12 Popular Forklift Types

All - 67 Min read

May 20, 2024

A forklift is a machine used to lift and move heavy stuff in places like warehouses and construction sites. It has two forks at the front that can be raised and lowered to pick up things like pallets or boxes. Forklifts come in different sizes and types, from small electric ones for indoor use to big diesel ones for outdoor work. If you want to know how to drive a forklift, click here.

1. Counterbalance Forklifts:

Counterbalance forklifts are the most common type, featuring forks at the front and a weight at the back to counterbalance loads.

Uses: They're versatile, used in warehouses, factories, and loading docks for moving palletized goods.

Key Features: They come in electric, gas, or diesel variants, and have no outriggers, allowing them to maneuver in tight spaces. This design enables them to operate efficiently in areas where space is at a premium without sacrificing lifting capability.

2. Reach Trucks:

Reach trucks are designed for narrow aisle storage with telescoping forks that can extend forward.

Uses: Ideal for reaching high racks in warehouses while maintaining stability.

Key Features: They have a compact design, allowing them to work efficiently in confined spaces, and some models feature tilting cabs for improved visibility. This feature is particularly beneficial in environments where vertical space is maximized, demanding precise and safe handling of goods at heights.

3. Order Pickers:

Order pickers have a platform for operators to stand on while lifting them up to reach items on high shelves.

Uses: Used in warehouses for picking individual items from racks or shelves.

Key Features: They offer improved visibility and maneuverability in narrow aisles, with controls on the platform for convenience. This setup allows operators to be elevated to the level of stocked items, facilitating accurate and efficient order selection in tightly packed areas.

4. Pallet Jacks (Pallet Trucks):

Pallet jacks are manual or electric-powered tools for lifting and moving pallets horizontally.

Uses: Commonly used for short-distance movement of palletized goods within warehouses and distribution centers.

Key Features: Simple design, easy to operate manually, and electric models offer powered lifting for heavier loads. Their compact size and ease of operation make them ideal for quick tasks in confined spaces.

5. Rough Terrain Forklifts:

Designed for outdoor use on uneven surfaces, rough terrain forklifts have large tires and high ground clearance.

Uses: Commonly used in construction sites, lumberyards, and agricultural settings.

Key Features: They're equipped with robust frames, powerful engines, and four-wheel drive for stability and traction on rough terrain. This makes them suitable for environments where regular forklifts cannot operate effectively.

6. Telehandlers:

Telehandlers have a telescoping boom that can extend forward and upward, with forks attached at the end.

Uses: Used in construction and agriculture for lifting and placing materials at heights.

Key Features:They offer versatility with various attachments like buckets, forks, and platforms, and some models feature four-wheel steering for improved maneuverability. This flexibility makes telehandlers indispensable in settings that require both lifting and reach capabilities.

7. Side Loader Forklifts:

Side Loader forklifts have forks mounted on the side of the vehicle for handling long and bulky loads.

Uses: Ideal for transporting items like lumber, piping, and sheet materials.

Key Features: They provide easy loading and unloading of long items, with some models featuring adjustable forks for added flexibility. This orientation is particularly effective for handling oversized, long, or awkwardly shaped materials that would be problematic for traditional forklifts.

8. Industrial Sweepers and Scrubbers:

Industrial sweepers and scrubbers are used for cleaning floors in warehouses and factories.

Uses: They remove dust, debris, and spills from floors, improving safety and cleanliness.

Key Features: Available in ride-on or walk-behind models, with options for sweeping, scrubbing, and drying functions. These machines are essential for maintaining cleanliness and hygiene in environments prone to dirt accumulation, enhancing operational safety.

9. Walkie Stackers:

Walkie stackers are compact electric forklifts with a mast for lifting pallets to heights.

Uses: Used for stacking pallets in tight spaces where a larger forklift can't maneuver.

Key Features: They're easy to operate, with controls on a handle for walking and lifting functions, and are suitable for light to medium-duty applications. This makes them perfect for operations that require frequent, repetitive lifting and stacking tasks in confined areas.

10. Articulated Forklifts (Flexi or Bendi):

Articulated forklifts feature a unique design with a jointed chassis, allowing them to bend in the middle for maneuverability.

Uses: Ideal for narrow aisle storage and handling palletized goods in confined spaces.

Key Features: They offer excellent maneuverability, with the ability to operate in aisles as narrow as 1.6 meters (5 feet), and some models have a rotating mast for added versatility. This capability allows them to excel in environments where space is extremely limited but vertical storage is utilized extensively.

11. VNA (Very Narrow Aisle) Forklifts:

VNA forklifts are specifically designed for working in very narrow aisles, typically with wire or rail guidance systems.

Uses: Commonly used in ports, rail yards, and logistics centers for loading and unloading containers from trucks and ships.

Key Features: They have a narrow profile, allowing them to operate in aisles as narrow as 1.2 meters (4 feet), and some models feature turret heads for rotating loads. This specialized design is ideal for maximizing storage efficiency in facilities where space optimization is critical.

12. Container Handlers:

Container handlers are specialized forklifts designed for lifting and transporting shipping containers.

Uses: Commonly used in ports, rail yards, and logistics centers for loading and unloading containers from trucks and ships.

Key Features: They have a spreader attachment for securely gripping containers, with high lifting capacities and stability for handling heavy loads. This equipment is essential for managing the heavy and cumbersome containers that are central to global trade.

Classification of Forklifts

Class 1: Electric Motor Rider Trucks:

These forklifts are predominantly used indoors due to their electric power source, which produces no emissions and operates quietly, making them suitable for enclosed environments like warehouses and distribution centers. The common types within this class include versatile models such as counterbalance forklifts and reach trucks, which are essential for handling tasks ranging from unloading deliveries to stocking shelves.

Class 2: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks:

Class 2 forklifts are engineered to maximize space efficiency by operating in narrow aisles, a typical scenario in many modern warehouses. This class includes equipment like reach trucks and order pickers, designed to access high shelves and maneuver in limited spaces, thereby enhancing the storage density and accessibility of goods.

Class 3: Electric Motor Hand Trucks or Hand/Rider Trucks:

Forklifts in this class are highly flexible, offering configurations where operators can either walk behind or ride on the equipment. Examples include pallet jacks and walkie stackers, which are ideal for quick and efficient movement of goods over short distances within smaller warehouses or tight retail spaces.

Class 4: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks - Cushion Tires:

These forklifts are equipped with cushion tires and are powered by gas or diesel, making them suitable for indoor use on smooth surfaces. Typically found in warehouses and manufacturing plants, these trucks are preferred where the handling of goods and materials requires resilience against intensive use while maintaining floor integrity.

Class 5: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks - Pneumatic Tires:

Equipped with pneumatic tires, Class 5 forklifts are designed for outdoor use where uneven terrain is common. They are robust and versatile, often seen in rugged environments such as construction sites or any outdoor area that demands durability and enhanced traction to handle materials effectively.

Class 6: Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors:

This diverse class includes tractors that may be electrically powered or use internal combustion engines, making them adaptable for various industrial tasks from hauling materials to towing other equipment. These are typically utilized in heavy-load environments like manufacturing facilities, distribution centers, and ports, offering significant hauling capabilities.

Class 7: Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks:

Specifically designed for challenging outdoor environments, Class 7 forklifts are equipped with rugged, heavy-duty tires and are powered by internal combustion engines. These machines excel in places like construction sites or agricultural fields where the terrain is uneven and standard forklifts cannot operate effectively.

Sizes of Forklifts

Forklift sizes can vary widely depending on the specific model and its intended use. However, they are typically categorized based on their lifting capacity and dimensions. 

Here are some common size classifications:

Small Forklifts

These are compact and designed for light-duty tasks, making them ideal for navigating tight spaces in warehouses or stores. They typically have a lifting capacity of up to 3,000 pounds, which suits them for smaller load handling.

Medium Forklifts

Offering a balance of size and power, these forklifts can lift loads ranging from 3,000 to 10,000 pounds. They are versatile enough to be used in a variety of settings, from warehouses to construction sites.

Large Forklifts

Built for heavy-duty work, these forklifts have the capacity to lift over 10,000 pounds and are commonly utilized in more demanding industrial environments like shipping yards and large warehouses.

Customized Forklifts

These forklifts are specifically modified to meet unique operational needs, such as handling unusually shaped loads or extended reach capabilities. They provide solutions where standard forklifts might not be effective.

Parts of a Forklift:


The frame acts as the primary structure of the forklift, supporting not only the mast and wheels but also the operator's compartment. It is meticulously crafted to endure the rigors of lifting and transporting heavy loads, providing a robust foundation that ensures operational stability and durability.


The mast is a vital component of the forklift, responsible for the vertical movement of the forks. It needs to be both strong and precisely engineered to safely raise and lower heavy loads, maintaining forklift stability. The mast's design is critical as it directly influences the lifting capacity and the overall efficiency of the forklift.


Forks are the horizontal tines that engage with the load, designed to slide underneath pallets or other containers for lifting and moving. These components are adjustable, allowing operators to modify the spacing to handle various load sizes, which enhances the forklift's versatility in material handling.

Hydraulic System

The hydraulic system is crucial for powering the lifting and tilting actions of the mast and forks. Utilizing hydraulic fluid to transmit force, it provides the forklift with the ability to perform precise and controlled lifting operations, essential for managing substantial weights.


The counterweight is a critical safety feature located at the rear of the forklift. It counterbalances the weight of the load on the forks, which is essential to prevent the forklift from tipping forward under heavy loads, thus maintaining stability during operations.

Operator Compartment

This compartment is where the forklift operator manages the controls of the machine. Designed for either seated or standing operation, it includes all necessary controls for steering, lifting, and maneuvering the forklift, ensuring ergonomic accessibility for the operator.

Power Source

Forklifts may be powered by different energy sources including internal combustion engines that run on diesel or gas, or electric motors powered by batteries. The choice of power source affects the forklift’s performance, operational costs, and suitability for different environments.


The wheels enable the forklift to navigate various environments, supporting the movement and maneuverability of the vehicle. Wheel designs may vary to suit specific operational needs, such as smooth indoor surfaces or rough outdoor terrains, enhancing the forklift's adaptability.


Attachments are specialized tools that can be fitted to the forklift to extend its functionality. Options like clamps, extensions, and rotators allow the forklift to handle a wider range of tasks and load types, increasing its utility in diverse operational settings.

Things to Consider when Choosing a Forklift:

Identify Your Needs

Start by assessing the specific requirements of your operations, such as the types of loads you will handle, the maximum heights at which you'll need to operate, and the environment where the forklift will be used. This step helps ensure that the forklift you select is well-suited for your operational demands and can efficiently perform the tasks required.

Consider Load Capacity

Choose a forklift that can handle the maximum weight of the loads you expect to carry. It is critical to avoid overloading, which not only poses safety risks but also can lead to mechanical failures. Ensuring the forklift has adequate capacity for your heaviest loads enhances safety and operational efficiency.

Think About Fuel Type

Select a fuel type that aligns with your operational environment and efficiency needs. Electric forklifts are ideal for indoor use due to their zero emissions, while gasoline or diesel models may be necessary for outdoor tasks or when higher power output is required. Each type has distinct benefits and operational cost implications.

Assess Maneuverability

Consider the layout and space constraints of your operating area. If the forklift needs to navigate narrow aisles or maneuver in tight spaces, a compact model with excellent agility might be required to facilitate efficient movement and operation within confined areas.

Evaluate Terrain

For operations that occur on uneven or outdoor surfaces, choose a forklift equipped with suitable tires and adequate ground clearance. Pneumatic tires, for instance, offer better traction and stability on rough terrains, which is crucial for safe and effective operation.

Safety Features

Prioritize forklifts that are equipped with essential safety features such as seat belts, lights, horns, and advanced stability systems. These features play a significant role in preventing accidents and ensuring the safety of operators and other personnel in the workplace.

Consider Maintenance

Investigate the maintenance demands and associated costs of different forklift models. Some forklifts may be more cost-effective to maintain due to the availability of parts and simpler mechanical design, which can significantly affect overall operational costs.

Test Drive

Whenever possible, perform a test drive of various forklift models to evaluate their performance firsthand. This can help you assess aspects like comfort, visibility, control, and overall handling, ensuring the forklift meets your specific needs before making a purchase.


Finally, balance the initial purchase cost against long-term operational and maintenance expenses to select a forklift that offers the best overall value. It's important to consider both upfront costs and potential savings in efficiency and maintenance over the life of the equipment.

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