ANYTHING THAT CAN convert hours spent climbing up and down trees into more hunting time is a big, well, leg up. Actually, climbing sticks do just that. Yes, tree steps make more sense for weeks-long stands, but they aren’t allowed everywhere. For short-term sets, these sticks get you up faster with less sweat. Here’s how the four models I tested compare:

For each model, I started a watch, walked into the woods, climbed up to and down from a 15-foot stand, packed up, walked out, and stopped the watch. I gave up to 25 points for ease of use, packability/portability, quietness, and value, each. Then I added or slashed points for time under or over the average (14 minutes).

1 Lone Wolf ProSeries Climbing Sticks
($169 for three; 309-691-9653;
Ease of Use: 25 * Packability/Portability: 25 * Quietness: 25 * Value: 15
Time: 11 minutes Total Score: 93

THE SKINNY: ProSeries sticks are insanely expensive but absolutely blew the competition away. At just 7 pounds for three (by my scale), they are 4 pounds lighter than any other set and together very compact–the only ones I’d want to carry more than a couple hundred yards. Smartly designed and well built to the smallest detail, they were also the quietest and easiest to use.

2 Ameristep Non-Typical Aluminum Rapid Rails
($110 for four; 810-686-4035;
Ease of Use: ****23 * Packability/Portability: 18 * Quietness: 23 * Value: 20
Time: 12 minutes Total Score: 86
THE SKINNY:** If you like to climb high, the Rapid Rails are a great choice. A standard set of four gets you at least 5 feet higher than any other set here (20 feet, no problem) and offers the easiest, steadiest climb of the bunch. The sticks are surprisingly light, 13 pounds, but their length makes them a little awkward to carry in the woods.

3 Summit Bucksteps Tree Steps
($99 for four; 256-353-0634;
Ease of Use: 23 * Packability/Portability: 20 * Quietness: 18 * Value: 21
Time: 14 minutes Total Score: 82

THE SKINNY: These were good to very good in every category but one: They were the noisiest of the bunch, although a little rubberizing spray could fix that. Each step provides a large, solid platform for surefooted climbing. Fairly compact and just 11 pounds per set, the Bucksteps are the second most portable models here.

4 Cabela’s Kwik Step Ladder
($65 for four; 800-237-4444;
Ease of Use: 18 * Packability/Portability: 15 * Quietness: 20 * Value: 25
Time: 20 minutes Total Score: 72

THE SKINNY: The Kwik Step Ladder was not very quick. With two fastening straps per section, it takes more time to set up and break down. The four pieces weigh a whopping 20 pounds–7 pounds more than the next heaviest set. But they are quiet, effective, and inexpensive: an okay choice if you have a short walk to your stand.