If you need to ship goods using a tractor-trailer, you almost always need to pack your shipment onto pallets. These shipping platforms serve a range of purposes, from maximizing space to securing loose boxes stacked together. When used correctly, they can be an excellent space- and time-saving packaging option. To maximize space and keep your shipping costs down, you’ll want to choose a pallet that’s the right size for your needs.
Choosing standard sizes helps you pack your shipments efficiently, whether you use less-than-truckload (LTL) or full truckload (FTL) shipping. So, what is a standard pallet size? How wide is a typical pallet? Let’s talk more about standard shipping pallet dimensions to help you pack your shipment most efficiently.
About Pallet Shipping
A pallet is a portable platform that acts as a base for your shipment. A shipping pallet is often wooden, but it can also be plastic or metal. When you have large product quantities, bulky equipment or other goods you want to ship as freight, you usually have to palletize them. To do this, you will stack your boxes or position your shipment on an appropriately sized platform then strap it down with secure banding or shrink wrap. According to a 2020 survey, 94% of companies ship using wood pallets, while 37% use plastic.
Using pallets to ship goods makes transportation safer and more efficient. You get an even, level surface to stack and secure items, which protects them while in transit and during handling. With slots underneath for a forklift or pallet truck, a pallet’s shape makes loading and unloading much easier and faster.
A pallet’s standard rectangular or square sizing also helps carriers maximize space. When a truck can transport more items in a single journey, it saves you and your carrier time and money.
Using a pallet ensures your carrier handles your shipment correctly and the items don’t shift during transit. If you must ship many packages to a single destination, packaging them together on a platform is often the best choice. They will all arrive at their destination simultaneously, and because they have shrink wrap or nylon bands protecting them, they’ll stay securely on the truck.
Palletizing a Shipment
Palletizing your shipment correctly is crucial. Carriers may offer guidelines for how to pack your load, so it’s essential to follow their instructions and recommendations.
One of the most crucial factors to consider when choosing a pallet for your shipment is sizing. You want your items to fit perfectly on top of the upper platform without any overhanging portions. A proper fit prevents damage to boxes and gives carriers an evenly shaped, stackable load to work with. Depending on what you’re shipping, you may need to choose a specific pallet size or find corrugated cardboard boxes with the correct dimensions to fit squarely on a standard platform.
You’ll also want to consider the pallet’s strength. It must have a load capacity to support your shipment’s weight. The thickness of the wood and the type of fasteners used — such as nails or staples — have a significant role in the weight a pallet can hold. So, besides a platform’s physical dimensions, you’ll also want to pay attention to specifications like load capacity.
Standard Pallet Shipping Dimensions
How big is a pallet? There’s no one answer because they come in many shapes, sizes and materials. Some serve purposes for particular industries or types of products. The most common standard pallet size is 40-by-48 inches. The now-rebranded Grocery Manufacturers’ Association (GMA) put forth and popularized this standard sizing in the 1960s. This standardized size, predominantly used in North America, influences shipping pallet dimensions worldwide to this day.
Standard sizes for shipping pallets include:
- 40-by-48 inches: As the most common size, 40-by-48-inch pallets are often used to ship grocery products, and they have many applications for general industries.
- 42-by-42 inches: The 42-by-42-inch option is often referred to as a paint pallet. It’s also often used in the telecommunications industry to ship equipment.
- 48-by-48 inches: The largest standard pallet measures 48 inches squared, making it the right size to transport oil and other liquids in 55-gallon drums.
- 48-by-42 inches: The chemical and beverage industries often use 48-by-42-inch pallets.
- 40-by-40 inches: The dairy industry uses 40-by-40-inch platforms, which are usually plastic for food safety purposes.
- 48-by-45 inches: Often used in the automotive industry, 48-by-45-inch pallets are large and sturdy to carry bulky car and machine parts.
- 44-by-44 inches: Pallets measuring 44-by-44 inches are often used to transport chemicals, especially those in 55-gallon drums.
- 36-by-36 inches: The beverage industry often uses 36-by-36-inch pallets to transport soda, water and other bottled beverages.
- 48-by-36 inches: Another common pallet size used in the beverage industry, 48-by-36-inch platforms are also used to transport shingles and paper goods.
- 40-by-24 inches: As it cuts the common platform in half lengthwise, this size is known as a half pallet. Half pallets are excellent for getting shipments through small openings. They’re often used in retail to display products within narrow aisles.
Which standard pallet sizes are the most widely used? According to the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA), 35% of all newly manufactured pallets are 40-by-48 inches, the largest proportion manufactured in a single size. At a slightly higher margin, 39% are a non-standard size, indicating that custom sizes are still popular options. It’s important to note that the percentage is decreasing. Back in 2011, 60% of shipping pallets had non-standard sizing.
According to the most recently available industry data, the second-most common size after 40-by-48 inches is 48-by-48 inches. The third-most popular size is 42-by-42 inches. In their ISO 6780:2003 standard, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) specifies six standard pallet sizes, and most are measured in millimeters for international use. After 40-by-48 inches, the other standard ISO pallet size used in North America is 42-by-42 inches or 1,067 square millimeters. While ISO doesn’t include the 48-by-48-inch platform on their list, it’s commonly used to transport oil and chemical drums.
Having standard pallet dimensions is useful in logistics because it allows carriers to maximize space in their trucks. If every load on a single truck has the same-sized base, even when shipping from different clients, the carrier can fit the maximum number of palletized loads on every truck.
Types of Pallets
When shipping goods on pallets, it’s crucial to consider the platform. Each design can accommodate different weight loads. They can also require special handling, so it’s helpful to loop in your carrier and ask which pallets they prefer or have the equipment to handle. Each platform type can be manufactured in various sizes, with the most common one being 40-by-48 inches.
A block pallet offers four-way entry, meaning a forklift can insert its tines and lift the platform from any side. Block pallets are a popular option because they simplify material handling logistics. You can organize them lengthwise or widthwise in a warehouse or transport truck.
Block pallets get their name from the nine blocks holding up the upper deck. All four corners have a block, and there are ones on each side’s center and one in the platform’s center. The spaces between the blocks allow forklift access. Some block pallets have bottom deck boards, while others have the nine blocks as a base without a lower deck board.
A stringer pallet allows for forklift access from two sides. Instead of nine blocks, it features three stringers, or wooden boards, sandwiched between the upper and lower deck boards. Two stringers close off two opposite sides, while another board runs through the middle for added support. Because forklifts and pallet jacks can only access them from two sides, they’re often called two-way pallets.
Some stringers feature notches along the non-accessible sides to allow forklift access on all four sides and pallet jack entry on two sides. Another type of stringer pallet features a block design that allows for entry on all four sides from both jacks and forklifts.
A double-face pallet has both a top and bottom deck. Having a bottom deck gives the platform extra strength, allowing it to evenly distribute more weight. Some double-face styles are reversible. On a reversible-style pallet, both decks can serve as either the top or bottom surface. A non-reversible pallet generally has an upper deck that’s stronger, with more lateral planks to support the load.
The top and bottom decks extend beyond the stringer boards or blocks in this platform. With the two decks overhanging beyond the blocks or stringers, they appear like wings. Another variation on this design is the single-wing pallet, where either the top or bottom deck extends out while the other deck remains flush with the stringers or blocks. The wings allow the pallet to hold more weight. They also add more surface area, allowing you to stack more products.
Solid Deck Pallet
A solid deck pallet features a single, solid sheet as the deck instead of slats. These options eliminate many nooks and crannies, making them easier to clean. You’ll often see plastic solid deck pallets used in food processing and shipping. A solid wooden deck may be more aesthetically pleasing, making them a good choice for displaying products or delivering items to a client. They’re also suitable for packing and transporting smaller items since they can’t slip through gaps.
How Many Pallets Fit in a Truck?
How many pallets you can fit on a truck depends on several factors. You can load a trailer in a few different ways, and each method uses space a little differently. Most dry van transport trucks are wide enough to fit two rows of palletized products on standard-sized platforms. In the traditional packing method, the units are loaded onto the truck in two rows, with all pallets facing forward.
The pallets’ width determines whether one row or two rows can fit in a single truck. Most trucks used for shipping have an 8-foot width — or 96 inches. The pallets must be 48 inches or smaller to fit on a trailer side-by-side, again making standard sizes helpful. Platforms in non-standard sizes longer than 48 inches in length or width will fit in single rows.
The standard packing height for a pallet is 48 inches. If you use stackable pallets and the palletized loads measure 48 inches high or lower, you can fit double-stacked pallets on the truck. If you pack them any higher, the trailer will still hold a single stack.
You can fit higher stacks in an open flatbed truck since it has no roof. Make sure to consider the maximum legal height limit for a flatbed, which is 102 inches. Any higher than that would classify the load as oversized, which often requires special permitting.
In any case, the number of pallets you can fit on a truck depends on their sizing, whether you can double stack and the truck’s size. Here’s how the maximum number of pallets breaks down by truck type:
How many pallets fit on a 53-foot trailer? A 53-foot trailer is 636 inches long. At that length, you can fit a row of 13 standard, 48-inch long pallets. As long as their length is 48 inches wide or smaller, you can accommodate two rows for a total of 26 pallets, single-stacked. If the packed platforms are 48 inches high or shorter, you can fit a double stack for a total of 52.
A slightly smaller 48-foot trailer can fit a single row of 12 pallets or two rows totaling 24, assuming they are 48 inches wide. If double stacking is possible, you can fit a total of 48 pallets.
24-Foot Box Truck
A 24-foot box truck measures 288 inches long. At 48 inches in length per pallet, you can fit two rows of six, for a total of 12 pallets, single-stacked. If you double stack, you can fit 24 platforms total.
16-Foot Box Truck
A 16-foot or 192-inch box truck can fit four pallets per row. At two rows, that’s eight total. Double-stacked, that’s 16.
Flatbed trucks can be 48 feet to 53 feet long, with the legal maximum length varying by state. Assuming standard 48-inch wide pallets, you could fit the same number as a 53-foot or 48-foot trailer. Flatbeds have a maximum legal load width of 8.5 feet or 102 inches.
The extra width allows you to pack pallets that are slightly bigger than the standard 48 inches. The extra 6 inches translates into an additional 3 inches per platform. So, you can load two rows of pallets up to 51 inches wide.
With a maximum legal height of 102 inches, you can safely pack double-stacked pallets up to 51 inches tall, too. The main advantage of using a flatbed is being able to transport custom-sized platforms larger than 48-by-48 inches. If you use pallets up to 48 inches long, 51 inches wide and loaded 51 inches tall, you can fit up to 52 of them on a 53-foot flatbed. On a 48-foot flatbed, you can fit up to 48.
Pallet Shipping FAQ
Some of the questions about shipping pallets we get a lot here at Nationwide Transport Services include:
What’s the Difference Between a Skid and a Pallet?
The terms “skid” and “pallet” are often used interchangeably in conversation. But there is a slight difference between the two. Pallets typically have both a top and bottom deck and are preferred for transporting goods. A skid will have only a top deck and is best suited for storage.
How Much Weight Can a Pallet Hold?
The typical pallet can support anywhere from 3,700 pounds to 4,600 pounds.
Pallet strength and load capacity vary a lot by their construction. Two 40-by-48-inch pallets could have different load capacities depending on whether they’re wood, pressed wood, plastic or another material. Design and construction also play a role. A pallet with a bottom deck can support heavier loads because the extra deck board adds more support. The dimensions and surface area also determine load capacity. Look at the specifications on your exact brand and model to ensure they can support the weight you need.
How Much Does a Pallet Weigh?
A standard empty pallet can weigh anywhere from 30-48 pounds, depending on the material and construction. The weight can vary by the pallet’s dimensions, the thickness of the wood and the material. Lightweight plastic platforms may weigh less than 30 pounds, and heavy-duty models may exceed 48 pounds.
How High Is the Pallet Itself?
A typical standard pallet is 6 inches tall. The standard packing height is 48 inches, which includes the height of the pallet itself. So, you would be able to stack up to 42 inches of product.
How High Can You Stack a Pallet?
While limiting your stacking height to 48 inches allows you to double stack your pallets, you can stack them higher. As a general rule, you can safely stack a pallet up to 60 inches high. You’ll want to stack the heavier boxes on the bottom and lighter boxes on top to promote safety and protect the shipment.
Request a Free Pallet Shipping Quote
Nationwide Transport Services is a logistics company that can help you with your pallet shipping needs. We pride ourselves on being able to work with your specific operations and will even develop customized solutions just for you. Whether you’re looking for LTL or FTL freight shipping, we can help.
Reach out to us online or give us a call at (877) 278-3135 to discuss your free quote. When you work with us, you’ll get a dedicated account representative who can manage your shipment from origin to destination and answer all your questions about palletizing your shipments.
"Choosing standard sizes helps you pack your shipments efficiently, whether you use less-than-truckload (LTL) or full truckload (FTL) shipping."