How Many Pallets Fit in A 20-ft or 40-ft Container?

How Many Pallets Fit in A 20-ft or 40-ft Container?

In logistics transportation, especially in ocean shipping, 20-foot or 40-foot containers are the most common shipping containers. To save space and reduce the number of shipments, pallets should be packed as compactly as possible into your container. So, this begs the question: How many pallets fit in a 20-ft or 40-ft container?

By reading this article, you will not only get the answer to this question, but you will also learn about the different types of pallet layouts that can be used to maximize the loading efficiency of your containers.

Understanding Pallet and Container Sizes

Before determining how many pallets can be loaded into a container, it’s essential to be familiar with the dimensions of both the pallets and the container.

Internationally, two common types of pallets are used: standard pallets (GMA Pallets) and Euro pallets.

  • Standard Pallets (GMA Pallets): These pallets typically measure 48 inches x 40 inches (122 cm x 102 cm) and are widely used in North America.
  • Euro Pallets: Commonly used in Europe, Euro pallets measure 120 cm x 80 cm (47.2 inches x 31.5 inches).
Standard Pallets
Euro Pallets

A 20-foot container usually has internal dimensions of 19 feet 4 inches × 7 feet 8 inches × 7 feet 10 inches. So, the number of pallets it can carry is as follows:

  • Standard Pallets: You can fit up to 10 pallets in a single row, side by side.
  • Euro Pallets: It can accommodate 11 pallets in a single row.

A 40-foot container usually has internal dimensions of 39 feet 6 inches × 7 feet 8 inches × 7 feet 10 inches. So, the number of pallets it can carry is as follows:

  • Standard Pallets: Approximately 20-21 pallets can be fitted.
  • Euro Pallets: Typically, 23-24 pallets can be accommodated.

Types of Pallet Layouts

By understanding the layout of a pallet, it is possible to utilize the space more efficiently and thus transport more pallets.

  1. Straight: This is the most common layout and is also known as “Single Stacking.” The pallets are loaded into the container in a straight line, with the long side of the pallet parallel to the long side of the container. This layout is simple, efficient, and easy for forklifts to access. It’s great for cargo that can’t be easily stacked. However, it may not be a space-saving layout, especially if the goods being transported have irregular shapes.
  2. Turned: In a turned layout, pallets will be loaded into the container at a 90° angle, with the short side of the pallet parallel to the long side of the container. This is a more space-saving layout compared to the straight layout. Especially if the cargo is long and narrow.
  3. Pinwheels: This is a layout that alternates the orientation of the pallets, where part of the pallet is loaded straight and part of the pallet is rotated. This layout is probably the most space-efficient layout, but it is also the most complex to execute and may not be suitable for all types of goods.

Optimal Layout of Pallets

For 20-foot containers:

For standard pallets (48″ x 40″ or 122cm x 102cm):

  • Straight Layout: Pallets are arranged side-by-side, typically up to 10 can be placed.
  • Turned Layout: If the size of the pallet or the shape of the cargo allows, the pallet can be turned to optimize space utilization.

For European pallets (120cm x 80cm):

  • Straight Layout: Up to 11 pallets can be placed.
  • Pinwheel Layout: Alternating the rotation of the pallets can sometimes lead to a more efficient use of space.

For 40-foot containers:

For standard pallets:

  • Straight Layout: Typically holds 20-21 pallets.
  • Turned Layout: Adjustment of the layout according to the characteristics of the pallets and cargo may increase the capacity.

For European pallets.

  • Straight Layout: Typically accommodates 23-24 pallets.
  • Pinwheel Layout: Also for 40′ containers, helps maximize space utilization.


  • Distributing Weight: Ensure that the weight is evenly distributed to prevent the cargo from shifting during transportation. Also, do not exceed the maximum weight limit that the container can handle. A 20-foot container typically has a maximum weight capacity of 22,000 to 28,000 kilograms (approximately 48,500 to 61,700 pounds), while a 40-foot container can typically hold a maximum weight of 26,500 to 30,480 kilograms (approximately 58,420 to 67,200 pounds).
  • Nature of Cargo: Fragile, liquid, or heavy cargo requires special layout considerations.
  • Stackability: If the cargo can be safely stacked, consider double or multi-level stacking to optimize space utilization.
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