The Difference between Types of Freight and Shipping

February 4, 2021

When it comes to transporting packages and goods, the words’ freight’ and ‘shipping’ are sometimes interchangeable. The truth is that these terms refer to products with specific consumer intents, weights, and favoured methods of transport. 

What is Freight? 

Freight refers to cargo or goods transported in large amounts by either ground, air, rail, or sea. These goods are bulk quantities of items, exclusively used for commercial purposes. Examples could be products you find in a grocery store; those large stacks of paper towels? The truckloads of beer bottles? Produce from other countries? These vast quantities of items can exist in one spot because of freight shipping.

One of the best ways to understand freight is by how much it weighs, which is defined as
Distribution carriers that utilize air, ocean or land to transport shipments weighing over 150 pounds or shipments that are unitized or palletized.” 

Preferred Methods of Transport

When it comes to freight, the modes of transport that offer higher protection and carry capacity are favoured even if it takes longer to ship.
These include the four main transport methods: ground (truck), rail, boat, and air. A combination of land, rail, and ship is common for companies that are shipping internationally or domestically. 
Messenger Freight has both Canadian rail spurs available right in our St Thomas warehouse to make shipping your large or heavy products easier and quicker to tackle. 

What are the Types of Freight? 

Every mode of transport has its process of measuring freight loads, though the most commonly understood terminology belongs to ground shipping. Measurements are calculated by how much space pallets of items can take up in the bed of a truck and other freight that’s involved. 

Less than Truckload – (LTL)

Less than truckload shipping refers to one of the most common and cost-efficient freight shipping methods. Freight is stored on pallets, each taking up space in a truck’s bed. Only part of the truck’s area is dedicated to your specific product. Other business’s freight products are transported together, unloaded to different trucks along the way.

Usually, the amount of pallets for LTL shipping ranges from 1-8. Palletization is much more stable and secure than parcel shipping. 

Full Truckload – (FTL)

Full truckloads refer to a truck bed or intermodal trailer full of pallets. The main difference between FTL and LTL is that FTL is dedicated to a specific load of cargo. In this case, the entire trailer belongs to one customer’s freight. One of this method’s advantages would be speed since the cargo isn’t unloaded several times onto other trucks. 

Partial Truckload -(PTL)

Their lack of space defines partial truckloads of freight, falling between a full load and a partial load. Typically under 6 pallets constitutes a PTL. Like LTL shipping, PTL pallets are transported in mixed trailers.
One benefit is that small loads can often stay on the same truck without being reloaded. Not having to be reloaded means fewer chances of accidents occurring while also saving money. 


The goal of expedited shipping is all about speed. Specifically, it involves finding ways to transport freight loads as fast as possible. Often, this consists of relying on one method of transport to save time and hiring shift workers to prevent stops. This service is the most expensive option since companies pay to receive their goods ahead of the time provided by standard shipping methods. 


Intermodal shipping uses two or more methods of transport to carry freight across long distances. To increase efficiency, transported cargo is loaded into intermodal trailers, better known as shipping containers and multiple carriers make use of rail, ships and sometimes large trucks to move them.
Due to standardized size and durability, containers aren’t required to be unloaded when freight is transferred to another medium. Instead, these containers can be stacked together, which helps increase carrying capacity. 

What is Shipping? And How is it Different From Freight? 

Shipping is the verb, the transport of goods, whether it is commercial, non-commercial, cargo, or parcel. Freight is the noun, the thing being shipped.

Parcel Shipping

Unlike freight, parcel shipping usually involves mailing personal goods or packages to others. The most common example would be ordering anything online and the transport network associated with moving that item to your home.

People utilizing this method are usually individual citizens, although small businesses may as well. This is because an individual would not need to buy enough resources requiring warehousing and long-haul deliveries. 

Preferred Method of Transport

There is no specific preferred method of transport for regular package shipping, as ground, air, or boat can all apply. The main difference is the weight, which usually does not require skids or intermodal containers to transport. 

Which is Better? – Shipping or Freight?

Overall, there is no ‘better’ option objectively. Each shipping method pertains to the specific needs of businesses and individuals alike. Thus, the ‘best’ choice to use for bulk ordering products would depend on an individual’s particular needs and organization structure. 

Large corporations that regularly ship products weighing over 150 pounds or more would benefit from the cost-effectiveness and safety associated with freight shipping methods. The exact cost can only be determined in the context of a business situation, though. 

If you are an individual or small business requiring bulk shipping of office supplies, for example, then regular parcel shipping is worth it. Anything else would be inefficient due to the relatively light weights associated with parcel shipping.