How To Find the Best Indoor Forklift for Your Business

The best indoor forklifts are the ones that can do exactly what you need them to do. You will be making quite a few decisions about specs when considering a new indoor forklift; the best choice for you will depend on the specific conditions and requirements of your business operations.

Indoor Forklift: Types and Features

Forklifts are sorted into seven classes. There are two basic engine types, three types of tires, and two common wheel arrangements to choose from. When it comes to the mast or “lift,” there are almost endless options, and there is likely one that will suit your needs to a tee.

Forklift Classes

Indoor forklifts are found in Classes I-IV. The most common forklifts for managing warehouse inventory are in Class II, which includes all of the narrow aisle trucks. They are excellent for this environment because they are maneuverable in very tight spaces and offer configurations for just about any common racking setup.

Equipment is classified based on features and purpose.

1. Class I – Electric Rider

This class includes both stand-up and sit-down trucks. These vehicles have electric engines, three wheels, and cushion tires. They are most commonly used to move pallets around on flat, smooth surfaces.

2. Class II – Electric Motor Narrow Aisle

The vehicles in this class are designed for warehouse use. This category includes pickers and reach trucks. They can maneuver in very tight spaces and reach the highest racks, allowing maximum inventory storage in your building. Narrow aisle lift trucks often require outrigger equipment for stability when the mast is fully extended.

3. Class III – Electric Power Jack or Hand Truck

This category encompasses the small lifts used for moving heavy pallets around the warehouse and loading or unloading trucks. Power jacks can get into very tight spaces.

4. Class IV – Combustion Engine, Solid Cushion Tires

Combustion engines can offer more power and a lower upfront cost. Like the other indoor forklifts, they use solid cushion tires and are well-suited to operate on smooth, level surfaces.

5. Classes V, VI, and VII - Designed for Outdoor Use

These classes contain lift trucks generally used in outside situations like construction sites. They are made for rugged terrain, harsher grades, and heavier loads and are not usually suitable for indoor forklift operation.

Forklift in warehouse moving pallets

Engine Types

You can choose one of two power sources, electric or internal combustion.

Internal Combustion Engines

Internal combustion engines usually run on gas or diesel, sometimes liquid propane or compressed natural gas. The fuel-powered forklifts are less expensive upfront but generally have higher maintenance costs and shorter service lives than their electric counterparts.

Internal combustion forklifts can be used inside, but you should consider the exhaust fumes and provide ventilation in your warehouse. These models can offer a lot of power and can move faster than electric trucks when covering longer distances.


Electric engine models cost more but tend to have lower maintenance costs. They make no exhaust, which is a plus for an indoor forklift. However, fumes can be an issue in tight spaces or poorly ventilated buildings.

Electric engines need to be charged regularly. Some models offer up to 16 hours of operation time before requiring a recharge, and less expensive versions provide eight hours of use between charges.

Wheel Configurations

Which is better, three wheels or four? Forklifts come with both options, although most narrow aisle trucks have three wheels.

Three-wheeled trucks use a counterbalance for stability. This design provides a tighter turning radius and efficient movement in tight spaces, making them very popular for warehouse use.

Forklifts with four wheels can be used on rougher terrain and have higher “gradeability,” meaning they can operate on uneven ground and slopes. However, they are generally designed to handle heavier loads.

Tire Choices

There are three types of tires available. Models designed for indoor forklifts or loading trucks and trailers generally use cushion tires. They are smooth rubber pressed directly onto the wheel. They do not hold air. These tires provide excellent turning and maneuverability on smooth surfaces and in restrictive spaces.

Some forklifts have solid rubber tires, which are advantageous for a combination of indoor and outdoor use. The larger lift trucks use pneumatic tires, which perform best on rough surfaces and uneven terrain.

Mast Options

The type of mast you choose largely determines what your forklift can and can’t do. This choice is one of the most important you will make in this process.

You should consider the weight of what you need to lift and how high and deep your racks are. You also want to keep in mind whether you will be moving materials through doorways or onto trucks. Safety considerations include whether you have pedestrians on-site, any overhead obstructions, or graded floors or ramps to contend with.

General concepts to keep in mind when reviewing your options for masts:

  • The higher the lift, the lower the weight capacity.
  • The more channels the mast involves, the lower the visibility.
  • A free lift is required to move loads through low overhead.

Indoor forklift mast types to choose from:

1. Single Stage or Simplex Mast

As its name implies, this type of lift has a single channel. This design has no free lift, meaning you cannot lift the forks without extending the mast. When you raise the forks, you raise the height of the mast. This isn’t a problem in an open space or one in which you have plenty of overhead room. Single-stage masts help move heavy pallets around and lift loads to low racks.

2. Double Stage or Duplex Mast

A duplex mast has two channels. The outer channel doesn’t move, providing a free lift, a useful feature on an indoor forklift. This means that you can raise the forks to the top of this channel without extending the height of the mast. The second channel provides an additional lift stage, in most cases up to 159 inches, or a little over 13 feet. A duplex mast provides good visibility for the operator. Indoor forklifts with this type of mast are ideal for loading trucks and trailers.

3. Triple Stage or Triplex Mast

This mast has three sets of channels. Like the duplex, you have a free lift from the first stage. The second and third stage channels can then extend about 15 feet in height, although some models can reach even higher, up to 238 inches, over 19 feet.

Triplex masts are the most popular option in warehouses for retrieving inventory from tall racking and picking orders. However, because of the additional set of channels, visibility is somewhat reduced for the operator compared to the duplex mast.

4. Quad or Four-Stage Mast

The quad mast can reach higher than all other masts because it has three extended inner channels. So if you have super-high racking, you might need a quad mast.

Specialty Indoor Forklift

Two of the most common forklift designs in use today have evolved to keep up with the rigorous demands of modern shipping. There are almost endless variations on these two popular solutions, but they all fall into two basic categories: reach trucks and order pickers.

Standard racking systems traditionally had wide aisles, and conventional forklifts could navigate these spaces and pack or retrieve inventory with relative ease. However, today’s warehouses maximize the use of space for efficiency, and the layout includes much narrower spaces between the racks.

Forklifts have been redesigned to maneuver in tighter spaces. Now lift trucks are built specifically for narrow aisles. This solves the space issue but necessitates other additions to allow operators to safely and efficiently access pallets of inventory on the racks.

These narrow aisle indoor forklifts require outrigger equipment to stabilize the truck when the mast is extended, especially for high racks. They also need mechanisms to reach the racks. There are two basic options for accessing the inventory.

Reach Truck

A reach truck uses a pantograph, which is an extendable, scissoring arm that can reach from the mast to the racks. There are single and double reach styles, allowing the operator to work one or two pallets deep on the rack. Reach trucks lift or retrieve pallets of materials. The operator controls the lift from the ground.

Reach trucks commonly employ a side shift or a moving mast feature, which allows the forks to move horizontally, simplifying lining up the forks with pallets on high racks.

There are virtually endless options for these versatile indoor forklifts. If you know the requirements of your racking system, you will be able to select the exact features you need in your lift truck.

Order Picker

An order picker lifts the operator instead of a set of forks. The worker can access the inventory and pick orders directly without moving the pallets from the racks. This arrangement has revolutionized shipping. Traditionally, the stock was shipped from a warehouse to a retailer for individual sale to the public. However, with the explosion of online shopping, retail orders are often packed right from the warehouse inventory.

If only a small quantity of an item is needed from the racks, it is not particularly efficient to retrieve the entire pallet, lower it to the floor to remove the item(s) and return it to its rack space. The order picker makes all of this unnecessary. It’s much faster for the operator to ride up, take the necessary items from the pallets, and move on.

As with the reach trucks, there are numerous configurations of the design. There is likely one that suits your warehouse layout.

A Few More Details About Indoor Forklifts

Capacity and Safety

Weight capacity varies by make and model on indoor forklifts. However, with every type and style, lift capacity decreases as the height increases. Keep this in mind when determining what you need for power. Make sure that your lift truck is rated for whatever weight you need to lift to the highest point of your racking system.

Also, remember that the higher the mast extends, the more the truck's stability is tested. So make sure you have the proper stabilizers for your forklift and don’t lift loads that exceed the capacity for that height.

Industry Terms To Know

Maximum Fork Height

The measurement from the floor to the top of the forks when the lift is fully extended. This is how high the forklift can raise a load.

Overall Raised Height

The measurement from the floor to the highest point on the mast (usually the load backrest) when the lift is fully extended. You need this measurement to be lower than the ceiling or overhead obstructions where you’ll be operating indoor forklifts. Most experts recommend selecting a mast with an OARH that gives you at least 6 inches of breathing room.

Overall Lowered Height

As the name suggests, this measurement is from the floor to the highest point of the forklift when the mast is fully lowered. It’s important to know because you need to be able to drive your forklift through doorways and possibly onto elevators, trucks, or trailers. You’ll want a vehicle that can pass through these areas without incident.

Find The Right Indoor Forklift for Your Business

Now that you better understand your indoor forklift options consider which one is the best fit for your warehouse. Compare prices on warehouse forklifts for sale near you with Industrial Forklift Truck. We offer all types of forklifts and only partner with trusted dealers. Request your free comparative quotes by selecting the forklift equipment you are looking for, enter your location, and we will send you deals from local dealers. 

Find the best forklift available in your area in minutes.

Get Free Pricing on Indoor Forklifts in Your Area.