By Bob Beacham | Updated Jun 1, 2022 10:12 AM
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Whether you are moving to a new house, moving work gear from the truck to the garage, or moving boxes of paper from the ground floor to an upstairs office, a hand truck can be an invaluable tool. First, it makes the job of moving items quicker and easier. Second, there’s much less chance of dropping a load that’s heavy or awkward. Third, it dramatically reduces the chances of back injury or muscle strain.
There are hundreds of hand trucks and dollies to choose from, so there are plenty of options to fit many different situations. However, the sheer variety can make it difficult to pick the right model. Keep reading to find out several important features to consider, and find out our picks for some of the best hand truck options for a range of different purposes.
If it’s a one-time job—hauling something heavy from the car to the house, for example—then a wheelbarrow or garden cart will probably do the job just fine. For those who move items on a regular basis, a hand truck is more efficient and usually a sensible investment. However, while the basic concept is simple, the variety of hand trucks is enormous. The following are some of the key features that shoppers consider.
There are a few main types of hand trucks often used. The standard, upright L-shaped hand truck used by delivery drivers all over the world is still a useful tool, but it can be heavy and awkward to store at home.
Folding hand trucks are much more compact and come in several different formats. For heavier loads, there are convertible hand trucks that can be upright or used as a horizontal dolly cart. There are also stair-climber models that make light work of what might otherwise be a major challenge.
Outside of these, there are specialty hand trucks designed for moving appliances or carrying anything from car tires to kitchenware. If it can be moved by hand, there’s probably a hand truck out there for it.
The amount a person can lift varies a great deal, of course, but the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has established that the average individual should not attempt to lift more than 51 pounds.
The capacity of even lightweight hand carts comfortably exceeds this, with most limits starting at around 150 pounds. At the other end of the scale, some heavy-duty hand dollies can carry as much as 1,000 pounds.
While weight capacity is important, few users need heavy-duty models. Most washing machines, for example, weigh somewhere between 180 and 230 pounds. Many midrange hand trucks have that kind of capacity while remaining convenient and affordable.
The physical size of the hand truck is another key feature, and it’s often closely related to weight capacity. Light-duty models often fold down for storage or can fit easily into the trunk of a car. Heavy-duty hand trucks and dollies are usually larger to support more weight.
Materials are important for the strength of the hand truck and for long-term durability.
Given that these tools are called hand trucks, it’s surprising how often manufacturers pay little attention to the design of the handles. A plain steel loop is common, and some have rubber grips. Others have hard plastic moldings, which can actually be quite uncomfortable, even when wearing gloves.
Bear in mind that the handle isn’t just for steering. A lot of force may be exerted to get the load moving initially, and this force invariably travels through the handle.
The height of the handle also plays a part. If it’s too short or too tall, it could be difficult to apply leverage. Experts recommend a handle height that is somewhere near the elbow. Telescopic handles are quite common, but they are often just open or closed.
Wheels and tires are sometimes overlooked, but their structure can have a major impact on mobility and suitability for different surfaces. Generally speaking, a wheel and tire combination allows the rubber tire to take most of the impact.
The wheels on the cheapest hand trucks are often just solid plastic. These may be fine on smooth surfaces, but they can be brittle. Pneumatic tires are usually the best option, and they are capable of supporting extreme weights and absorbing heavy bumps.
If a hand truck is intended for use over high-quality floors, it may also be worth checking to see if the tires are non-marking. Some hand trucks can leave black streaks.
The nose plate, also called the toe plate, is the platform at the bottom of the “L” that supports the items being moved. Nose plates can be quite large, but they don’t always need to be. On models designed to lift appliances, the nose plate may be quite narrow because it only has to support one edge of a freezer, for example.
Size and shape of the nose plate can vary considerably. On low-cost hand trucks, it might be a basic plastic tray. On high-quality folding models, it is usually hinged aluminum or steel. With some heavy-duty models, the nose plate can be supplemented by extended bars to accommodate large items.
The following picks are practical examples that illustrate features discussed in the previous section. Each has particular strengths and carries our recommendation as one of the best hand trucks in its respective category.
The Cosco Shifter has wide appeal thanks to its combination of user-friendly features, high capacity, and versatility. It is hugely popular, and it is the hand truck that will suit most people, most of the time.
The Cosco Shifter can be used upright or as a four-wheel dolly. A clever lever mechanism in the center provides one-handed conversion between the two. It is straightforward to use, but the instructions could be better, and care needs to be taken not to trap fingers.
Although the mechanism is plastic, it has proven to be robust and durable. The remainder of the chassis is steel, giving a load capacity of 300 pounds. That’s impressive for a hand cart that weighs just 15 pounds.
The Cosco Shifter folds completely flat for compact storage, and it will fit easily into most car trunks. The handle has a plastic cover for a little added comfort. Our only concern is the small rear wheels, which look a little fragile. However, we found no reports of breakages, and they would be easy to replace.
Get the Cosco Shifter hand truck at Amazon, Wayfair, or Walmart.
At just 4 pounds the Tomser hand truck is remarkably lightweight, making it easy for almost anyone to handle. It folds down for compact and easy storage or transportation. It also comes with a useful bungee cord to help hold loads in place. Although the nose plate is plastic, the underlying structure is a steel tube that helps give it a competitive 155-pound load capacity.
While the Tomser hand truck is the best value folding hand cart among our top picks, it does have its limitations. It is a little narrow and has a tendency to tip sideways on uneven ground or when turning with heavy loads. The rear wheels are small, and the nose plate wraps around them slightly, so it is not the best hand truck for stairs. Although the nose plate has auxiliary wheels at the front, these do nothing more than support the hand truck at rest.
Those who move heavy loads on a regular basis would benefit from investing in a hand truck that is more robust.
Get the Tomser hand truck on Amazon.
This Milwaukee is not the same company that makes high-quality power tools, but it does have an equally good reputation for solid, dependable products. The Milwaukee Fold-Up Hand Truck is its entry-level model. It is an all-steel construction, but it still remains relatively light.
When folded it is just 3 inches wide, yet a 15.25-inch by 11-inch toe plate gives a good load area and more stability than many rivals. The quick-release handle extends to 39 inches. Wheels are 5 inches in diameter, which is practical for use on steps and stairs. They have non-marking synthetic rubber tires.
Although the 150-pound weight limit is modest, the Milwaukee fold-up hand cart offers great convenience, and is very competitively priced. The only note of caution is that the wheels do not lock, so care is needed to make sure they are folded out properly before rolling.
Get the Milwaukee fold-up hand truck at The Home Depot or Lowe’s.
This Milwaukee 4-in-1 Hand Truck is a truly heavy-duty device that offers excellent flexibility with four possible configurations: upright, upright with the toe-plate extension for larger items, angled at 45 degrees using the dolly wheels for additional support, or as a four-wheel dolly cart.
The rigid steel and aluminum frame gives weight capacities from 500 pounds to 1,000 pounds, depending on position. The 800-pound capability in the standard upright position is the highest we have seen in this type of hand truck, and this makes it arguably the best appliance dolly among our picks. Despite its heavy-duty capability, it weighs just 42 pounds. The 10-inch wheels have thick puncture-proof tires that offer good traction and mobility. However, the small dolly wheels are best described as adequate.
The Milwaukee 4-in-1 Hand Truck has impressive capabilities and is competitively priced. Some users have noted that the plastic grips covering the handles tend to split rather easily. It’s frustrating, but this shouldn’t really impact performance.
Get the Milwaukee 4-in-1 hand truck at The Home Depot or Walmart.
The biggest problem many people face with hand carts is getting up and down curbs, steps, and stairs. Stair-climbing hand carts make this easier, but many are fixed steel-framed models. They are great for delivery drivers and other commercial users, but they are not the best hand trucks for stairs in homes or offices.
The Fullwatt stair climber is an affordable alternative. The aluminum construction provides good rigidity and a weight capacity of 155 pounds, yet it weighs only 10 pounds. It folds down to just 6 inches wide and 27 inches tall, so it’s easy to store or take from place to place. The telescopic handle can be used at 33.5 inches for normal loads, or it can be extended to 42 inches for tall loads.
The six stair-climbing wheels have non-marking rubber tires that give reliable grip on most surfaces. The nose plate also has four caster-type wheels, though they only come into contact with the ground when the hand cart is upright so there seems little point to them.
Get the Fullwatt hand truck on Amazon.
The Magliner Gemini is another heavy-duty hand truck that features excellent load capacities and a conversion mechanism that is both simple and rapid. As a standard hand truck it can handle up to 500 pounds, while it will carry 1,000 pounds as a platform dolly.
The main wheels are 10 inches in diameter and 3.5 inches wide, and they have pneumatic tires that give great traction. The smaller dolly wheels are still comparatively large with a 5-inch diameter, and they have roller bearings to assist mobility. It is the best combination we found for horizontal use.
The modular design means there are no welds to break, but it does need some assembly on arrival. While only basic tools are required for assembly, these are not included. Given the price, this is a little disappointing. On the plus side, all parts are replaceable.
Get the Magliner hand truck on Amazon.
The Olympia Tools heavy-duty platform truck isn’t a typical hand truck, but it deserves inclusion in this article because it offers a convenient and very affordable solution for a variety of users. It is typically employed for loading and unloading vehicles, but it’s equally useful for moving items around a warehouse, factory, or office building, and it could double as a cleaning or maintenance cart.
It is a simple steel construction with a folding handle and a flat load bed that is covered with textured vinyl to prevent loads from sliding around. It is surrounded by a rubber bumper to reduce potential impact damage. Underneath, four heavy-duty caster-style wheels can rotate 360 degrees, allowing the cart to change direction quickly. However, the upright handle isn’t the best in terms of applying pushing or pulling force, so the cart can be difficult for one person to move if loaded to its 600-pound capacity.
Get the Olympia Tools hand truck at Wayfair or Walmart.
The Cosco Shifter hand truck is versatile, strong, easy to use, and easy to store. These features put this hand truck at the top of the list. The only thing it isn’t is cheap. The Tomser hand truck isn’t built to the same standards, but it is a more affordable and handy tool to have around for occasional use and modest loads.
Many of us have used a hand truck at one time or another, such as when moving to a new house, helping friends move, or transporting supplies for work. However, while personal experiences are certainly valuable, they seldom give a full picture of the available products on the market. The Bob Vila team researched leading manufacturers and their products, looking at materials technology and taking into account the feedback from large numbers of buyers.
In order for our top picks to be helpful to as many people as possible, we established which were the most popular categories and then searched for the best solution within that group. This involved looking at weight capacity, ease of use, durability, and value for money. These aren’t necessarily direct comparisons. A folding hand cart can’t be expected to have the same handling ability as a heavy-duty hand truck. However, each should have a capacity appropriate to the expectations of the particular use. The results represent some of the best hand trucks for the widest range of needs.
The above information has provided an in-depth look at the various types of hand trucks, and specific models are available to satisfy a variety of needs. While this information will answer many of the questions that crop up, there are some general queries that we have answered below.
The function of a hand truck is to allow one person to easily move items that they would not typically be able to carry (or would struggle with) if attempting to move them by hand.
The classic hand truck has a strong metal frame, a pair of handles at the top, a load platform at the bottom, and usually has a pair of rubber wheels. However, modern designs vary considerably from compact folding models to those that convert to flatbed carts.
There are a lot of things you may think about when choosing a hand truck. The “What to Consider When Choosing the Best Hand Trucks” section above explains the benefits of each type; it will help you narrow down the options until you find the best hand truck for the loads you need to move.
How much a hand truck costs depends on a number of factors that are discussed above. Some can be as little as $40, while more complex or heavy-duty models might be several hundred dollars.
The easiest way to go down steps with a hand truck is to use a stair climber, like the Fullwatt Stair Climber listed above. If using a standard hand truck, then tilt it back toward you, keeping your hands low and the load as near horizontal as possible. (Bending your knees can help.) This keeps the center of gravity low, so there’s less impact as you descend each step and less chance of the load tipping.
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