Baby gates are the first line of defense for keeping babies and toddlers out of areas that aren’t completely baby-safe.
If you live in a multi-story home, you’ll need gates as soon as your little one starts crawling around (or scooting) — usually around 7-8 months. Carpeted stairs are more forgiving, but wooden stairs can be fairly treacherous, especially for babies wearing socks.
Concrete stairs (found in stoops and some basements) are the most dangerous: a fall from these could result in serious head trauma—or worse. Block those suckers off like a crime scene.
Essentially, there are two types of interior baby gates: hardware-mounted and pressure-mounted.
Hardware mounted gates are screwed securely into your wall, door frame, or banister/balustrade and are the most secure of the two types. These gates should be used where the stakes are the highest (i.e., where you can’t risk it falling over), such as the top of stairs.
Pros of hardware-mounted baby gates:
- Can support your baby’s weight without slipping; unlikely to be rammed/toppled by larger dogs
- No bottom threshold (typically) to trip over
- The only safe choice for the top of stairs
Cons of hardware-mounted baby gates:
- Cannot be taken down in a hurry (unless they have a quick release feature)
- Installation is more time consuming than for pressure-mounted gates
- Leaves holes in walls/woodwork when removed
The vast majority of baby gates on the market are pressure (or tension) mounted. Much like a tension rod for your shower curtain, they are very easy to install.
Pros of pressure-mounted baby gates:
- Easy to set up and move from place to place
- Don’t have to screw into your walls/banister (okay for bottom of stairs)
- Cheaper (usually)
- Larger selection
Cons of pressure-mounted baby gates:
- Can slip and fall under a baby’s weight if not installed correctly
- Big dogs can bust through them
- Should not be used to divide areas with a height/ground level difference, like the top of stairs
Ideally, you should get a gate that is certified by the JPMA (Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association). All the gates listed below are JPMA certified (except for Carlson). The standards for JPMA specify that the gate should be no less than 22 inches tall, that the distance between the bottom of the gate and the floor should be less than 3 inches (so there’s minimal risk of a head or neck getting stuck) etc., etc.
Our favorite brands of baby gates include North States, Cardinal Gates, Evenflo, Safety 1st, Summer Infant, KidCo, Regalo, Carlson, Retract-A-Gate and Dreambaby. All things being equal, my favorite brand is Toddleroo by North States.
Avoid cheap imports from Alibaba and other discount stores.
A few notes about pets… if you have a small pet that you don’t want to keep out of gated areas, you can get a gate with a pet door that will allow small pets to pass through while keeping small humans out. I wish I could say the same for bigger dogs, but sadly, if your bigger dog could get through, then so could your baby.
On the other hand, if you‘re trying to keep your pet out, make sure you choose a gate that’s sturdy enough (i.e., hardware-mounted) so your dog doesn’t come busting through like the Kool-Aid man. Keep in mind that many cats (and dogs!) can jump pretty high, so look for an extra-tall gate, like the one below, if you have a jumper to contend with.
One last thing — if you have a dog that loves to chew, steer clear of wooden gates. Puppies and other chewers will eat these gates for breakfast.
Buying Used Baby Gates
There are many used baby gates available on Craigslist, local consignment stores, and such. Provided that the gate works properly, the big risk is that you won’t get all the parts and pieces that go with it (this is more of an issue with hardware-mounted gates that come with a bag of hardware and other accoutrements).
However, if you’re sure you have all the parts and the gate looks to be in good shape, there’s no reason not to buy used.
Measuring the Opening
Most standard sized baby gates will fit securely in a “normal” sized doorway or hallway opening, which is generally 32″-36″ wide.
Wouldn’t it be great if all openings were a standard size, ha!
There are many situations that require an extra-wide gate, especially in modern homes with open floor plans. For that, please see the section below on extra-wide gates, which go up to 60″-72″ wide.
For really large openings, consider using an open-ended accordion fold gate, like the one below from MidWest Pet. This gate served us well over the years for cordoning off areas like Christmas trees, dangerous hearths, and at times Alice (and our dog, for that matter) out of our dirt garden (we used two in that situation, about 35 linear feet).
We also used it to make a fence off our bed after our dog had surgery so she wasn’t tempted to jump up and re-injure herself (our pets are our kids too, right? Yes). Honestly, this gate has probably been the most useful one we’ve owned.
Grab your tape measure and let’s get started!
Top Baby Gates
Step Over Gates
“Step over” gates are cheap and easy to install, but a huge pain to, well… step over. They’re great for travel and for other “temporary” installations, but not ideal for high traffic areas. Also, it’s really un-fun to climb over it with a baby in your arms every time, just sayin’…
Our favorite is the…
Height: 24″, Width range: 28″-42″
This wood and plastic gate is the favorite of the cheapie gates. It looks decently nice, is super easy to install (pressure mounted), and has bumpers to protect your walls. Again, this is what I call a step over gate (for lack of a better term), which is not a great long-term solution for high traffic areas. But for temporary installations and low traffic areas? It works just fine.
* This won’t work for older kids who need to get through the gate because they simply aren’t tall enough to climb over it.
Walk-Through Baby Gates
A. Pressure-Mounted Walk-Through Baby Gates (standard width)
Height: 30″, Width range: 29″ to 40″ (extends to 62.25″ with extensions sold separately)
All things being equal, our #1 favorite baby gate is the Toddleroo by North States Easy-Close. This self-closing, one-handed open steel gate swings both ways, has a hold-open feature, requires no assembly. Check, check, check!
We also appreciate the built-in door stopper that lets you choose whether you can swing the gate in both directions or just one. There’s also a glow in the dark feature on the handle, which can come in handy at night.
2. Carlson Wide Gate with Pet Door ~$39
Height: 30.5″, Width range: 29″-36.5″
Whether you own a pet or not, the Carlson Extra-Wide Gate is another mommy-favorite baby gate, with a pet door. The pet door allows cats (and small dogs) to pass through, while keeping bigger dogs and small humans out. This is a great solution for the doorway leading to the room where you keep the cat’s food and litter box and other gross things you don’t want your baby/toddler getting into.
The pressure-mounted gate setup is easy and fast, and the one-touch release handle is very convenient (you see this gate a lot at daycares and such). Comes standard with a 4-in extension kit for extra wide openings.
Height: 39.4″, Width range: 28-32″ (variable sizes offered, can extend up to 88″)
Another mommy favorite, at 39.4″ (~1 meter) high, this extra-tall baby gate is perfect for those with tenacious climbers, older toddlers, and wily pets at home. Parents can open this gate with one hand, and best of all, it swings closed and locks automatically. Thus, this is a great gate for high-risk areas (but not for the top of stairs because it has a threshold). Banister gate adapters (y-shaped) sold separately. Perfect for the bottom of stairs.
Comes in white or black steel. Note: Extensions are sold separately.
Height: 36″, Width range: 29″-36.5″
The Regalo Deluxe Easy Step Extra Tall Gate is another favorite extra-tall gate option. Like the Dreambaby gate (above), it has a one-handed open and lock feature, and yet is easy for older children to operate (thus, it’s a great choice if you have slightly older kids who you want to be able to get through). Also contains larger dogs very well, especially notorious gate-jumpers.
5. Summer Infant Gates
Summer Infant makes some of my favorite gates — there are a couple winners to choose from:
Height: 36″, Width range: 28.5″-48″
I have two of these at home and have used them for both of my children. This gate is really easy to open with one hand and intuitive for guests (some of them are shockingly hard to figure out). It closes and locks automatically (provided you open it wide enough for it to swing back with some oomph). The package includes optional hardware if you’d like to arrange for more secure mounting. Best of all, it’s really good-looking in your foyer. 🙂
Height: 30″, Width range: 28″-42.5″
Another good-looking option (walnut/charcoal) is the Summer Infant Anywhere Decorative Walk-Thru Gate. It offers a pressure-mounted installation for between rooms with hardware included for use at the top of stairs (though not ideal because it has a bottom threshold). Parents like the nice look, simple installation, and the sturdiness of this gate.
B. Hardware-Mounted Walk-Through Baby Gates (standard width)
1. Cardinal Auto-Lock Gate ~ $89
Height: 29.5″, Width range: 26.5″-40.5″
The Cardinal Auto-Lock Gate is a parent favorite. Specifically, people love the auto-lock feature, which they can actually *hear* as it engages. This gate swings in either direction and is perfect for the bottom or top of stairs. Installation is quick and easy.
2. Retract-A-Gate ~$134+
Height: 34″, Width range: 52″-72″
Made in the USA and winner of multiple parenting awards, the Retract-A-Gate is (yes, gulp) pretty expensive, but oh-so-cool. This gate automatically rewinds to a small roll when not in use, leaving your doorway totally open. It’s JPMA-certified for use at the top or bottom of stairs and can be installed on your stair posts or spindles without drilling holes when used with their Stair Banister Adapter Kit ($52).
What strikes me most about this gate is how quiet it is, compared to the clanging and banging of wood and metal gates. If you like a discrete gate (who doesn’t??) and can afford the price tag, definitely check out Retract-A-Gate.
Best Baby Gates for Stairs (top of stairs, specifically)
The top of stairs is a special area. Ideally, you want a hardware-mounted gate with no threshold to trip over. Gates installed here should open toward the upstairs (instead of swinging out over the stairs) and should have a mechanism that prevents it from doing so. Ideally, your top-of-stairs gate would also have an auto-close/auto-lock feature in case you forget, but not all of them offer this.
Note that stairways can be extra tricky due to oddly shaped banisters (although, this occurs most often at the bottom of stairs where you’ll find radius banisters and such). If you have a radius banister (or if you don’t want to drill into your banister), you’ll have to do some *imagineering* to get your gate installed correctly.
A couple of options for working with curved banisters: you can use banister clamps, or pick up a ready-to-go kit, such as the Stairway Gate Installation Kit ($36, shown below) from KidCo. These solutions also prevent you from having to drill into your banister or railing, which is fab!
KidCo also makes a Y-spindle ($12) for pressure-mounted gates that can straddle a spindle in the balustrade, which is great for the bottom of stairs too.
What a pain, yes, but you’ll be happy you figured it out.
Height: 30″, Width range: 23″-42″
This Regalo Wooden Safety is minimalist and stylish, but more importantly safe and secure. It’s easy to install, swing opens smoothly, and works great with flat banisters and woodwork.
For curved banisters, or if you don’t want to drill into your wood, I recommend…
2. KidCo Top of Stairs Gate ~$58
Height: 30.5″ (when gate is mounted), Installed height: 33.5″ (height needed to install hardware), Width range: 24.75″–43.5″
For a metal option (comes in white or black), the KidCo Safeway Top of Stairs Gate is another solid yet affordable option. For people with funky banister situations, this gate is your best bet because you can buy the gate installation kit ($49), which should work with almost any banister.
A directional stop prevents this gate from swinging out over stairs and a quick-release feature allows it to be taken down (to move furniture and such) in a pinch. Note that the screws that come in the package are known to strip easily, so don’t be afraid to use your own. 🙂
Extra-Wide Baby Gates (60″+)
Height: 27″, Width range: 38″-60″
An affordable option to a wood or metal gate, this fabric gate is lightweight and easy to carry — it even comes with a storage bag. Reviewers like this gate’s durability and the ability to see through the fabric to check on baby or pets on the other side. *Great for travel!
Height: 32″, Width range: 36″-60″
Winning in the looks department, the Summer Infant Decorative Wood and Metal Gate is great looking and easy to use. Its wide (26 inch) hinged swinging door opens in either direction. Users appreciate the smooth, one-handed open and close mechanism, although some complain that the latch is a bit loud to open and close. This package includes three extensions, which take it up to a whopping 5 feet wide.
Height: 30″, Width range: 38″-72″
I LOVE this gate!!! The North States Extra Wide Deluxe Decor Gate is hardware-mounted on straight or angled walls. It has an easy one-hand operation, stay-open feature, and a double locking system.
We used this gate outside on our deck (out of sheer desperation) because I couldn’t find an outdoor gate wide enough to keep my (then) 1-year-old from tumbling down the deck stairs onto the hard concrete driveway — it worked great!
Using it outside is neither recommended nor approved by the manufacturer (heh), but it worked really well and didn’t rust in the elements (well, maybe a little), which is testament to its quality.
A Pack ‘n Play (or other play yard) is a suitable solution for a playpen for a baby who’s not yet climbing over the crib. You can also get larger play yards (which are easier to move from place to place), like the beloved and spacious Joovy Room2.
A better solution is a large playpen, which works especially well for two or more kids (in a nanny-share, for example) so they can entertain each other.
1. Toddleroo by North States Superyard, 6 panel ~$79 or 8 panel ~$82
Height: 26″, Size: 6-panel size encloses up to 18.5 sq ft; 8-panel encloses 34.4 sq ft
The North States Superyard is a fun, safe spot for kids to play. The non-slip feet work on any surface. And there is a two-panel extension available for purchase separately ($34).
Weather resistant, the Superyard can also be used outside and cleans very easily. A carry handle makes this lightweight yard very portable. (Made of plastic.)
2. Kidzone Playpen ~$164
Size: 8 panels
If you really want to step it up, this Kidzone Playpen has a swinging hinged door with a safety lock, a picture house, spinning balls, etc. We used something similar to this (no longer available) at my nanny-share partner’s house and it worked great. She took it apart and used the components to cordon off areas of her apartment where she didn’t want the kids to go. Genius.
3. Regalo 192″ Super Wide Play Yard ~$99
Size: Encloses 19 sq ft
The Regalo Play Yard comes with eight removable and configurable panels that enclose 19 square feet. This steel play yard expands to become a 192-inch wall mounted gate or free standing barrier (much like the one I discussed up top).
It folds down for simple set up and storage, and you can attach as many panels as you’d like to create a larger play area. A few reviewers mentioned that the connectors broke, so check to see everything is in good condition before playtime.
Outdoor/Exterior Baby Gates
Height: 29.5″, Width range: 27″-42.5″
We’ve used the Cardinal Gates Outdoor Gate at two different houses now, and it works great. The gate is made of aluminum (translation: rustproof), although it will fade a little in the sun. This is a one-handed gate with an optional stop bracket, which prevents it from opening over a stairway. This gate will mount at angles up to 30 degrees, and is perfect for the top of stairs, decks, porches, etc.
This is the only outdoor gate that I know of… but you might be able to get away with using others outside for a season (or longer!) — just no guarantees.
That’s all, folks!