Shipping Logistics: Full Truckload Vs. Less-Than-Truckload

Deciding whether to use full truckload or less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping is one of the many important decisions shipping coordinators make when coordinating freight. Freight size and weight may seem to be the main factor in choosing between full truckload and LTL services, but there are many key factors that play a role in the decision process. Here are some important factors shippers need to consider when determining if full truckload or LTL is the best shipping method for their load.

What Is Full Truckload and Less-Than-Truckload?

Before exploring the differences between full truckload and LTL shipping, here are definitions and key characteristics for each mode:

  • Less-than-truckload: Used for loads that are too large to mail, but too small to fill an entire truck. Multiple shippers share the space and cost of the truck.
  • Full truckload: Only goods and materials from one shipper are transported on the truck. Typically, shipments are larger than those of an LTL load and can fill up to an entire truckload.

Shipment Size

Mode Pallets Weight
Less-Than-Truckload 1-6 200-5,000 lbs
Full Truckload 24-30 5,000-42,000 lbs

Because LTL carriers are transporting a variety of loads from multiple shippers, each individual shipper’s load can only take up about 12 linear feet of a trailer. For example, if a shipper wanted to arrange LTL transit for standard-sized 40” by 48” pallets, they could fit up to six in the truck. Depending on the load size and material shipped, LTL shipments can range between 200 to 5,000 lbs in weight.

Full truckload shipments are more flexible with load size and can carry up to 42,000 lbs in weight. Full truckloads have capacity for about 24-30 standard-sized pallets, more than four times the number of pallets an LTL shipment can carry.

Fragility of Goods or Materials

As LTL loads are delivered at multiple destinations, an individual shipment will be loaded and unloaded several times – and may be placed on different trucks – before it reaches its final destination. This increased freight handling can put fragile goods at-risk for damages, especially if they are not properly packaged.

Full truckload shipments are only loaded at their origin point and unloaded when they reach their delivery location, which decreases the amount of freight handling necessary. The decreased freight handling helps to reduce the risk for damages to fragile goods and materials during their shipment.

Freight Cost

In addition to sharing truck space, shippers using LTL also share freight costs. This makes LTL shipping cheaper and more cost-effective for smaller shipments.

Shippers using full truckload services pay the freight cost for the entire truck, making it more cost-effective for larger loads. Shipping small loads using full truckloads is typically not cost-effective, as shippers would pay for truck space they are not using.


LTL carriers make delivery stops in multiple locations, which increases transit time for an individual shipment. The nature of LTL shipments can also make it more difficult for a shipment to be delivered on a specific date or within a narrow timeframe.

Full truckload carriers deliver shipments directly to their destination, meaning a shipment spends less time in transit. Unless a carrier encounters an unexpected delay, such as a road closure or winter weather, they are able to deliver a shipment within a narrow timeframe.

Type of Truck

Refrigerated vehicle (or reefer) transit is often difficult to coordinate for an LTL shipment – the multiple delivery stops and freight loading and unloading could put temperature-sensitive freight, such as food and beverage products, at-risk for spoilage or damage. Dry van transit, however, can easily be coordinated for LTL shipments because goods and materials do not have any temperature-specific needs that would be difficult to provide with high freight handling.

Full truckload shipments work well for both reefer and dry van transit. Because shipments are taken directly to their delivery destination, they can be kept at a consistent temperature in the trailer and carry less damage-risk due to fewer loading and unloading steps.

Partnering with a 3PL for Full Truckload or LTL Shipping Needs

Deciding whether full truckload or less-than-truckload shipping is the most efficient and cost-effective option for your supply chain can be challenging. Each service also comes with its own set of logistical challenges that can be time-consuming and take shippers away from other important tasks.

Partnering with a 3PL who can coordinate full truckload and LTL shipments offers many advantages to shippers, including:

  • A team of logistics experts who can help you decide between full truckload and less-than truckload shipping based on your unique shipping needs and who are equipped to coordinate challenging LTL shipments.
  • Lower freight costs for all services due to negotiating power with their strong network of carriers.
  • Trusted carries who operate in major manufacturing hubs across North America who can efficiently deliver both your LTL and full truckload shipments.

With decades of combined experience in logistics, Red Kite Freight Solutions can hunt for a solution for your unique shipping needs, whether it be full truckload or less-than-truckload shipping. We are champions for our customers and strive for your success because we believe that when you thrive, we thrive.

Contact Red Kite or request a quote to learn more about our full truckload and less-than-truckload freight solutions.