The operating weight of a skid steer (also known as a skid steer loader, skid loader, or "SSL") might surprise you. Common sense would suggest the bigger the skid steer the heavier the skid steer but that is not always the case.
Compare a compact track loader, such as the 331G John Deere skid steer, to large frame skid steers, like the 2018 Gehl V420 which is the largest skid steer on the market today. The heaviest skid steer in this scenario is the smaller John Deere skid steer while the market dominator is the lightest skid steer here. These Gehl V420 skid steer loaders weigh 11,665 pounds while the compact John Deere skid steer weighs in at an impressive 11,900-pound operating weight.
Generally speaking, however, the average weight of a skid steer loader is approximately 7,500 pounds. That means most common skid steers weigh about the same as a flatbed truck.
Before we dive into the details, it's important to distinguish the difference between the equipment's rated operating weight and its rated operating capacity.
The rated operating weight of a skid steer loader is the amount the construction equipment weighs while it's in use. This typically takes into consideration several factors that add more weight such as that of the individual operating the skid steer, its fuel, and different attachments.
The rated operating capacity means the number of pounds the loader arms are capable of lifting to their fullest height while still working the skid steer safely. Some folks refer to this metric as the skid steer's lift capacity or tipping load.
Now that you know the difference between the operating weight versus rated operating capacity, we can start to dive into why skid steer weights matter.
If you're asking, "How much should a skid steer weigh?" you're asking the wrong question. The optimal operating weight will be specific to you and the different jobs your team tackles.
The larger and heavier the machine the more power it wields. Sounds great, right? Not always.
Before jumping right toward the biggest, baddest machine out there, take the time to consider:
How will you get it onto your job sites?
How maneuverable does it need to be to get the job done within the constraints of your typical construction site?
Where will you store the equipment when the project is complete?
Would a small frame skid steer with a higher rated operating capacity (ROC) be a better option?
As you can see, skid steer weight can have a significant impact on project flow from start to finish. Once you have a general idea of your preferred operating weight and lift capacity, you can start browsing the options for the ideal size skid steer.
Ultimately, the total weight of a skid steer depends on the specific make and model, as well as the attachments that you plan to use on each machine. As we discussed at the start: don't be fooled into thinking mini skid steers can't outweigh the big dogs or lift heavy loads.
Skid steers -- even mini skid steers -- don't operate like your average car. The reason skid steers weigh so much is because they contain a counterweight. The counterweight increases the rated operating capacity so that the loader arms can handle more weight before the machine hits its tipping load.
With an empty standard bucket attachment, regardless of which size skid steer, the machine's weight will be distributed 70% rearward and 30% forward. As you fill the bucket, the weight remains evenly distributed so that both sets of wheels have the same amount of traction. A heavy rear end makes a skid steer loader easier to counter-rotate, but also limits the equipment's ability to climb steep slopes.
Despite being heavy equipment, these industrial vehicles are impressively versatile thanks to their ability to swap on a different attachment for various tasks. This makes skid steer loaders a popular choice for many construction fleets.
To determine which attachment is best suited for your machine, you must take into consideration the work environment, the materials being used, and the job site logistics. Here are some common skid steer attachments that will increase the versatility of your fleet, and the weights you can expect them to add to your machine.
Pallet Forks - Add approximately 390 pounds
Drill Bit Augers - Add approximately 230 pounds
Grapple Buckets - Add approximately 700 pounds
Brush Cutters - Add approximately 2,000 pounds
Box Blades - Add approximately 1,000 pounds
Landscape Tillers - Add approximately 900 pounds
Brooms - Add approximately 1,000 pounds
The size and weight of the skid steer loader extensions will factor into the four considerations we ran through above to select the right machine regarding transportation and storage, job site logistics, and frame size versus operating capacity.
Now we can examine the most popular skid steers in the market -- the manufacturers that win out for most after doing the mental math discussed above.
A few names have built a reputation for making the best skid steer loader.
The Cat SSL is known for being able to handle tough projects with efficiency. Cat's equipment tends to be both durable and reliable, making them a worthy long-term investment. One frequently purchased option is the 2022 Cat 226D3 skid. This popular Caterpillar model boasts a 5849-pound operating weight combined with a 1550-pound rated operating capacity.
Like Caterpillar, you won't be surprised to find the John Deere skid steer on this list. John Deer produces long-lasting machines with over one hundred available skid steer attachments. This brand, which commonly dubs these machines "compact track loaders," is known for producing the best small-yet-mighty models. One such John Deere skid steer is the 2017 John Deere 316GR.
Last but not least, Bobcat is an industry leader in manufacturing skid steers. In fact, Bobcat invented the world's very first skid steer in 1960. In the game-changing machine's 60-year tenure, it has developed more than two hundred Bobcat attachments for some serious adaptability. One high-performing model has taken the lead as one of the market's best-selling SSLs year after year: the Bobcat S650.
While these three tend to be the go-to when it comes to this particular machine, many other manufacturers offer solid pieces of equipment. Takeuchi, Case, Wacker Neuson, and Kubota are also worth considering.
Skid steers are highly efficient, multitalented pieces of equipment. They can be used for construction, landscaping, excavating, trenching, digging, agriculture, forestry, clearing snow, hauling, and so much more.
Skid steers get their name because the front tires are fixed to the rear tires on each side (in contrast to your standard front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive), which creates a skidding motion as the machine rotates to perform the task at hand. Combined with this maneuverability, skid steers can perform the function of several different machines in one piece of equipment thanks to their wide range of attachments.
The skid steer is an efficient, adaptable machine that makes them the Swiss Army Knife of construction equipment.
In selecting the best SSL, consider how much it should weigh for your needs. Ask yourself how you plan to transport the machine between work sites, where you will store it between gigs, and the maneuverability logistics of your average construction site. Don't forget to evaluate the rated operating capacity (ROC) in addition to the operating weight. A high rated operating capacity can be found in a small frame skid that is easier to transport and store.
Bobcat, John Deere, and Caterpillar are reputable manufacturers -- Bobcat being its original innovator.
Understanding the weight of the skid steer, as well as the weight of any attachments you plan to use, will help to give your equipment a longer lifespan, and make sure that it meets all safety standards.