A bit of fresh air never hurt anyone, that’s what we say, and if you want to encourage your kids to go (and stay) outside, a climbing frame is ideal.
They are great for building strength and imagination, as they can become pirate ships, dens and much more with a bit of creative thinking.
When buying a climbing frame the most important consideration is space. Sizes can range from one square meter to “block-out-the-sun” big.
Make sure to choose the area it will go in wisely, and allow for plenty of space around it for safety mats or swings.
How we tested
We tested the best climbing frames, looking for safety, sturdiness and the all-important fun factor. We reviewed the full process from construction to playtime, to let you know how much fun these climbing frames are for little ones as well as big kids (read: adults).
The best climbing frames for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Quadro basic construction set: £310, Quadroplay.co.uk
- Best for little ones – Smoby fun centre playhouse with slide: £499.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for variety – Kidkraft Ainsley climbing frame: £389.95, Cuckooland.com
- Best for longevity – Jungle Gym design your own climbing frame: From £379, Junglegym.co.uk
- Best for making dens – TP explorer metal climbing frame set & swing black edition: £309.99, Tptoys.com
- Best wooden climbing frame – Plum mandrill wooden climbing frame: £349.99, Plumplay.co.uk
- Best changeable accessories – Fatmoose JollyJade wave XXL: £359.95, Fatmoose.co.uk
- Best for small spaces – Little Tikes toddler activity gym climbing frame and slide: £100, Argos.co.uk
Quadro basic construction set
This is a bit like Mechano for giants and we love it. The basic set comes with 259 parts which you can use any way you wish to create a climbing frame, cubby hole, ramp, vehicle or even a washing line. What a great idea.
Building it is part of the fun. We made a little slide to start with, and then after some inspiration (gin), we made a tractor and then an aeroplane. It kept us adults busy for hours and the little testers loved it too. It’s low to the ground and has no sharp edges – if any testers (big or small) fell off, it didn’t stop play.
We love how it can be used indoors or outdoors, the plastic is recyclable and that anyone from 1 – 100 years can enjoy it.
Smoby fun centre playhouse with slide
Best: For little ones
- Dimensions: 284cm x 203cm x 176cm
- Rating: 9/10
Is it a climbing frame or is it a whole mini leisure centre for toddlers? It has basketball, football and a reversible climbing wall to keep kids over two years old busy, and then a picnic bench and slide for some much needed post-match R&R.
Refreshingly simple to assemble, it takes up around fifteen square feet and we like how the plastic is treated so it won’t fade in the sun. It feels sturdy and durable and our toddler testers were enchanted. Our older kiddie testers had fun using the sporting equipment together and by themselves, and were so enthralled we had to beg them to come in for their tea. We loved the great value, too.
Kidkraft Ainsley climbing frame
Best: For variety
- Dimensions: 236cm x 312cm x 274cm
- Rating: 9/10
This climbing set squeezes an impressive amount of apparatus into less than 9 sq m. It has a wave slide, sun canopy, two swings, clubhouse, chalkboard and rock wall. Still not entertained? There’s also a sand pit.
It will keep a gaggle of three to ten year olds busy whether they are into climbing, digging or drawing. We had little trouble assembling the pre-drilled frame, and it took about four hours to build (not including tea breaks). We also sanded it down to catch any splinters. Our little testers whooped with joy and have practically lived in the den all summer, only coming out for food – perfect. We love how sturdy and stylish it looks and feels, plus it’s great value, too.
Jungle Gym design your own climbing frame
Best: For longevity
- Dimensions: Dependent your frame you design
- Rating: 9/10
Jungle Gym is a tried, tested and trusted name in the outdoor play world. The premium price is justified by the premium product – you get what you pay for and this will last for generations.
The brand now offers a “design your own” option, so you can create the ideal climbing frame for your garden and children. This immediately made it a real winner for us. We loved choosing our ideal set up, play tower, materials and accessories. Having a fireman’s pole instead of a slide is a real space saver.
The average jungle gym takes about ten hours to build, and we fell wide of the mark. The instructions are easy to follow but it took a long time, and required a drill. We recommend using the Jungle Gym installation service offered. Either way, the finished result is spectacular – a real statement piece. Our little testers were overwhelmed and we’re confident this apparatus will continue to provide hours of fun for years to come.
TP explorer metal climbing frame set and swing black edition
Best: For making dens
- Dimensions: H 203cm x W 205cm x L 350cm
- Rating: 9/10
We love how much you get for your money with this frame and that you can add accessories if you wish. It is excellent quality and will withstand time and weather. It did take two of us six hour to assemble, but the finished result looks awesome and our little testers whooped with excitement and shot straight up into the den. The extreme weather conditions we’ve had since we built it in the spring really put it through its paces, but it still looks brand new.
The deluxe black version comes with a shaded play area which we tested as a ball pit and sandpit – both were great successes. There is a cute and cosy den at the top of the climbing frame with a viewing window and fold down flaps. It even comes with an adventure play mat for imaginative play. And of course, there is a sturdy swing with a rapide seat for the main business.
Plum mandrill wooden climbing frame
Best: Wooden climbing frame
- Dimensions: L 320cm x W 305cm x H 210cm
- Rating: 8/10
We loved this value for money set, and that the height adjustable rope allows swings to be easily changed – we added a toddler swing for our 9-month-old tester. It’s also well suited to smaller gardens, and the kids loved that it can be used as a den base, climbing frame and assault course. At least five children can have hours of squabble-free fun at the same time with this set.
You get a lot for your money – there’s two swings, a glider for two and a slide. We love that the metal swing attachments encircle the pole so there’s no drilling during assembly, which took two of us five hours. The wood is premium FSC certified and sustainably sourced, and the steel corner brackets are galvanised to prevent rust. It looks gorgeous and very high-end, and feels sturdy and safe – this one will last for years. It’s suitable for children from three-years and adults up to 50kg, and the swing ropes are adjustable for when little legs grow longer.
Fatmoose JollyJade wave XXL
Best: Changeable accessories
- Dimensions: H 215cm x W 313cm x H 260cm
- Rating: 8/10
This Fatmoose set comes with two ClassicRider swing seats, but you can change the frame configuration to add other accessories such as a baby swing or climbing rope. Anchors and safety mats must be bought separately. The solid wood is pressure treated and comes with a 10 year guarantee. It’s not the easiest to assemble, with lots of build stages – it might be wise to hire in some DIY expertise. But that being said, the end result is fabulous and looks amazing, and we love that you can modify it and add accessories.
Cool kiddies will love this swing set that comes with an in-build MagicSurf wobble plank for riding the waves. It also has a climbing frame with a lookout seat at the top – perfect for budding lifeguards. Our little testers thought this was awesome.
Little Tikes toddler activity gym climbing frame and slide
Best: For small spaces
- Dimensions: H 76cm x W 76.99cm x D 130cm
- Rating: 7/10
This is the ideal first climbing frame, by family favourite, Little Tikes. It’s ideal for toddlers over 18-months-old and takes up a small footprint of less than one square metre. We love how easy it is to construct and take apart, and how it can be used indoors and outdoors. It is safe and sturdy and can be passed down to friends and family without too much hassle.
Our little testers are still very much into peek-a-boo, and loved using the portholes for their favourite game. We liked knowing they were close to the ground, away from any sharp edges.
The verdict: Climbing frames
Climbing frames need to entertain children for a long time to make them worth the investment. This is why the Quadro set is our best buy – it’s so versatile. We love how ingenious it is, and how it can evolve with your family. We also think the Smoby fun centre is great value for what it offers, which we would also highly commend this one too. Happy climbing.
For the latest discounts on garden toys and outdoor furniture, try the links below:
Kids will also love hanging out on our best swing sets – find the right set for your garden in our roundup
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