The Best Tape Measures Reviewed
Top Tape Measure
Table of Contents
- Tape Measure Comparison Metrics
- Stanley Powerlock Tape Measure Review
- Stanley FatMax Tape Measure Review
- Stanley FatMax Auto-Lock Tape Measure Review
- Milwaukee General Contractor Tape Measure Review
- Milwaukee Magnetic Tape Measure Review
- DeWalt DWHT33373 Tape Measure Review
- DeWalt DWHT33975 Tape Measure Review
- Tape Measure Comparison Table
Comparison Metrics to Find the Best Tape Measure
When choosing a tape measure you should first consider the type of tape measure you’re looking for. In this review we evaluated steel blade tape measures, but there are also long flexible wind-up tape measures with ranges from 100’-300’, Rolling measuring wheels for measuring landscaping projects, laser measuring devices, and scale rules for measuring architectural drawings and small projects. Your project and needs will largely dictate which type of measuring device you need, but for the most part your average steel tape measure is what your looking for.
Length is another important consideration when choosing a tape measure. Longer tape measures are generally larger in size, heavier, and more costly. You should only choose the length of tape measure you need for your project. Some common tape measure lengths are 16’, 25’, 30’, and 35’, however other sizes may be available depending on the tape measure you choose. We’ve found that a 16’ or 25’ tape measure is adequate for most projects. It’s rare that we need to measure more than a 25’ length and when longer measurements are necessary we can usually work around it by taking multiple measurements. We reviewed 25’ tape measures for this comparison.
The blade on a tape measure is another very important consideration. We look for blade type, finish, width, and rigidity when evaluating a tape measure. Wider blades are generally more rigid and will stand out much further without breaking. Standout refers to the distance the blade can be extended without bending in the middle, and a longer standout is reflective of the rigidity of the blade and how easily it will be to make long measurements. We found that the Stanley FatMax and the DeWalt DWHT33975 were clear winners in this category. They offer the widest blade with the longest standout. The blades on these tape measures are also very durable and easy to work with. For smaller projects and shorter measurements we prefer a Stanley Powerlock or the Milwaukee General Contractor tape measures.
Another important metric when comparing tape measures is the blade hook, which is the part on the end that is used to hook onto a surface to make measurements more accurate. Some tape measures have small hooks and are useful for shorter measurements while others have extremely large hooks on the top and bottom of the blade, which maintain better grip and are optimized for longer measurements. We found that the blades in the middle of the range were the best to work with across a range of projects needing short and long measurements. The Stanley FatMax is a clear winner again with a hook that is large enough to hook easily on surfaces a distance away but was also not too large that it got in the way. It also has subtle hooks on the top of the tape measure making it easy to hook onto a surface at any angle but without being overly large. The excessively large hooks are really great for long measurements and framing applications, but for the average project they are too large, snag on everything, and generally get in the way.
The markings on the tape measure are also important to consider. Some tape measures offer imperial measurements only, imperial and metric measurements, or metric measurements only. You should make note of how you prefer to measure, which is largely dependent on your location. Most Stanley and Milwaukee tape measures are offered in either imperial or metric versions so there are choices. Some tape measures also offer fraction markings which is great if you have a hard time reading the tick markings. The Milwaukee Magnetic tape has markings on both sides of the blade which is a great feature and makes it easy to measure at different angles. The Milwaukee magnetic also has a scale rule for reading architectural drawings. We found that the Milwaukee Magnetic was our top pick for the blade markings.
The tape measure lock is another very important factor in choosing a tape measure. Some locks are easy to engage and others are difficult. Some locks also hold a very strong grip and won’t slip while others are fairly loose. We found that the Stanley FatMax Auto-Lock had a fantastic lock that engaged automatically and was the easiest to disengage, making it our top pick for the lock. The Milwaukee General Contractor and DeWalt DWHT33373 also had really nice locks that were very easy to engage and held tightly.
We also considered the case of the tape measure in our review. We prefer a case that is ergonomically correct and easy to hold onto and also durable. Our top pick is the Milwaukee General Contractor tape measure which was very comfortable to hold onto. The Milwaukee Magnetic was actually much more comfortable to hold onto but at the expense of not being able to leave the tape measure standing without it tipping over when not being held. The Stanley FatMax was also very comfortable to hold onto.
While all of the tape measures we considered were between $10 and $25, price is an important factor. We found that our preferred tape measures were actually not the most expensive, and that made them even more desirable. The Stanley Powerlock is the least expensive, however the Stanley FatMax, Milwaukee General Contractor, and DeWalt DWHT33373 were all under $20 and worth every penny.
One of the most important factors in comparing tape measures is evaluating community reviews. They are the best way to get an idea of what issues others have had and get a general idea of the reliability of each one. The Stanley FatMax Auto-Lock and Stanley FatMax tape measures are the highest reviewed tape measures we looked at. They have a reputation for durability and are the favorite for more people.
Top Tape Measure
Continue reading for an in-depth review and analysis of all of the tape measures we reviewed. We also offer resources on where you can get all these tape measures. If you are just getting started and would like to learn more about using a tape measure, see our article on how to use a tape measure for an introduction and some tips and tricks.
Stanley Powerlock Tape Measure Review
The Stanley Powerlock 25’ measuring tape is a true classic and is in all likelihood the most iconic and recognizable tape measures of all time. The Powerlock is a great tape measure suitable for most projects and is used by many professionals and do-it-yourselfers. The Stanley Powerlock has a proven track record durability and lifespan and you can expect this tape measure to last many years, and at only $10 it’s an affordable choice for almost anyone.
The ergonomics of the Powerlock tape measure are pretty standard, it’s easy to hold and the belt clip works easily. There’s nothing that makes the tape measure difficult to use, but many tape measures offer some rubberized coating to improve the grip. While the case looks like a chrome-plated metal case, it’s actually a plastic case with a metallic look. This isn’t really a bad thing, but it should be called out since the look is somewhat deceptive. The lock on the tape measure is easy to engage and holds well, what more can you ask for.
The Powerlock has a 1” wide steel blade with a mylar coating to improve the durability of the blade and prevent rusting. Depending on what you use the tape for, the 1” wide blade can be considered a benefit or a drawback. The thin blade makes the tape measure a little more flexible and less rigid than some others. This can be a benefit when working on small projects, compared to a wide tape measure that is very curved and rigid. On the other hand, the tape only has a 7’ standout, which is relatively short compared to some of the other tape measures, which is a direct result of the thinner blade. While it’s rare to need to actually hold out a tape measure 7’ out, it’s more of an indicator with how rigid the blade is when making long measurements, say measuring a 10’ wall at waist-height, while hooking onto a corner. A rigid blade with a long standout will be much easier to use for this measurement. For large projects or longer measures this will be more challenging to use.
The tape measure’s blade has pretty standard markings for imperial measurements, down to the 1/16th of an inch. There are standard 1 inch measurement markers and markings for 16” stud centers. This tape measure does not display metric markings on the same tape as imperial markings, but Stanley does make metric versions of the Powerlock. The Powerlock comes in 3’ – 35’ lengths, but the 16’ or 25’ are the most useful lengths, offering the best balance between length and the size of the case. The 35’ length has a larger case that makes it more difficult to use, so unless you really need more than 25’ we suggest the 25’ tape.
Stanley touts their tru-zero end hook on this tape measure, which basically means that the hook shifts a small amount to account for the thickness of the hook when button the hook up to a surface versus hooking the hook on the end of a surface. This is a great feature that makes the tape measure pretty accurate no matter how you use it. The hook itself is a bit small, and only has a hook on the bottom of the tape measure. This could be considered standard among the traditional style tape measures, but many higher end tape measures sport a larger hook. Like the blade width, the size of the hook could be considered a benefit or a drawback depending on your usage. If your working on small projects the smaller hook is less likely to catch on everything and is much more manageable. On larger projects where you’re hooking onto a surface 10+ feet away the small hook is going to be difficult to work with and has a tendency to come off.
The Stanley Powerlock is a great tape measure all-around. The cost of this tape measure means there is no good reason not to have one laying around, you can usually get one for less than $10. We feel this tape measure is best suited for projects where shorter measurements are more common and where the blade flexibility will work in your favor. This is probably not best suited for framing projects or projects where long measurements are most common.
Stanley FatMax Tape Measure Review
The Stanley FatMax 25′ tape measure has been our go-to tape measure for about 10 years. It’s served me well with its rugged design and enhanced feature-set. It’s made to live on the job site and is worth every penny of the $20 price tag.
Stanley stepped up the ergonomics of the FatMax with a more rounded design and plenty of rubber grips that make it easy to hang on to. The rubber grips also add cushion for improved comfort and durability to withstand drops and impacts. This thing feels great in your hand and really feels like it can take a beating, and we can vouch that it actually can take a beating. The lock is in a comfortable position and is easy to engage. The yellow case makes it easy to spot among the clutter.
The FatMax has a 1 1/4” wide blade with a mylar coating for durability. The FatMax also has blade armor, which is a coating applied to the first 4 1/2″ to improve durability of the most used portion of the blade. The blade is smooth and a bit glossy. The wider blade adds plenty of rigidity. With an 11’ standout, the FatMax is great for long measurements such as framing projects. You don’t get the flopping and sagging that you get with some of the thinner blades. Our biggest gripe is that to add the rigidity and standout the blade is very curved. This makes it difficult sometimes to get an accurate measurement if the edge of the blade is not sitting on the surface. It’s easy to overcome this limitation by curving the blade to get a measurement, but on shorter measurements this can be a bit cumbersome and potentially inaccurate.
The blade is equipped with standard markings for imperial measurements, down to the 1/16th of an inch. It has the standard 1 inch measurement numbers and indicators for 16” stud centers. This tape does not display metric markings along with the imperial markings, but Stanley does make metric versions of the FatMax. The FatMax comes in 6’ – 40’ lengths, but the 16’ or 25’ offer the best balance between length and weight and size. While the longer lengths work equally to the shorter ones, they are larger and heavier.
The FatMax has a similar implementation of the true-zero hook, but the hook is a bit larger than the Powerlock. The hook is wider and has two prongs on either end of the blade that act as top hooks on the tape measure. This allows you to hook onto the top or the bottom of the tape measure. The top hooks are not too large and don’t get in the way during normal use, we feel the overall size of the hook is just about perfect, not too big or small. We will say that on very long measurements we wish the hook were a bit larger, but on shorter measurements we appreciate it’s size since a larger hook would be getting in the way.
The Stanley FatMax is our personal favorite and the go-to tape measure. You can usually pick one up for about $20. This tape measure is probably best suited for many projects with medium to long measurements. The blade and hook accommodate most use-cases and works for short or long measurement projects. We have personally used this tape measure for pretty much all projects except small projects where a tape measure with a thinner blade is more useful.
Stanley FatMax Autolock Tape Measure Review
The Stanley FatMax 25’ Autolock is quickly on its way to becoming a new favorite. Equipped with most of the features of the FatMax, the FatMax Auto-Lock also adds an auto-locking blade lock and some extra grip on the case. At around $25, it’s a bit higher priced than most tape measures.
The FatMax Auto-Lock’s main feature is the automatic locking blade, which means no snap-back when pulling out the blade. When engaged, the blade will not recoil unless you press the locking button. This is a pretty nice feature since you do not need to take any action to engage the lock, the blade stays perfectly where you pulled it out do. The automatic lock can be disengaged, allowing the tape measure to be used normally. The lock is also very easy to engage, much easier than the Stanley FatMax with is already fairly easy. In fact, it’s one of the easiest blade locks we’ve seen, second only to a DeWalt.
Stanley added some additional grip to the case of the FatMax Auto-Lock. The coverage of the impact resistant rubber coating is about the same as the FatMax, but the rubber has grooves and ridges added to improve the grip making it very easy to hold onto. Like the FatMax, the rubber coating adds comfort and impact resistance. On the downside, the case is a slightly larger and heavier than the FatMax which may be an issue if the FatMax is a tight fit in your punch already. If you’re not using a much then it’s likely not an issue.
The blade itself, including the blade armor and hook is identical to the FatMax. Stanley does include a detachable oversized blade hook that may be useful for longer measurements or framing projects where the larger hook is a nice feature. The main concern with the hook is that it’s detachable and likely to get lost. Also, since it’s detachable there’s a chance it could come of inadvertently at some point and get lost. There is a rubber hole made for storing the hook, but we feel that the hook would either get in the way when stored or eventually get lost. Since it’s just an extra feature we don’t see the blade hook as a negative, but we don’t see it as a major bonus either.
We’ll admit that we were skeptical about the auto-locking feature, but the FatMax Auto-Lock is becoming a favored tape measure. The lock takes some getting used to, but it’s been fantastic to work with so far. The FatMax Auto-Lock is usually available for under $25.
Milwaukee General Contractor Tape Measure Review
Milwaukee General Contractor
We spotted the 25′ Milwaukee General Contractor tape tape measure at a local Home Depot and at only $18 we thought we’d give it a shot. The red case matches perfectly with other Milwaukee tools and provides a nice clean look and a great alternative to bright yellow.
The case on the Milwaukee General Contractor tape sports plenty of rubber for added comfort, grip, and impact resistance. It also has some nice contours that make it very easy to hold. The bottoms is a bit curved, adding a nice nook for your ring finger and pinky making this very comfortable to hold, more comfortable than the Stanley FatMax. The bottom corners are still a bit pointed adding a nice shelf so the tape measure won’t tip over. Another nice feature on the case is the wire form belt hook that is very easy to manipulate. We don’t feel like we’re going to rip our jeans hooking it on a pocket.
The General Contractor tape has a 1 1/16” wide blade that offers about 9’ of standout. The blade has a nylon coating for durability that you will either love or hate. We are not fans of the nylon coating for a few reasons. The first is that it sounds awful when pulling the blade in or out, the kind of sound that sends chills up the spine. The second issue is that the nylon coating is not smooth and glossy meaning you can’t easily erase pen/pencil marks if you’re the type of person that makes marks on your tape. If you can tolerate the sound you’ll probably really like the coating on the blade, it feels pretty nice. The blade feels a little less rigid than the FatMax making it a bit easier to work with on shorter measurements.
The blade has standard imperial measurement markings, down to the 1/16th of an inch. The standard 1 inch markings are pretty large for added visibility. There are no metric markings on this tape measure. The General Contractor tape comes in 16’ and 25’ lengths.
The Milwaukee General Contractor tape measure has an average sized hook with small top hooks as well allowing you to hook to the top or bottom side of the blade. The top hooks aren’t too large and don’t get in the way and the hook is just the right size for most uses. If you’re making long measurements and need to hook onto a surface over 10’ away you might find a larger hook more useful, but for smaller measurements it’s just right. We do take issue with how Milwaukee attaches the hook to the blade on both the top and bottom of the blade. This makes for a very good bond however the attachment on the bottom adds a sharp edge that can snag or scratch surfaces. It’s probably not a big deal if your measuring a deck board, but you’ll want to be aware of it when measuring a fine piece of furniture or a painted wall.
Overall the General Contractor tape is a decent tape measure if you are ok with the blade’s nylon coating. We’d recommend it for small to medium sized projects due to the thinner blade and small blade hook. You can usually pick one up for about $18.
Milwaukee Magnetic Tape Measure Review
The Milwaukee Magnetic tape measure is a beautifully designed 25’ tape measure that is packed with features. The tape measure is comfortable to hold and has a large magnetic end. At about $25 this is priced on the high side of comparable tape measures.
The Magnetic has plenty of rubber on all surfaces to add comfort, grip, and durability. It has a nicely contoured case that makes it one of the most comfortable tape measures we’ve held. There are some nice curves where your fingers naturally sit, it’s ergonomically correct. This is a blessing when holding the tape measure for extended periods. On the flip-side, the contours prevent the tape measure from standing up on its own and causes it to tip over when leaving it sit while extended. This may make it unsuitable for carpentry projects where the tape is often left extended on a board. If you never leave your tape measure sitting extended while measuring a room, wall, or board then this is a non-issue, but for many this should be a serious consideration when looking at this tape measure.
In addition to the contours, Milwaukee added a finger stop to protect your finger against the tape measure snapping back. This also adds a nice way to control the speed of the recoil. The finger stop contributes to the tipping problem noted above, but is generally a nice feature. One issue with the finger stop is due to a little sharpness on the bottom of the hook that could catch your finger, more on that below.
The Magnetic tape sports a nice lock that is really easy to engage. In addition to being easy to engage the lock, the lock is also sturdy and holds the blade really well. The lock is easier to engage than the Stanley FatMax and also has a stronger hold. One other really nice feature of this tape is the wire form belt hook that is smooth and easy to manipulate. No more ripped jeans from this tape measure.
Milwaukee added a 1 1/16” wide blade to the Magnetic tape that can stand out 9’. Like the other Milwaukee tape measures, there is a nylon coating to the blade for durability that you will either love or hate. We dislike the nylon coating but we can appreciate that others like it. We found that the coating causes the blade to sounds awful when extending and retracting, sending chills up our spines. Also, since the nylon coating is not smooth and glossy you won’t be able to make markings on the blade in pen/pencil and easily remove later. If the sound doesn’t bother you then you’ll probably like this blade, it feels pretty nice.
The markings on the tape are very large and easy to read and go down to 1/16”. Additionally, Milwaukee added measurements on the bottom of the blade, which is really handy for long measurements or measurements where you might be holding the tape in the opposite orientation. We’ve been in many situations where that feature would have come in very handy. The bottom of the blade also includes a scale rule for reading architectural drawings. The measurements are all imperial, there are no metric measurements but there is a metric version of the tape measure available.
The Magnetic tape measure has an oversized hook with integrated magnets. The oversized hook is great for longer measurements where you need to hold the tape measure at a non-standard angle. The magnet is very useful for metalworking applications, such as working with steel framing or for electricians working with steel conduit. The large magnetic hook is either a blessing or a curse depending on your needs. The magnets are a bit large and can get in the way and the oversized hook could be cumbersome to work with on smaller projects. Another unforeseen drawback to the large hook is that it is very susceptible to bending. If you drop the tape measure and it lands on the hook you’ll get a slight bend that is barely noticeable but will skew all your measurements. This is partly due to the fact that the hook has almost no give or movement when retracted, whereas many other tape measures have some flex to protect against drop damage. The contouring of the bottom case leaves the hook very unprotected against this scenario. A smaller hook tends to be easier to work with and catches on things less, however the larger hook is preferred for those that frequently make longer measurements
We need to reiterate a previously stated concern; Milwaukee attaches the hook to the top and bottom of the blade, meaning there is some extra metal on the bottom of the blade that can snag and scratch surfaces. As mentioned above this is also noticeable with the exposed blade at the finger stop where your finger can catch this part of the blade.
The Milwaukee Magnetic would be very nice for those working with metal framing or other metalwork where the magnet is an asset. It would also be nice for larger projects needing longer measurements. Since this tape measure is so comfortable to hold it might be nice for those using a tape measure for extended periods of time. You can usually get one for around $25.
DeWalt DWHT33373 Tape Measure Review
The DeWalt DWHT33373 is a nice tape measure with a small stature and powerful lock. We really like using this tape measure for smaller to mid sized projects. You can pick one up for about $18.
The first thing we noticed about the DeWalt DWHT33373 is that it is a bit smaller than some of the other tape measures in the same size range. That’s nice because it fits easily in a pouch and is very comfortable to hold. The case has some rubber for comfort, extra grip, and protection from impacts, although there isn’t as much as some comparable tape measures sport. We don’t think this is a big deal at all, but definitely worth taking note of. The lock on this tape is pretty amazing, it’s extremely easy to engage and holds very well. There is also a nice mid-point on the lock allowing you to lock the blade without fully engaging the lock, which is nice to slow the recoil of the blade or hold it out temporarily.
DeWalt added a 1 1/8” wide blade that stands out to about 10’. This strikes a good balance between smaller blade width and rigidity making it easy to work with. The long standout is also very nice for making longer measurements. The blade has a matte finish, which we are not particularly fond of since it can be nice to make marks on the blade from time to time and the matte finish makes it difficult to remove those marks.
The blade has large and easy to read markings that go to 1/16”. DeWalt also added fractional markings down to 1/8” which might be nice for those that aren’t as comfortable reading a tape measure as others. It’s also worth checking out our guide on how to read a ruler, where we break down how these markings work.
The tape measure has markings for every inch and foot, and also 16” stud centers for framing applications. There are only imperial measurements and no metric markings on this one.
The DWHT33373 tape measure has a mid-sized hook with two top hooks on either end of the blade, allowing you to hook onto the top or bottom of the blade. The top hooks aren’t too large so they don’t get in the way during normal use, but that that also makes them less useful. The size of the hook is just right, it isn’t too large or too small. On very long measurements We do wish the hook were larger, but on short to medium measurements it’s a good size since a large hook tends to get in the way. The hook on this is just like the hook on a Stanley FatMax.
We really like this tape measure due to it’s comfortable size and nice lock. We must call out the fact that this tape measure has some low reviews on ecommerce sites and Dewalt’s site due to durability issues so it may not be fit for heavy use. You can usually get one for about $18.
DeWalt DWHT33975 Tape Measure Review
The DeWalt DWHT33975 is a rugged tape measure that feels great and can survive any job-site. This tape looks tough and is a great fit in the tool set. At $25 this tape is definitely on the higher end, but it’s durability might be worth it.
DeWalt added plenty of rubber making this tape very easy to hold on to and adding a signature look. The extra rubber also adds comfort and impact resistance. This tape measure is on the larger side, which may be difficult to hold for some and may make it difficult to fit in a tool pouch. Those who have large hands or use a belt clip instead of a pouch might not mind this, but it’s worth taking note of. The biggest gripe about this tape measure is that the lock is very difficult to engage. In fact, it’s one of the hardest to engage that we’ve worked with. The lock does hold very well, and it doesn’t slip at all.
The DWHT33975 has a 1 1/4” wide blade that has an impressive 13’ of standout. The wide blade is very rigid which is great for longer measurements. DeWalt added a steel blade, very similar if not identical to the blade on a Stanley FatMax. The blade has a mylar coating which makes it a bit glossy. The first 3” also have an additional coating for durability. It looks like DeWalt is using the same blade as the FatMax because that coating looks just like the Blade Armor on the FatMax. That’s a good thing because that blade has a reputation for durability and being great to work with.
The blade has standard imperial markings that go down to 1/16”. There are standard 1 inch measurement numbers and red 16” stud centers markings. Unlike the FatMax there is not a metric version of this tape measure that we could find. The DeWalt comes in 16’ – 35’ lengths, but the 25’ is the best balance between length and weight/size. Keep in mind that the longer tape measures are both larger, heavier, and more expensive, so only get a longer tape measure if you really need it.
DeWalt added a large oversize hook on the tape measure. This is great for longer measurements but it gets in the way for smaller measurements. The hook also has large top hooks so it’s easy to measure in almost any orientation. Unlike the Milwaukee Magnetic there is no magnet on the hook. One small issue was that our tape measure had a sharp edge that we needed to file down, We’re guessing this is a manufacturing defect because we haven’t heard anyone else mention it.
The DWHT33975 is a great tape measure for those that need a rugged and durable tape. It’s wide blade and oversized hook are best suited for longer measurements and framing applications. You can usually get one for $25.
Tape Measure Comparison Table
|Stanley Powerlock 33-425||Stanley FatMax 33-725||Stanley FatMax Auto-Lock FMHT33338L||Milwaukee General Contractor 48-22-5525||Milwaukee Magnetic 48-22-5125||Dewalt DWHT33373||Dewalt DWHT33975|
|Stanley Powerlock||Stanley Fatmax||Stanley Fatmax Autolock||Milwaukee General Contractor||Milwaukee Magnetic||DeWalt DWHT33373||DeWalt DWHT33975|
|Blade Width||1”||1 1/4”||1 1/4”||1 1/16”||1 1/16”||1 1/8”||1 1/4”|
|Blade Coating||mylar blade coating||mylar blade coating + Blade Armor coating||mylar blade coating + Blade Armor coating||nylon blade coating||nylon blade coating||mylar blade coating||mylar blade coating|
|Case||chrome ABS plastic||Plastic case with rubber non-slip grip||Plastic case with rubber non-slip grip||Plastic case with rubber non-slip grip||Plastic case with rubber non-slip grip||Plastic case with rubber non-slip grip||Plastic case with rubber non-slip grip|
|Hook Ends||Tru-zero end hook||bottom hook with a small top hooks||detachable – bottom hook with small top hooks||bottom hook with small top hooks||magnetic large bottom hook with top hooks||bottom hook with small top hooks||large bottom hook with top hooks|
|Blade Markings||lines to 1/16”, imperial only||lines to 1/16”, imperial only||lines to 1/16”, imperial only||lines to 1/16”, imperial only||double-sided – lines to 1/16”, imperial only||lines to 1/16” with fraction markings for readability, imperial only||lines to 1/16”, imperial only|