Loading Basics And Tips From The Pros

Creating A Work Of Art


  • Strapping off for stability.
  • Finishing off the load.
  • PLUS! A quick visual tour of a load in progress.

A properly loaded truck, gentlemen, is a beautiful, beautiful thing. It is also your best defense against costly claims.

A tightly-packed truck is a well-packed truck. A snug load will not shift (much), forward and backward or laterally. Keeping items from bouncing up and down is also important, although because of those odd-shaped items in the customer's garage you'll virtually always end up with some space here and there between the top of your load and the roof of the truck. Fortunately, a tight front-to-back and side-to-side pack job compensates for this. If you are loading a storage unit then this is obviously quite a bit less of a concern.

To begin, a few basic concepts:

  • Load by creating 'tiers' - essentially vertical layers - one at a time.
  • Create a 'base' for each tier using the heaviest and strongest items: appliances, solid pieces of furniture, or boxes like dish packs and wardrobes.
  • The higher up in the tier, the lighter the items.

And now...

Let's Load Up the Wagon!

Start your load with some solid base - grab a dresser or a desk (with short, thick, strong or no legs) or some other piece of furniture that can bear a heavy load. Or go with a large appliance, or a row of heavy boxes. Then get progressively lighter as you build up.

NOTE: This does not just go for the first tier; it goes for every tier.

Of course, not all tiers are created equal…

A tier consisting of a dresser and a night table for base, a few rows of boxes and some (impeccably wrapped) dining room chairs on top is pretty simple to build. Compare this to a tier that starts with a washing machine; not many other items will have the same depth so how to make the tier more or less uniformly vertical? By going two-deep on the boxes, adding easy chairs, an ottoman and/or other similar-sized items like nightstands and filling in empty spaces with mirror cartons or other flat items. The tops of these wide tiers are good for (light) tables with less-than-Herculean legs, large toys, bicycles and bulky garage items like garden hoses and yard tools.

We could go on and on describing the theoretically infinite variations on the theme but the idea remains the same: heavy and sturdy on bottom, increasingly light as you go up. And remember, build each tier up as high and completely as possible before starting the next; you don't want to be mountain-climbing up over your customer's things to get a few more items onto the top of 'that tier back there'.

Now let's step away from the tier thing and cover a few other loading tips.

Strap large furniture items and appliances (once wrapped with pads and plastic wrap) to the sides of the truck or container. No matter how tight the load, some movement will occur in transit. Strapping those extra heavy items to the wall will help keep them from exerting undue pressure on the rest of the load in the course of that inevitable shifting.

Because of their weight, sleeper sofas should always be used as base. By the same token, sofas, even sleepers, may not be able to bear an entire tier of furniture and boxes for an extended period of time and come out unadulterated. For this reason, many guys will stand sofas on end, on extra paper pads or cardboard. If the end of the sofa is not flat, take the potentially-damaging weight off the arm by resting the sofa on a short stack of furniture pads. As regular sofas by and large weigh less per cubic inch than most items they can be loaded midway up in a tier. Just don't then proceed to toss book cartons and tool boxes on top of them - go light to avoid disfiguring the cushions (or worse).

Don't put furniture with thin legs on the bottom of a load. Avert potential catastrophe by placing such items higher up and, whenever feasible, upside down. If the legs can be removed, even better; this prevents them from damage while saving space and further tightening the load.

A good way to add stability to your load is by strapping off every four feet or so. Consider, however, the fact that a strap will actually only hold whatever items it rests against. Of course a snug load will make the straps more effective. But to really make that strap count, cinch it onto a mattress box or a large headboard or a couple of large pieces of furniture; these items, with all their surface area, can hold most of the tier behind them in place.

Use the space between mattresses to your advantage. Place oversize mirror cartons as well as headboards and foot boards in there for unequaled protection. Naturally, these items still need to be padded and wrapped!

Make sure that anything hard or metallic isn't going to damage neighboring items when the moving truck hits that pothole or takes a corner too quickly. Use good sense when deciding what items will be nestled up against that massive barbeque grill or the big red tool chest on wheels.

Some box trucks have extra interior space where the box extends above the cab. This space is often referred to as the peak or the attic. (We've seen U-Hauls that refer to this space as 'Grandma's Attic' though we've never been told exactly what Grandma has to do with anything.) You may not be inclined to start putting your heaviest items up there anyway, but keep in mind this area is not quite as structurally strong as the rest of the truck. Reserve this space for light items, light boxes and light, low-density furniture like those dining room chairs.

As you approach the end of the load you may want to start to 'tier down'. This means once you know for sure you won't need to use every square inch of the truck you can begin, at an appropriate point, to build each successive tier a little lower. The load will continue to support itself even as you slowly taper down; just make sure none of your top-loaded items is in a position to come tumbling down in transit. One point to keep in mind as you tier down is this: the tail end of your load will NOT consist of a single line of boxes across the floor of the truck. End with a three or four foot tier consisting of a few pieces set aside for the purpose – that old bookcase from the garage or the big barbeque grill – and create a stable final tier that can be held securely with a single strap. You'll want to finish with a half-tier that will keep the tier behind it, and all tiers behind that tier, safe and sound and secure.

Another strategy for finishing off the load is to leave for last a couple of mattresses or tall, heavy pieces of furniture – items that will create a wall that will hold several full tiers in place.

However you end up, be sure not to skimp on your strap use! (Yes, we now segue into…)

Cargo Straps

We mentioned above the idea of strapping off the load every four feet or so. We've also iterated and reiterated the importance of building tight tiers to prevent items from moving and bouncing around in transit. So what is it? Straps or a snug load? Which is the strategy that will really keep our customer's precious cargo safe? The answer, of course, is both.

A good tight tier will keep items from shifting side to side and bouncing up and down. A series of well-packed tiers will also work together to keep the load as a whole from shifting forward and back. But instead of allowing the weight of the entire load to push one direction or the other, use a few well-placed straps to divide the momentum.

Cargo straps every 4 feet or so will break up any internal pressure from the shifting, however slight, of the customer's load. This is essential for the less-forgiving nature of freight grade containers.

How high should you place the straps? Try for about 3-4 feet up. As mentioned before, strapping off right after loading a large item or two - mattresses, wall units - will further the effectiveness of your strap use.

Note: Some movers will stand mattress boxes lengthwise on top of a dresser or low bookcase; this is one effective method of building a tier that will keep the tiers behind it secure. In such a case, the strap will go higher - about midway up the mattress cartons.

A Related Note: A strap across the row of boxes sitting on top of that long dresser may not add much stability to your load. In this case as well it makes sense to run the strap higher.

Remember that the ratchet or cam buckle on your strap doesn't go away once it disappears behind your next tier. Make sure this buckle does not end up digging into the wood of an armoire or the scratching at the glass doors of a china hutch.

Loading the Truck: A Quick Visual Tour

While we hope the instructions here are helpful, we understand that pictures can be much more valuable than words. With this idea in mind we offer you the visual version of loading advice.

These pictures are from an actual load - a subtle acknowledgement of the middling quality of the photos but the points to be made should be clear enough.

As you look at each picture, try to pick out examples of the things we've been preaching. Then scroll down and compare your notes with ours. If you'd like to offer your input, we'd love to hear from you.

Now on with the show.

Photo 1 of Loaded Moving Truck

Picture 1 - Moving Truck Mid Load

Obviously we join the fun here mid-load. We knew we would not need every square foot of the truck, but we built our tiers high to leave enough floor space for the sofa and love seat to sit on their feet at the tail end without us having to put anything on top of them.

You can't see it here but we filled the peak (the attic) with dining room chairs and light cartons. We stood a couple of mirror cartons along the edge of the peak and strapped them off to create a neat barrier to hold that light but tight part of the load.

The one full tier visible here is sitting fairly snug considering it consists largely of furniture. Note how the furniture pads cover the sides and the legs all the way to the bottom. In some cases the pads wrap under the feet; with those two tables on top the pads are taped nice and secure around the legs and feet.

We were able to rest that one table on its side since the ends were perfectly flat and there would be no extra weight bearing down on the legs during transport. When tables, or chairs or even sofas are loaded on end the feet go up against the wall. That other table up top could have been placed upside down if the legs were three inches shorter. This piece too had a flat side - in this case the back - so there was no issue in laying it down. Notice that the feet are flush with the edge of the piece it is resting on; this will make it easier to build a snug and stable next tier.

In the partial tier in fornt that is a dish pack you see sitting on top of that piece of furniture (a night stand as we recall). This can be done when the piece of furniture is solid and has short or no legs. Still, you don't want to throw your heaviest dish pack up there - find one that is a bit less dense and weighty than some of the others. On the left we have a stack of three cartons; the bottom two are dish packs while the one on top is a 4.5/Large, which would be much lighter than a dish pack (assuming it was packed appropriately). No danger there, but we do want to keep those boxes from shifting or bouncing so the goal is another tight tier.

Photo 2 of Loaded Moving Truck

Picture 2 - One More Tier Onto the Moving Truck

With one more piece of furniture for base and an assortment of cartons and plastic totes we were able to build a decent tier. That piece on the right sports short legs although they are probably not the kind to stand up to a whole lot of abuse. (After taking the photo we wrapped the pad back around that leg - we don't want to leave these areas exposed. And actually we don't want to put tape on wood either. Notice though, on that piece and the one next to it the tape crossing over the bare wood has been crumpled so it sticks to itself and not the wood. While we are on the subject, it is acceptable to leave a certain area on the back side of a bookcase or chest of drawers uncovered. That is, as long as nothing that can scratch or otherwise damage the wood is pushed up against it. Another piece of well-padded furniture or cardboard cartons would suffice to keep those pieces sufficiently protected.

This tier might look somewhat incomplete. If we had more things to load we'd build this tier up a bit higher, but as it was we had reached the end of the load. In a case like this it is not a bad idea to stuff a few rolled-up pads in a few strategic spaces, or put a few empty cartons up there for a little added 'shift prevention'.

So all that remained now were two twin size mattress cartons and a headboard - perfect for creating a wall to hold this last tier and the entire load firmly in place. This is the reason for that strap hanging from the track on the right side wall. We want to make sure we can get a tight pull on our wall, and hooking the strap back there will give us the leverage we want.

Photo 3 of Loaded Moving Truck

Picture 3 - Finished Loading the Truck

The finished load. Mattress cartons are big enough to keep the entire tier behind in place while the headboard holds them tight against. And we have the space we need to take good care of that sofa and love seat - which we would pad and shrink wrap and strap against the back wall of the truck, with large pieces of cardboard in between them and the wall for one final extra bit of TLC.

Hopefully this visual tour helps increase your loading savvy. Because now it's your turn...

Pop Quiz: Load Up The Truck!

Take a look at these photos of a load of a 1-800-Pack-Rat container in progress. Assume you have plenty of different kinds of boxes and other items to work with, and the customer's belongings will not fill the entire truck or container.

Question 1: In the photo below identify three aspects of the load that follow good practice and two things you might do differently.

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Truck Loading Photo Quiz 1

Truck Load Quiz - Photo #1

Question 2: In the following photo, what can you do with the headboard on the left and that long skinny silver thing propped up against the wall on the right? (What is that thing anyway?...)

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Truck Loading Photo Quiz 2

Truck Load Quiz - Photo #2

Question 3: Faced with the load in the following photo, what would be your next move?

  1. Build another tier
  2. Strap off
  3. Find some garden tools and golf clubs to fill in the space at the top of the load.

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Truck Loading Photo Quiz 3

Truck Load Quiz - Photo #3

Question 4: Assuming this is the end of your load, why wouldn't you want to place those last few cartons and that one wrapped piece of furniture behind that box spring and strap off like that?

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Truck Loading Photo Quiz 4

Truck Load Quiz - Photo #4

Bonus question: Rather than end the load like this, you decide you want to use that box spring like a barrier to hold the rest of the load secure. However, those four boxes and that single wrapped item would make neither a full nor a flat tier behind the box spring. What could you do to make sure the load behind the box spring was stable?

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