Out of all the skills you might need to learn to survive, one of the most mundane and least interesting is how to properly move heavy objects, no matter the situation.
I know it sounds funny on its surface: You stop by this website to learn cutting edge information about survival, self-defense, homesteading and so forth, not how to help your brother-in-law move a sleeper sofa into his basement!
But before you click that back button, allow me to assert definitively that lifting and moving heavy stuff effectively is, much of the time, inherent to various survival situations.
You might be lifting heavy rubble off of a trapped family member, extricating someone from beneath a vehicle in an automobile crash or hauling heavy stones or logs using nothing but manpower.
There is hardly a time throughout human history where humans haven’t had to haul heavy loads, and if you are relying on your backbone alone, you might be setting yourself up for failure, or injury.
Lucky for you, a little bit of information and a solid grasp of physics can allow even a single person to hoist and move objects that would utterly defeat even the strongest of us who tried to use brute force.
In this article we will be sharing with you 10 surefire ways to move heavy weights.
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Get It Done, No Fuss, No Muss
Like all skills requiring finesse and a little bit of know-how, moving heavy weights using clever techniques, innovative applications of physics or good, old-fashioned teamwork means you’re going to have to invest more thought in the occasion than you would if you were just giving some bold or the old heave ho.
As with so many things, there are multiple ways to skin this particular cat, and the technique that is best for your situation is dependent on several factors, namely:
- the terrain,
- how much time you have,
- the size,
- and type of object you are moving,
- and how many helpers you have to assist you.
Depending on the interplay of all of the above factors certain techniques might be particularly recommended or they might be substandard, or even impossible. That’s okay, as all that matters is you have enough mental “tools” in your heavy lifting “toolbox” that you’ll be able to pull out an appropriate one when the time comes.
And as I mentioned above, don’t think for a moment that you won’t have occasion to use these skills in a survival situation, particularly one on the back side of a major disaster, natural or man-made.
But, even if you don’t have to call on these skills in a survival situation, knowing how to efficiently and safely move heavy loads is a quintessential “cool dude” skill, one that everybody should be able to call on.
10 Ways to Move Heavy Weights
#1. Team Lift
Certainly the oldest and still one of the most direct and simplest ways to move a heavy load is to throw more manpower at the problem. If you have something heavy that needs to be moved and you can’t move it yourself, grab yourself a friend or five and try again. Chances are you’ll get it underway this time.
But there is definitely a point of diminishing returns when it comes to moving stuff that is so heavy that dropping it or faltering could mean disaster.
Certain items are so awkward or cumbersome that there is no way to meaningfully allow enough manpower to get a grip on it and then get it into the air to carry it.
Even if such a thing is possible, if one or two people start to lose their grip or give way then several members of the group could get squashed, or face broken limbs (or broken faces) at the least. Not good.
However, it might still be possible to move something that is too heavy or too big to properly lift and carry my utilizing teamwork to rock, shift or otherwise maneuver the item while it is still on the ground, or even building some kind of platform with handles to allow better control and coordination.
Remember, if brute force isn’t working you’re not using enough! The hard part is bringing enough force to bear in a meaningful way. Solve that problem and you can move anything.
#2. Use a Ramp
The ramp, really just a large wedge, is one of the most common simple machines that we use every day, and much of the time we don’t even notice.
A correctly proportioned and positioned ramp makes moving a given amount of weight up an elevation easier and more efficient, and no matter whether you are carrying, pulling or pushing you can likely save some sweat and aggravation by placing or constructing a ramp.
Even in an austere environment, ramps can be made using nothing more than packed dirt, even if they won’t last forever. Ramps are also particularly useful for getting heavy objects down an incline or off an elevated position safely.
Ramps are also particularly well suited for bridging gaps where safely maneuvering the object while in hand is too difficult or dangerous but the rise over run ratio is not too high. Keep in mind the steeper a ramp is, the more difficult the work will be, so a gentle rise is always best.
Not for nothing, you must be especially cautious when you utilize a ramp to move any heavy item on wheels or by sliding it, as anyone who is “down ramp” from the item could be crushed flat if control is lost.
Nonetheless, used with a modicum of caution, a ramp will prove to be an invaluable tool in any setting or it can be employed.
#3. Slide It
Probably my favorite technique on this list, there is no reason to pick up and hoist a heavy load if you can slide it across a surface instead.
Owing to the great variety of terrain and surface textures out in the world, this technique is best used when you are moving a heavy piece of kit, furniture or a fixture around in a structure or nearby area. Notably, this technique only works when you can reduce the friction between the surface and the item being moved.
Chances are we have all had some experience with this technique when we moved a heavy bench or other piece of furniture across our brand new and freshly installed hardwood or laminate floor to save our backs, only to look in terror at the gouges and furrows left behind. But I wouldn’t know anything about that…
The point is, you need to put something under the item most of the time both to help it slide and to protect the surface it is being moved across, if applicable.
Depending on the weight of the item, this needs to be something hard or something soft. Comparatively light items do well with a soft blanket beneath them, though you might make good use of cardboard, a thick piece of cut plastic sheeting or paneling, or something else.
It is worth mentioning that glider pucks could be employed for the purpose so long as they can support the weight of the item being moved.
#4. Movers’ Straps
Movers’ straps, also known as “forearm forklifts,” are straps that help humans maximize the mechanical advantage provided by the fulcrum of the elbow and transfer the load being carried from the arms and shoulders to the larger and far more powerful muscles of the legs, greatly reduced effort, fatigue and aggravation caused by a slipped grip or lack of hand holds.
In operation, movers’ straps take just a little bit of practice to get used to setting up between the partners moving the item in question and then positioning it securely around said item.
Don’t worry, once you have gone through the revolutions a couple of times it will be second nature and you’ll spend only seconds getting set up.
There are some drawbacks to movers’ straps, namely the fact that they are typically optimized for use on square or rectangular loads for security, and the fact that for most items you can only get two people involved on the lift, one on either side.
It is theoretically possible to get four people or even more on longer items using multiple sets of the straps but this might require careful pre-planning to pull off safely and efficiently.
#5. Disassemble It
If you are moving a complex item that is so heavy it will make the operation dangerous, expensive or otherwise a major pain you should consider disassembling it and moving it in component groups or even its base parts, if it is doable.
Although this presents complications of its own and will definitely take time, it will usually save time over botching the move and damaging or destroying the item, or getting hurt.
This is always a great idea if the item in question is comparatively easy to disassemble, or its component parts are much more amenable to being easily transported.
So sometimes time constraints rule this out as an option, it nonetheless remains a very good one when you are low on manpower or lack other options to make the lift or movement easier and safer.
It is worth mentioning that one must be cautious to prevent damage, loss or other interference to the component parts and associated fasteners, if any, or else you would have gone through all this trouble for nothing.
That being said, when you have a crafty person on your team or you yourself are DIY-inclined this is an excellent option for reducing the burden of a heavy load in all regards.
When moving something that is truly massive and dangerous to maneuver with the current amount of manpower on hand, moving it via rollers is an A+ big-brain choice, with the only limiting factor being the terrain and the type of rollers you have on hand.
Moving heavy items in this way has been used by various civilizations throughout history so long as their infrastructure could support it and though it is rarely mentioned, or thought of, today it is no less efficient.
This technique works by utilizing pipes, logs or some other round, concentric and relatively smooth objects to essentially build a rolling “road” that the item can glide across all the way to its destination.
Making this work requires some coordination and a little pre-planning, as one must have enough rollers to support the item and also a clear path to its destination where you can lay the rollers.
So long as you can do this, you will cut the effort needed to move the object by an order of magnitude as you are essentially moving it on wheels.
For clarity, you don’t need to lay rollers all the way to your destination: All you need to do is feed rollers beneath the object from the front, and then pick up rollers from the back of the object being moved as it clears them to refeed them through the front. In essence, you are recycling rollers one after the other while moving.
Also, keep in mind this technique only works well on flat and level terrain, and any amount of incline can lead to a loss of control. Although it can be slow and a bit aggravating to go through these gyrations the sweat and back pain you will save makes it all worthwhile, I promise.
#7. Install a Hoist
If moving or lifting heavy items repeatedly in a structure or for loading vehicles, a common chain hoist is just the ticket for taking all of the labor and pain out of the process, so long as the surrounding structure can support the hoist and load together.
A chain hoist works by using the mechanical advantage provided by a series of gears inside a housing to multiply the power applied, akin to the transmission on a car.
You can hook up a heavy load to the hoist strap or lifting chain and then rapidly pull the loop drive chain hand over hand to slowly, but surely raise the load. It is sublime and its simplicity and ease.
Perhaps the biggest problem with utilizing a hoist is ensuring that it is securely installed to the surrounding structure and that the structure can support whatever load you are picking up. This is an easy thing to forget, because a hoist can make lifting even the heaviest objects so effortless.
Nonetheless, once it is off the ground the entirety of the load will be transferred to the surrounding structure and if you have improperly installed the hoist or misjudged your assessment of the strength of the structure you could have a disaster waiting to happen.
Obviously a hoist is not the best choice for moving any object over any kind of distance unless it is on tracks or bogies of some kind, or affixed to a crane on a vehicle, but for picking up the heaviest loads and setting them down quickly and efficiently, it is hard to beat a hoist.
As always, safety first, and ensure that neither yourself nor anyone in your group ever stands beneath a hoist currently holding a load aloft.
#8. Use a Lever
“Use a long enough lever and you can move the world.” I’m sure I am butchering that ancient quote but the sentiment is true enough and that is what matters for our purposes. The humble lever is one of the most commonly employed and robust of the simple machines and it is one that we should use to good effect for our own purposes.
To employ a lever properly and efficiently, all you will need is the lever itself, a fulcrum, a place to attach or anchor the “lifting” end of the lever to your load and then force to be applied at the far end of the lever, which is supplied by you and your friends.
Now, there is more to it than that naturally as all working parts must be up to the task or else you will break the lever or break yourself, but so long as you can come up with a lever sturdy enough to withstand the applied forces you’ll be in business.
Using a lever is often the first step in getting a truly heavy load up off the ground or positioned in such a way that a better lifting system can be brought to bear on it, but if you are moving something that is generally insensitive to impact or damage feel free to use the lever to simply flip the item end over end.
For moving heavy logs, boulders, vehicles or debris, a lever is ideal.
#9. Use a Pulley System
Pulleys are technically a complex machine, but simple enough that they are eminently portable for many applications and can even be fashioned out of common materials in a pinch.
A pulley provides the user mechanical advantage by increasing power and reducing the load that a person must control, and they are ideal for heavy lifting applications akin to what you would use a hoist system for.
The major difference between a pulley and a hoist is that a pulley system can provide increasing amounts of advantage using nothing more than additional rollers and tackle whereas a hoist uses internal gearing.
Accordingly, a pulley system might require more room as various bits of tackle might need to move up and down, but this is usually not an issue.
For regular raising and lowering of a heavy load in a fixed location, a pulley system can be ideal, especially when employed as a field expedient when attached or otherwise thrown over a sturdy limb, exposed girder or some other mounting point.
#10. Break it Up
Lastly, I must remind you that not all items need to get from Point A to Point B intact. You just need some things out of the way and it doesn’t matter how.
When dealing with logs or limbs, rubble, rock or any other item that you need not keep intact you might be better off using the energy that would otherwise be spent fruitlessly trying to lift and maneuver it to break it up, break it down or otherwise destroy it.
Turning something big and heavy into many things small and light, or at least lighter, is another time-honored tactic that is guaranteed to make the job of moving the object in question dramatically easier, even if the overall amount of effort or energy expenditure you’ll be investing increases.
Obviously you’ll need the right tools to do the demolition and those tools might not always be available but when they are, don’t be afraid to go Legion of Doom on whatever is in your way.
Moving heavy stuff is a fact of life for most people, and you had better believe that you will have more calls than normal to lift and carry heavy loads in the aftermath of a disaster or any other SHTF situation.
We should all be able to pick up and haul heavy stuff using nothing more than our bodies, but some things are far too heavy for even the strongest people on earth. In those situations, you’ll need to employ special techniques and tools to get them up off the ground safely and efficiently.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.