The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Best Playset for Your Family 2024

You've decided to get a playset for your family - great choice! Your kids are excited for their new backyard swing set, but there are so many options to choose from that you're not really sure where to start. Purchasing a backyard playset is an investment you'll likely only make once. You want a set with features your kids will love for years, quality to last a long time, and a price tag that meets your budget. There's a lot to consider, but don't worry, we've got you covered with this ultimate guide to picking out the best playset that will make your backyard the best on the block.

Features  |  Adaptability  |  Materials  |  Safety  |  Installation


Playsets are about more than fun and games for the kids - they are a great way for your kids to build muscles, develop skills, and get active. Playgrounds and backyard swing sets offer great opportunities for kids to build their gross motor skills, their vestibular sense, and their sense of proprioception (more on all that later). There are lots of features available on backyard playsets, and but some features offer your child more developmental advantages than others. 

Playsets are more than just swings and slides these days. As you're looking at all the features you can choose from, you'll want to think about how kids' play evolves and changes as they get older. Something perfectly suited for your two-year-old probably won't interest them in a year or so. Or maybe you have several kids of various ages that you need to please. Choosing the right play system is a balancing act; it needs to be safe for everyone yet have enough features to keep everyone entertained. 

Before we do a deep dive into all the features you can choose from, head outside and take some measurements of your space so you know the overall footprint you're working with. Some features (swings in particular) need bigger footprints than others for safety reasons.   

Here's the complete list of features to consider, including swings, slides, climbing features, and other play features:


Dad swinging young daughter on flat swing seat

Swings are the classic play feature, and they will keep the kids entertained for hour upon hour and for years to come, heck – even as an adult swinging still sounds fun! Swinging elements help kids develop their sense of proprioception, or the sense of where your body is in space. In addition to the traditional swing attached at two points, there are some other interesting variations available as well.

A few considerations to keep in mind as you’re looking at swings:

  • Swing Bar Height

To get right to the point, the higher the swing bar, the bigger the swing. Playsets designed for little kids (2-5 years old) have a 5-ft swing bar height. Swing sets designed for older kids have a higher (8-ft or even 10-ft) swing bar.

  • Swing Seat Type

    • Belt swing seats are the least expensive option, but let me tell you, they are not very comfortable for butts bigger than a 10-year-old’s! Belt seats are good for safety because they won’t hurt anyone when sent swinging with no occupant (why do kids love to do that?).
    • Rigid swing seats are usually made out of rubber or plastic and are comfortable for bigger butts (i.e., adults) too. Added bonus – you can use them for a variety of quick (and pretty darn challenging) ab exercises!
    • Baby/infant swing seats come in two basic types: the bucket seat that you see at a lot of parks and the molded plastic seat with full back support. Both do their job at keeping the littlest ones contained and safe, but for maximum comfort, we recommend the plastic style with full back support. In our experience, babies LOVE these swings and can contentedly swing (or nap) there for hours! With most sets, it’s easy to swap out a belt or rigid swing for a baby swing until your little one is ready for the more advanced option.
  • Specialty Swinging Elements

    • Gliders are a fun feature that allow two kids to play together. They’re typically recommended for kids 3 years and older.
    • Trapeze Bars are an easy and inexpensive attachment that can be hung on the swing bar to give the little ones a safe place to hang, swing, and do some monkey tricks. You can find trapeze bars in a variety of colors and styles, and they’re usually easy to hang on the existing swing attachment points.
    • Single point swing attachments, like a disc seat, can also be considered, but you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of clear space around the swing to keep the kids safe.


There’s no doubt kids love sliding! Slides can be enjoyed by all ages since there’s no skill needed to master this part of the playground! Similar to swinging, sliding can help develop the vestibular sense as kids move quickly down the slide and come to a stop. For littler kids, sliding also provides a challenge – they have to overcome the intimidating feelings at the top of a slide to enjoy the ride!

Blue rotomolded plastic wave slide
  • Deck Height

Slides are dependent on the deck height, which is determined by the design and structure of the playground in question. The standard for residential slides is a 10-ft slide attached to a 5-ft deck height, which can be used by kids of all ages. Slides are also made for 3-ft and 4-ft deck heights – which are well suited for younger kids. A few residential sets have 6-ft, 7-ft, and even 8-ft deck heights – which are better suited for older kids.

  • Slide Type

    • Wave slides are probably the most common type of slide. Instead of a totally straight slide bed, there are a few waves to add some extra fun!
    • Straight slides don’t have any waves, which I guess is pretty straightforward!
    • Spiral slides are a lot of fun! There are two types to choose from, open and enclosed. Most residential sets offer the enclosed type, and speaking from experience, these can be pretty challenging to assemble. Plan for some extra time if you go with the bolt-together enclosed spiral slide!

Climbing Features

Little girl climbing ladder on fitness playset

Let’s not forget about all the climbing features on your jungle gym! There are many of types of climbing features offering opportunities for physical development. Monkey bars help build upper body strength, climbing walls help build grip strength, and all climbing features help build gross motor skills! What’s not to love?

  • Ladders

    • Step ladders are common on swing sets because they provide an easy access to the play deck and slide.
    • Rung ladders offer a bit more challenge for kids due to their vertical position and they help develop coordination and balance.
  • Monkey Bars

Young girl swinging while watching her mom swing across monkey bars

Monkey bars are becoming one of the most popular features of playsets! They are a great place for kids to develop their upper body strength, improve gross motor skills, and improve hand-eye coordination. Find our more in this article all about monkey bars. The height of the monkey bars is the key feature you’ll want to consider: for 2-5 year-olds, the rungs should be 5-ft or less above the ground surface and for 5-12 year-olds, the recommended height above the surface is 7-ft.

  • Climbing Walls

    • Climbing ramps are usually set at an incline and serve as an access point to the play deck. These are great for younger children to develop their climbing skills. Molded plastic hand holds
    • Rock walls are set perpendicular (or nearly perpendicular) to the ground surface and offer a more challenging climbing experience. Some rock walls are taller and don’t necessarily lead to anything, the point is just to climb around!
  • Rope Features

    • Climbing cargo nets are a fun and inexpensive feature to give kids a fun challenge. They can be used as access to the play deck or as a stand-alone feature.
    • Climbing ropes are another fun and challenging addition for older kids. Kids love the challenge of climbing a vertical rope, and it can be great for building muscle!

Other Play Features

We’ve covered the basics, but the other options available for playsets seem nearly endless. There’s something for everyone!

  • Playhouses are set at ground level and offer a fun space for pretend play.
  • Clubhouses or play decks are set above grade and offer some type of enclosure.
  • Sandboxes are a good addition to give little kids a place for sensory play. As a mom, the mess associated isn’t my favorite, so keep that in mind when deciding where a sandbox should be located.
  • Picnic tables are a useful add-on to allow a spot for a snack or some quiet time drawing or coloring.
  • Telescopes, steering wheels, and spinning tic-tac-toe. Ok, let’s be honest here, these features are plastic junk that your kids will never look at after the first day. My 4-yr-old looked through one of those fake plastic telescopes and said, “this thing doesn’t even work!” You can’t pull the wool over their eyes. Don’t waste your money on these things.


Now that you’re familiar with the many features you can choose from, the next consideration is which features your kids are actually going to use and at what age! Kids grow up fast and they’re constantly changing, which makes it a bit difficult to narrow down exactly what they’re going to love. You’ve decided to make an investment in a playset, and you want something that’s going to be of interest to them for many years to come.

Mom going down slide on swing set

As you’re looking at playsets, here are a few questions to ask:

What age group is it designed for? Most playsets have a recommended age range. You probably don’t want to spend a pile of money on something that is designed for toddlers only; they’ll grow out of that so quickly!

Can you move the playset? Most of us don’t stay in the same house forever. If you move, can your set be disassembled and moved? Look for strong, high-quality materials and an anchoring system that isn’t permanent (aka, set in concrete).

Will you be able to play on it with the kids? Do you plan on being active with your kids? Check to see if the swings and swing bar can support an adult’s weight (many of the smaller wooden sets are limited to ~115 lbs).

What Playset Will Entertain Kids of All Ages?

If you have two or more kids, you’re looking for something that is both safe for the little ones and a challenge for the older ones. Or maybe you’re a grandparent looking to find something to entertain your grandkids of various ages. Playgrounds help your child’s physical, social, and emotional development in many ways. Physical benefits include stronger muscles, improved gross motor skills, development of hand-eye coordination, and lowered risk of obesity and diabetes. Social skills learned on the playground include cooperation, taking turns, patience, resolving conflict, and working together. Emotional benefits include a boost in self-confidence as they master challenging features of the playground (monkey bars, for example) and active play helps reduce stress.

Let’s break down the development stages by age to help you decide what features are best for your backyard playground:

  • Age 0-24 months
    • Little ones enjoy being pushed in an infant swing, but by 18 months or so, they’re ready to start crawling around and exploring more
    • Babies are born with a natural grip reflex, which tends to diminish around 6 months. Given safe opportunities to hang and grip, they can build arm and shoulder strength. Developing strength early improves gross and fine motor skills.
    • Engage primarily in solitary play, with some spectator/onlooker behaviors (watching other kids and mom and dad)
    • Enjoy short slides
  • Age 2-5 years
    • Enjoy swinging and learning to pump and swing themselves
    • Graduate to sliding on larger slides on their own
    • Kids start to interact more with each other and have cooperative play with one another
    • Parent supervision and participation is key
  • Age 5-10 years
    • Increased strength allows elementary-age kids to master the more advanced components like monkey bars, chin up bars, climbing walls, and climbing ropes.
    • At this age, kids want more independence from parents and generally can be trusted with less supervision
  • Age 10+ years
    • By ten years old, they’ve likely mastered the physical challenges the playset offers, but still enjoy swinging and climbing
    • Organized sports have likely become a factor and they need to stay fit to be competitive – look for equipment that can be serve this purpose, like a SwingSesh.

Modular vs. Fixed Designs

As you shop, you’ll see a few different types of playsets on the market from fixed designs to fully modular and customizable systems.

  • Fixed Designs: Most of the lower-priced playsets you find at the big-box stores have fixed designs that can’t be modified or added on to later.
  • Upgrade Packages: Moderately priced sets, sometimes sold at dealers, may have different upgrade packages or sets of accessories that can be added to a base model. Typically, these types of sets aren’t designed to be added on to over time.
  • Modular & Customizable: Premium playsets offer modular designs that can be configured to your needs, custom color choices, and a variety of accessories. These types of sets are usually designed so new features can be added on later.
    Modular Design Swing Set

As you might expect, modular playsets tend to have a longer useful life because they can adapt to your changing family. You have the flexibility to add on different features later or make it fit a different site later if you happen to move.


You’ve got a good handle on all the features you might want. Now to dive into materials. There are a lot of options out there, each with pros and cons. The material you choose will determine how much time you spend on installation, how much time you’ll spend each year on maintenance, and, in the end, how many years of enjoyment you’ll get out of your set. Let’s go over the basic structural materials first: wood, metal, and plastic.


Wood is a common choice for backyard playsets. There are a lot of options to choose from, so read the labels carefully and know exactly what you’re getting. You can choose from natural wood, pressure-treated wood, and vinyl-coated wood. Keep in mind, most natural wood sets require you to apply a fresh coat of stain every year to protect the wood against rot and insects (and to avoid voiding the warranty). The manufacturer should be able to tell you the exact species of wood their sets are made from; if that information is hard to find or generic wording like ‘premium wood’ is used, be cautious.

Many playsets are marketed as “cedar”. Cedar is sought after because of the anti-fungal and anti-rotting chemicals found in the lumber of old-growth trees, although these chemicals are not typically found in younger trees of the same species. Nomenclature of “cedar” trees is a bit of a touchy subject among botanical experts, as technically speaking, “cedar” refers to trees from the genus Cedrus, coniferous trees native to the mountains of the western Himalayas and the Mediterranean region. There are a number of other species that are commonly referred to as cedar, but are part of a different genus of trees altogether. Common species that are also referred to as cedars, and have similar aromatic and anti-rotting properties in old growth trees include Thuja plicata (western red cedar), Thuja occidentalis (Northern white-cedar), and eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Cunninghamia lanceolata is another species often marketed as “cedar” but is more commonly known as Chinese fir in fields outside of swing set marketing materials, and is grown widely in China due to its fast growth.  Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) has similar anti-fungal and anti-rotting properties as cedar and is known to be a durable wood for outdoor applications.

The species of wood you choose certainly does matter, but keep in mind, the larger the wood dimensions, the stronger the swing set. Also, old-growth lumber is more desirable than fast-growth lumber and will be more durable to the elements – in part because of a tighter growth pattern and because of a higher concentration of the naturally occurring anti-rotting chemicals in the species mentioned previously.

Natural wood

Natural wood can be a beautiful, classic aesthetic for a backyard swing set. Quality and price range varies widely when it comes to natural wood sets and most require annual maintenance. As with most things, you get what you pay for; quality is important and you want to make a purchase that will last. Take it from an experienced playset installer, who on his website states: “Due to the types of materials that come with the Backyard Discovery/Adventures, Swing N Slide, Leisure Time, Create-N-Adventure or Adventure Playsets, we are no longer able to install or move these sets.”

Here's a breakdown of each type of wood commonly used in playset construction:

    • Chinese “cedar” $-$$ (Cunninghamia lanceolata)
      • More commonly known as Chinese fir, although taxonomically it is a member of the Cypress family
      • Fast-growth lumber grown in China, therefore the cheapest option
      • Often marketed as ”premium cedar” or “premium wood”
      • Wood dimensions are narrow as imported sets are typically not cut to traditional North American dimensional standards, which means lower weight limits
      • Requires annual maintenance such as staining to protect wood and prevent splinters
      • Manufacturers: Woodplay, Gorilla, Eastern Jungle Gym, KidKraft, Backyard Discovery
    • Western Red Cedar $$$ (Thuja plicata)
      • Comes from Pacific Northwest
      • Known for durability and lightness
      • Naturally resistant to decay, rot, and insect damage
      • Annual application of sealant or preservative is recommended
      • Manufacturers: Playground One Playsets, Superior Play Systems 
    • Northern White Cedar $$$-$$$$ (Thuja occidentalis)
      • Lightest of all commercial wood, according to the US Forest Service Department of Agriculture
      • Soft wood is naturally resistant to splintering
      • No need to stain, paint, or treat
      • Naturally resistant to decay, rot, and insect damage
      • Soft wood doesn’t hold fasteners as well as other materials
      • Manufacturers: CedarWorks, Triumph Play Systems 
    • Redwood $$$-$$$$ (Sequoia sempervirens)
      • Grows on the coast of California
      • Typically the most expensive of the wood options
      • Naturally resistant to decay, rot, and insect damage
      • Dimensionally stable
      • Redwood has been used in outdoor applications (fences, decks, outdoor furniture, and playsets) for decades
      • Regular application of stain (every 2-3 years) is recommended to reduce splinters
      • Manufacturers: Backyard Fun Factory, PlayNation Premier Redwood Series 

    Pressure Treated Wood

    Pressure treated wood is a long-lasting choice because it has been treated with a chemical solution to prevent deterioration from moisture and insects. Typically, the wood is Southern Yellow Pine, which is the same species widely used in construction of residential homes and decks. Pressure treated wood needs to be sealed with stain or paint to keep the wood looking its best and avoid splinters.

    In the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s (you know, way back when we were kids), most backyard playsets were made using pressure treated lumber. In those days, the wood was treated with chromated copper arsenate, which is now banned by the EPA in residential applications like decks and playsets due to the risk of arsenic leaching from the wood. Outdoor lumber is now treated with ACQ (alkaline copper quaternary), which no longer contains arsenic, but does contain chemicals that release pollutants during the manufacturing process and cause accelerated corrosion of steel fasteners (such as nails and screws). Treated wood is not safe to burn and must be disposed of in the ‘non-clean wood’ section at the landfill.


    • Typically grown and milled in USA
    • Renewable resource harvested and milled in the USA
    • Chemicals used to treat the lumber cause corrosion, therefore it is important to use proper fasteners (galvanized, ceramic coated, or type 304 or 316 stainless steel) for long-term structural stability.
    • Requires annual maintenance such as staining
    • Manufacturers: Creative Playthings, PlayNation’s Premium Preserved Pine series, The SwingSet Co.

    Vinyl-coated wood

    Vinyl swing sets are a low maintenance, durable option. Typically, pressure treated lumber is wrapped with a vinyl coating to protect it from the elements. Some manufacturers use a mix of plastic lumber or steel under the vinyl wrap.
    • Typically, pressure treated lumber is used under a vinyl wrap
    • Wood is typically grown and milled in USA
    • Many are Amish-made playsets
    • Risk of wood rotting underneath the vinyl and not being able to see the rot
    • No staining required; maintenance includes wiping down the set
    • Manufacturers: King Swings, Swing Kingdom, RuffhouseAdventure World Play Sets, VinylNation 


    Metal has been a classic choice for backyard jungle gyms since the 1950s and nearly every public playground you’ve visited is constructed of metal for its strength, durability, and low maintenance. There are basically two types of backyard metal playsets: thin gauge sets that are designed for lighter weights and those constructed of heavy gauge material, similar to what you’d see at a park playground. A major advantage of metal playsets is that they require virtually no maintenance as there’s no need for the annual stain or paint as with natural wood sets.

    Metal is known for its strength, but a common concern rust. Metal must be protected from water intrusion to prevent rust from forming. Most metal is treated with a powder coating finish to protect it. Powder coating is applied to metal electrostatically as a free-flowing, dry powder and is then cured in an oven to provide a hard finish that is tougher than conventional paint. There are many different types of powder coating finishes, some providing more protection than others. Thin finishes can be quite brittle, becoming prone to cracking and exposing raw metal to rust formation. There are a range of more modern plastic coatings that provide an extremely durable, non-brittle coating. In addition to powder coating, galvanization offers adds an extra layer of corrosion protection and may be a good option if you live near the coast where the moisture content of the air is salty.

    When considering a metal set, you’ll want to know the gauge of the pipe or tube to determine how sturdy the set is. Gauge refers to the thickness of the steel wall of the tube or pipe. The lower the gauge number, the thicker the wall and the stronger the tube. Thicker gauge material also means it is less likely to rust through.

    • Thin gauge pipe $$
      • Typically constructed of thin 16-gauge pipe, wall thickness of (1/16”).
      • Components made of UV-treated polyethylene plastic
      • Traditional powder coating finish can get hot in the sun
      • Very low maintenance
      • Manufacturers: Lifetime, ActivPlay, Fitness Reality 
    • Heavy gauge tube $$$-$$$$
      • Constructed of heavy 7-gauge (3/16”), 11-gauge (1/8”), and 14-gauge (5/64”) metal
      • Much higher weight capacity means even adults and older children can use the set
      • Durable modern coatings keep the metal cool to the touch, even in the direct sun
      • Practically maintenance free
      • Manufacturers: SwingSesh
  • Plastic

    Many components of playsets are plastic – slides, swings, climbing structures, etc. There are some fully plastic sets designed for toddlers, but they won’t be suitable to grow with your child after age 3. Plastic is a low maintenance, splinter-free material, but lower quality plastics will fade quickly in the UV. You’ll want to make sure the plastic components you choose have been treated with UV inhibitors.

    • Plastic is used for swing set components
    • All-plastic sets are designed for toddlers
    • Common manufacturers: Step 2, Little Tikes


    Three adults work together to assemble a metal playset

    You’ve narrowed in on the features and materials for your backyard playset, but there’s a few more things to consider when it comes to installing your chosen swing set. We’ll walk you through finding a playground suitable for your space, how to prepare your yard for the set, and how to actually assemble and secure the set!

    Space requirements

    You can find a play structure for any size backyard! There are sets designed with a small footprint for tight spaces and there are huge sprawling sets with every feature imaginable for those wide open backyards!

    Regardless of the size, for maximum safety the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends a 6-foot clear zone around all sides of the playset. If your set has swings, you’ll need a little more clear space. Guidelines recommend a clear zone extending to the front and back of the swings a distance of twice the arc of the swing. For example, if your swings are hung 8-ft above ground and the swing seat itself is 1-ft above ground, the swing arc is approximately 7-ft to the front and 7-ft to the back. Double these measurements in each direction and you get a clear zone with a total distance of 28-ft; 14-ft to the front of the swings and 14-ft behind them. As you’re shopping around online, most playset listings will include the footprint dimensions. This footprint doesn’t include the additional safety zone, so be sure to factor in the additional 6-ft perimeter and swing safety zone when you’re taking measurements.

    That brings us to the next step: measuring your site. It’s always a good idea to get out in the backyard and take some specific measurements of the space you’re planning to dedicate to a playset. For ease of installation, you’ll want to choose a section of your yard that is as flat as possible. Nearly all playset manufacturers recommend that the equipment be installed on level ground with a very limited tolerance for slope. If you yard has a significant grade change, you may need to level it before installation. In some cases, you might be able to dig some of the upright feet into the ground, but be aware of how this changes the height of certain elements above the ground surface.

    Preparing your yard for installation

    Once you’ve decided on a perfect set, you’ll want to prepare your yard before the set is delivered. As mentioned, you made need to have the site leveled. You’ll also want to think about what type of surface you want under the playset. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that all swing sets and playsets be placed on an impact attenuating surface to prevent severe injury from falls. In backyards, grass is probably the most common surface, but there are other options that are safer and easier to maintain. Things to consider are long term maintenance, cost of installation, and long-term use of the site (i.e., if you are planning to take the playset down in a few years, you’ll want to consider something that can be removed easily).

    • Wood Mulch

      • PROS: Inexpensive, widely available, reduces weeds, easy DIY installation
      • CONS: Degrades over time and needs to be replenished occasionally to maintain shock-absorption
    • Pea gravel

      • PROS: Long-lasting, provides good drainage, relatively inexpensive, easy DIY installation
      • CONS: Not as easy to walk on and tends to get stuck in shoes
    • Artificial turf

      • PROS: Long-lasting, low maintenance, and shock-absorbing if set on the appropriate substrate. For maximum safety, choose a type of artificial grass with impact-attenuating qualities designed specifically for playgrounds
      • CONS: Expensive, might need a professional to install
    • Rubber Mulch

      • PROS: Long-lasting, provides excellent drainage, reduces weed growth
      • CONS: Expensive
    • Rubber Tiles

    With any of the abovementioned surfacing options, you’ll want to consider removing any grass, adding a substrate if needed, and laying landscape fabric/weed barrier down before installing the playset. For an in depth look at surfacing options, check out this article

    Assembly time and difficulty level

    As you’re shopping around for playsets, you’re probably also thinking about assembly. You’re either the do-it-yourself type or you’re the hire-someone-to-do-it type, and you know which you are! Going the DIY route can be rewarding and, in some cases, pretty simple. Hiring someone to assemble is also… Keep in mind that you’ll likely need at least two able adults for assembly and several hours or a couple days to complete installation.

    There are a couple types of playsets for sale on the market:

    • Domestic playsets – which are generally sold direct from the manufacturer and are pre-drilled and sometimes partially pre-assembled. Basic DIY skills needed and a day or so to assemble the entire set. Because these sets are typically sold directly from the manufacturer, if you run into any questions during assembly, these companies typically have customer support to assist you.
    • Imported playsets – manufactured overseas, flat-packed for shipping. Every piece – each deck board, railing slat, and roof piece - will need to be identified and screwed or bolted together. You’ll need strong DIY skills, a weekend or two, and a tall glass of patience. These are the types of playsets sold at the big box stores and big online retailers.

    Fitness -
    .spr-badge[data-rating="0.0"] { visibility:hidden; display: none; }