Packing freight for an LTL shipment

Posted by Becca Soard on August 2, 2017 - 8:02 AM
Freight packing and shipping

The importance of shipment packaging

From raw material headed to a production plant to a finished product on its way to a customer, every item your business ships is somehow tied to revenue. And because each shipment has the potential to impact profits, it’s important to find ways to manage transportation costs while still ensuring your freight arrives damage-free. Utilizing proper packaging can accomplish both goals — especially in the less-than-truckload (LTL) environment. Learn more about LTL packaging considerations and get tips for reducing costs and protecting freight.     

The following guidelines are intended for voluntary practice only. This content doesn’t address all packaging considerations and should always be used in addition to the guidelines established by the Commodity Classification Standards Board (CCSB). Adequately protecting LTL freight is the sole responsibility of the shipper.

5 packing tips for LTL freight

Common handling and transportation situations including loading, turning, accelerating and driving over road hazards like speedbumps can harm freight that isn’t packaged correctly. Take preventive measures to avoid damage, loss or shortage by following these suggestions:  

  1. Know the minimum packaging requirements

The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) has established 18 freight classes — categories based on an item’s weight, dimensions, density, stow-ability, handling and liability — and each one is outlined in the National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC). Along with helping standardize pricing across the industry, this categorization process also provides specific packaging requirements for each freight class. Following these rules helps ensure items receive adequate protection during loading, unloading, transit and warehousing.

  1. Consider loading options

While freight safety should always be a priority, cost is another thing to consider when choosing shipment packaging. Space-based pricing makes this especially important because freight that occupies less space in a trailer can ship for a reduced cost. For example, freight that can be packaged to load vertically instead of horizontally will likely ship for less because the volume of space is reduced. Similarly, packaging freight on one pallet instead of two limits the occupied area and can lower your rates.

  1. Choose the correct box, pallet or crate

Selecting the right box, pallet or crate is an important step for preventing everything from crushed boxes to misplaced items. Keep in mind that the NMFC sets maximum loading weights for these packaging materials, so you should always verify that you’re following the appropriate guidelines.


Corrugated cardboard boxes offer basic protection and keep items organized — making them a necessary component when packing freight. Several types and grades of boxes are available, and the option you choose will depend on NMFC specifications and your needs.


Instead of shipping individual boxes, use a pallet to keep everything together and make it easier for forklifts to move your freight at the dock. When selecting a pallet:

  • Make sure it hasn’t been damaged
  • Check that the sides allow for forklift access
  • Get the right size — freight should fit on the base with no overhang


Heavy or large items (or freight that needs more protection) should be fully crated. Crates can be custom built to fit non-standard freight and will provide additional security and strength.

  1. Use protective materials

After choosing the appropriate external packaging, you’ll need to use other materials to cushion freight and provide stability. Options include internal packaging such as bubble wrap, paper padding, foam cushioning and loose fill and external support such as edge protection, plastic stretch wrap and straps. Always be sure freight is securely attached to the pallet and that minimal movement will occur during handling and transit.

  1. Label the shipment correctly

All LTL freight should be labeled before pickup. Each piece needs to clearly indicate the shipper’s and consignee’s name, phone number and address, and any precautionary labels should also be applied (and marked on the Bill of Lading when appropriate). To prevent labels from coming off the freight, secure them with adhesive, staples or shrink wrap. If the label will not adhere to the item, use a tag.

Our freight packaging service

If you have a prototype package you need evaluated or have additional questions about packaging requirements, our freight packaging engineering and material handling department can provide assistance. Our packaging engineers are trained to optimize designs to reduce the risk of damage and eliminate some material costs. They can also assess packages and confirm if they meet minimum NMFC requirements. See our comprehensive packaging guide. To learn more about our packaging services, call 800-610-5544 or email

Schedule an LTL shipment

Reliable transportation, simplified invoicing and end-to-end visibility are just a few of the benefits ArcBest® provides LTL customers. If you’re ready to book a shipment, use our online LTL quote form to get started.

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