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Understanding the Power of Skid Steer Lift Capacity

March 4, 2024

Skid steers rank among the most popular pieces of small construction equipment - and for good reason. With a small size that belies the machine's power, skid steers are excellent tools for the construction site and the local farm. 

Suppose you’re considering investing in a skid steer. You’ll want to learn the specs to evaluate its performance, including the skid steer lift capacity, indicating how much the machine can safely lift. Here’s how to assess these specs and choose a skid steer with enough power to complete your most important jobs.

Skid steers rank among the most popular pieces of small construction equipment - and for good reason. With a small size that belies the machine's power, skid steers are excellent tools for the construction site and the local farm.

What Can You Do With a Skid Steer?

Powered by diesel engines or electric motors, skid steers boast impressive power-to-size ratios, enabling them to tackle a wide range of tasks from digging and hauling to grading and snow removal. Their popularity stems from their adaptability, efficiency, and ease of operation, making them indispensable assets across many industries.

A skid steer loader — usually just called a “skid steer” — is a versatile piece of construction equipment. Despite its compact frame, the machine packs a surprising amount of power, and operators can use different attachments to complete a wide range of jobs. What can you do with a skid steer? The following are some of the more common tasks that skid steers can complete:

  • Excavating on building and construction sites
  • Hauling materials (soil. sand, gravel) across construction sites
  • Moving heavy materials such as pallets and bales
  • Clearing brush or assisting with landscaping tasks
  • Stump grinding and removal
  • Hauling logs
  • Snow removal 
  • Debris clearing
  • Grading/clearing for road construction


Additionally, skid steers can be wheeled or tracked, giving them greater freedom of movement over every terrain.

How Much Weight Can a Skid Steer Lift?

What is a typical skid steer lift capacity? The lift capacity — otherwise known as the rated operating capacity (ROC) — varies by the specific type of skid steer. Generally, skid steers can lift between 1,250 and 4,200 pounds, depending on the skid steer size, make, and model. 

This strength comes from the skid steer’s two hydraulic arms, which can be arranged in one of two lift paths: vertical or radial. A radial configuration follows a “C”-shaped arc, which makes it ideal for digging. A vertical configuration results in an up-and-down motion, which can be a good option for lifting heavy materials above eye level.

Types of Skid Steers 

There are two main types of skid steers: tracked and wheeled. While these options don’t directly impact the lift capacity of the machine, they nonetheless provide different options for operating the skid steer in various environments.


Tracked skid steers can also be called compact track loaders or simply tracked skid steers. As the name suggests, the machine is equipped with caterpillar treads. That allows the skid steer to travel over uneven terrain or through wet or slippery conditions, like mud or snow. 

Tracked skid steers are best when performing digging or excavation work or when clearing away debris. That is because the tracks won’t be easily affected by ground conditions. 


Wheeled skid steers won’t have the same versatility as tracked skid steers regarding rough terrain. However, the wheeled version will be better suited for traveling across hard, relatively smooth ground, such as roads, and will have better speed and control. Furthermore, wheels require less maintenance than tracks, providing greater fuel efficiency. 

Skid Steer Specs & Features

In addition to skid steer lift capacity, it’s important to understand the full range of skid steer specs and features. Here’s an overview of the factors that influence skid steer operation.

Rated Operating Capacity (ROC)

Rated operating capacity refers to the skid steer lift capacity. How much can a skid steer lift? Again, this varies by size, make, and model, but most skid steers can lift between 1,250 and 4,200 pounds.

Horsepower (HP)

A skid steer’s horsepower is a common way of measuring the machine’s overall power output, translating into how much work it can perform. Skid steers generally range from 65 to 100 HP, with some models going as high as 120 horsepower. 

Operating Weight

How much does a skid steer weigh? Small-frame models can be as light as 4,200 pounds, while medium-frame skid steers weigh around 6,400 pounds. The largest models can climb to 8,400 to 9,100 pounds or more. Keep in mind, too, that the weight can be slightly affected by the attachments you use with your skid steer.

Bucket Capacity

Skid loader bucket capacity refers to the volume of its actual bucket. Most skid steers can hold between 35 and 60 cubic feet of material. Remember, though, that this may vary depending on the nature of the material and the skid steer’s lift capacity.

Auxiliary Hydraulic Capabilities

Auxiliary hydraulics allow the skid steer to operate additional attachments and features. The most common type of system is a standard flow, which operates at the machine’s standard hydraulic pressure (usually 3,000 to 3,500 psi). However, some machines offer advanced hydraulic flow, which operates high-demand tools and attachments.

Attachment Compatibility

Not all skid loaders will accommodate the full range of available attachments. Make sure that your skid loader is compatible with and has sufficient power to operate the attachments you’ll need.


The actual dimensions of the skid loader vary widely by make and model. Pay attention to the wheelbase and the frame when comparing different models. Most machines will fall between 1.5 to 2 meters in width, depending on the manufacturer.

Turning Radius

Some jobs require maximum maneuverability, so it’s essential to consider the turning radius in your purchasing decision. Some manufacturers now offer zero-turn skid steers, allowing the machine to turn within its footprint for maximum agility.

Tipping Load

How much weight can a skid steer lift without tipping? The tipping load refers to the maximum weight the machine can hold when its arms are fully extended on level ground. If the manufacturer doesn’t provide this information, you can calculate the tipping load by multiplying the lift capacity by 50%.

Travel Speed

Travel speed refers to the velocity at which the skid steer moves over flat ground. Typically, skid steers can travel at 7 to 10 mph, though some models can achieve a travel speed of up to 12 mph.

Fuel Capacity

Fuel capacity varies between 20 and 25 gallons. The smaller the skid steer, the smaller the fuel capacity, though this also tends to translate into greater fuel efficiency.

Operator Controls

Skid steers feature different configurations for operator controls, which tend to be unique to each manufacturer. Users can choose from H-pattern, ISO pattern, selectable joystick (SJC), and foot controls.

Cab Comfort

While cab comfort is subjective, the best machines offer comfortable seating and ergonomically designed control features. Some models also provide an enclosed cabin with climate controls for maximum comfort.

Safety Features

It’s additionally important to examine the safety features of each skid steer. These features can include structural elements such as seat belts, mirrors, and rollover protection systems (ROPS). They might also encompass electronic features such as operator presence detection, backup cameras and alarms, and interlocked controls. 

Benefits of Buying Used

Is it better to buy a new skid steer or consider a used model? Generally, there are many benefits to buying a used skid steer. These advantages include:

  • Cost savings. Used machines can be significantly cheaper than a new model. That can allow you to allocate money to another vital area of your project.
  • Immediate availability. You’ll find a wide selection of used machines at most equipment dealers, so you won’t have to wait for the latest model to be released.
  • Proven track record. A used skid steer will have already put in operating hours. That means the “bugs” have been worked out, giving you greater confidence in the machine.
  • Value retention. Most skid steers hold their value over time. As a result, buyers won’t have to worry about a lesser value by purchasing a used machine.
  • Environmental impact. Keeping used skid steers in operation is better for the environment. Consider a used model to reduce the waste of disposing of used equipment.


When you buy a used skid steer, you’ll have an opportunity to inspect the machine to ensure that it meets the highest safety, quality, and performance standards.

How to Choose the Right Skid Steer

With so many skid steer options, how do you choose the right machine for your needs and job site? Always consider factors such as:

  • The machine’s lift capacity or rated operating capacity
  • The skid steer’s dimensions and weight
  • The attachments you’ll need for your projects
  • Your operating budget
  • Customer reviews


Remember that there’s no “right” skid steer for every situation, so make sure to investigate these features carefully before you make a final purchasing decision.

Find Your Skid Steer at Purple Wave

Where can you find a skid steer for sale? Start by using Purple Wave’s website to review equipment auction listings on quality, hard-working agricultural equipment. Here’s how to get started.

Register Your Account 

Once you register your account, you can search the inventory, review past sales, and create a watchlist. During registration, you’ll provide your credit card information to make it easier to place future bids.

Place Your Bid

You can submit bids online for your desired items and equipment. Purple Wave is a no-reserve auction, which means that you’ll win the auction as long as you’re the highest bidder. And if you have questions about the item up for sale, the seller’s contact information is always listed.

Complete the Sale

Purple Wave will handle all the payment details if you win the auction. Afterward, the item will be released, and you’ll simply have to pick it up when you’re ready.

With Purple Wave, buying and selling used farm and construction equipment is easy. Check out our skid steer page to see what is in stock today!