Reach Forklift vs Counterbalance Forklift

Counterbalance Forklift
Written by Samantha Marshall

As the world turns and the cost of living steadily goes up, saving on space is a key factor in both household and industrial budgets. Whilst counterbalance forklifts have long been established as the backbone of the lifting industry, a reach forklift can be indispensable to warehouses looking to maximize their productivity across limited floor-space. But what is a reach forklift and how exactly does it work?

Reach Forklift

Reach forklifts, also known as reach trucks, get their names from the distinctive way in which their fork carriages can ‘reach’ into racking. This is achieved by two outer legs which distribute the load weight and prevent the forklift from tipping. Having legs for stability and carrying heavy electric batteries negates the need for a counterbalance weight and enables the reach forklift to maintain a more compact body. Reach forklifts can operate in aisles as narrow as 2.4 meters, as opposed to the counterbalance’s minimum requirement of 3.7 meters. This means there is approximately a 35% reduction in the turning circle of the forklift, making the reach forklift far more maneuverable than the standard counterbalance forklift. In addition to their smaller design, a reach forklift’s cargo is lifted back within the wheelbase, enabling a smaller profile even when fully loaded.

Reach Forklift
Reach Forklift – Image by Toyota


Not all reach forklifts are built the same, however. For example a panto-graph reach forklift utilizes a scissor mechanism, allowing it to reach into racking with either a single or double reaching design. By comparison a moving mast reach forklift uses a hydraulic system of rails which enable the entire mast to move forwards. Moving mast reach forklifts have a higher ground clearance due to larger wheels, but are unable to handle double deep racking responsibilities without a fork extension attachment. In most cases a reach forklift operator sits sideways but there are some forklifts which accommodate a standing operator. Whilst sitting is more comfortable, standing makes things easier if the operator has to get on and off frequently whilst working.

Counterbalance Forklift

Due to their variety in fueling, size and either a four or three wheel design, counterbalance forklifts are arguably the more versatile of the two trucks. With greater ground clearance, a counterbalance forklift is certainly the better choice for uneven surface or outside work. However, for a warehouse with narrow aisles, having a maneuverable forklift capable of reaching in excess of ten meters makes the reach truck a considerable adversary in the right conditions. The reach forklift is capable of performing the same types of work as the counterbalance and can be fitted with attachments for special lifting jobs as required. In certain situations it can even be used outdoors, although the electric battery is not suited for wet weather conditions.

Counterbalance Forklift
Counterbalance Forklift – Image by Toyota


In today’s economic climate, selecting the correct forklift for the work environment could potentially save a company large sums of money. In particular, warehouses that lease space by the square meter would benefit enormously from utilizing a reach truck. Narrower aisles and higher stacking space means more racking per square meter, which is going to make a monetary difference both immediately and in the long term. Whilst there are some limitations – such as the electric battery and low ground clearance – if used in the correct manner a reach forklift can be a valuable addition to a savvy warehouse’s equipment.

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