The steel measuring tape has been around since 1829 when it was patented by James Chesterman. Back then, the tool’s price was the equivalent to $300, so it took a while to catch on. These days a tape measure has become as essential for most every construction and remodeling task.
While universally used, even the best traditional tape measure has its flaws. The zero hook—that metal tang on the end—can become damaged or lost, or the metal tape can kink. The resulting small inaccuracies from these little problems might not seem like much, but when you compound them every time you take a measurement, there’s potential for seriously expensive errors.
A human reader can take the same measurement twice and see minor differences. A digital tape measure offers unbeatable accuracy the first time and every time. The most basic options offer a clear digital readout. More advanced models incorporate a laser, with some working without a tape at all. A variety of solutions to your measuring challenges have been examined to help you find the best digital tape measure for your next project.
Our Top Picks
There are a variety of digital tape measures available with a wide range of features that include ease of use, range, accuracy, versatility, and durability. Some of the best options were selected based on different categories so you can quickly find the digital tape measure that best suits your project needs and budget.
The Bosch laser distance measure is a great example of the benefits these tools provide. A standard steel builder’s tape measure is 25 feet long. The Bosch measures up to 65 feet long. It’s accurate to ⅛-of-an-inch wide and is operated by a single button. Pressing the button a second time will keep the initial measurement, while also giving “live” distance changes while you move around. A backlit display gives you clear readings in low-light situations, and units can be set to feet and inches, meters, or inches only.
Pocket-size, it requires two included AAA batteries that typically run the Bosch for six months or more. Add in its very reasonable cost, and it’s easy to see what makes this such a popular tool. Other digital measures may have improved features in individual areas, but overall the Bosch has everything most DIYers need.
The control panel might look a little daunting at first, but it’s a reflection of the many measurement features available. The Tacklife Measure can give distance and area; subtract or add two different readings; and provide Pythagorean (also called indirect) measurements, which use triangulation to calculate a third unknown distance from two recorded inputs.
The backlit display also provides a low battery warning, and there’s a sleep mode to conserve power. It’s rated waterproof and dust-proof to IP54 standards. A wrist strap and belt clip are useful additions.
The Leica brand has long been associated with optical precision, something now incorporated in their laser distance measure. At 330 feet, the range is outstanding. The Leica Measure maintains accuracy of 1/16 of an inch with readings in hundredths of an inch. As well as distance, it provides area and Pythagorean calculations and will add and subtract. The intelligent endpiece can be extended to reach awkward locations, and the Leica automatically recalculates. The Leica’s size makes it easy to slip into a pocket, and a clip is provided. It’s rated IP54 for water and dust protection and has operating parameters of 14 degrees Fahrenheit to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bluetooth 4.0 allows the Leica to send data to Android and iOS devices, making it ideal for planners and surveyors. It is quite an investment, but it’s one of the best tools on the market for those who rely on accurate, recordable information.
The original idea for the digital tape measure was simply to provide a clearer way of reading measurements and thus deliver repeatable accuracy. While the eTape meets that basic requirement, it also provides a number of extra features that considerably increase its usefulness. There are three memory functions: a short-term hold of the latest reading and long-term storage for two other readings. This tape can calculate the centerline of a room or the midpoint of an object, which is helpful for hanging pictures.
Fully extended, the tape is 16 feet long, with measurements available in feet and inches or in meters. This is among the toughest digital tape measures on this list. The zero hook is double-pinned for a strong hold, and the main body is made of polycarbonate—the same material as many safety helmets—so it’s ready for use in tough environments.
Sometimes you may not need absolute accuracy, and a quick guide will do. In those situations, an old-fashioned steel tape is still valuable. Another time, you may need the precision of a laser, meaning a tool that offers both might be right for you.
That’s exactly what you get with the 2-in-1 from Lexivon, so it may provide the perfect answer for many DIY users. The tape extends 16 feet, and the laser reaches to 130 feet. The laser offers the accuracy of 1/16 of an inch, with readings displayed on a clear LCD. The rubberized case provides good protection from knocks or drops, and it’s comfortable to hold. The magnetic zero hook slides to compensate for both wall-to-wall and material-length measurements. An auto-off function extends the battery life of the two AAAs that are supplied, and there’s a useful belt clip.
With the ability to measure up to 400 feet, this Bosch laser measure has the longest range of any of the models we’ve come across. Plus, it maintains 1/16-of-an-inch accuracy over that distance. Because sighting a small red dot at that maximum length can be difficult for the naked eye, a camera is fitted, allowing you to zoom in precisely on the object being measured. The camera can also record up to 600 images with the included memory.
The Bosch Blaze offers 11 functions, including length, volume, and indirect calculations. It can send that data via Bluetooth to the free Bosch app on your smart devices. The durable case includes an anti-scratch, shatter-resistant screen. Power is provided by a lithium-ion battery that can be recharged through an USB.
Understandably some buyers are concerned that digital measuring instruments might be fragile. Most are reasonably robust but the DTAPE, with both an IP54 rating and an extremely resilient hard rubber, shockproof case, is as durable as it gets.
The DTAPE has a 165-foot range that comes with 1/16-of-an-inch accuracy. The results can be displayed in meters or in feet and inches, with fractions or up to three decimal places. The backlit screen is easy to read, and the unit itself offers all the distance, area, and Pythagorean calculations you would expect from a competent all-round digital measuring device. It’s a pleasant surprise to have memory for 20 data sets as well as auto shutoff to extend battery life, especially at this low cost.