Backyard Jungle Gyms

Saturday, 28 July 2007 | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A backyard play structure can give your kids years of safe fun under your watchful eye. Options and configurations are almost endless, but there are things to consider before you bring one home. We find out what to look for to keep your active monkeys safe and happy.

The Basics

  • Things to consider before you buy a kit: the size of your backyard, your kids ages, and your budget. Also, if you don’t have all the tools needed to put one together, you may need to add that, or a fee for assembly, to your cost.

  • Gyms can be purchased in kits ranging from basic swing sets to small versions of school playground or public park structures, including forts, sandboxes, slides, climbing equipment and more.

  • Custom jungle gyms are also available and can be specifically designed for your yard. This option is usually pricier, but it gives you a unique structure that your kids can also have a say in.

  • Most structures are made out of wood, metal or plastic.

    • Wood, typically cedar, redwood, and pressure-treated lumber, are sturdy and recommended for most structures. However, there’s always a sliver risk (something standard in most childhoods anyway! Wood can be slippery when wet, as can metal.

    • Metal is not as sturdy as wood and can be prone to rust. It’s also colder on the hands so doesn’t offer a comfortable play during cooler months. Even with gloves on, it can be slippery.

    • Many sets made of wood or metal also include plastic parts, but jungle gyms primarily made of plastic are rare.

  • Choose components for the gym based on what your children like, how much space you have, and what your kids will soon grow into. Complete sets with everything included are great, but can take up a lot of space. Components include swings, climbers/ladders, slides, ropes, and fire poles.

  • Most sets are designed either for preschoolers (2-5 years) or school age children (5-12 years). You can always build in stages adding and exchanging components as your children grow.

Other Considerations

  • Installation can range from fairly straightforward to time-consuming. If you’re not very handy or don’t have time, consider getting help. Many stores offer an assembly service at extra cost. Or you can hire someone to put it together.

  • The surface beneath the play structure and space around it are important to consider:

    • Grass and dirt aren’t acceptable surfaces because grass wears out and the dirt beneath becomes hard-packed.

    • A deep, soft surface cushions the impact of falls. Recommended surfaces include pea gravel, shredded bark mulch/wood chips, fine sand, or rubber matting. Most should be available from your local hardware or building supply store.

    • The “fall zone” should be covered by the protective surface and there should be adequate space around the structure and between each piece of equipment to prevent accidents or further injury if a child falls from one section.

Be Aware

  • Pressure treated wood, if not properly sealed, can release arsenic, a known carcinogen. Reduce any poisoning risk by sealing the wood every two years with an oil-based stain. Take care when assembling these structures not to breathe in any wood dust or related debris.

  • Avoid wood that has been preserved with creosote, a carcinogen, or pentachlorophenol (used on telephone poles), which are both highly toxic chemicals.

  • There should be no rough edges or areas that could catch children’s clothing; children have died from strangulation when clothing or ropes became entangled in high equipment. It’s not safe for children to wear bike helmets while climbing because they can be strangled if straps get caught in equipment.

  • Children, especially under 5 years, should not play without an adult nearby. Make sure your children are aware of potential hazards and use the jungle gym in the way it is intended.

  • Be sure to cap all screws and bolts.


We assembled three back yard jungle gyms and then invited a bunch of play experts (kids aged 4-10) to swing, slide, and climb on them. We tested:

  • Metal Swing Set from Hedstrom: $199
    • Includes: 2 swings, a slide, a glide ride and a lawn swing
    • Time to assemble: two people; at least 3 hours
  • Wood Set from Sunbury Cedar (16 foot): $419
    • Includes: precut cedar lumber, and 1 swing, a trapeze and a glide ride
    • Time to assemble: two people; 6 hours
  • Wood Set from Timberbilt: $190 (kit) + $778 (cedar lumber + extra components)
    • Includes: 2 swing seats and plans for a fort and sandbox
    • Extra components: trapeze and slide.
    • Note: you could save approximately $250 if you use pressure treated lumber, but make sure it’s safe for residential use.
    • Time to assemble: Two people; 16 hours

Play Test

  • The youngest children preferred the metal Hedstrom set.

  • The eldest children chose the Sunbury play structure for its larger size and added height.

  • The kids also liked the Timberbilt because it had so many different play options.


All of the structures we tested made the grade, so base your choice on your budget, space, and children’s ability level. Kids generally aren’t hard to please!

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