How to Load Pallets

Written by john kibilko
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How to Load Pallets
Loading pallets onto a truck has developed into a science. (truck image by timur1970 from

At first blush, the issue of pallet loading may seem mundane---put some boxes on a pallet and load it onto a truck. Yet the money, research and mathematical studies that have been invested in the subject are extensive. When talking about pallet loading, there are two issues: the actual loading of the pallets themselves and the loading of the pallets onto truck, train or plane. For the transportation industry, pallet loading---like parcel loading or any other type of cargo---has to weigh factors of labour, efficiency and time. It's a juggling act that has been elevated to an art form.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Forklift

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  1. 1

    Inspect the cargo on the pallets to be loaded onto the truck. This is the most critical step in the entire pallet-loading process. Square or rectangular boxes are the simplest cargo to handle. Round or cylindrical-shaped objects pose a bigger challenge. Odd-shaped cargo calls for an entirely different approach. Weight also is a major consideration. All these factors will determine how the pallets will be loaded.

  2. 2

    Check the size of the trailer or container to be loaded. Standard tractor-trailer trucks have a trailer size of 8 feet 6 inches wide by 14 feet high and 53 feet long. Shorter single-body trucks have 40-foot-long cargo spaces. Your loading technique will be determined by these factors, and whether or not the trailer already contains any freight.

  3. 3

    Straight-load your pallets if the cargo is very heavy and there is little or no chance of the load shifting during transportation. Straight-loading is the quickest method because pallets are 40 inches wide by 48 inches deep and there is plenty of room for the forklift operator to manoeuvre and load two rows of pallets. This technique also must be employed if the pallets are "two-way," meaning that they are built in such a way that allows the forks access on only two sides---namely on the sides of the pallets that are 40 inches wide. This method doesn't maximise trailer space, however, and may make shifting a problem with lighter or unstable freight.

  4. 4

    Load the pallets in the "turned" or sideways method to maximise space utilisation and to ensure a tight, secure fit. The 48-inch-wide profile of the pallets using this method, multiplied by two, leaves only six inches of space width-wise in the trailer. The pallets must be four-way, or capable of accepting forks on all four sides.

  5. 5

    Use the "pin-wheel" method to load tall or unstable cargo. Pin-wheeling is basically alternating the pallets between the straight and turned styles. This interlocking technique increases the stability of the load. The method is particularly effective for loading items such as light cartons or boxes that are stacked high and are unstable, often even when not in motion.

Tips and warnings

  • Unstable, heavy cargo should be strapped or shrink-wrapped. Shrink-wrapping actually is not often used for shipping, but more for warehouse use to avoid packages from falling off the pallets during warehouse moving, or to prevent theft.
  • If you have a load consisting of stacked items of the same height, you can stack the pallets in the trailer to optimise space usage.

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