How Wide Does an Aisle Have to Be for Forklifts?

Updated July 19, 2017

Different forklifts require different aisle widths in a warehouse to operate and manoeuvre their loads. A standard counterbalanced forklift needs the most space to operate within, but there are a number of lift trucks designed for narrow aisles.

Not including large industrial outdoor forklifts, standard lift trucks can operate in aisles as narrow as six feet wide, while some need 14 feet of space in which to operate.

Counterbalanced Forklifts

The most common type of forklift seen in warehouses--and in large wholesale stores like BJ's, Sam's Club and Home Depot--are Class I electric motor forklifts. These are sit-down trucks and are counterbalanced, meaning the truck itself balances the weight of the load, preventing the truck from tipping.

These trucks hold the load in front and typically require aisles of 11 to 14 feet in width in which to lift and manoeuvre.

Articulated Lift Trucks

An articulated forklift is a truck that can pivot. Typically, the pivot point is on the fork, meaning the load can be lifted perpendicularly to the truck, so the aisle only needs to be wide enough to accommodate the width of the truck plus the length of the forks.

Articulated lift trucks may fall into the narrow aisle forklift category, which require eight to 10 feet of aisle width, or they may be very narrow aisle forklifts, which require six feet in which to operate.

Narrow Aisle Forklifts

Narrow aisle forklifts require aisles at least eight to 10 feet wide in which to operate. In most cases, these are sit-down or stand-up trucks with pivoting forks, or they could be reach trucks, which typically require the operator to stand up and can reach high shelves in narrow spaces.

Very Narrow Aisle Trucks

Very narrow aisle forklifts require six feet of aisle width in which to operate. These lift trucks include trucks whose masts swing in such a way that the load can be manoeuvred perpendicularly to the truck.

Very narrow aisle forklifts also include some automated lift trucks that are on tracks adjacent to shelving aisles. These vehicles are common in warehouses with automated storage and retrieval systems.

Pallet Jacks

Pallet jacks are manually powered lift trucks that an operator walks behind. The forks are hydraulically raised and lowered, and the operator either pushes or pulls the truck. Manual pallet jacks are frequently seen in grocery and home improvement stores to move displays on pallets, or outdoor products like bags of mulch. To operate, these forklifts require aisles that are six feet wide.

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About the Author

Josh Shear began writing professionally in 1999. He has been an editor at Reminder Publications and project coordinator at the daily online news site He received his Bachelor of Arts in English from Western New England College, and took graduate courses in mass media theory at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.