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Skid Steer vs. Compact Track Loader

Wed June 13, 2018 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Skid Steer vs. Compact Track Loader

If you are in need of a small machine that can perform heavy lifting, you have two options: a skid steer or a compact track loader. At first glance, it looks like the only difference is that one has wheels and one has tracks. However, in a matchup of skid steer vs. compact track loader, each has unique advantages to consider.

Skid Steer Advantages

More than 50 years ago, the first skid steer appeared. Today, it is a heavy construction equipment favorite. A skid steer is often called a "Bobcat," but many different heavy construction equipment companies manufacture skid steers. The skid steer is lighter than a compact track loader, which makes it easier to transport to the job site. It can swiftly travel over curbs whereas a compact track loader's tracks could be damaged by performing such a maneuver (The same is true of any other actions that cause the machine's weight to be unevenly distributed.

Skid steers' tires are gentle enough to be used on asphalt or concrete, while the tracks of compact track loaders could damage these surfaces.

The skid steer moves quickly and turns more tightly than a compact track loader can. To prevent wear and tear on compact track loaders, a three-point turn is the best approach, but that takes time. The skid steer's tires also raise the undercarriage enough to prevent damage, but the compact track loader is lower to the ground exposing its parts to mud, stones and other objects that could impede effective operation.

Replacing a skid steer tire is less expensive than replacing the track of a compact track loader.

Compact Track Loader (CTL) Advantages

The compact track loader provides a smoother ride for operators, which enables them to do careful and exact work while loading. The lower center of gravity also provides more stability, which, in turn, provides for additional operator safety, as well as for others working nearby.

As mentioned in the skid steer advantages section above, the more quickly turning skid steer can tear up the ground of the construction site, as well as asphalt. Alternatively, the compact track loader is gentler on surfaces.

Challenging jobsite conditions, such as muddy, sandy or snowy terrain, will prove problematic for the tires of a skid steer. The CTL's tracks, however, can traverse these conditions, helping you keep your project on schedule during inclement weather.

While skid steer tires are less expensive to replace, the tracks of the track loader can last far longer than tires.

While compact track loaders and multi-terrain loaders (MTLs) are often thought of interchangeably, they, in fact, are different. An MTL's undercarriage has very low ground pressure, even lower than a CTL's. To achieve this, an MTL is designed with all-rubber tracks, even weight distribution and use of lighter-weight components, such as the rubber-coated roller wheels used on the Caterpillar MTLs. An MTL's the undercarriage is a suspended design that allows the tracks to maintain better contact with the ground when on very uneven surfaces.

Tracks Over Tires — the Best of Both Worlds?

Some companies, like Camso, have designed over-the-tire tracks to help you turn your skid steer into a compact track loader. These removable tracks can be made out of steel, rubber or both. Camso's tracks are rubber, but include an iron core.

Over-the-tire tracks are a safe, reliable and affordable choice for skid steer owners. Just be sure to purchase the correct size tracks for your tires and that you are comfortable with both installing and removing these tracks.

Key Points

Skid Steers (Wheels)


  • Distinct Advantages working on Hard service (Street, Curbs, demolition)
  • The Tires are ¾ cheaper than tracks
  • Will compact the ground


  • May be grading a yard and want something to grow, don't want to compact the ground
  • Skid Steers, Skid, so your wearing down tires quickly

Compact Track Loader (Track)


  • Grade almost anywhere
  • Huge advantage in dirt work
  • Won't compact the ground
  • Bulldoze and grade efficiently


  • If you snag/slice the track you have to replace the whole side
  • Shouldn't use while snow Plowing
  • Should not use in demolition work
  • Larger replacement cost

Rubber Tracks over Tires (Good Hybrid option)


  • Flexibility, versatility
  • Similar grading to Tracks (CTLS)
  • If you are doing demo work, you can take it off the track


  • Can float, but not as well as CTL

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