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Photo by Erik Rank

Men pushing barrows and carts moved the stuff that built civilization, and aside from the addition of a little power and rubber tires, not much has changed. From trash to topsoil to building materials, everything travels more quickly when you stick a wheel underneath it.

Carts and wheelbarrows help you move heavy loads by distributing the weight over the wheels. A wheelbarrow has a sloped tray and one or two wheels in the front. You have to push it, but it maneuvers easily and can go anywhere (provided you don't jam it into a hole). A cart, on the other hand, has straight sides and two or more large wheels. It works best when pulled—ideally over a smooth surface, though its big wheels can bridge holes. Carts are also more stable and carry more volume than wheelbarrows.

When choosing either, follow the recommendation of This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook to look for foam-filled or solid tires, because pneumatic tires can go flat. And when it's lunchtime, do what Roger does: Throw a piece of plywood on top and set out your picnic spread.

Shown: A powered cart, like this electric model, can make moving heavy objects up and down a hill a real breeze.

Large Cart

Photo by Erik Rank

Best for: Moving heavy or bulky loads—mulch, firewood, construction debris, household appliances—across smooth terrain.

Look for: Two wheels, sturdy wood or metal box, and a folding body (left) for easy storage.

Shown: Tipke Foldit aluminum cart; about $270;

Powered Cart

Photo by Erik Rank

Best for: Moving heavy loads up and down hilly terrain.

Look for: Large cart with gasoline engine or smaller cart with electric motor and rechargeable batteries.

Similar to shown: Neuton garden cart; about $350;

Small Cart

Photo by Erik Rank

Best for: Trundling tools and flats of plants into the garden.

Look for: Four wheels for stability and a handle/cover that flips over so you can sit on it.

Shown: Ames Lawn Buddy gardening cart, about $50;

Standard Wheelbarrow

Photo by Erik Rank

Best for: Transporting large gardening tools and heavy supplies, especially loose materials such as loam, gravel, sand, compost, and mixed concrete.

Look for: Sturdy wooden handles, 6-cubic-foot-or-larger tray of easy-to-clean, nonrusting plastic.

Shown: Brentwood ProBoss poly-ethylene wheelbarrow; about $170;

Folding Wheelbarrow

Photo by Erik Rank

Best for: Easily loading leaves, rocks, soil, or firewood without lifting, as the tray unhooks and lies flat on the ground.

Look for: Single wheel, tough fabric tray, metal frame.

Shown: Allsop WheelEasy canvas wheelbarrow; about $85;

Maneuvering Tricks

Photo by Erik Rank

To unload a wheelbarrow, tip the tray up and over, shifting your grip from overhand to underhand as you approach the balance point (left). Rest the wheelbarrow on its front support and let the load slide out. Don't spill it on its side or you might lose control and end up hit by a flying handle.

When moving a loaded garden cart or wheelbarrow up or down a steep hill, tack from side to side in a wide S instead of a straight run to maintain control and save your strength.