Policy instruments can help put climate adaptation plans into action. Here, we propose a method for the systematic assessment and selection of policy instruments for stimulating adaptation action. The multi-disciplinary set of six assessment criteria is derived from economics, policy, and legal studies. These criteria are specified for the purpose of climate adaptation by taking into account four challenges to the governance of climate adaptation: uncertainty, spatial diversity, controversy, and social complexity. The six criteria and four challenges are integrated into a step-wise method that enables the selection of instruments starting from a generic assessment and ending with a specific assessment of policy instrument mixes for the stimulation of a specific adaptation measure. We then apply the method to three examples of adaptation measures. The method’s merits lie in enabling deliberate choices through a holistic and comprehensive set of adaptation specific criteria, as well as deliberative choices by offering a stepwise method that structures an informed dialog on instrument selection. Although the method was created and applied by scientific experts, policy-makers can also use the method.