle, and if you have baseboard that is thicker than ½ inch, you’ll have to pad out the top connection points. The latch mechanism is plastic, and we much preferred the strength of the metal latch on the Stair Special from Cardinal Gates.

Safety 1st's Ready to Install Gate took less than 10 minutes to set up. While it was the fastest to install, it requires putting 10 screws into the wall. Also, the brackets that hold the hinges and latch side are oriented horizontally with the screw holes far enough apart that it's unlikely you’ll get them all into solid wood in a hallway situation. Also, during use, the latch would get stuck from time to time.

We did not test the Cardinal MG-15 Auto-Lock Safety Gate. It has the same all-metal build as our main pick, but the lock automatically latches when it is pushed close. On the downside, the MG-15 cannot be set up at an angle. There is also no exterior version, and the overall width is a little shorter (maximum of 40½ inches, as opposed to the 42½ inches of our main pick), although the same extensions are compatible with the gate.

The Summer Infant Retractable Gate was (by far) the least expensive retractable gate we tested. At the time of our testing, it cost around $60, so it's roughly half the cost of the Retract-A-Gate. Still, the quality of the Summer Infant just isn't there. The mesh fabric is difficult to pull out and hook, and it didn't always retract fully into the spool. To close it, the entire leading edge of the mesh needs to be hooked on a channel, which is not always easy to line up. We much preferred the simple hooks of the Retract-A-Gate.

The Lascal KiddyGuard Avant Retractable Gate has a nice locking mechanism, but like the Summer Infant retractable, the entire edge of the mesh needs to be hooked to secure the gate across the opening. Also, the handle is on only one side, and we found it needlessly awkward to have to reach over it to open the gate. It's also more expensive than the Retract-A-Gate and as of summer 2021 seems to not be available to buy online.

We did not test the Dreambaby Retractable Gate due to the poor user feedback at Amazon.

For wide openings, up to 6 feet, we also looked at the Summer Infant Metal Expansion Gate and the KidCo Custom Fit Auto Close Configure Gate. Both have narrower doorways than our recommended North States. We also preferred the latch on the North States.

We tested one other enclosure-style gate, the Regalo Super Wide Gate and Play Yard. It's longer than the North States, and we liked how the segments can be locked in at certain angles, but we felt the gate latch was too insecure. It's not very difficult to pull open without even touching the lock mechanism.

We tested five pressure-fit gates: the Safety 1st Pressure Mount Easy Walk Thru Gate, Summer Infant Anywhere Auto-Close, Dreambaby Chelsea Auto-Close, Regalo Easy Step Walk Thru, and Evenflo Easy Walk Thru Doorway Gate, which as of summer 2021 is no longer available. Of the bunch, we had the best luck with the Dreambaby, but we felt that the entire category of pressure-fit gates has too many downsides to recommend any of them.

Ryan Schecter, Safe Nest Babyproofing, email interview, July 16, 2017

Louie Delaware, Colorado Childproofers and author of How to Childproof Your Home, email interview, July 10, 2017

Neal Onos, Safe Beginnings Childproofing, phone interview, July 14, 2017

Tom Treanor, All Star Baby Safety, phone interview, July 5, 2017

Kelly Voelker, director of public relations at the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, email interview, July 19, 2017

Sam Robinson, sales representative, Cardinal Gates, email interviews, October 26, 2017

Doug Mahoney

Doug Mahoney is a senior staff writer at Wirecutter covering home improvement. He spent 10 years in high-end construction as a carpenter, foreman, and supervisor. He lives in a very demanding 250-year-old farmhouse and spent four years gutting and rebuilding his previous home. He also raises sheep and has a dairy cow that he milks every morning.

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JPMA certification Hardware-mounted: One-handed operation: Versatility: Easy setup with clear instructions: Average height: Good value: