The Pros and Cons of Conestoga Trailers

A truck with a Conestoga trailer

As a shipper, the type of trailer you choose to haul your freight can make a significant impact on your operations. Without investing time and consideration into making an informed decision, you could end up with consignees receiving damaged goods — far from the ideal scenario for anyone involved. 

Conestoga trailers, with their innovative sliding tarp systems, are a compelling alternative to traditional flatbeds and dry vans. 

Known for providing the accessibility of a flatbed with the weather protection of a van, these specialized trailers can streamline your freight loading and unloading processes. 

But Conestogas aren’t a perfect fit for all types of freight. That’s why it’s important to understand all the pros and cons before determining whether they’re right for your use case. 

At Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), we’re in the business of matching freight with trucks — the right trucks for every load. That includes choosing the trailer type that will provide the most value to the shipper, which can occasionally mean branching out to a specialized trailer type like a Conestoga. 

In this article, we'll delve into the advantages and disadvantages of Conestoga trailers, providing insights to help you determine if they align with your company's shipping needs. 

Whether you're seeking to improve loading efficiency, protect your cargo from weather elements, or reduce the risk of tarp-related damage, we'll cover everything you need to know to make an informed decision.

A Conestoga trailer being loaded

What is a Conestoga Trailer?

A Conestoga trailer is a specialized trailer type featuring a flatbed frame and a retractable tarp-of-frame system. 

This system makes it possible for freight to be loaded onto the trailer like a traditional flatbed without the need for protective tarps to make direct contact with the cargo. 

Like standard open-deck trailers, Conestogas come in several types: Flatbed, step-deck, and double drop. Each Conestoga type has its own maximum freight dimensions and weight limits. 

Exact dimensions and limitations will vary from trailer to trailer, but here are some general guidelines to use as a resource:




Flatbed (48-ft.)

48’0″L x 8’4″W x 8’0″H

44,000 lbs.

Flatbed (53-ft.)

53’0″L x 8’4″W x 8’0″H

44,000 lbs.

Step-deck (48 ft.)

10’0″L x 8’4″W x 8’H (Upper deck)

38’0″L x 8’4″W x 9’8″H (Lower deck)

41,000 lbs.

Step-deck (53 ft.)

10’0″L x 8’4″W x 8’H (Upper deck)

43’0″L x 8’4″W x 9’8″H (Lower deck)

41,000 lbs.

Double drop

9’0″L x 8’4″W x 8’H  (Front deck)

30’0″L x 8’4″W x 11’7″H (Well space)

9’0”L x 8’4”W x 9'6"H (Rear deck)

35,000 lbs.


What are the Advantages of Conestoga Trailers?

Providers in the trucking industry are constantly looking for ways to expand and improve the quality of their service offerings. Conestoga trailers are a great example of how this can be accomplished. 

The versatility of Conestoga trailers makes them popular among shippers looking to save money, meet their deadlines, and keep their product protected from the elements during transit.

The three biggest advantages a Conestoga offers are:

  1. Protection from the elements
  2. Decreased risk for damage
  3. Efficient side loading and unloading

Protection From The Elements

Perhaps the largest benefit Conestoga trailers offer shippers is increased protection from the elements.

Particularly in open-deck shipping, freight is at risk of being damaged, either by weather or the general rigors of the road. Tarps are often used to cover open-deck freight, but they’re far from a catch-all solution.

Enter the Conestoga and its built-in retractable tarping system. The Conestoga enables drivers to simply load up the trailer, secure the freight, roll the Conestoga’s canvas into place, and hit the road. 

As such, Conestogas are an ideal solution for moving freight when damage from the elements is a concern.

Decreased Risk For Damage

Speaking of damage: Because of the touch-free nature of the Conestog’s tarping system, they are often used as an alternative to traditional open-deck shipping.

In a standard open-deck shipment, cargo — often steel, construction materials, machinery, or other larger commodities — is covered by tarps and secured before travel.

While tarps are highly effective for keeping freight protected from the elements, they can cause damage to more delicate goods.

Since the very nature of tarping requires tarps to be fastened tightly and securely to the freight in question, the goods can sometimes be scratched, pinched, or crushed in the process.

Damaged products are never an optimal outcome for transportation providers or their customers. Luckily, Conestoga trailers — which can fully enclose freight without directly touching it — offer a great solution for avoiding in-transit damage.  

The Conestoga’s retractable tarping system also makes things easier on drivers. To access freight for loading and unloading, truckers need only roll back the canvas curtains. 

This alleviates the physical burden of securing and removing heavy tarps and saves time during the loading and unloading processes.

A driver secures the tarp system of a Conestoga trailer

Efficient Side Loading and Unloading

With a Conestoga trailer, shippers gain the benefits of having a container to surround their freight. Since this is an advantage usually reserved for dry van or reefer trailers, having 360 degrees of coverage for open-deck freight is an unmistakable advantage.

Loading traditionally open-deck commodities into a 53-foot dry van container would normally be impossible. Dry vans and other covered trailers are typically filled from the back via a loading dock, while open-deck commodities are not.  

This is where a Conestoga offers some helpful innovation. The retractable tarp system can be pulled back to facilitate the loading/unloading process for forklifts, cranes, etc.

This makes the process effectively the same as a traditional flatbed, step-deck, or double drop trailer — and means that if you’re used to loading open-deck trailers, you won’t have to adjust your processes to use a Conestoga instead.

What are the Disadvantages of Conestoga Trailers?

Even though Conestoga trailers are great for moving many kinds of freight, they’re not a universal solution. No trailer type is perfect for all types of freight, all use cases, and all companies; Conestogas are no exception. 

After all, they’re “specialized” trailers and specificity inherently limits the scope of their capabilities. 

Ultimately, the decision of whether to use a Conestoga for your freight is up to you, but by understanding the downsides of this trailer type, you can make the most informed choice possible. 

The top three disadvantages of Conestoga trailers are:

  1. Limited weight capacity
  2. Limited dimensional capacity
  3. Low supply, higher cost

Limited Weight Capacity

Despite their benefits, Conestoga trailers fall behind when it comes to the total amount of weight they can effectively (and safely) transport. 

To keep their tarping system and trailer beds in good condition, Conestogas aren’t made to haul maxed-out weight capacities

As such, if you’re hoping to get as much weight on a flatbed Conestoga as you can on a traditional flatbed, you’re going to be disappointed. 

It’s important, therefore, for shippers to understand the upper limits of a Conestoga’s weight capacity and plan accordingly. Failure to do so can result in delays as quantities are adjusted to make the shipment safe to haul.

Limited Dimensional Capacity

To ensure that everything goes smoothly, stays safe, and arrives damage-free, all freight must fall within the dimensional confines of the Conestoga’s canvas “walls.” 

That means over-dimensional (OD) freight can’t be transported on a Conestoga trailer. 

Given their construction, Conestogas are considered relatively fragile, so OD freight presents too big a risk to the trailer’s tarping system. 

Companies shipping OD freight should look instead at traditional open-deck trailers like flatbeds, which can accommodate larger pieces without fear of damaging any tarping system.

The interior of a Conestoga trailer

Low Supply, Higher Cost

Generally, choosing a Conestoga for your freight will cost more than a standard flatbed, lowboy, or step-deck trailer — all common alternatives to the rarer Conestoga. 

Although incredibly convenient to the shippers that use them, Conestoga trailers can be costly in areas where they’re in low supply. 

Freight pricing is dictated by several factors, with supply (trailers) and demand (freight needing a trailer) chief among them. 

Since Conestogas are considered a specialized trailer type and aren’t as prevalent as other equipment types, companies leverage the relative scarcity to charge a bit more for Conestoga capacity. 

This isn’t unique to Conestogas; many specialized trailers are pricier than more popular trailers. As the supply of each equipment type diminishes in an origin location, shippers can expect to pay more to secure that capacity — specialized trailer or otherwise. 

Is a Conestoga Trailer Right for Your Freight?

The Conestoga trailer’s retractable tarping system makes it a convenient and versatile solution for freight that is traditionally hauled on open-deck trailers but is at risk of damage from contact with tarps. 

While many shippers favor the Conestoga for its touchless protection and ease of loading and unloading, its limited weight and dimensional capacities can present a challenge, as can its relative scarcity. 

Now that you understand some of the advantages and disadvantages of using Conestoga trailers, you’re ready to make decisions for your freight.

We recommend talking to your transportation provider about the options available to you and working together to find a solution that balances the practical needs of your freight (like its dimensions, any special considerations, etc.) with your budget and timeline.

For example, where protection from the elements is concerned, it’s often more cost-effective to tarp your open-deck freight than to find and secure a Conestoga in your area. 

Your transportation provider will be able to provide these insights and tell you which option will best meet your specific needs and circumstances. Check out our article on The 11 Most Common Trailer Types in the Trucking Industry in 2024 to learn more about other trailers that may be presented as viable options for your freight.

Tags: Shipping Services, Trailer Types

Sean Glenz

Written by Sean Glenz

Sean has been with ATS in various capacities since early May 2011. During this time, Sean has thoroughly enjoyed the work he does with carriers and customers spanning the country. Today, Sean serves as operations manager in the logistics division and continually strives to develop lifelong relationships with his customers and co-workers.

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