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An Exclusive Look At The Different Types Of Shipping Containers

In the fast-paced world of transportation and logistics, shipping containers play a vital role in ensuring goods reach their intended destinations safely and efficiently. These containers, designed to withstand the rigors of long-haul journeys, have revolutionized global trade by streamlining the shipping process.

If you’re curious about the various types of shipping containers available and their specific uses, you’ve come to the right place.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of shipping containers, exploring their importance in the transportation industry and providing an overview of the different types available.

Whether you’re a business owner looking to transport goods internationally or simply interested in the logistics behind global trade, understanding the different types of shipping containers is crucial.

From standard dry containers to specialized refrigerated containers for perishable items, we will cover them all. You’ll discover the unique features and benefits of each container type, allowing you to make well-informed decisions when it comes to transporting your cargo. No matter the size, nature, or fragility of your goods, there is a shipping container specifically designed to meet your needs.

Read on to broaden your knowledge of shipping containers and gain valuable insights into the world of global logistics. Let’s explore the vast array of different types of shipping containers and unlock the potential they hold in revolutionizing modern trade.

Shipping Container Basics

Definition and Purpose of Shipping Containers

Shipping containers are large, standardized metal boxes that are used for transporting goods globally. They serve as protective enclosures for the cargo, ensuring the safety and security of the items being transported.

The main purpose of shipping containers is to facilitate the efficient and safe transportation of goods by various modes of transportation, including ships, trains, and trucks.

Brief History of Shipping Containers

The concept of using containers for transporting goods dates back to the early 20th century. However, it was not until the mid-1950s that the modern shipping container as we know it today was introduced.

This innovation revolutionized the global trade industry by significantly reducing loading and unloading times and enabling the seamless transfer of goods from one mode of transport to another.

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Key Components and Features of Shipping Containers

Shipping containers are designed with several key components and features to ensure the safe and efficient transportation of goods. These include sturdy metal walls, durable floors, and secure doors.

The walls and floors are typically made of steel or aluminum, providing strength and protection against external elements. The doors are equipped with locking mechanisms to prevent unauthorized access and tampering.

Standard Dimensions and Specifications of Shipping Containers

Shipping containers come in various standard sizes, but the most commonly used is the 20-foot and 40-foot containers. The standard height of a shipping container is 8 feet, 6 inches.

These standard dimensions allow for easy stacking and handling during transportation and storage. Additionally, shipping containers follow certain specifications, such as being water-tight, able to withstand extreme weather conditions, and suitable for international shipping regulations.

Standard Shipping Container Types

1. Dry Containers

High Cube 40 foot Shipping Container
High Cube 40 foot dry Shipping Container

Dry containers are the most common type of shipping containers used for general cargo transportation. They are designed to protect goods from the elements and facilitate easy loading and unloading. These containers are typically made of steel and come in standardized sizes and specifications.

2. Flat Rack Containers

An image of flat rack container
Flat rack shipping container. Courtesy: Robotic and automation news.

Flat rack containers have collapsible sides and ends, making them ideal for loading and unloading oversized cargo.

They provide flexibility in terms of cargo dimensions, as the sides can be folded down to accommodate larger items. These containers are often used to transport heavy machinery, vehicles, and other bulky goods.

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3. Open Top Containers

20 ft open top shipping container
20 ft open top shipping container

Open top containers come with removable roofs, allowing for vertical loading of goods. They are commonly used for transporting goods that are taller than standard containers or require top-loading. This type of container is popular for cargo such as machinery, timber, and other goods that are difficult to load through conventional means.

4. High-cube Containers

High Cube 40 foot Shipping Container
High Cube 40 foot dry Shipping Container

High-cube containers offer increased storage capacity compared to standard containers. They are taller, allowing for more efficient use of vertical space.

These containers are utilized when handling lightweight cargo that requires extra volume or goods that cannot be compressed, such as furniture.

5. Standard 20’ Iso Containers

A standard 20 foot container.
Standard 20 ft shipping container Courtesy: moduGO

These are the most popular size and styles of containers you’ll find on the market today. They’re also known as “cargo containers” or “double-stack” because they can be stacked on each other when traveling across oceans or by rail. They come in 40’ and 45’ sizes, but these are less common than their smaller counterparts.

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Standard 20’ ISO Containers are usually used for long-distance shipments requiring more space than standard cargo trucks. They’re also used for short trips if there’s not enough room for an entire truckload or if you need to store goods at your destination until they’re ready for pickup.

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6. Tunnel Container

Tunnel shipping container
Tunnel shipping container

A tunnel container is a large metal box designed under bridges and tunnels where conventional trucks cannot go.

This container is typically used to transport large items, such as construction equipment or machinery, from one location to another by railcar. 

Instead of road vehicles since they can fit through tight spots, whereas regular trucks would only be able to pass through safely without damaging their wheels or tires against the sides of the tunnel.

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Specialized Shipping Container Types

1. Reefer Containers

Refrigereated shipping container
Refrigerated shipping container

Reefer containers are specialized shipping containers that cater to the transportation of perishable goods that require temperature control. These containers are equipped with refrigeration units that help maintain the ideal temperature for items such as fruits, vegetables, meat, and pharmaceuticals during transit.

The insulation and ventilation systems in reefer containers ensure that the cargo remains fresh and undamaged throughout the journey.

2. Tank Containers

Shipping container tank
Shipping container tank

Tank containers are specifically designed for the transportation of liquids and gases. These containers have cylindrical shape and are made from materials that can withstand the pressure and corrosion caused by hazardous or sensitive substances.

Tank containers are commonly used for shipping chemicals, oils, liquefied gases, and other similar items. They come with safety features and are tested to adhere to stringent international regulations, ensuring the secure transport of their contents.

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3. Open Side Containers

Open side shipping container
A look at open side shipping container

Open side containers are an excellent choice when you need easy access to cargo from the side. Unlike standard containers, open side containers have full-length side doors that allow for hassle-free loading and unloading of goods.

These containers are particularly useful when you need to transport oversized or bulky items that wouldn’t fit through the regular container doors. With open side containers, you can conveniently and efficiently manage the logistics of your unique cargo requirements.

4. Half-height Containers

Half height shipping container
Half height shipping container

When it comes to heavy and dense cargo, half-height containers provide the perfect solution. These containers have reduced height compared to standard containers but offer robust construction and load-bearing capabilities.

Whether you’re shipping minerals, scrap metal, or other dense materials, half-height containers are designed to handle the weight without compromising structural integrity. These containers are a cost-effective and efficient choice for transporting heavy and specialized cargo.

5. Car Carriers

car carriers shipping container
Car Carriers shipping container Courtesy:

A car carrier is designed to carry cars or other vehicles across long distances easily. Car carriers can be divided into two main types: open and closed. 

Open deck car carriers have open tops so that cars can be loaded onto them manually without any crane or forklift equipment being used.

Closed-deck car carriers require forklift trucks for loading and unloading due to their closed nature; however, they are much more stable than their open-decked counterparts, making them safer for transporting cars over long distances.

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6. Intermediate Bulk Shift Containers (IBC)

Intermediate bulk shift containers
Intermediate bulk shift containers

These containers are designed for transporting liquids, powders, and granules. They have special doors that allow easy access to the contents inside, and they can be stacked on top of each other without any risk of spillage or leakage. The IBC is popular for transporting pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and food products.

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7. Drums

Drums are used mainly by chemical companies, but they can also be used to transport solid materials such as grain or vegetables. 

The drum can be made from steel or plastic, and it has an opening at one end where you can add or remove material. The drum is sealed with a lid that can be opened when required with a special tool known as a pry bar or crowbar.

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8. Swap Bodies

Swap body shipping container
Swap body shipping container

Truckers use swap bodies to swap out their trailers quickly and easily when they pick up or drop off cargo. 

The swap body is connected to the trailer using a pin and hook system, which makes hooking up and unhooking easy for anyone who has ever hauled anything with a pickup truck before. 

Swap bodies aren’t just for trucks; they’re also available for tractor-trailers and other large vehicles that need extra storage space when hauling cargo from place to place.

9. Special-purpose Containers

Special purpose shipping container
Special purpose shipping container

There are many different types of special-purpose shipping containers. Some are designed to be used only once, while others are made to be used repeatedly. For example, some containers have been converted into homes or storage units. 

Others have been modified to serve as medical facilities or offices. Many companies use these containers for temporary storage during construction projects or special events like concerts or festivals.

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Container Materials

When it comes to shipping containers, the material used in their construction plays a crucial role in determining their durability, strength, and overall performance. Let’s explore the different types of container materials commonly used:

Steel Containers

Steel is the most common material used in the construction of shipping containers. Known for its exceptional strength and durability, steel containers can withstand challenging conditions during transportation and storage.

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These containers are highly secure, resistant to fire, and provide excellent protection against harsh weather elements. If you’re looking for a reliable and robust shipping container, steel is the way to go.

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Aluminum Containers

For those seeking lightweight and corrosion-resistant containers, aluminum is an excellent choice. Aluminum containers are ideal for transporting goods that require maximum protection from corrosion, such as certain chemicals or perishable items.

Despite being lighter in weight compared to steel, these containers maintain their strength and structural integrity, making them suitable for various shipping needs.

Other Container Materials

In addition to steel and aluminum, there are other less common container materials available. Fiberglass containers, for example, offer exceptional insulation properties and are often used for specialized purposes such as transporting temperature-sensitive goods.

Composite materials, on the other hand, combine different materials to create containers with unique properties, such as enhanced strength or insulation capabilities.

While these materials may not be as prevalent as steel or aluminum, they offer alternative solutions for specific shipping requirements.

By understanding the different container materials available, you can make an informed decision when choosing the right shipping container for your needs.

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Container Modifications and Customization

Shipping container in St. Augustine, Florida, United States
Shipping container in St. Augustine, Florida, United States

Shipping containers can be modified and customized in various ways to suit specific cargo or storage needs. These modifications enhance the versatility and functionality of the containers, making them valuable assets for numerous industries.

There are countless options available when it comes to modifying and customizing shipping containers. Some of the most popular modifications include:

  • Adding windows: Installing windows can improve the lighting and ventilation inside the container, making it more suitable for human occupancy or as a workspace.
  • Adding vents: Vents help with air circulation, preventing moisture buildup and maintaining a controlled temperature inside the container, which is crucial for certain types of cargo.
  • Installing shelving units: Shelving units optimize the storage space within the container, allowing for efficient organization and easy access to goods or equipment.

By modifying shipping containers, businesses can adapt them to their specific requirements, whether it’s for transporting delicate goods, setting up temporary offices, or creating pop-up shops. The benefits of these modifications include:

  • Customization: Modifying containers allows businesses to tailor them to their unique needs, ensuring that they have the ideal infrastructure for their operations.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Instead of investing in traditional buildings or structures, modifying shipping containers provides a more affordable alternative for various applications.
  • Flexibility: Modified containers can be easily transported and reconfigured as needed, making them suitable for businesses that require mobility or temporary setups.

Whether you need a container with specialized features or want to transform a standard container into a custom-designed space, container modifications offer endless possibilities.

Container Transportation Methods and Logistics

When it comes to transporting shipping containers, there are various methods and logistical considerations that need to be taken into account.

Whether you are shipping goods domestically or internationally, understanding these transportation methods and logistics is crucial for a successful and seamless delivery.

Overview of Different Transportation Methods

  • Ships: Shipping containers are most commonly transported over long distances by sea. Ships have the capacity to accommodate thousands of containers, making it a cost-effective option for large-scale shipments.
  • Trucks: For shorter distances or when time is of the essence, shipping containers can be transported by trucks. This method offers greater flexibility in terms of delivery and allows for easy access to remote locations.
  • Trains: Rail transportation is often used for inland shipping, especially when it comes to intermodal transportation. Containers can be seamlessly transferred between trains and trucks, providing a more efficient and environmentally friendly solution.

Logistical Considerations in Container Transportation

Planning container transportation requires careful consideration of various logistical factors. These include:

  • Route Planning: Ensuring that the most efficient route is chosen, taking into account factors such as distance, infrastructure, and possible restrictions or regulations.
  • Container Tracking: Utilizing advanced tracking technologies to monitor the location and condition of containers throughout the transportation process, improving visibility and security.
  • Customs and Regulatory Compliance: Adhering to customs and regulatory requirements of both the origin and destination countries to facilitate smooth and lawful transportation.
  • Insurance: Securing appropriate insurance coverage to protect against potential risks and liabilities during transportation.

Importance of Proper Packing and Securing

One crucial aspect of container transportation is the proper packing and securing of cargo within the container. This ensures that the goods remain intact and undamaged during transit. Some key considerations include:

  • Weight Distribution: Properly distributing the weight of the cargo within the container to maintain balance and stability, reducing the risk of accidents or damage.
  • Securing Measures: Utilizing appropriate securing mechanisms such as straps, nets, or bracing to prevent cargo from shifting or falling during transportation.
  • Weather Protection: Taking necessary precautions to protect cargo from weather conditions by using waterproof packaging, desiccants, or climate-controlled containers when required.

By understanding the various transportation methods, logistical considerations, and the importance of proper packing and securing, you can ensure that your shipping containers reach their destination safely and efficiently.

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Container Rental and Leasing Options

When it comes to shipping containers, renting or leasing can be a beneficial option for businesses with short-term needs. Whether you have a temporary project, a seasonal demand, or a one-time shipment, renting or leasing a container provides you with flexibility and cost-effectiveness.

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There are various rental and leasing options available in the market to cater to your specific requirements. Let’s take a closer look at some of these options:

  • Short-Term Rental: This option allows you to rent a container for a specific duration, typically ranging from a few days to a few months. It is perfect for short-term storage needs or when you have a project with a defined timeline.
  • Long-Term Rental: If you anticipate needing a container for an extended period, long-term rental is the ideal choice. It enables you to rent a container for several months or even years, offering cost savings compared to purchasing a new container.
  • Leasing: Leasing involves a contract between you and the leasing provider, where you agree to rent a container for a predetermined period. Leasing options can be flexible, allowing you to customize the terms and conditions according to your specific needs.
  • Lease-to-Own: This option combines the benefits of leasing and ownership. With a lease-to-own agreement, a portion of your monthly payments goes towards the purchase of the container. At the end of the lease term, you have the option to buy the container at a predetermined price.

Factors to Consider When Renting or Leasing

When choosing a container rental or leasing provider, there are several factors to consider:

  • Reputation and Experience: Look for providers with a track record of reliable and professional service. Read customer reviews and testimonials to gauge their reputation.
  • Container Condition: Inspect the containers before making a decision. Ensure they are clean, well-maintained, and in good condition to meet your needs.
  • Flexibility: Consider the flexibility offered by the provider. Can you easily extend the rental or lease period if needed? Are there options to upgrade or downgrade containers as per your requirements?
  • Delivery and Pickup: Check if the provider offers delivery and pickup services. This convenience can save you time and effort in transporting the container to and from your desired location.
  • Pricing: Compare pricing structures and packages from different providers. Ensure there are no hidden costs and that the pricing aligns with your budget.

By carefully evaluating your needs and considering these factors, you can choose the most suitable container rental or leasing option.

Whether it’s a short-term project or a long-term storage solution, renting or leasing a shipping container provides you with the flexibility and convenience you require.


Container Dimensions and Storage

When it comes to shipping containers, understanding their dimensions is essential. Different types of containers come in various sizes, and these measurements have a significant impact on storage capacity and cargo limitations.

Standard shipping containers have set measurements to ensure compatibility and efficiency in global transportation. The most common sizes include the 20-foot and 40-foot containers.

A 20-foot container has interior dimensions of approximately 19 feet and 4 inches in length, 7 feet and 8 inches in width, and 7 feet and 10 inches in height.

On the other hand, a 40-foot container offers about 39 feet 6 inches in length, 7 feet and 8 inches in width, and 7 feet and 10 inches in height.

Container height is typically consistent across various sizes. However, length and width can vary, allowing flexibility in accommodating specific cargo needs. It’s important to note that container doors add slightly to the overall length, and internal dimensions may differ due to structural elements.

Shipping Container Dimensions and Storage Capacity

The dimensions of the different types of shipping containers directly impact storage capacity and cargo limitations. Containers with larger dimensions can hold more cargo, assuming the weight limits are not exceeded.

Smaller containers, while more suitable for certain applications, may have limited storage space. Before selecting a container, consider the volume and weight of your cargo to ensure it can be accommodated within the chosen dimensions.

Maximizing storage space within a shipping container requires careful planning and utilization of different strategies. Consider using stackable containers to make the most of vertical space. Implementing shelving units and racks can help organize and optimize storage capacity. Additionally, utilizing partitioning or cargo nets can prevent shifting and damage to goods during transit.

By understanding shipping container dimensions and employing smart storage techniques, you can ensure efficient usage of space while adhering to cargo limitations. Choose the right container size to meet your storage needs and maximize the potential of your shipments.


In conclusion, understanding the different types of shipping containers is crucial in global trade and logistics. Throughout this content, we have explored the basics of shipping containers, including their types, materials, modifications, transportation methods, rental options, dimensions, and storage capabilities.

By understanding the various types of shipping containers available, businesses can make informed decisions regarding their transportation needs.

Standard shipping containers offer versatility and are widely used for general cargo, while specialized containers cater to specific requirements like refrigeration or bulk shipments.

Container materials play a vital role in determining their durability and suitability for different environments. Additionally, modifications and customization options allow businesses to adapt shipping containers to their specific needs, creating efficient storage and workspace solutions.

Transportation methods and logistics are essential aspects of moving containers from one location to another. Whether through sea, rail, or road, understanding the logistics involved in container transportation ensures smooth operations and timely deliveries.

Rental and leasing options offer flexibility to businesses, enabling them to scale their container requirements based on their needs. This allows for cost-effective solutions without the need for long-term commitments.

Container dimensions and storage capabilities are crucial factors to consider while planning cargo shipments. Proper utilization of container space helps maximize efficiency and reduce costs associated with shipping.

In conclusion, a comprehensive understanding of different types of shipping containers empowers businesses to make informed decisions, optimize their supply chains, and ensure the safe transportation of goods worldwide.

By recognizing the importance of container types, materials, modifications, transportation methods, rental options, dimensions, and storage capabilities, businesses can gain a competitive edge in the global trade and logistics industry.


Throughout this content, we have provided a comprehensive overview of different types of shipping containers. For further reference, you can find detailed appendices below:

  • Appendix A: Shipping Container Regulations and Standards
  • Appendix B: Glossary of Shipping Container Terminology
  • Appendix C: Case Studies: Successful Utilization of Specialized Containers
  • Appendix D: Container Maintenance and Inspection Checklist

By referring to these appendices, you can deepen your knowledge and enhance your understanding of different aspects related to shipping containers and global trade.

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