How to Carry Heavy Objects with a Two-Person Carrying Pole

Moore’s law, the idea that computing power doubles every two years is one of the many stories we like to tell ourselves about our culture’s march of progress. But there has to be an inverse of Moore’s law, a cultural forgetfulness that leaves good ideas behind that don’t involve transistors or internal combustion engines. In an old issue of Dwelling Portably, a typewritten zine about living on the cheap I came across a forgotten (at least in the developed West) technique for carrying heavy objects,

Once, while working on a tug boat, the marine engineer asked me to help carry a heavy, greasy, irregularly-shaped chunk of machinery. I assumed we would both just grab hold and struggle away. But the engineer, being of Filipino descent, knew a better way. Wisely, he found a 2-by-4 and lashed its middle to the machinery. Then we each took hold of an end of the 2-by-4. That made our task much easier, and kept us clean.

Other than the awkward phrase “two-person carrying pole,” I can’t find an English word for this method. And note that I’m not talking here about the related milkmaid’s yoke or “shoulder pole,” a method for one person to carry two objects such as buckets. Other than hunters, the two-person carrying pole seems to have fallen out of fashion. Except in Asia. Here’s a video of two people using a pole to carry a television down a staircase in China:

I decided to do a quick test of the concept. Since the only access to our house is up 30 steps, I can’t believe that I didn’t know about this technique earlier. With just a closet rod, a hook and a strap I put together a simple carrying pole in just minutes. Here’s Kelly and I using it to carry a bundle of firewood up our stairs:

It worked amazingly well. I noticed that you do not need to put the pole on your shoulder but, with small objects at least, you can carry the pole at waist level. Some other possible improvements:

  • Use webbing or sew together a set of adjustable straps to use for irregularly shaped objects.
  • Pad and/or contour the pole so it’s more comfortable on your shoulders.
  • Make a kind of carrying platform or box to put multiple smaller objects in like a set of grocery bags.
  • Use two poles and four people for really heavy objects.

I have a utility dolly for really big things like refrigerators but I think the carrying pole would work much better for most other objects.

The carrying pole can be used to carry people, a use for which there is a word in English: “litter.” Here’s a carrying pole being used in Guatemala to carry an injured man to the hospital:


I’m hoping that the litter version of the carrying poll will become Kelly’s new way of getting around the neighborhood during the hot summer months:

640px-A_History_of_Madeira,_1821,_P_107 (2)

In all seriousness, I would like to figure out a way to get relatives up our steps. That means you can look forward to some litter (not cat litter!) experiments on this blog.

Leave a comment


  1. Nicely done! Kelly, would you say you were supporting the heavier load when you were climbing the stairs, or was the weight evenly distributed between you and Erik, as far as you could tell? I’d be a bit nervous if I were an infirm visitor being carried up your 30 steps–they look steep!

    • I didn’t notice much of a weight shift when we went up the stairs–which I definitely do when we’re carrying a load in the usual way, with our hands. It might be more apparent, though, when carrying something of greater weight. What is more noticeable is the backswing of the strapping. In this case, though I could easily hold it in place.

  2. Excellent post – I’m chagrined that I didn’t think to use this method myself while we were moving a household full of heavy items up and down stairs and over a wooded, stony slope. And your video nicely summed up how simple solutions can help manage ornery (and arduous) issues. Thanks.

  3. That is quite brilliant, and funny how we forget about things that *work*. I think the modern/western answer to carrying heavy objects is to use a dolly, but that certainly doesn’t work up and down stairs. Some artisanal craftsman/hipster needs to come up with work with anything straps, and I will gladly buy one!

    • I have a nice utility dolly but I’m liking this method a lot more. Moving a heavy object up the hill with the dolly is a little scary.

  4. A) I feel like the music choice really just brought that video to life!

    B) I see a peek of your new plantings and would love an update on the PWW project. I’m still in the middle of my own…I was able to undo a lot of mistakes from the last couple of years…we’ll see what new ones I made.

    C) Tall person goes in back going up stairs and goes first going down stairs. Otherwise the tall person has to slump and the short person has to lift…all needlessly.

    • Thanks for the reminder. I’ve been meaning to write an update on the front yard but have been put off by –of all the excuses!–the difficulty of photographing it. But I’ll get on it.

    • Sorry about the pole/poll thing. Chalk it up to a Root Simple editorial failure (and perhaps Erik’s fondness for polls!)

      The shoulder dolly looks scary to me–like if the other person drops her side, I’d end up tugged toward the object, and all that stress would be on my back and shoulders– but I’d have to try it to really understand the dynamics

  5. A 3 or 4 weels dolly is good to carry heavy objects even up the staircase.
    I used one of this to transport my new 90Kg stove up to the stair.
    The “two-person carrying pole,” is a good solution when you can’t count on a flat ground where the weels don’t work.

  6. Just throwing in my own two cents since Erik wrote this post.

    I’m looking forward to trying this with greater weight. Carrying the relatively light weight of the firewood bundle was amazingly easy–no pressure on my shoulder, no strain at all, and I am a huge wimp. I felt downright jaunty lifting that load. I see that same jauntiness in those fellows in the first picture in our post.

    But what will happen when we attempt something truly heavy? And what are the limitations of this method? There is still much to learn.

    I do like the idea of making some kind of grocery bag carrying device, then Erik and I could bring all our groceries up in one easy trip instead of making multiple trips up and down the stairs to fetch pairs of bags.

  7. In Hungary the answer to lifting problems is gurtni (pronounced more like goortney if you are American). Basically strapping like the shoulderdolly without sewn loops. With a bit of knotting technique it’s very versatile.
    Having carried a heavy sofa down nine flights of stairs with someone a foot shorter than I am I can recommend it. I would also recommend buying a sofa that fits in the lift!

  8. The original mid-century modern arc lamps- a unfathomably heavy block of marble which supports a large gracefully curving lamp with a stainless steel dome shade- was designed with exactly this transport mode in mind. The base has a large hole bored through one corner through which one places a broom handle and carries the beast with ease. I, with unremarkable upper body strength, and a tiny woman in her sixties were able to get most of the way from my house to her car with the block carried in this manner until the cheap aluminum broom pole broke. Moral of the story: use a decent stick.

  9. My college life was changed so much for the better when my engineer boyfriend showed me how to use this technique to move a futon. Suddenly the most awkward lumpy burden was magically easy and well behaved when hung over a 2×4.

Comments are closed.