Keys to Shipping Happiness Part 4: Practical Freight Packaging

June 7, 2018 by Mikayla Avila Vila
Share on:

Freight packaging is so big a subject that the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) conducts a 3-part webinar series on the subject twice a year. Each module is 1.5 hours long and the cost to participate is more than $200 per attendee.

What’s the big deal? Putting a 4,000 pound freight package on a 53-foot semi-trailer for 2,500 miles is not the same as throwing it in the back of your SUV for a short trip. Punctures and abrasions, compression, environmental exposures, shipment handling, shock and vibration can all contribute to shipment damage.

This blog post will not attempt to include all the material in that webinar series. Instead, we’re going to provide you with practical guidance that addresses 99% of our customers’ packaging concerns.

Our goal is to help you enjoy successful shipping experiences and avoid these three common freight packaging issues.

  1. Your shipment gets damaged in transit.
  2. Your shipment breaks loose in transit and damages another carriers’ freight.
  3. The driver picking up your cargo deems your freight packaging effort to be inadequate and refuses to load it on the truck. This may cause you to have to repackage your freight, schedule another pickup, and pay for making the driver come to you twice.

There’s a lot of information here, but it’s all very straightforward (and there’s no math). When you’re done reading this post, you’ll be better at freight packaging. Promise.

External Packaging

One of the most crucial steps aspects of shipping freight is choosing the right shipping container for your product. Familiarize yourself with the strengths and weaknesses of your packaging of choice.

External Packaging Materials

For instance, corrugated fiberboard boxes (CFB) are the most common type of container. These paper-based containers are susceptible to changes in weather, especially moisture and humidity, and can degrade by up to 50% just sitting idle for six months. CFBs are single-use options.

If you’re shipping with a CFB, make sure to look for the seal stamped onto the bottom flaps that will inform you about the maximum size and weight the container can hold based on its construction.

Sealing Cartons

Boxes require proper sealing, so make sure you follow the H Taping method with 2” width tape—3 strips of tape applied to the top and bottom sides of the box, specifically to the flaps and seams.

Avoid non-packaging tapes like masking, duct, and cellophane tape.


Crating—usually in a wooden box (though reusable plastic crates exist)— is one of the safest ways to transport your goods. They provide full coverage.

Here are some crating tips:

  • No parts of your shipment should protrude.
  • All movable items within the crate should be blocked or braced.
  • Commodities with legs must be suspended away from the walls of the crate by 1”.
  • Fasteners should be in the side or edge grain, never in the end grain. Placed anywhere else and their resistance to pull-out is reduced by 35%.
  • Plywood is preferred. It’s the most durable material.
  • Knots in the wood of the crate can be no larger than one-third of the surface where they appear.
    • Fasteners cannot be located inside of knots.
  • Crates should have an attached pallet.

Moving Freight By Pallet

Every piece of freight must be movable by forklift, which means much of what you ship—crates, boxes, drums and pails, spools and reels, pipes, transit cases, unpackaged commodities—can be fitted on a pallet.


Pallets deserve more credit. Not only are they a good measure to follow when preparing your cargo for shipment, but they also help consolidate your load. Pallets allow for optimal ease of handling during the movements in between transit, reducing the potential for damage.

Some universal pallet pointers:

  • Make sure your pallet is large enough to accommodate your cargo without overhang. Overhang will likely cause puncture, abrasion, and compression damage.
  • The top layer of boxes should be flat. It allows for stackability.
  • Avoid broken pallets, and pallets with missing pieces.
  • Don’t interlock your freight—it will weaken the strength of the pallet.
  • Make sure fasteners are flush with the surface (or below) before loading.
  • The less space between deck boards (or the multiple flat boards that make up the top and bottom of the pallet) the more support. This will prevent forklift damage from below.
  • Bottom deck boards increase the strength and stability of a pallet during handling. Use them.
  • Know the capacity of your pallet. Do not exceed it.
  • Always use a four-way entry pallet. These make the package easier to handle for carriers, and will prevent pallet—and potential cargo—damage.

For more tips, take a look at FreightCenter’s freight packaging tips.

Palletizing Cartons

Product damage is avoidable when you take the proper steps in the packaging process. Pallet overhang, misaligned column stacks, and incorrect size and weight distribution can weaken container strength and lead to damage. In fact, overhang can reduce compression strength by up to 32 percent.

Interlocked stacking can reduce compression strength by up to 50 percent. That’s why column stacking is preferred—corner to corner, edge to edge. Even a misaligned stack can cause a 30 percent reduction in strength, so make sure the edges are aligned.

Pyramid-Shaped Loads

Our first instinct is to get everything onto one pallet—we understand the impulse, but it often causes headaches for carriers when surfaces aren’t level. Not only do flat surfaces provide more strength and stability, but they are less likely to cause damage to freight in the trailer.

Palletizing Other Types of Packages

Choosing freight packaging can be like a cat in a box—that is, if I fits, I sits. If it fits in the box, it can ship, but what about those oddly shaped items, like pipes and antenna components?

Packaging for Pipes or Similar Freight

While wooden crates will provide the best protection, pipes and other materials can also be shipped on oversized pallets. This takes special planning.

  • Bundle—Consolidating two or more items into a single package and combining them with multiple bundles ensures containment while increasing the integrity of the bundle, which will reduce loss and damages.
  • Blocking—It’s important to keep your shipments from jostling. To ensure they remain fixed, brace them with wood fastened to the pallet. This will keep pieces from swinging from the end.
  • Securing—This should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: keep your bundles strapped to the pallet. Safely securing your bundles will keep it within the blocking. Make sure any strapping is out of the way of forklift blades.

Drum and Pail Shipments

The previously stated pallet standard applies for drum and pail shipments. However, on top of that, you will require:

  • Corrugated sheets—These will slip between the drum and pallet decking, and should be no smaller than the base of the drum.
  • Banding Cleats—These will prevent steel-on-steel contact and slipping, and spreads the force of the strapping.
  • Strapping—Creating one unit will assure the ease of handling for the bundle. Steel preferred. Make sure they are secured to the pallet, which allows for easy blocking against other shipments.
  • A Centered Drum—Keep it centered on the pallet, and do not allow for overhang. Multiple drums should be bundled together to take up as little pallet space as possible.

Freight Without Pallets

While palletizing your shipments is a popular choice, there are some items that shouldn’t be palletized. Some examples are:

  • Lightweight items—Things like kayaks or surfboards should not be palletized, and will travel better (and safer!) when boxed and top loaded.
  • Mattress—Mattresses, unwieldy as they are, must be boxed, as a pallet attachment would make them difficult to load.
  • Spools, reels, pipes—These can be shipped without a pallet if they have 4” to 6” feet or legs that make them movable by forklift.
  • Carpet—If the carpet is 12’ long, strapping it to three banded together pallets would make it a nightmare to load by forklift. Instead, use a carpet pole, which is a forklift accessory made to help transfer rolled carpets and other textiles.

Banding and Stretch Wrapping

An issue that crops up when boxes are damaged during transit—often for being improperly stacked and secured—is that when customers see the state of a damaged container, they often assume the contents are damaged as well. It’s an easy conclusion to draw, and avoidable. Here’s how.

Load Protectors and Edge Boards

Protect the top and bottom of your shipment with load-protector pads. The weight of top loaded freight will be distributed properly, while the bottom load will keep boxes from slipping (especially into the slats of the pallet).

Use edge boards to protect the corners of your product, while simultaneously stabilizing the load and increasing stacking strength.


Banding is typically used to secure bundled loads to pallets. Make sure you keep banding close together to avoid damage, breakage, and exposure. To avoid crushing the edges of cardboard boxes, use band cleats or strap protectors.

Stretch wrap

Stretch wrap is a great choice for several reasons: it provides full coverage protection, and can keep your load uniform, preventing loss, and is perfect if your cargo is on a long distance haul. Cover the entirety of a package, from top to bottom, with stretch wrap.

Plastic shrink wrap is another alternative in keeping a load together and uniform, and the more layers you add, the stronger the protection. So go ahead and shrink wrap a package up to 5 times (just one go-around won’t cut it)!

When it comes to wrapping your product, make sure you use a high-quality wrap, and that you secure the top part of the pallet, while keeping it accessible to the forklift.

Internal Packaging Materials

With so much attention paid to the outside of your freight to safeguard it against the perils of the road, it’s easy to overlook internal packaging. But make no mistake: it’s just as important as external packaging. Having the correct materials inside your box or crate will keep your cargo protected on its journey.

The Wonderful World of Internal Packaging

If you’re stumped on what kind of packaging would suit your cargo best, here are some popular protection options:

  • Bubble Wrap—Bubble wrap is a lightweight option, and its flexibility makes it the perfect fit for strangely shaped items, whether it’s wrapped around them or used to fill the empty spaces in a shipping container. Offers proper surface protection and shock absorbency.
  • Corrosion Protection Packaging Material—Make sure your non-treated metals are protected against oxidation and harsh air elements. Vapor corrosion inhibitor technology is not only an ideal choice for protecting untreated metal, it’s easy on the environment!
  • Foam Cushioning—Foam cushioning is the perfect protectant against the bumps, shocks, and vibrations of transit. Cushioning can be cut to fit the specific needs of a shipment.
  • Honeycomb—The material’s versatility allows for it to be used on the inside and the outside of a package. Like the name implies, it consists of kraft paper formed into hexagonal cells.
  • Loose Fill—We often see loose fill in the form of polystyrene packaging peanuts, though environmentally friendly alternatives are available. Loose fill is good for filling up voids in containers, and can protect against shock.
  • Paper Pad—Another flexible cushioning choice, perfect for filling, wrapping up, or blocking strangely shaped items.

Luckily, your internal packaging can affect the density, and, in turn, its freight class. That means the more weight you have in the least amount of space, the better your density will be, and the better your freight class.

Shipping Labels & Precautionary Markings

The final step to the packaging process doesn’t include packaging at all, but is the most important part of the shipping process. If your cargo isn’t labeled, the carrier will still pick it up, sure, but you risk being charged a Marking and Tagging fee to label the freight. This is an avoidable billing adjustment.

So make sure your cargo is:

  • Labeled visibly with name, address, and correct zip code (consignor and consignee). Put labels on at least two sides, but labeling all sides is best.
  • Handling labels and precautionary markings (such as fragile/handle with care, up arrows, keep dry, etc) are on all sides of your freight.
  • Make sure your handling labels and precautionary markings are in text and pictorial form.

At FreightCenter, we provide completed shipping labels for your convenience, so that will be one less thing to worry about while you prepare your shipment. It pays to be thorough with your freight.

Let’s Wrap It Up

The ins and outs (pun intended) of freight packaging are a lot to absorb, but we hope our overview will save you time and money on shipping.

Keep following our Keys to Shipping Happiness series and you’ll be be shipping with complete peace of mind in no time!

If you have any further questions about packing and shipping, call one of our expert freight agents at 800.716.7608. Ready to ship something?  Start your free online quote now.

Share on:

Let's Get Started

Compare Shipping Rates in an Instant

Get My Freight Quotes