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Radial Lift vs Vertical Lift Skid Steers: A Comparison of Lift Mechanism Types

Radial Lift vs Vertical Lift Skid Steers: A Comparison of Lift Mechanism Types

A bobcat compact track loader lifting gravel from a large pile

Radial Lift vs Vertical Lift Skid Steers: A Comparison of Lift Mechanism Types

Reading time: 7 min

Introduction to Skid Steers and Track Loaders

From industrial sites to construction sites, skid steers and track loaders can be found just about anywhere heavy equipment is used. These compact, versatile machines can handle a wide range of tasks such as earthmoving, material handling, grading and road paving.

A key factor that influences the performance and suitability of skid steers and track loaders is the type of lift mechanism they employ: radial or vertical. Each lift type offers distinct advantages and limitations that can impact efficiency and productivity based on the task at hand.

In this article, we’ll go over the primary differences between radial lifts and vertical lifts, and how the type of lift impacts machine performance. Understanding whether a radial lift or a vertical lift better suits your application could be the difference between merely getting the job done and excelling at it.

Understanding Lift Mechanisms

When choosing a skid steer or track loader, the type of lift mechanism is an important consideration. Lift mechanisms affect not only the machine's suitability for certain tasks, but also how it performs in different environments.

Radial Lift Mechanism

In radial lift loaders, the boom arms are connected in such a way that they arc outward as they rise. This circular path of movement provides a smooth, mid-range operational radius that works best for digging and pushing operations.

The natural arc of the lift path also offers excellent forward reach at the midpoint of the lifting height, making radial lift machines ideal for tasks that involve dumping over walls or backfilling.

Vertical Lift Mechanism

On the other hand, vertical lift loaders are designed to allow the lift arms to move straight up and down. This design maximizes lift height and keeps the load closer to the machine, enhancing stability and balance, particularly when the loader is fully extended at higher elevations. 

Vertical lift mechanisms are a good choice for jobs that require high-reach capabilities, such as stacking pallets or loading high-sided trucks. The ability to reach higher vertical points without extending outward is a critical feature for working in tight spaces where space is limited.

Two illustrations of skid steers' lift mechanisms. The left illustration shows a radial lift pattern. The right one shows a vertical lift pattern.

Radial Lifts vs Vertical Lifts

The choice between radial and vertical lift mechanisms is influenced by their design and performance in various working conditions.

Mechanical Differences

Radial lift machines feature a linkage system that originates from the base of the machine with a single pivot point at the rear. As the loader arms are raised, they swing out in an arc. This design is simpler and results in easier maintenance. 

Radial lifts are particularly efficient in terms of visibility and durability, since their design allows a clearer line of sight to the bucket.

Vertical lift machines, on the other hand, employ a more complex system with multiple linkage points that keep the load closer to the machine. This design allows the loader arms to move almost straight up, maximizing the lift height and reach. 

The vertical lift design generally involves more pivot points and moving parts, which may require more maintenance but offers better lift capacity and stability.

Performance in Various Conditions

Uneven Terrain

Radial Lifts: These are generally more stable on uneven terrain due to the lower center of gravity during the lift path. The natural outward arc of the lift provides stability as the load is kept closer to the machine's center at lower heights.

Vertical Lifts: Vertical lifts can be less stable on uneven terrain, especially at higher lift heights where the load is elevated directly upwards.

Tight Spaces

Radial Lifts: The circular path of radial lifts can be a limitation in tightly confined areas where space is restricted, as the load moves forward before reaching its peak height.

Vertical Lifts: They excel in confined spaces due to the vertical trajectory of the lifting arms. This allows the machine to operate closer to walls or in narrow passages without compromising the lift height.

Under Heavy Loads

Radial Lifts: Best suited for tasks involving pushing, digging and grading where the load remains relatively low to the ground. Their design optimizes the force exerted at lower to mid-range heights, making them ideal for groundwork and loading tasks.

Vertical Lifts: Their design performs well when lifting and stacking heavy loads at higher elevations. The direct upward movement provides good stability and balance when handling heavy materials, which is critical for tasks like loading high-sided trucks or stacking pallets.

Suitability and Applications

Choosing between radial and vertical lift mechanisms depends on the use case and environmental conditions.

Radial Lifts

Radial lifts are preferred for tasks that require machine agility and high pushing force. Due to their circular lift path, they are commonly used for moving dirt, excavating and backfilling. 

Additionally, radial lifts perform well in plowing and grading. Their design allows operators to see the attachments clearly, making it easier to control the operation of the bucket, rake or plough.

Vertical Lifts

In contrast, vertical lifts are the preferred choice for jobs that require the vertical movement of materials to significant heights. This mechanism is commonly used for warehouse tasks like stacking pallets or loading high-sided trucks. 

The vertical lift path maintains the load closer to the machine, improving balance when the arms are extended upwards. This attribute is especially important in construction sites, retail settings and industrial applications.

Advantages and Limitations

Both radial and vertical lift mechanisms offer distinct advantages depending on the task at hand.

Advantages and Limitations of Radial Lifts

Radial lifts typically have a lower purchasing point and less costly maintenance. Their design is also more durable and offers great visibility and stability.

While they excel at ground-level tasks, radial lifts aren’t suitable for jobs that require high lifting since their arc does not extend as high as a vertical lift. The arc motion also requires more clearance to operate, making them less convenient for use in tight spaces.

Advantages and Limitations of Vertical Lifts

Vertical lifts excel in situations where materials need to be stacked or moved at great heights. Since the lift’s path is nearly straight up, vertical lifts have superior stability when lifting heavy loads high.

On the other hand, vertical lifts are more costly to maintain than radial lifts. Their more complex design requires more frequent service, which adds up over time. They also have limited stability when working on rough or uneven terrain.

Attachments and Customizations

Skid steers and track loaders are versatile machines, with a wide variety of attachments available for augmenting their capabilities.

Attachments for Radial Lifts

Radial lifts are particularly well-matched with attachments that benefit from their strength and durability in digging and pushing. Buckets, backhoes and forks are commonly used with radial lifts. The arc of the lift provides excellent forward reach that helps in dumping materials over obstacles, making these attachments particularly effective for landscaping and grading tasks.

Attachments for Vertical Lifts

Vertical lifts are typically used with attachments that facilitate the vertical movement of materials. These include pallet forks and material handling arms, which are essential in stacking, loading and unloading operations. These attachments are invaluable in warehousing, logistics and industrial settings.

Decision-Making Factors

When deciding whether to rent or purchase a radial lift, vertical lift skid steer or track loader, several factors should be considered.

Initial Purchase Costs and Maintenance

Radial lifts typically have lower initial purchase costs due to their simpler design and fewer moving parts, which translates to lower maintenance costs and downtime. In contrast, vertical lifts, while more expensive upfront, offer greater capabilities for high-reach tasks, which might justify the higher cost if the job requires this functionality.


Radial lifts offer greater versatility in rough terrain, making them a practical choice for varied environments. Vertical lifts, however, are a better choice when the work involves stacking or lifting materials to significant heights, especially in confined spaces.

Job Suitability

For tasks requiring extensive lifting and placement of materials at heights, a vertical lift is preferable. Conversely, if the work mainly involves digging, grading or material spreading at lower heights, a radial lift would be more suitable and cost-effective.

Final Thoughts

Radial lifts feature excellent stability and visibility, making them ideal for ground-level tasks like digging, grading and material handling in rough terrain. On the other hand, vertical lifts can reach higher elevations, making them better suited for tasks that involve stacking materials or loading at significant heights.

If you’re in need of replacement parts for your machine, the EquipmentShare Shop can help. Our growing catalog features a selection of OEM and aftermarket parts for skid steers and compact track loaders. Don’t see exactly what you’re looking for? Reach out to our parts experts to place a custom order.

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