From a previous question a portable hole can hold 282 cubic feet of stuff.

A barrel can hold 4 cubic feet of food from the description but that is only the interior. Would it be reasonable to say that a barrel itself takes up 4 cubic feet in the portable hole? That would mean 70 barrels could fit in the portable hole.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I assume this is the previous question you're referring to. It's for 3.5, but fortunately the dimensions of the portable hole is the same between editions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 13:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Depends on the caliber of the gun of course! ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 15:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you're down to the level of pedantry between a barrel's contents and the barrel's dimensions in and of themselves, you should really also be accounting for packing density, as it makes a more meaningful impact that the barrel's thickness. I would argue that both are seemingly irrelevant when you've already reduced the complexity towards using absolute volume as your unit measure. \$\endgroup\$
    – Flater
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 10:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Barrels are the size and shape they are because magic doesn't exist in our world. What size and shape would they be in a world that has portable holes and levitation to facilitate their transport? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Thul
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 15:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenThul Unless your world has portable holes as commodity items readily available to the masses, I'd say barrels will have roughly the same size and shape they do in our world. \$\endgroup\$
    – chepner
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 16:21

4 Answers 4


You could fit 21 barrels and have some empty space in between them

This calculation is a bit more complicated than just dividing the portable hole’s volume by the barrel’s volume since they will not fit perfectly and take up all the room, so there will be gaps in between of them. I’ve done some calculations and arrived at the conclusion that you could fit 21 barrels into the portable hole.

First, I looked up the dimensions of a barrel. There were lots of different types of barrels used throughout the ages but the general consensus is that a 40 gallon whiskey barrel would have a height of 88 cm and a diameter of 60 cm at its widest (roughly in the middle height-wise). I am going to treat the barrel as a perfect cylinder here, using its widest measurement as the diameter to simplify things since it doesn’t really make any difference in practice.

A portable hole, as noted in its description, is a cylinder with a height of 10 feet and diameter of 6 feet, which translates to 304 cm and 182 cm, respectively.

If we’re going to store the barrels in layers inside the portable hole, with the barrels standing upright, as it’s the most efficient method, we will be able to fit in 3 layers of barrels within the hole. This is calculated by dividing the hole’s height by the barrel’s height:

$$ \frac{304}{88} = 3.455 $$

That gives us 3 layers and about 40 cm of empty space at the top into which it’s impossible to fit in another barrel, even when putting it on its side (60 cm diameter so it would stick out by about 20 cm).

To calculate the maximum amount of barrels that would fit in each layer we need to basically solve the problem of smaller circles inside a larger circle, I have used this caclulator here for that: Smaller Circles within a Larger Circle - Calculator. Putting in a portable hole’s diameter as the large circle and a barrel’s as the small one, the result it produces is 7. It would look like this viewed from the top: big circle with a ring of 6 smaller circles inside, and one more smaller circle inside

So to put this together, 7 barrels in layer × 3 layers gives us 21 barrels that would fit into a portable hole.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Anna, I missed originally that the 4 feet is only for dry goods. I get the same result as you for a 40 gallon barrel. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 7:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SamDean you might very well be right, I’ll admit I’m not that good in maths! Seems like you could make that comment into a great answer! \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 11:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Flater maybe but the difference is still going to be at most 10cm, not sure if that makes any difference \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 11:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JohnBollinger they have the same feet as everyone else, the difference accounts for inefficiency when you’re storing solids as opposed to liquids which adjust in shape to fill the space \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 16:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nick012000 I must say I don’t understand your point, barrel in 5e is defined as holding 40 gallons of liquid and a 40 gallon barrels will have the dimensions that I have stated, because of packing density it will hold less solid material than liquid, what exactly is unclear? \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 22:30

Depends on the barrel.

A quarter million M1911 Barrels

A typical M1911 Barrel is roughly a 5 inch long cylinder of a diameter of 0.6 inch. That's 1.4 cubic inches. Using a form factor of 0.732 as we know from stacking coins, there's one barrel per 1.93 cubic inch. Or in other words: 252314 complete barrels, but no other parts. This method only works for tiny objects compared to the room volume, because these tiny items stack almost like coinage.

42 cylindrical Tin Cans of 4 cubic feet volume

While the form factor would tell us, that there should be space for about 51 barrels in the hole if that hole had an arbitrary shape, the outer dimensions become problematic: Our hole has a fixed shape. 6 feet in diameter, 10 feet high. For the best packing, we assume 7 cylindrical barrels of 2 feet in diameter - or 1-foot radius - in a layer.

densest packing of 7 barrels in a layer

Assuming that the barrels are perfectly cylindrical, each barrel would need to be 1 foot 3 inches tall to fit the 4 cubic feet volume (\$\frac V \pi=h\$). Let's round that to 1.5 feet to account for at least some shell that holds these contents.

That means we could have 6 complete layers of 7 barrels or 42 barrels. Or rather, Jerry-cans, as we only accounted for a rather small shell here.

35 classic barrel shaped barrels of 4 cubic feet volume

Now, let's assume the barrels have a 1-inch wood frame, and a 1 inch wood lid. That lid should be at least half an inch inch indented from the top and bottom of the barrel jacket's end. It needs to contain 4 cubic feet of volume or 113.27 liters. Since water has a density of pretty much 1, that's 113.27 kilos of water in that barrel. This happens pretty perfectly with the lid being between 0.9 and 1.9 inches from the top edge, when the barrel is 0.8 feet radius at top and bottom of the jacket. And we demand a round number of feet for the height, so math gets easier. After some experimentation, the measurements in millimeters read like this (sorry, my CAD only outputs mm, it allows me to put in variables in inch though):

rotational body of the barrel

This results in 2-feet tall barrels of 2 feet maximum outer diameter while the top and bottom of the barrel curve in to have a 1.6 feet diameter at the ends. Perfect!

The barrel in question

Stacked as before, we get a perfect fit of 5 layers of 7 barrels each, for exactly 35 barrels in total.

35 barrels stacked in the portable hole

21 barrels of 40 gallon (+2 malformed ones)

40 gallons are 151.42 liters of water. Using the same basic barrel geometry as before, our 4 gallon barrels need to be 2.7 feet tall to get that (and a tiny bit) of volume.

enter image description here

We can still store 7 per layer, but we only manage to stack \$\frac {10}{2.7}=3,7\$ into the hole, so 3 complete layers for \$3*7=21\$ barrels

enter image description here

If you have two slightly ovaloid barrels or a pair of longer but slimmer barrels, you might manage to get those in as extra: on their flat side on top of the stack. enter image description here

Bonus: 180 x 20 liter Wehrmachts-Einheitskanister - original "Jerry Can"

A proper Jerrycan is of the following dimensions: 165x345x470 mm. Stacking those in a portable hole gives this pattern of 38 cans per layer:

enter image description here

6 complete Layers fit into the hole, so 6*28=168 canisters filled with 3360 liters of water or fuel. Or 887,6181 gallons for the imperial types - the equivalent of a little over 22 barrels of 40 gallons. But the standing Jerry cans still leave just enough space above for a top layer of 10 extra cans laying on the side:

enter image description here

That's 200 more liters, for a total of 3560 liters or 940.4525 gallons. The equivalent of 23.5 barrels.

Wait, there's even a better stacking with 12 extra lying cans, for 40 more liters, so a total of 180 times the 20-liter canister. 3600 liters stacked in German engineering!

enter image description here

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    \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted - fantastic detail and visualization \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 9:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you follow the circle packing link, for smaller diameter barrels there are also other optimal pack patterns with 10-11 per layer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 9:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin but those would be exceptionally long barrels \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 9:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ yes, I thought so too. The other "trap" here that I fell into first (you can look at the first version of my answer in edit history) is that the volume of the barrels in question is really 40 gallon. It says so in the PHB description. The four cubic feet is for packing dry goods in, but that does not make the barrels magically into 30 gallon barrels instead. It means that the rules assume you waste about 25% space inside with dry goods (certainly not true for grain, flour etc, but maybe for potatoes, weapons etc). Smaller barrels waste less space, but the ones asked for are 40 gal. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 12:33

About 21 barrels

The barrels will not fill that space fully, as they are more or less cylindric in form. If they were ideal cylinders, you could apply circle packing in a circle as long as the height of the barrels fits in. We'll start from there.

The portable hole creates a cylindric space 10 feet deep and 6 across:

It unfolds into a circular sheet 6 feet in diameter. (…) the portable hole creates an extradimensional hole 10 feet deep.

The description of barrel in the rules says:

A barrel can hold 40 gallons of liquid, or 4 cubic feet of solid material.

4 cubic feet would only be about 30 gallons. I think for this exercise we need to use the liquid volume, which will more closely reflect the full space used. The 4 cubic feet for solids must assume there is a lot of empty space wasted within the barrel if you pack in solids, not that the dimensions would be smaller.

The dimensions of the barrel are also not exactly defined, but barrels are taller than they are wide. Today, a typical 40 gallon wood barrel is about 2.9 feet high, and would have a diameter of a bit more than 1.5 feet, if perfectly cylindrical. However, the belly diameter of such a barrel would be more like 2 feet, as other than modern metal barrels, wooden barrels are not really cylindrical, they are thicker around the middle. The rounded side profile of the barrel will lose you some additional space, as will the thickness of the wood. In medieval times things were not as standardized, but we'll use these dimensions as placeholders.

At these dimensions, you could pack in only three layers of barrels, and at a ratio of 3 to 1 for the thickest point of diameter, you could pack 7 barrels per layer.

7 Barrel packing

This will result in a total of 21 barrels. All assuming that there is no other way to pack them denser by tumbling them in and treating them more like spheres in a cylinder.

There also this similar question on how many coins fit into a cubic foot. If you just looked at circle packing and ignored the outer dimension limits of the hole, you would get a larger result, but I think that is not realistic, the outer dimensions have a significant impact on how many barrels you can fit in.

  • \$\begingroup\$ 21 40 gallon barrels. but as I show below, up to 42 jerry cans or 35 4-cft barrels \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 9:08

Building on AnnaAG's answer of 21 40 gallon barrels.

I think you can get 22 barrels in.

I'm making the case that you could get 4 barrels in 1 layer on their side. 4 sideways barrels in a cylinder

There is some overlap in the image but I think that can be ignored because of

  • the curvature of the barrels
  • the barrels actually being 8.8 squares high not 9 like in the image

If you allow that then you can stack the barrels in the following way:

  • 2 layers of 7 upright barrels which is 176 cm
  • you would then have 128 cm left at the top which is enough for 2 sideways barrels on top of each other (120 cm)
  • which means you can have 2 layers of 4 sideways barrels
  • for a grand total of 2*7+2*4=22 barrels, an increase of 1 barrel!
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nice answer, +1, I considered putting the barrels sideways but didn’t think you could fit in more \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 16:50

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