Best Tree Stands 2017: Lightweight Climbing, Ladder & Hang On Stands
There was a time not all that long ago that hunting from a tree stand really wasn’t all that popular. That’s not to say it wasn’t done. Hunting from a height has always provided an advantage, but many built a box blind, still hunted, or created blinds from natural features in the land.
Those who did use a tree stand built their own. These usually consist of a few plain boards across a couple of branches and a few more nailed to the trunk for steps to climb up to it.
It wasn’t until the late 1970s when the first practical tree stands appeared on the market that their popularity started to take off. These were mostly clunky, heavy, and awkward contraptions, but they worked, and their basic design is still used today.
New technologies, advanced materials, and innovative designs are making tree stands lighter, stronger, safer, quieter, and more comfortable than ever before. No matter what type of stand you prefer, you’ll find a one that meets your needs whatever your personal hunting style.
Here’s a short primer of the different types of stands available and brief reviews of some of the better products on the market, plus a few insider tips on how to use your stand effectively.
Best Climbing Tree Stands
Climbers are arguably one of the greatest inventions in bow hunting. How they work is both ingenious and simple. Much the same way lumberjacks used to climb trees with a strap and spikes on their boots.
How do Climbing Stands Work?
A seat and a standing platform are attached to a tree with a strap, a cable, or a piece of metal that has a blade that bites into the tree. When the seat is moved upward and weight is put on it, it locks onto the tree, allowing you to pull up on the platform with your feet, which loosens its grip on the tree, and move it up the trunk with your legs.
Putting weight on the platform locks it back into place and lets you move the seat up. Repeating this process allows you to climb to the desired height.
The biggest advantage of a climber is mobility. Modern climbing stands are light enough to be moved from place to place, expanding your range without the need to carry ladders, steps, or climbing sticks. Since they are usually taken down when done, it lowers the risk of theft.
There are two types of climbing stands. Hand climbers are those you hang from the seat by your hands while climbing, and sit-down climbers, which allow you to sit while climbing. Here are some of the top climbing stands.
The Viper SD has been Summit’s most popular model for over 17 years. The system weighs in at 20 lbs and is rated to support a 300 lb max weight.
One of the best things about the Summit Viper is that it uses a cable attachment system they call QuickDraw. You simply wrap the cable around the tree, adjust for circumference, and lock it in place.
Anyone who has ever had to fumble around with nuts and bolts or pins in the dark with freezing cold hands will appreciate the convenience and simplicity of this feature.
Another innovation is their DeadMetal technology. They’ve used expanding foam filler at crucial points inside the aluminum structural frame to silence metal-to-metal noise and creaking.
It has a cushioned wraparound safety/gun-rest bar and a well-padded seat and backrest. It’s easy to climb with and has plenty of moving around room even for bigger hunters. The Viper SD is definitely one of the best climbing tree stands for the money.
This is a slightly smaller and lighter version of the company’s popular SDX. They’ve cut four inches off of the platform and seat dimensions, and two pounds off the weight.
This may not sound like much, but it will definitely make a difference when you’re carrying it and setting it up. It might be a little tight for larger hunters, though user reports from plus-sized individuals indicate it’s not really a problem.
Like all of Summit’s stands, it features the RapidClimb stirrup system, designed to be used with almost any size of boots and prevent slippage, and the SummitLokt joint welding technique for strength and stability. 300 lbs weight capacity.
The Open Shot SD is yet another top offering from the most popular tree stand company. This one will appeal to the minimalists out there.
It weighs only 15 lbs, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more portable climbing tree stand. There is no safety bar on this one, just a seat that folds up out of your way while climbing, and a platform that gets the job done.
Though the Open Shot SD may be smallish and utilitarian, it still has all the great features of Summit’s other stands, can support a 300 lb hunter, and it comes standard with a full-body, four-point safety harness with a Suspension Relief System.
The Open Shot SD is a great choice for those who hunt far from base camp, or prefer the versatility of hunting light and fast.
Guys really like the portability of this stand, bow hunters in particular. It folds into a 5” thick unit for easy and unobtrusive carry, and it weighs in at just 17.5 lbs and is rated to 350 lbs.
The Hand Climber II is nicely sized. The main frame is a large 30” x 19.5” single-piece cast aluminum platform which gives plenty of room to get into position for a shot.
The contoured seating pad is ergonomic, but is a little on the small side. Now, the seat itself is a little light on the padding, but it serves its purpose well enough. The Lone Wolf sports a nice 3-D camouflage pattern and includes a bow holder and a very secure six-point safety harness.
It should be noted that, as the name says, this is a hand climber, not a sit-down climber, but you can purchase an optional strap that allows you use it as a sit-down stand.
For the less athletically-inclined hunter who prefers to sit down while climbing, yet still wants superior portability, this stand fills the bill.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Lone Wolf Sit & Climb II actually folds to a super-slim four inches, which is a smaller package than the hand climber.
This stand uses a pivoting bar to sit on while climbing, which can be folded down out of the way or left in place as a safety bar.
This model has the full-size 30” x 19.5” aluminum skeletonized platform wrapped in Realtree AP camo.
It should be a pretty comfortable stand, even for the husky sized hunter. For added comfort you can buy the optional foot rests so you can stretch out some. Unlike the Lone Wolf hand climber, this has an upgraded padded backrest, as well as a larger seat.
The Sit & Climb II has a handy little built in bow holder and the six-point safety harness. This stand can be used on trees from 6” to 19” in diameter. The stand weighs 20 lbs and can hold up to 350 lbs of hunter and gear.
The Assault from Lone Wolf is the lightest climbing tree stand we have found.
At only 14.7 pounds with an ultra-slim folded profile, you’ll hardly know you’re packing this around. Despite the featherweight build, it still has a maximum weight capacity of 350 lbs.
The Lone Wolf Assault combines the advantages of a hang-on tree stand with the usefulness of a climber. A cam action opening makes it easy to deal with up in the tree, and it includes stabilizer straps.
Light it is, yet it still has a 26” x 19.5” skeletonized cast-aluminum platform which is more than adequate for most hunters.
The Assault is covered with the popular Realtree AP and includes the six-point harness with Suspension Relief System. It also features the same size contoured-foam seat as the Hand Climber II, and of course has that handy bow holder.
Best Hang On Tree Stands
Hang On tree stands are the lightest and most portable option you have for stands. This type of stand is simply a seat and a platform that attaches to a tree, usually via a ratcheting strap.
In the interest of saving weight, they’re also generally the smallest type of stands, but yet reasonably large enough to allow for standing shots.
They do require some extra equipment to get you up and down from the tree, either climbing sticks or steps. That means a little more gear to carry around. If you don’t mind carrying extra gear from spot to spot, a single stand can be sufficient for your needs.
What many hunters do is put up multiple hang-on stands around their property, hunting them in accordance with the wind and conditions. Then they take their sticks or steps home with them at night, leaving the stand inaccessible to others.
Our top rated hang on stand weighs a mere 11 lbs, making this one of the lightest tree stands made. In addition, hunters’ love this stand because it is absolutely silent, with no pops, grinds, or squeaks when moving around into position or getting comfortable.
It features a 14” x 12” padded seat and a 26” x 19.5” skeletonized aluminum platform, which is pretty good considering how light it is, and plenty adequate for standing shots with bow or gun.
The platform is teardrop-shaped, which makes it easier to fit into smaller areas, like between tight groups of trees or limbs. Both the seat and platform have a self-leveling device, which is really handy.
The Assault II includes a bow holder that will accommodate most types of bows and crossbows. There is an optional E-Z Hang hook which allows you to preset it for different trees in multiple hunting sites.
The Lone Wolf Assault II has a maximum weight capacity of 350 lbs, and is available in Realtree AP camo. Overall, this is a great hang on stand if you value light weight and silent set up.
Lone Wolf has a reputation for building quality tree stands that can last years of hard use, and the Alpha II is no exception. This model is one of the company’s most popular hang on stand and has been for years.
The Alpha II boasts a larger cast aluminum platform than the Assault II, with a comfortable 30” x 19.5” of room, a 14” x 12” seat, and a tall platform height of 21”.
The larger platform doesn’t add much to the weight, the Alpha II is just 14 pounds. Bow hunters especially might consider that extra 3 lbs well worth it.
Like the Assault II, this stand also has the sweet self-leveling seat and platform, the E-Z Hang hook, and of course the bow holder.
The Line Wolf Alpha fits trees up to 22” in diameter, has a max weight capacity of 350lbs. It is also one of the best looking stands thanks to a Realtree AP camo pattern.
This stand has a lot of neat features that make it an attractive choice. For one thing, it has a 37” x 24” platform, and weighs 19.5 lbs. This is pretty large for a hang on, and worthy of the Monster name.
It’s a solid stand design with a thick aluminum frame and a chain link fence type mesh floor that makes slipping off more difficult, especially with the stationary footrest.
I really like the contoured ComfortMAX seat (20” x 17”), which is adjustable from 16” to 20” of height, and even folds up out of the way. The M150 has the Interlock Leveling System that allows both seat and platform to be angled up to 15 degrees to adjust for tree lean.
It also features what Millennium calls a “CamLock Receiver System”. This is much like Lone Wolf’s E-Z Hang, which allows you to preset the level for different stands. The M150 gets the “Silent Hunt” treatment making this a very quiet stand.
It has an excellent maximum weight limit of 350 lbs. The sturdiness and extra room of the Monster M150 make up for the heavier weight.
For the fast and light hunter who wants to save a little money, this stand offers a lot of bang for your money. The Helium XL is super light at just 12 lbs, yet is still rated to 300 pounds.
Despite being a feather weight, this stand is built for strength with a solid 24” x 30” powder-coated aluminum platform. For more strength they have welded joints at crucial points, and heavy duty suspension cables.
The seat might seem a little small for bigger hunters, just 16” x 10”, but a thick layer of Memory Foam makes it comfy enough. The seat and platform have sharp, dig-in for excellent grab and stability. Hawk utilizes Teflon washers at the assembly points for silent operation. The Hawk Helium XL is a great value, and is one of the best tree stands for the money.
Best Ladder Tree Stands
Ladder style tree stands are very popular. These use metal ladder sections that attach to each other to the desired height, then attach to a platform where the seat is attached to the tree. The ladders usually have stabilizing bars and straps to strengthen them, although some are stand alone.
Since these take a little time to set up, they’re usually left in place for the duration of the season, and some hunters leave them out all year round. Since they’re not designed to be carried in and out, they can be heavier, which means they can have more features than other types of stand.
Ladder stands are generally the safest kind of tree stand and they give you a little more room to move around. Another reason for their popularity are the two person stand designs.
The downside to any type of stand that you leave in the woods is that other hunters might use them when you’re not there. They might also decide to take it home with them (so secure it with a chain and padlock). It’s technically possible to take a ladder stand down each day, but it would be easier to put up a hang on stand and use climbing sticks.
This is a very versatile ladder stand that offers you a variety of configurations. The seat, footrest, and shooting/safety rail can all be either flipped up out of the way or removed completely, which allows you to use the platform by itself or any combination of the three.
The 20” x 15” ‘zero-gravity’ seat is quite comfortable because it allows your rear end to conform to it like a hammock, and it also has padded armrests. The footrests are always a welcome feature. The solid-steel platform measures 26” x 19” and will support up to 300 lbs.
The ladder comes in three sections reaching 17’ to the safety bar, and the stand is attached with a standard ratchet strap supported by two stabilizing straps. The tree has to be at least 9” in diameter. For safety, the NextGen Stealth comes with a full-body, four-point safety harness with Suspension Relief System.
The total weight of the NextGen Stealth stand and ladder is 55 lbs. Hunters have reported that this stand is very comfortable, easy to assemble, and stable. Bow hunters especially like it.
The Big Denali is a bit unusual in the world of tree stands in that it’s made for two people. It’s a great idea if you like having a buddy to keep you company and cover a side. It’s also perfect for taking your kid hunting.
The MeshComfort seats are impressive, really well-padded and about the same size as a nice lawn chair (18” x 24” and 23” in height). For a two person stand, the platform is a bit on the small side at 51.25” x 16.75”, but still good enough for taking standing shots.
The Big Denali has a fold-up padded shooting rail and kick-out footrests. The all-steel construction means durability and stability, and this stand uses plastic washers at assembly points to deaden squeaking.
Safety wise, the Safe-Tread ladder steps grip the soles of your boots as you climb, and have a larger surface area than most ladder stand steps. You also get a full-body safety harness with the stand. When assembled it stands at just a little over 15’ above ground, which is adequate, and it weighs in at 105 lbs.
Comfort and excellent construction are the hallmarks of this well-made ladder stand. It uses a double-railing ladder which eliminates the need for extra bracing. That is a real plus for easy set-up.
Ladder sections can be added or subtracted to give you a height range of 8’ to 21’, which makes this one of the taller stands available.
The ergonomic ComfortMAX seat is a generous 20” x 17”. When you throw in the padded armrests and the footrest, you have a ladder stand made for many hours of hunting, without the squirming. Both arm and footrests can be folded out of the way for platform-only use.
Also includes a flip-up padded safety rail. A 20” x 32” platform gives plenty of room for standing shots with bow or rifle. Like most stands, it comes with a full-body safety harness with SRS. The Millennium L110 weighs a total of 92 lbs and has a max weight capacity of 300 lbs.
This is another 2 person stand that allows you to hunt with a friend, your spouse, or just have an extra seat if you tend to carry a lot of gear into the field.
This one is built with solid steel construction for extra sturdiness, which is a must have for holding two people. The 38” x 17” bench-type seat is well padded and has a removable backrest to give you a little more room if you desire.
The Big Buddy stand is outfitted with a flip-up padded shooting rail, and the 38” x 12” platform is on the small side, but still wide enough for two people, although marginal for standing shots.
There are two ratchet straps and two stabilizing straps to keep the ladder well secured. With a little practice, hunters have reported being able to setup this stand in about 15-20 minutes.
The Big Game Big Buddy has a max height of 16 feet to the safety rail, weighs 64 lbs total, and it will hold up to 500 lbs. The Big Game Big Buddy is one of the lightest ladder stands that can accommodate two people.
For those looking for a lightweight, portable ladder stand that’s a cinch to set-up, this might be the best choice.
The Warrior Deluxe 17 has some comfort features, but is basically a no-frills, get-the-job done stand for a single hunter. It has a 20” x 15” seat with backrest, both with one inch of padding, though the seat doesn’t fold-up.
The 19” x 10” platform might be considered too small by some for standing, so it has an elevated padded shooting rail to assist with sit-down shots. It does have a footrest which is always nice to be able to stretch out the legs.
At 50 pounds, this is a lightweight ladder stand, and it gives you a respectable 17’ of height. The maximum weight load is a standard 300 lbs.
Other Types of Deer Stands
Tripod – These are simply a platform mounted atop three legs. A good option when you have a great spot to hunt but there are no trees around. They can be large with a lot of room on the platform and more or less permanent to overlook regular feeding and watering areas. Conversely, they can be small, designed for a single hunter and light enough to carry.
Box Tower – Much like the tripod stand, although they tend to have four legs, the difference being they feature a wall-enclosed platform, with windows or shooting ports in the walls. This keeps you out of the weather and hides your movements. You can even heat them if you choose.
Permanent/DIY – It’s not difficult to build your own stand, whether in a tree or of the tripod or box tower variety. There are plenty of plans available for free online. If you have a property you hunt regularly and you know the good areas, this may be the best route to go.
Advantages of Hunting from a Stand
It gives you a higher vantage point, which means you can see more of the woods around you, and see farther, which gives you more time to set up a shot.
It puts you above eye level. Deer don’t naturally expect danger from above; they expect it to be on the ground level with them. Deer that have been spooked enough times by hunters in stands can learn to be wary though.
Because of the above fact, you can get away with moving around more in a stand than on the ground, which makes it easier to get into shooting position, and to stay comfortable, which helps you to stay still.
It keeps your scent above ground level. This is especially true in flat, level areas; less so in hilly ones where the surrounding ridges might be on a level or above your stand. Staying mindful of wind direction and patterns is still important when using a stand.
It’s safer. Orange safety gear can be seen from farther away when you’re on high, and when you take a shot, it’s pointed down at the ground, and not towards a neighbor’s house, a road, or another hunter.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most lightweight climbing tree stands?
The Hawk Helium XL is the lightest hang-on tree stand that made our top rated stands list. They are lighter thanks to their fixed mounting and minimal attachments. However, they do need extra equipment to help you climb up to the platform.
What is the most comfortable tree stand?
There’s nothing worse than a small, hard seat when sitting for long periods, so look for larger, well-padded seats as the primary factor. The Summit Viper SD is probably the most comfortable climbing tree stand. The Big Game NextGen Stealth is one of the more comfortable ladder stands.
The larger platforms will give you more room to move around, though it adds weight. Footrests and quality padding will be greatly appreciated when you need to stretch out a little.
What is the best bow hunting tree stand?
Of the ones listed above, the Lone Wolf Hand Climber II and the Summit Viper SD got the most thumbs up for climbers. Light weight and ease of carry are important. The main concern is having enough room to maneuver a bow, stand up, and turn around to make a shot, and do it safely. A bow holder is highly recommended with most of these stands.
What is the best tree stand for a big guy?
You want a stand that’s rated to hold the weight of both you and your gear, and that has features that reduce creaking in the frame. Those with larger rear ends should opt for larger and more heavily-padded seats. A two man ladder stand, like the Millennium M150 Monster might be the best choice for some.
What size trees can I put a tree stand on?
Most commercial tree stands are designed to be used roughly in the 8” to 24” inch diameter range. There’s rarely a need to go smaller or larger than that. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for the best use of the stand.