Box Beams vs Step Beams for Pallet Racking Storage Systems

Box beams and step beams are both structural elements used in construction and engineering, often in the context of building frameworks or support systems, including those of pallet racking storage systems.

Pallet rack storage systems are made up of two basic parts: frames (or uprights) and beams (or cross beams). Frames are the vertical structures of a pallet rack system and beams are the horizontal structures upon which you place your pallets. Beams come in two basic designs: box beams and step beams.

Box beams

Box beams have a basic rectangular shape, similar to the shape of a 2×4 board with clips on the end to attach to a vertical frame.

Step beams

Step beams have a step in their design almost like an L-shape, with slots along the lower edge of the step.

Comparing box beams and step beams head-to-head

To better understand the merits of each beam design, we compared them in three ways to see which one is superior.

Strength of box beams vs step beams

Box beams have always been the most popular beam design in the Canadian pallet racking market; they are preferred for their superior strength per square inch. Because of their basic rectangular shape, box beams can hold heavier loads than step beams, which have a more intricate design. That said, although box beams are stronger than step beams per square inch, step beams can be strengthened simply by making them taller (slightly increasing their cost). Given that step beams can be made as strong as box beams simply by increasing their height, we consider them equal in terms of strength.

Safety bars on box beams vs step beams

Pallet racking support bars, or safety bars, are steel bars that run perpendicular to the rack beams to keep pallets or products stored in the racking system from falling through. Box beams require universal safety bars, which have a U-shaped design on each end that is placed over the top of the box beam.  The issue with this design is that clothing and products can get snagged on the safety bar, causing minor damage. Also, the safety bars take up space on the outside of the beam, an area that is commonly used for product identification labels. Furthermore, it is often required that these types of safety bars be bolted to the pallet racking beam, which keeps you from being able to freely adjust the safety bar if needed.

Step beams, on the other hand, require the use of clip-style safety bars. These safety bars fit neatly inside the step beam, reducing the risk of snagging Additionally, you typically are not required to bolt in clip-style safety bars, giving you the flexibility to move them when needed. Due to the advantages that clip-style safety bars have over universal safety bars, step beams are superior when it comes to safety bars.

Availability of box beams vs step beams

Industrial racking systems in Canada are more often equipped with box beams than step beams. Therefore, as the laws of supply and demand dictate, box beams and their accessories are a lot easier to come by. Although step beams are certainly available, if you are planning to install a very large warehouse racking system, lead times for step beams tend to be longer than they are for box beams. In terms of availability, therefore, box beams are more advantageous than step beams.


Deciding whether to choose box beams or step beams depends on a range of factors, such as what you are storing, the size of your pallet racking system, your budget and your time frame. Step beams and their clip-style safety bars will provide you with the ability to move the safety bars more freely and decrease the probability of snagging due to their neat fit. However, if you need a super-fast turnaround for your pallet racking system, you will probably have better luck with box beams due to their increased supply among warehouse storage equipment suppliers.


Fortunately, Racked Out supplies both box beams and step beams! To discuss with our racking system experts the beam design that’s best for your application and facility, click here to contact us.