Best Tape Measure Shootout Level Reviews, Measuring & Squares

Best Tape Measure Shootout


Tape measures are a staple in everyone’s toolbox from the most seasoned Pro to the greenest DIYer. Ranging in length and price, most cost less than $30. But are all tape measures created equally? Of course not. We’re breaking things down into the categories our Pro team say are most important when they’re using a tape measure. So which model is the best tape measure? Let’s dive in!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on February 26, 2018.

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Finding the Best Tape Measure

Accuracy

Before you worry about anything else, a tape measure has to be accurate. If it isn’t, nothing else matters. Fortunately, it’s not just the best tape measure that we find to be accurate. Everyone except for Empire is dead on at the 6″ mark on our Lixer Master calibration tool. Empire was off by the width of the line – less than 1/64″. So aside from that ever-so-slight difference, the whole group is out of the gate with a good start.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

Durability

Once you know your tape is accurate, durability is the next major concern. All of these tape measures are capable of surviving dozens, if not hundreds, of drops onto concrete from workbench height. So from a desire to meet our publishing deadline and do something else with our time between now and Thanksgiving, we stepped it up to a 10′ drop from our Werner podium ladder.

There are 6 drops in each round of testing – one from each of the 6 sides of a tape measure’s housing. We checked each tape measure after every drop to see if it could still extend the blade and fully retract it. Once it was no longer able to do one or both of those, it was out. The idea is that with a physically damaged tape measure, you can still finish out the day as long as you can extend and retract – even if it’s not as pretty as when you started.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

With each round of testing, more lock buttons, faceplates, and other pieces flew off. Belt clips bent and rattling sounds emerged from inside. And some faired better than others. Klein made the first exit after just 5 drops due to an internal failure that no longer let the blade retract. Ryobi was next at 20 drops, followed by Stanley at 24 drops and Lufkin at 25. The rest survived our 30 drops in varying states of what you can call “operational”.  Here’s how they break down:

Call of the WildBest Tape Measure Shootout

  • DeWalt – clearly in the best physical shape with decent function
  • Milwaukee – housing is splitting, but it’s operating the best
  • Ridgid – needs some help retracting, but everything still works
  • Empire – housing looks like it went through hell, but still mostly works, autolock is hit or miss
  • Ox – operating by only the loosest of meanings

Clip Design

Having a good clip can make or break your tape measure experience. After all, when they’re not in our toolboxes or on a workbench, we usually clip tape measures to our belts. The strength of the clip is part of the equation, a design that slides on and off your belt without too much difficulty is the other.

Milwaukee has one of the strongest clips with their wire design. Its strength gets in the way slightly when clipping to your belt. DeWalt also has a strong clip, but it’s easier to clip on and off than Milwaukee and takes the top spot because of it. Rounding out the top 3 is Lufkin with above average clip strength and an easy on/off clip.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

On the other end is Empire and Ridgid – both have easy clips to use but lack strength. Ryobi has nearly as much strength as Milwaukee, but the clip is a bit too small and tougher to use.

Visibility

If it’s accurate and it’s tough, you just need to be able to read the markings. In searching for the best tape measure, there are some interesting ways to improve visibility. Only three tapes stray from the norm of standard black markings on yellow blades.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

Klein goes with bold marks on the 1″ and 1/8″ lines to make it stand out more. It definitely helps. On the back side of the blade, they shift to a white background with black markings.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

Empire moves in using a white blade with blue fractions every 1/4″ and black fractions on the 1/8″ marks. The overall visibility improvement is marginal at best with its thin lines, but the fractions are easier to read with their alternating black and blue print.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

Lufkin takes things to a new level with their Black Widow’s green on black print. It stands out better in every light condition.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

Standout and Throw

Manufacturers love to tout the standout of their tape measures and there are plenty of jobsite jokes that go along with it. For our team, standout is important – up until 9′ or so. As long as the standout gets you beyond the length of sheet material, they’re pretty happy. You can definitely make the argument for 10′ – 16′ lumber that you might work with, but you’re sliding the hook over those longer pieces most of the time.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

Closely related, but rarely discussed is tape measure throw. Since the goal is to not have to walk from one end of the material to the other, the farther you can throw the tape’s blade, the better. Many Pros throw it out there, then continue extending the blade across the top of the material until it reaches the end. The downside of throwing the blade is that you often give up standout length because of the action.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

Ease it out for better standout or throw it out for quicker work? It’s your call. The best tape measure will have a balance of the standout and throw – and our Pros like 8′ as a minimum standard for both. The more the better, though.

Three of our tapes failed to hit the 8′ (96″) mark in standout – Ryobi (82″), Empire (84″), and Ridgid (94″). On the other end, Lufkin reaches out to 120″, Stanley hits 126″, and DeWalt finds a large gap to first at 140″.

 

Throw can more or less follow standout. The extra weight on wider blades helps, but a stronger spring hinders. Protective coatings on the blades will reduce friction. On the low end, Lufkin (91″) and Empire (93″) are the only ones to fall short of the 96″ mark. Stanley sneaks in ahead of DeWalt on the podium at 116″, Milwaukee extends out to 123″, and Klein tops the group with a 130″ throw.

 

Hook Design

A tape measure absolutely has to hook easily on the top and bottom. The best tape measure will give you solid hooking on the sides and even naturally turn so the edge of the blade is flush on your material. For the most part, the larger the hook the better, but you can overdo it. Too much mass will make the hook flip when you’re trying to grab on the side. So how did this group do?

Empire, Klein, Milwaukee, Ridgid, and Ryobi all perform with solid top and bottom grab for the hooks and decent side grab.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

Lufkin takes the 4th place spot with a design that’s actually my favorite. Top and bottom grab very well and the bottom extension catches the sides, pulling the blade edge to the material. While it’s not the best hold of the top players, it’s a great combination of hold and size.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

DeWalt moves into 3rd place with excellent top and bottom hold and an upper extension that gives it a solid side hold.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

Ox, with its crazy-looking ox head hook, actually does a great job of holding all around. It might be a little bulky in some cases, but it’s going to grab from just about anywhere.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

Stanley is a little disappointing with almost no ability to grab on the sides. But wait… there’s more. Stanley includes a removable hook that stores onboard. Installed, it gives better hold at every angle than any of the others in our test. While the wisdom of having a removable hook on a tape measure is questionable, it gives you the ability to grab anywhere when you need it to and get out of the way when you don’t.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

Ergonomics

Ergonomics on tape measures are less about the weight and more about how naturally they fit in your hand. DeWalt, Lufkin, and Milwaukee all have an excellent fit with a standard tape measure grip. On the lower end, Empire and Stanley feel like they’re intruding in your hand and Ox’s size makes is challenging to wrap your hand around.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

Price and Value

Prices in the group range from $8.97 (Ryobi) to $29.99 (DeWalt). What’s interesting is that while you do get better build quality and features as you go, the amount of increase you get for the extra price gets smaller the closer you get to the top.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

As you compare the number of points each tape earns to it price, you begin to lose value as you go up in price. Ryobi tops the value chart with Empire not far behind before there’s a pretty wide gap to Lufkin. On the low end, Milwaukee and Klein finish just above DeWalt, whose $30 price point puts it at the bottom. Of the 9 tapes, only the top 3 manage to earn 80% or better on our value scale.

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Bonus Features

We asked each manufacturer for their toughest tapes rather than their most feature-rich. However, there are some features worth mentioning in this group beyond what we’ve looked at so far.

Magnetic Hook

A magnetic hook helps when you’re doing layout or measurement around steel. But there are also times when you might not want it. For the times that you do, Klein, Milwaukee, and Ox have it.

Nylon Blade Coating

Nylon coating on the blade helps reduce the amount of wear that eventually starts rusting and peeling away. Empire, Klein, Lufkin, Milwaukee, Ridgid, and Ryobi have it. DeWalt claims to have their “toughest coating” but doesn’t specifically say what it is while Stanley touts their BladeArmor coating.

Finger Brake

Some of the springs in these tape measures will give your finger a pretty good pinch if you’re not careful. Milwaukee and Klein have finger stop brakes on the bottom to help you control the return of your blade.

Dual Side Blade Printing

Printing on both sides of the tape is helpful as you’re working around different scenarios. Klein, Lufkin, Milwaukee, Ox, and Ridgid print on both sides of the blade.

Best Tape Measure Shootout

Auto Lock

Love it or hate it, auto lock mechanisms stop the tape as you extend it rather than forcing you to use the thumb lock. Empire and Stanley have this feature.

Bonus Markings and Scales

Some of these tapes give you a little more bang for your buck with additional scales for certain applications. Klein gives electricians a conduit bending multiplier.

Milwaukee offers a 1/4 and 1/8 architectural scale.

Empire, Ox, and Ryobi give you fractional printing to take some of the guesswork out of reading the tape.

The Best Tape Measure Tape By Tape

Klein 25-ft Double Hook Magnetic Tape Measure

Best Tape Measure Shootout

  • Model: Klein 86225
  • Length: 25′
  • Mark Lines: 1/16″
  • Warranty: Lifetime
  • Price: $18.91

Total Points: 74.4

Pros:

  • Dual side blade printing
  • Bold lines help contrast
  • Perfect accuracy out of the box
  • Excellent standout and throw
  • Excellent ergonomics
  • Finger brake underneath housing

Cons:

  • Early exit in drop test

The Bottom Line:

Klein is probably more unlucky than anything since its early exit from the drop test cost it quite a few points. Chances are that if we repeated the test several more times, it would do better. As it stands, it’s a pretty feature-rich tape and the bold lines really help improve the contrast for those of us with less than perfect eyes. Don’t let the finishing place fool you – this one punches above its score.

Read the Review here.

Ryobi 25-ft Tape Measure

Best Tape Measure Shootout

  • Model: Ryobi RTM25
  • Length: 25′
  • Mark Lines: 1/16″
  • Warranty: Limited Lifetime
  • Price: Check on Amazon

Total Points: 81.1

Pros:

  • Best value and lowest price
  • Fractional markings
  • Compact design
  • Perfect accuracy out of the box
  • Excellent ergonomics

Cons:

  • Clip needs to be a bigger size
  • Sub-96″ standout
  • Single side blade printing

The Bottom Line:

Ryobi’s tape measure comes in with more than 80 points to put in a solid effort in this group. Its compact size helps in the ergonomics department but hurts it a bit in standout and throw. The only glaring concern is that the wire belt clip is too small. It’s strong enough for sure, it just needs to grow a size or two. Other than that, it settles in nicely to the middle ground in our other categories.

You did notice that this is Ryobi’s first hand tool, right?

Ridgid 25-ft Locking Steel Tape Measure

Best Tape Measure Shootout

  • Model: Ridgid 625
  • Length: 25′
  • Mark Lines: 1/16″
  • Warranty: Limited Lifetime
  • Price: Check on Amazon

Total Points: 84.9

Pros:

  • Dual side blade printing
  • Survived 30 drops from a 10′ ladder
  • Perfect accuracy out of the box
  • Excellent ergonomics

Cons:

  • Sub-96″ standout

The Bottom Line:

Ridgid rides a pretty solid showing to 84.9 points. It doesn’t stray far from the middle ground with the exception of a relatively short standout. While 7th place isn’t where they hoped to finish, keep in mind that there are a scant 4 points between Ridgid and 3rd place.

 Empire Level 500AL Series Auto-Locking Tape Measure

Best Tape Measure Shootout

  • Model: Empire AL500-25
  • Length: 25′
  • Mark Lines: 1/16″
  • Warranty: Lifetime
  • Price: $9.99

Total Points: 85.3

Pros:

  • Auto locking mechanism
  • Survived 30 drops from a 10′ ladder
  • 2nd highest value rating
  • Fractional markings

Cons:

  • Sub-96″ standout and throw

The Bottom Line:

When we performed our drop test, Empire cracked early before losing a chunk of its housing. While we were able to clearly see what was going on inside, drop after drop, the mechanisms kept working. If Empire goes to work on the outer housing, this could end up being one of the toughest tapes out there. With a price of just $10, this one is a nice find for those who need a basic tape measure.

Ox Tools Pro Stainless Steel Tape Measure

Best Tape Measure Shootout

  • Model: Ox Tools OX-P029425
  • Length: 25′
  • Mark Lines: 1/16″
  • Warranty: Not listed, 90-day return guarantee
  • Price: $29.00

Total Points: 85.5

Pros:

  • Dual side blade printing
  • Fractional markings
  • Survived 30 drops from a 10′ ladder
  • Perfect accuracy out of the box
  • Solid standout and throw
  • Excellent hook holding

Cons:

  • Large size hurts ergonomics
  • Online retailers are tough to find

The Bottom Line:

Ox checks off most of the major categories for a Pro level tape measure. The size is large for a 25′ tape and the Ox hook can get in the way in some situations. Other than that, it’s a pretty solid tape from top to bottom

Read the Review here.

Stanley 25-ft FATMAX Auto-Lock Tape Measure

Best Tape Measure Shootout

  • Model: Stanley FMHT33338
  • Length: 25′
  • Mark Lines: 1/16″
  • Warranty: Limited Lifetime
  • Price: Check on Amazon

Total Points: 86.6

Pros:

  • Excellent standout and throw
  • Perfect accuracy out of the box
  • Removable hook gives outstanding hold when you need, stores onboard when you don’t
  • Auto locking mechanism

Cons:

  • Single side blade print

The Bottom Line:

Stanley FatMax tape measures are probably the most popular in the country currently. They’re known for their standout and this model doesn’t disappoint with more than 10′ in our testing to go along with nearly 10′ of throw. That’s a solid balance between the two. With mid- to upper-level results from start to finish, Stanley FatMax is still a reliable name to turn to.

Lufkin 25-ft Black Widow Tape Measure

Best Tape Measure Shootout

  • Model: Lufkin L1025B
  • Length: 25′
  • Mark Lines: 1/16″
  • Warranty: Standard Limited Lifetime
  • Price: $10.78

Total Points: 88.9

Pros:

  • Dual side blade printing
  • Outstanding visibility
  • Excellent clip design
  • Survived 30 drops from a 10′ ladder
  • Excellent standout
  • Excellent hook design
  • Outstanding ergonomics

Cons:

  • Sub-96″ throw

The Bottom Line:

Lufkin finishes our testing in 3rd place with a host of accolades in the “Pros” category and just a single knock for a short throw in the “Cons”. The Black Widow’s high-contrast black and green blade finish rockets it to the top in visibility. The question that remains is how well that finish will hold up over time. A step higher in durability might put it in contention at the top. Regardless, this is the best tape measure you can snag under $20.

Read the Review here.

Milwaukee 25-ft Magnetic Tape Measure

Best Tape Measure Shootout

  • Model: Milwaukee 48-22-7125
  • Length: 25′
  • Mark Lines: 1/16″
  • Warranty: Limited Lifetime
  • Price: $28.33

Total Points: 90.1

Pros:

  • Highest functionality at the end of the drop test
  • Outstanding clip design
  • Perfect accuracy out of the box
  • Outstanding ergonomics
  • Excellent throw
  • Finger stop brake underneath housing
  • Architectural scale on bottom blade printing

Cons:

  • None to speak of

The Bottom Line:

Milwaukee’s latest tape measure isn’t really lacking in any category – it’s solid all the way around. But since it didn’t come in first, there’s clearly at least some room for improvement. Where it can fill the relatively small gap to 1st place is by picking up some additional standout and a little improvement for better side grip on the hook. Otherwise, it goes toe to toe with 1st place.

DeWalt 25-ft XP Tape Measure

Best Tape Measure Shootout

  • Model: DeWalt DWHT36225
  • Length: 25′
  • Mark Lines: 1/16″
  • Warranty: Limited Lifetime
  • Price: $29.97

Total Points: 92.6

Pros:

  • Best physical condition at the end of our drop test
  • Outstanding clip design
  • Perfect accuracy out of the box
  • Highest standout
  • Excellent throw
  • Excellent hook design
  • Outstanding ergonomics

Cons:

  • Single side blade printing
  • Highest price

The Bottom Line:

If you’re willing to pay $30 for a tape measure, the DeWalt XP is the best tape measure you can get. It’s the real deal delivering the complete package and whatever other metaphors you’d like to throw at it. It has a slight hiccup in that it doesn’t include printing on both sides of the blade. With the highest price, it also earns the lowest value rating – though it’s not a bad value given what you get for the price. And yes, it leaves Stanley Black & Decker brand cousin Stanley FatMax behind by a pretty healthy margin.

Read the Review here.

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Allan Crawford
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Allan Crawford

What is the best measuring tape in terms of blade durability? No matter which I buy, the blade starts to crack after a few months and then it’s a matter of days before it breaks through. I measure about every 10 minutes all day long and very often have to “fold” the blade. Most of what I measure is closed at both ends so this is basically unavoidable (height of kitchen backsplashes for tiling). Thanks for recommendations.

Ann Marie Alspaugh
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Ann Marie Alspaugh

My Lufkin tore today, cut my finger. Does anyone make a left handed tape measure?

Wayne Johnson
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FAT Max, no question about it!

Scott Kahle
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The cheap $9.99 Stanley. The expensive ones suck.

Stevan Obrenov
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BMI is company and build only measurement tools. Look a measurement tape of bmi, festool sell bmi tape on his name