Materials Handling

How to choose a reach truck

By Mark Nicholson

September 2022

What are the advantages of a reach truck? And how can you find the model that best suits your operation? Mark Nicholson summarises the key considerations, with advice from Andreas Schock of Cat® Lift Trucks.

Why choose a reach truck?

Reach trucks are often the favourite choice of warehouse managers – especially when working with tall racking. They offer a compact footprint, great manoeuvrability in small spaces, and high lifting ability. Those factors enable efficient use of a building’s area and height for high-density storage of goods.


Reach trucks are compact, manoeuvrable and high-lifting, for optimum use of warehouse space.

The defining feature of these trucks is their reach mechanism. It allows the mast to be moved forwards and backwards on the truck’s chassis When the mast is pulled back, the truck is short and easy to manoeuvre in warehouse aisles. Once the truck has been positioned to stack or retrieve a pallet load, its mast reaches forward. In this way its forks are pushed deep into the racking.

eu40-1 Reach Truck graphic-2

Mast reached forward. Mast pulled back.

When retrieving goods, the mast is pulled back – bringing with it the forks and loaded pallet. The pallet and its load slide in between two robust support legs equipped with large wheels. These characteristic stabilising features help avoid the need for a large counterweight which would add to the truck’s length. With the mast pulled back, the load is carried within the truck’s wheelbase. This maximises stability and minimises dimensions during travel.

As well as reaching forwards and backwards, reach trucks are also, of course, good at reaching upwards. Some models will lift to 13 metres or more.

What are the alternatives to a reach truck?

Andreas Schock, Product Manager for Cat® reach trucks in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, explains: “You can use counterbalance forklifts in warehouses, but they need much larger aisle widths. And they can only lift to about 7 metres at most.”

Stacker trucks may be a more practical alternative. “In fact,” Andreas says, “stand-in, folding platform or pedestrian stackers can work in narrower aisles than reach trucks. However, maximum lift height, even with a powerful stand-in stacker model, is no more than about 7 metres.”

He adds: “Importantly, reach trucks have higher residual capacities than stackers with the same nominal capacity*. This means reach trucks can handle heavier loads than stackers at the racking’s higher levels. Essentially, their masts are more rigid and stable.”

Andreas also notes that a reach truck can be positioned very quickly and easily to pick up or place a pallet at any height. With a stacker it’s not so easy. To get the stacker’s forks into the racking above, you must first insert its load legs carefully into the bottom-placed pallet.

In addition, the reach truck’s reaching mechanism makes movement of loads into and out of the racks very smooth. “This is especially important when handling delicate goods. With a stacker, it’s more difficult as the whole truck has to move. A small jerky movement when the forks are raised high can cause swaying of the stacker’s mast. Reach truck masts are more likely to have height-adjusted damping technology.”

Buyers must balance these benefits of reach trucks, and their generally higher performance and productivity, against stackers’ lower prices.

For storage at even higher densities with narrower aisles, VNA (very narrow aisle) solutions are an alternative to reach trucks. Available in man-up and man-down designs, they are for use in large and highly specialised warehouses. “In the average warehouse, reach trucks are a more cost-effective choice,” Andreas concludes. “They also give you great flexibility to move between aisles and transport goods over distances.”

What type of reach truck would best meet your needs?

The choice of reach trucks on the market is enormous. Cat Lift Trucks, for example, has 26 models at the time of writing, each with further equipment options.

The most basic questions to consider are:

·       How wide are your aisles?

·       How high is your racking?

·       What will be the maximum load weight at each level?

A well-informed lift truck salesperson will make sure the trucks you select are a good fit in those respects.

Another essential issue Andreas raises is how often, and for how long, the truck will be used each day. “Is it for occasional use, totalling no more than a couple of hours per shift? A light (L) reach truck might then be all you need. For more intensive duties, the added ergonomic and performance advantages of a standard or high-performance (H) model make better sense. That’s true even for applications where a light reach truck can meet your height and weight needs.”

Andreas advises that maximum lift heights for standard models start at about 4.8 metres – depending on mast choice. Most reach trucks lift to between 6 and 8.5 metres. Although some light reach trucks can achieve 7 or 7.5 metres, they are intended for lighter goods and less frequent use. Standard models will lift heavier loads and have larger residual capacities.

High-performance (H) reach trucks have stiffer and more stable masts, along with more powerful hydraulic motors. They are needed for heavier loads and/or higher lifts (above 9 metres). There are also extra-high lifting (X) models with a wider chassis for additional stability, allowing the highest lifts of all.

UHX 200 High mast

Reach truck models for higher lifts and/or heavier loads have stiffer, more stable masts and higher-powered hydraulic motors.

Straddle (S) models are another variant highlighted by Andreas. “They can retract pallets up to 1,000 mm wide between their load legs – without first having to lift them above load leg height (250-350 mm). There’s no need for a beam under the lowest pallet in the racking, as the truck can lift from floor level.”

The straddle solution is also useful where:

·       There is limited clearance between each pallet load and the lower edge of the beam above

·       Bagged materials bulge over the edges, making the load wider than a pallet

For double-deep racking, telescopic forks can be included in the reach truck’s specifications. Another option recommended by Andreas, particularly if you are lifting above 10 metres, is a lift height pre-selection system.

One of the more specialised reach truck applications is drive-in racking. For this you will need a compact (C) model with a narrow chassis and a tapered overhead guard. The truck can be optionally fitted with extra wheels for rail guidance.

Finally, there are specialised reach trucks for handling very long items such as pipes in narrow aisles. These multi-way and four-way reach trucks are multidirectional (M). A four-way truck, as its name suggests, will move forwards, backwards and from side to side. It can also rotate on the spot. To those, the multi-way adds diagonal, rotational and other modes.

For information on the current Cat® reach truck range, click here.

*Capacity ratings

The rated capacity of a lift truck tells you the maximum weight it can safely lift and transport under specified conditions. If your truck has a rating of 2 tonnes, for example, it will happily lift that weight to a height of, say, 2 metres. However, it may not be possible or safe to lift it several metres higher than that. The reduced maximum capacity available at a specific lift height is known as the residual capacity.

Specification of rated capacity depends on load centre distance. This is the horizontal distance between the load’s centre of gravity and the vertical face of the forks. If it is longer than specified in the rating, stability is affected and capacity is reduced. Rating is also reduced if the mast is tilted. For lift trucks with mast attachments, further adjustments in rating are needed.

The lift truck salesperson should ensure that the chosen truck’s rated and residual capacities are suitable for your operation.