The Ultimate Buying Guide for Pallet Jacks and Hand Trucks

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Not all pallet jacks and hand trucks are created equal, however. This buying guide walks you through the most important factors to consider so you select the right pallet jack or hand truck for the job.


 Pallet Jacks, Hand Trucks, Forklifts: What’s the Difference?


When it comes to moving material over short distances, you have a few choices to consider: pallet jacks, hand trucks, and forklifts.




Forklifts are fuel-powered trucks that let operators lift and move heavy loads of material. They’re the most expensive of the three options, require lots of space to maneuver and store, and they need regular maintenance. To ensure safety, OSHA requires forklift operators to be trained and certified before they can use the equipment.


Pallet jacks


Pallet jacks are designed to carry lighter, pallet-sized loads horizontally on long forks. Compared to forklifts, they are more affordable, are simpler to maneuver, can operate without fuel, and don’t take up lots of room. This allows them to be used in tight spaces. OSHA also requires training to operate electric pallet jacks.


Hand trucks


Hand trucks are upright pieces of equipment that carry loads lighter and smaller than what pallet jacks support. Like pallet jacks, hand trucks don’t require fuel, are low maintenance, are affordable, and are simple to use.


Choosing Between a Pallet Jack and Hand Truck: Factors to Consider


In this buying guide, we’re focusing on pallet jacks and hand trucks. Now that you understand the differences between the two, how can you decide whether a pallet jack or hand truck is what you need? Here are some important factors to consider.


Length and width


Pallet jacks and hand trucks are available in various lengths and widths. The base of a pallet jack is longer to move material horizontally on forks. The base of a hand truck is shorter; it sits upright and moves material on a small base plate.


Because different environments have different requirements, pallet jacks are available in several fork lengths and widths. If you select a pallet jack with forks that are too short or narrow, you may not be able to carry the material you need. If you select one with forks that are too long or wide, it can be difficult to maneuver.


Hand trucks are also available in a few length and width options. If you select a hand truck that’s too short or narrow, you may not be able to carry the material you need. If you select one that’s too tall or wide, it can be difficult to handle.


Consider the size of the material your team needs to move most often; that will help determine proper length and width, whether it’s a pallet jack or hand truck. Adjustable models can help take the guesswork out of finding the right length and width, offering flexibility to be used with a variety of material and pallet sizes.




How much weight will you need to move? Knowing that number will help you decide between a pallet jack or hand truck. To avoid downtime and injury, it’s important not to overburden material-handling equipment.


In general, pallet jacks are designed to support heavier weights than hand trucks—between 2,200 and 6,600-plus pounds—as compared to hand trucks, which typically handle between 275 and 1,200 pounds.


Always review the product manual to ensure you’re not overloading the unit by exceeding its safe weight capacity.


Lift height


Pallet jacks and some hand trucks offer built-in lift options to move material off the floor, safely stack it or place it elsewhere, and lift and lower it to the precise height for ergonomic loading and unloading. Depending on the machine, material can be lifted between 3 feet and 8 feet off the floor—or higher.


Hoist attachments can also be installed onto standard pallet jacks to lift and lower loads to and from elevated work areas.


Power options


Pallet jacks and hand trucks are both available in manual and electric models.


Manual equipment is ideal for light loads and tight spaces. By manually pushing or pulling a pallet jack, the operator’s weight drives the material forward. Because they have no electronic components, these pallet jacks are easy to maintain and rarely require repair. Depending on the weight of the material being transported or lifted, manual pallet jacks can put strain on the operator and be cumbersome to operate.


Electric pallet jacks are ideal for large spaces and big, heavy loads. A small electric motor propels the equipment forward, reducing operator fatigue and labor costs. These pallet jacks require charging, so it’s important to plan for downtime while batteries recharge. As with any piece of equipment that involves electronic components, an electric pallet jack may require occasional maintenance and repair.


Some hand trucks are also available with electric or motorized options to reduce manual labor when moving heavy loads. The operator simply steers the hand truck as it propels material forward.




Finally, think about where the pallet jack or hand truck will be used. Does it need to go up and down stairs? Will it encounter uneven surfaces? Are harsh temperatures present? Are there reels and spools of material that need to be moved (such as sheet metal or wire)? Does the application require portable material-handling equipment?


If you’re dealing with conditions like rough terrain or freezer environments, there are specially designed pallet jacks that can accommodate these unique environments.


If stair-climbing is important, hand trucks may be a better option because they’re easier to lift and move. Models tailored for stair climbing are also available.


For applications that require extra versatility, consider convertible hand trucks. These models can easily switch between uses as hand trucks and platform trucks based on the load you need to move.


And if compact storage and easy transport is required of your material handling equipment, consider portable and folding hand trucks.  


Make Your Investment Last


When used correctly and maintained properly, your pallet jack or hand truck will last for years.


Make sure to regularly check high-use components and replace them as they wear out. For hand trucks, this includes:


  • Wheels (check for wear, loose screws, and flat tires)


  • Seals (check for looseness or leaking)


On pallet jacks, be sure to check wheels and seals, as well as:


  • Pumps (make sure they raise and lower forks)


  • Handle assemblies (check for wear, damage, and misalignment)


  • Batteries (check for corrosion and charging cycles)


All these components can be quickly and easily replaced as needed.


As an added maintenance and safety benefit, consider investing in a pallet jack chock to hold your equipment in place. This will prevent runaway jacks, which reduces the risk of damage to your equipment, people, and workplace.


Ready to Decide?


Take time to explore the wide variety of pallet jacks and hand trucks available through Global Industrial. When you’re ready, connect with our in-house product experts to find the equipment you need to keep materials moving.


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