How to Choose the Right Compact Track or Skid-Steer Loader

Posted on January 3, 2023

Evaluate and select the best type of loader for your operation.


A quality compact track loader or skid-steer loader can be one of the smartest investments you make. Their versatility and attachment variety make them go-to machines that get used for multiple tasks, multiple times a day. They’re the workhorses of any jobsite ranging from construction and agriculture to landscaping projects. If you invest in one piece of compact equipment, make it this one.

But which loader is right for you? From design to performance capabilities to the work you do, there is a lot to consider when choosing the right machine. The good news? Bobcat has you covered. Bobcat has been at it since inventing the compact loader in 1958. For more than 60 years, we’ve led the industry by increasing performance, setting industry standards and innovating beyond them. Tackling more applications and offering more Bobcat attachments than ever before, we’ve set out to help you accomplish more. From compact track to skid-steer loaders, the breadth and innovation of the Bobcat lineup means that you’ll find the perfect match for your needs at your local dealer.

Choosing a compact loader doesn’t have to be complicated, so let’s narrow it down and show you how to choose the right Bobcat machine to match your needs.

Machine size is one of the first considerations

Think about the dimensions and restrictions of your work area. Many times, the job comes with weight, height and width limitations. Whether you need the ability to fit in tight confines or work in wide open areas, the Bobcat lineup offers a loader to meet your needs. Consider the work areas you work in most often.

If you need strength and versatility for the smallest jobsites, our 50 and 60-platform loaders are a popular choice that give you excellent ability to fit under thresholds or through tight access points.

Select the ideal weight

Machine weight – and the towing capability of your vehicle – impacts your ability to easily move between jobsites. The lighter the machine, the fewer requirements there are for transportation, such as commercial drivers’ licenses or trailer upgrades. Double-check the weight limits of your truck and trailer before buying a loader. If you require a larger machine, there may be additional costs depending on the legal towing capacity of your vehicle.

Decide on a compact track or skid-steer undercarriage

What type of work will you be doing? The answer could direct you to the type of undercarriage that you should choose.

If you know that you will be operating on paved or hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt, a skid-steer loader makes good sense. Tires work well on these surfaces, and a skid-steer loader requires a lower initial investment.

The rubber tracks of a compact track loader are ideal for working on surfaces where ground surface sensitivity is particularly important. A compact track loader undercarriage provides lower ground pressure, improved flotation and traction. This can minimize ground disturbance while enhancing your ability to do dirt work, like trenching, digging and grading.

Extra ground-to-surface contact optimizes a compact track loader’s power and performance on rough terrain and soft, sandy surfaces. It also enables operators to easily push loads in these conditions with less chance of getting stuck.

Tracks also work great for fine grading, and the low ground pressure helps with landscape irrigation installation or hardscaping – so compact track loaders can easily keep busy on a jobsite from start to finish.

If you live in a wetter climate, compact track loaders can generate days or weeks of extra income – as they’re some of the first machines back on the job after rain.

Overall ownership costs are a little less when you own a skid-steer loader, as tires and wheels cost less than rubber tracks and assorted undercarriage parts, but your mileage may vary depending on your maintenance routines and operation – as well as the productivity and utilization advantages you can get from having the right machine.

Zero in on your ideal rated operating capacity and horsepower

Once you’ve decided on a skid-steer or compact track loader, you should think about rated operating capacity (ROC) and horsepower.

Rated operating capacity determines how much work you’ll be able to do. Think about the materials or load size you need to carry to estimate your rated operating capacity needs. If your application involves scooping, lifting and carrying material, a larger loader can get the job done faster.

If you do a lot of heavy loading, lifting or digging – or if you’re grading in tough soil conditions – make sure your machine is up to the task. Always factor in the heaviest materials you’ll be working with.

More rated operating capacity comes with higher horsepower, but bigger, heavier machines won’t always be your best choice. That’s why your jobsite and type of work are such important considerations.

No matter what machine size, Bobcat designs its loaders as a holistic system, designed with the operator in mind. Hydraulic pumps and cylinder size are carefully matched and balanced with engine power to deliver more usable horsepower in real working situations, whether you’re looking to maximize breakout forces, cycle times or attachment performance.

Think about the kinds of lifting you’ll do the most

A vertical lift path can offer more rated operating capacity because it keeps the load closer to the machine throughout the lift cycle. It provides more reach and higher lift capacity at full lift height.

Though a radius lift path results in a lower overall rated operating capacity, it positions your load further away from the machine earlier in the lift cycle for maximum reach at eye level. It’s something to keep in mind if loading flatbed trucks is a frequent task for you.

Pinpoint the options that you’ll need

Control style can be a decisive factor when choosing a loader, and Bobcat offers all the common control patterns found on compact loaders today – along with some innovative options that you can only get with the Bobcat brand.

The classic Bobcat standard controls remain a popular style today. With this style, you control the drive functions with dual steering levers, and you use your feet to manage the loader lift and tilt. Bobcat is the only manufacturer that offers both standard controls and Selectable Joystick Controls on select models.

Selectable Joystick Controls, or SJC, offer low-effort hand control of all machine workgroup and drive functions. You can switch easily, with the push of a button inside the cab, between “ISO” or “H” patterns, which is useful if you have unique preferences among the operators in your crew.

SJC also adds unique features that can change the performance of your loader to fit the task at hand – or improve your productivity while using certain attachments. Horsepower management, speed management, steering drift compensation and drive response mode give you the ability to heighten productivity and customize the machine’s response to your input.

Instrumentation is important for maintaining loader productivity. Bobcat loaders offer advanced display options for a user experience that can’t be matched.

The easy-to-read, 5-inch standard display panel provides full-featured machine interaction and monitoring capabilities from right in the cab. Access machine diagnostics, attachment settings, attachment operation information and more with an easy-to-use jog shuttle.

With the optional 7-inch touch display for select loaders, you’ll receive detailed machine information and convenient device connectivity. The high-resolution, full-color touch screen includes a jog shuttle for backup input.

The durable touch display can use up to 20 unique operator codes for extra security, as well as detailed statistics for each operator, like engine hours, idle hours, fuel usage and more. It features Bluetooth® phone and device connectivity, and detailed fault code information saves time when troubleshooting. On-screen attachment control also enables you to monitor and position select attachments.

When paired with an optional rearview camera, you’ll also enjoy an integrated rear view that automatically turns on when you travel in reverse.

Last but not least, attachments

Bobcat has a great lineup of both standard-flow and high-flow attachments to choose from. Match your application and attachment performance with the right hydraulic option. Optional high-flow hydraulics will still give you the choice of using a standard flow range – so you always have the option of using lower-flow attachments. Super-flow capabilities on the T86 and S86 take attachment operation a step further by offering three hydraulic flow options in one machine to tackle the most demanding applications such as milling pavement or clearing trees and heavy brush. Bobcat offers three super-flow attachments - a planer, snowblower, and drum mulcher.

If you have the will, we have the way

As you can see, Bobcat gives you flexibility to find a machine that fits you and your applications perfectly. So, take a look at the entire Bobcat lineup of loaders, and check out all of the features and options.

Visit your local Bobcat dealer to learn more

Your Bobcat dealer is your partner in uptime, and an expert source for genuine Bobcat parts, service, attachments, accessories and more. The staff at your dealership can help you narrow down your choices and select the best model for your needs.

Find your local Bobcat dealer.