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9 best wheelbarrows for heavy-duty jobs in the garden

Transporting detritus is a walk in the park with these sturdy workhorses

Les Steed
Thursday 30 September 2021 15:54
<p>We tested for manoeuvrability, stability, load-carrying ability and ease of assembly</p>

We tested for manoeuvrability, stability, load-carrying ability and ease of assembly

Wheelbarrows are the noble steed of manual labour, standing proud by the side of any good gardener, builder or equestrian, and likely saving the NHS millions in bad backs every year.

They come in all shapes, materials and sizes, so we did our best to get our green fingers on as many different models and wheelbarrow types as we could.

To save our backs, and because logs don’t tend to get up and move themselves, we used our local groundsman, Tom (85kg, 5ft 11in), as our load. We popped him and/or a heap of logs (50kg), in the barrows listed below, then pushed and pulled him around our specially designed wheelbarrow obstacle course.

How we tested

Most models we ordered needed to be assembled. For the majority we needed to use a large flat-head screwdriver, a normal wrench/spanner, and a torque wrench. Most of the bolts we encountered were M8s and M6s, and only one model came with tools.

We had Tom sit in the barrows he could fit in and make himself comfortable. He then wiggled about a bit to test its stability and load bearing over a flat patch of grass. We did the same with the logs by taking the barrow handles and giving it a jiggle.

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We then took the reins and ran Tom/the logs over some uneven ground, a stretch of grass, mud, a puddle, through a large garden gate, across a small gravel car park that dips down an uneven verge onto an asphalt car park, dodged around our van, and took him up a soft grass verge. We then took Tom around a three-point figure-of-eight slalom, pushed him up a shallow and narrow concrete ramp, pivoted 90 degrees to the right, then carefully and gently launched him down two steep cricket pavilion steps (45 degrees). Finally, we dumped Tom out onto the grass to see how easy it is to clear the barrow when you’re done.

Please note that we do not encourage anyone to try this test at home. Tom volunteered of his own free will and every health and safety precaution was taken by our team.

The best wheelbarrows for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Haemmerlin crusader: £149.99,
  • Best for short gardeners – VonHaus 78l wheelbarrow (2515320): £69.99,
  • Best for your nan – Garden Pride trug trolley in green: £35.99,
  • Best for those with restricted mobility – Sherpa powerbarrow SPB-500: £799,
  • Best for separating materials – BucketBarrow URBAN88 kit: £189,
  • Best for tough terrain – Sherpa utility cart medium size garden trolley: £99,
  • Best for festivals and picnics – Garden Pride deluxe folding wagon: £64.99,
  • Best budget wheelbarrow – The Walsall Wheelbarrow Company shire barrow in a box: £45,
  • Best for seasoned gardeners – Baksaver Barrow: £169.99,

Haemmerlin crusader

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

  • Volume/weight bearing: 120l
  • Dimensions: 70cm x 62cm x 148cm
  • Bucket material: High-density polyethylene tray, 32mm reinforced alpha steel frame

This wheelbarrow came pre-assembled. It’s got a few nuts and bolts around the solid frame so you can still replace the bucket and pneumatic tyred wheels if you need to.

The unique alpha frame – a one-piece tubular steel design with a welded cradle supporting the front and underside of the tray – did leave a good impression when Tom rested in it like it was a hammock. His report was: “I feel secure.” It didn’t fall over and there was only a little give when he shuffled forward and back. The tyre is decent too.

As for maneouvrability, it offered great balance, it handled like a dream around corners and the bi-material grips didn’t slip. The height worked well for us when it came to lifting it and pushing (we’re also around 5ft 11in). The tyre was good and bouncy, making it easy to get up and down small stairs. It handled gravel and mud fine, but it does lean a little when turning in motion, which feels a bit unstable and gave Tom a little fright. There’s a tipping bar to make unloading easier and it didn’t catch on the steep stairs, which was a relief. Haemmerlin has designed this model for a construction site or stables and it delivers on that front, but we’d be perfectly happy using it in the garden for some weeding.

VonHaus 78l wheelbarrow

Best: For short gardeners

Rating: 6/10

  • Volume/weight bearing: 78l/100kg
  • Dimensions: 125cm x 70cm x 65cm
  • Materials: Steel frame, plastic bucket

There were a few minor issues with alignment that required a little bashing and wiggling when assembling this one. The instructions are simple to follow, but the wheel attachment instructions are inaccurate (the wrong bolt heads are pictured). This can be resolved with a little common sense. The screws and bolts are, however, all the same size. The design flaw is that the nut goes on the inside of the bucket, meaning things (Tom’s trousers) catch unless you go against the instructions and invert the screw. There are reasonably sharp edges on the cross bracing bar at the front due to the way it’s been pressed, but you’re not likely to cut yourself.

The wheelbase, meanwhile, is solid as a rock, but the plastic is very flexible which means the sides feel flimsy.

In terms of manoeuvrability and ergonomics, the handle is like a shopping trolley with a foam grip, meaning you can lift and move it with one hand on light loads and it makes dumping easier. On the downside, it is too low for the average-height man, so we were pushing from the hip to get any good forward motion once fully loaded – but this could make it ideal for shorter horticulturalists.

The twin wheels, while providing good stability generally, made it tricky to get up the narrow path. The other downside is that the plastic is very flexible, so as you tip it forward the handle jerks away from you at around 45 degrees, like our steps where our load fell out, taking our pusher with him too.

Garden Pride trug trolley in green

Best: For your nan

Rating: 9/10

  • Volume/weight bearing: 45l/40kg
  • Dimensions: 95cm x 56cm
  • Materials: Polyethylene bucket, plastic coated metal frame

The frame comes as a flat pack with little (small-dinner-plate-sized) yet thick plastic wheels on it. The bucket (with handles) is an insert that rests on a swinging frame that’s linked to a hoop to keep the load steady and perpendicular to the ground. The whole ensemble trundles along like a granny trolley. We can’t get over how cute, innovative and yet simple this design is and we love the metalwork. Is it weird to call a wheelbarrow charming?

Tom didn’t fit into the bucket and our dog refused, so we put two logs in it and took her for a spin. While it’s not designed to take much, the frame also acts as a lean-to stabiliser that stands up for itself respectively against a light bum-push.

It’s lightweight and bounced pretty well down the big stairs in spite of the wheels being quite little, which isn’t great for suspension or gravel, but it trundled along nicely over most of the terrain. The grip bar is a bit thin and could do with some sort of tennis tape, but it is fit for purpose. The flexible bucket was easily hefted out and flipped over at the end because of the handles. The frame folds neatly away after use and can be tucked away easily and discreetly. It’s best for small gardens and tight spaces, and we are absolutely getting our nan one for Christmas.

Sherpa powerbarrow SPB-500

Best: For those with restricted mobility

Rating: 8/10

  • Volume/weight bearing: 170l, 150kg
  • Power: 24V 10Ah battery (rechargeable)
  • Dimensions: 370mm x 970mm x 650mm
  • Materials: Galvanised and painted steel tray; frame is heavy duty tubular steel

This is by far the most sophisticated model, coming out of the box looking like an electric lawnmower. Charging the battery took about eight hours. While appearing rather daunting in the box at first, assembly was simple once we’d untangled the frames and wires – two of us got it up and running in 25 minutes. Assembled, it looks like a mix of a decent wheelbarrow and a zimmer framer. It’s also quite bulky, so you’ll have trouble storing it in tighter spaces – it’s not recommended that you keep it outside, and it won’t tilt like a conventional barrow.

We like the chunky chevron front wheel and the disc brake that aids tipping and hills. It’s got a decent frame and the bucket feels sturdy – it passed the wiggle test no problem. The castor wheels at the back also give a solid triangular base, which means you don’t have to lift the weight off the barrow to move it.

This was easily the most fun to test as it turns out that if you sit in the tray you can literally drive yourself around (including steering by leaning left and right) while using the handle controls overhead. We just did a donut in a wheelbarrow! Frankly, it’s moments like this that are why we became a journalist.

The barrow is front-wheel drive (the motor is housed and protected in the front wheel) and it trundles along at a blistering top speed of 4km/h (variable) using the lever on the right for power and the left hand to brake, a bit like a bike, but you can also push it as you would with a normal barrow, and there’s no reverse gear. The intuitive pin lock on the disc brake makes stopping and unloading easy and keeps it where you want it when stationary.

There’s a unique front-hinged tipping lever/sub frame that’s attached directly to the tray and locked in with a hooking lever at waist height. This makes dumping a doddle as you don’t have to lift the whole unit to get rid of the load. It got up the smaller steps no problem and it drove itself over the terrain tests and banks easy peasy. We didn’t take it down the steep steps for safety reasons (the rear wheels combined with the weight of the unit could have hurt our pusher if they had fallen forward) and because it’s so expensive.

The Sherpa is certainly a cut above the rest, but there’s no getting away from the £800 price tag (we were a little disappointed it’s not remote-controlled for that money). It would be worth it if you had a really hilly garden or have mobility/strength issues (eg, you’re wheelchair-bound), or a lot of ground to cover, but otherwise we’d struggle to justify the price tag for an admittedly very cool wheelbarrow.

BucketBarrow urban88 kit

Best: For separating materials

Rating: 8/10

  • Volume/weight bearing: 88l main tray/150kg max weight; 4 x 15l buckets, 1 x 15l scoop with reinforced aluminium edge
  • Dimensions: 1520mm x 525mm x 580mm
  • Materials: 5mm thick UV-treated polypropylene reinforced main tray; 25mm x 5mm heavy duty fully welded flat bar steel frame

The way BucketBarrow has thought about assembly is remarkably neat and clever – screws (which have square heads to fit square holes, making them easy to tighten) and bolts come packaged according to the instruction steps, which is a nifty idea that Ikea could learn from. It also comes with tools to tighten it all up unlike the other models, but we’re glad we took pictures for reboxing because BucketBarrow has clearly hired some sort of Tetris champion to concertina this lot in. Assembly took us 30 minutes once we were done fawning over the bolt packaging.

The bucket clips to the frame and doesn’t have any bolts, which is good for comfort and not catching your spade/trousers. The rear feet could do with a little stabiliser, as it sank into the grass a little. The insert buckets don’t rattle when you’ve got them in and they sit snug and secure as their rims anchor over the lip of the main tray. The buckets are great for keeping your bits separate and allow you to do multiple tasks in one trip.

To test for manoeuvrability, we emptied the tray and took it around the course, where it performed well. There’s not a lot of give on the four-ply tyre or suspension side, which wasn’t great for our wrists, but the grips are very ergonomic and the reinforced tray held our logs. The steering is fine and solid. It passed the step test and got through the terrain tests without much problem at all, but it just feels a bit like you’re moving a Lego car, maybe because of the squareness of it all. With the buckets inserted it was ok, with the same sort of feel to it. We like the bucket idea, but obviously filling up one side more than the other affects the balance on cornering. The boxy design means it fits through gates easily and predictably, and it balances well against the wall after use.

Sherpa utility cart medium size garden trolley

Best: For rough terrain

Rating: 9/10

  • Volume/weight bearing: 230l/300 kg
  • Dimensions: 92cm x 48cm x 52cm
  • Materials: Steel

This is a decent bit of kit – the metal is well welded, the construction was easy (bring your big wrench), and it all comes together really nicely – we had it half built before we even looked at the instructions. We like the way the fencing hooks in at the base and sides without using hinges and it all slots together with simple catches. The removable canvas liner is a nice touch for those using it for digging too, but ours didn’t have any tabs like the one in the brochure, so it flopped in a bit. At 48cm wide it’s fairly narrow, but it’s still a useful size and the handle is easily removed too, which makes it good for popping directly in the boot (though at 17kg it does weigh a bit). Unfortunately, it doesn’t fold like the deluxe folding wagon below (£64.99,, but it feels a lot sturdier.

It’s got four rather chunky pneumatic wheels with removable metal mesh bodywork that give it an air of heavy-duty solidity, like a Jeep. It didn’t move much when we wiggle-tested it.

The front axle pivots 270 degrees, so it’s remarkably easy to steer around going forward and back in tight spaces, though you’re mostly meant to drag it along. We liked the soft, wide grip, especially on the uneven ground. In this case, Tom chose to stand in the bed (bar the step tests) and he only lost balance twice, meaning it remained pretty level the whole way around our course. It’s a good, trusty piece of engineering that’s backed by a two-year warranty (as are all Sherpa products on this list), which also comes in large and small variations.

Garden Pride deluxe folding wagon

Best: For festivals and picnics

Rating: 9/10

  • Volume/weight bearing: 108l/150kg
  • Dimensions: 98cm x 55cm x 122cm unfolded; 77cm x 57cm x 26cm folded
  • Materials: Oxford cloth nylon fabric insert on a steel tubular frame

This one literally unfolded itself fully assembled as we took it out of the box. The pulling arm is adjustable and clicks into the rectangular frame. The little side pockets are adorable and will comfortably fit a trowel in there. Putting it back is easy and it’s only 8in wide when folded so you can stick it in pretty much any cupboard. The box/bucket size is reasonable for the money too.

When testing for standing stability and load bearing, the shopping-trolley-style wheels held their own and were stable with only a little give with 85kg sat in it.

The deluxe folding wagon trundles along nicely across all terrains and the back wheels skipped up and down the stairs without a lot of jostling. The front wheels are fixed, so you’re steering from the rear, which actually makes reversing it quite easy and it’s intuitive when pushed in all directions. The only design flaw we found is that the centralised handle grip wears between your fingers as you pull it because it’s a little broad, but otherwise we’d be happy doing some weeding, taking it camping, or putting the kids in it when they get tired on a long walk.

The deluxe folding wagon is currently out of stock, but you can sign up to be notified via email when it becomes available again.

The Walsall Wheelbarrow Company shire barrow in a box

Best: Budget wheelbarrow

Rating: 6/10

  • Volume/weight bearing: 90l
  • Dimensions: 58cm x 58cm x 142cm
  • Materials: Steel powder-coated frame, polypropylene tray, pneumatic wheel

Assembly looked simple enough once we got it out of the box, with all the usual tools needed, plus a T40 screwdriver bit. Instructions are “Ikean” (we’ll just coin that term there), though the screwheads illustrated didn’t match the ones in the box, which confused us a bit at first. Fully assembled it’s quite light and the plastic looks a bit old. Plus, you’re likely to need to pump the tyre after a few months.

The unit is lightweight so you can throw it about a bit, but it’s stable. It’s what you’d expect for a less pricey option.

As for manoeuvrability, we stuck three big logs in it (about 50kg), and found that it generally did ok, but the pneumatic wheel does rub against the tray when you’re moving it downhill with a heavy load and the tray itself wobbles in the direction you’re turning, though the fixtures hold their own, so it sort of clings to the frame like jelly. The major issue was that when we pushed it down our 45-degree steps the grips slipped off the handles, so the barrow tipped forward upside down and killed our logs. On the plus side, it is substantially more economical than some of our other barrows and seems to be generally efficient, so it depends on how much barrowing you’re likely to need to do and the type of DIY project/gardening you’re executing.

Baksaver barrow

Best: For seasoned gardeners

Rating: 6/10

  • Volume/weight bearing: 80l/75kg
  • Dimensions: 58cm x 89cm x 28cm
  • Materials: Galvanised steel tray, powder-coated steel frame

Our engineer griped like a tired child while assembling this one – he thought we got a dodgy test model because the wheels didn’t fit the axle properly, but we persevered and crammed them on, though nowhere near as securely as the instructions indicated. Some of the holes on the frame didn’t line up and the spring was hard to fit to the castor wheel even with pliers, so we ended up skipping that step because the hook/pedal worked even without the spring. The machining of the steel frame has left holes misaligned so some bolts needed some “vigorous encouragement”. That being said, the frame has a very Victorian durable feel to it in general, which we did like.

The main selling point of the Baksaver is that it is designed to be as physically undemanding as possible. The focus of this barrow is unloading something heavy quite easily, which you do by lifting the elongated handle-frame. We had the medium-sized one (there is a range), however, the foot pedal that unhooks the tipping hinge is a bit awkward to reach for when you’re unloading and we didn’t trust that it wouldn’t come undone when we pushed it down the 45-degree steps.

The back wheel doesn’t really add much more than general support to the frame, which is good for keeping it level but it feels like you’re pushing a big lawnmower along, which has its pros and cons: on the one hand it feels quite long because it is, on the other this makes pushing it up hills easier and it corners reasonably well. Unloading was easy and efficient, bordering on accidental.

We think it’s an innovative idea (it’s won awards in the past) and we like the steel framing and the classic look to it, but it needs to be pre-assembled as our issues have skewed our impression of it generally.

The verdict: Wheelbarrows

In spite of its name sounding more like a 15-bladed Gillette razor, the Haemmerlin crusader, with its alpha ultimate frame, is the best barrow on our list for its general ability to do the job as you’d expect.

However, in spite of its clever building-site-focused design, it’s not the most innovative on the list. We liked the BucketBarrow, the Baksaver and the Sherpa products for specialising in different and more specific requirements like the average customers’ body types, ages and gardens.

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