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The comprehensive guide to shipping container types


Shipping containers are the backbone of global trade, enabling the efficient and secure transport of goods across oceans and continents. These steel boxes have revolutionized logistics, making it possible to move virtually anything, anywhere. But not all shipping containers are created equal. Different types of cargo require different types of containers. In this blog post, we’ll dive deep into the world of shipping containers, exploring their various types and uses.

Standard shipping containers

The most common types of shipping containers are the 20-foot and 40-foot standard containers. These containers are used for a wide variety of goods, from boxed and palletized cargo to bulky items. They’re known for their strength and durability, made from high-quality steel capable of withstanding harsh ocean conditions. The dimensions of a standard 20-foot container are approximately 20 feet long, 8 feet wide and 8.6 feet high, offering a cargo capacity of about 33 cubic meters. The 40-foot version doubles the length, providing around 67 cubic meters of space.

High cube containers

High cube containers are similar to standard containers but with an extra foot in height, making them 9.6 feet tall. This additional space is beneficial for stacking goods higher or accommodating taller items. High cube containers are particularly popular in the construction of shipping container homes and offices; as the extra height makes the space more comfortable and versatile.

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Refrigerated containers

Refrigerated containers, or “reefers,” are essential for transporting perishable goods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products and pharmaceuticals. These containers are equipped with refrigeration units that maintain a constant temperature, ensuring that goods arrive at their destination fresh and intact. Reefers typically come in 20-foot and 40-foot sizes and can maintain temperatures ranging from -65°C to 35°C.

Open top containers

Open top containers are ideal for cargo that is too tall to fit in a standard container or that requires loading from the top, such as heavy machinery or large industrial parts. These containers have a convertible top that can be removed to load the cargo and then covered with a tarpaulin to protect it during transport.

Flat rack containers

Flat rack containers are designed for oversized cargo that won’t fit in standard containers, such as boats, machinery and industrial equipment. These containers have collapsible sides that can be folded down to accommodate wider loads. Flat racks are available in 20-foot and 40-foot lengths, offering versatility for different cargo sizes.

Tank containers

Tank containers are used for transporting liquids, gases and powders. These are cylindrical tanks enclosed within a frame, ensuring safe and secure transport of hazardous and non-hazardous materials. Tank containers are built to strict safety standards and are equipped with insulation and heating systems to maintain the cargo’s temperature.

Specialized containers

Beyond the more common types, there are several specialized containers designed for specific uses:

  • Open Side Containers: These containers have doors that open on the side, allowing for easy loading and unloading of wide or bulky items.
  • Ventilated Containers: Used for organic products that require ventilation, these containers have ventilation panels to prevent moisture buildup and spoilage.
  • Insulated or Thermal Containers: Similar to reefers but without active refrigeration, these containers are used for transporting temperature-sensitive goods over shorter distances.
  • Garmentainers: Designed for transporting garments on hangers, these containers minimize creasing and folding, ensuring clothes arrive in retail-ready condition.
  • Half-Height Containers: Used for heavy and dense cargo such as coal or stones, these containers are half the height of standard containers, making them easier to load and unload.

Choosing the right container

Selecting the right type of shipping container depends on the nature of the goods to be transported. Factors to consider include the size and weight of the cargo, any temperature control requirements and the need for specialized loading or unloading methods. It’s also important to consider the regulations of the countries of origin and destination as some goods may have specific shipping requirements.

The future of shipping containers

As global trade continues to grow, so does the demand for efficient and sustainable shipping solutions. The shipping container industry is evolving, with innovations aimed at reducing environmental impact, improving security and enhancing the versatility of containers. For example, there’s an increasing interest in eco-friendly containers made from materials other than steel, as well as smart containers equipped with GPS tracking and temperature monitoring systems.


Shipping containers are an indispensable part of global commerce facilitating the smooth and efficient transport of goods across the globe. From standard containers to specialized types designed for specific cargo, understanding the variety of shipping containers available is crucial for businesses and logistics professionals. As the world continues to become more interconnected, the role of shipping containers in global trade is set to become even more vital. Whether it’s through innovations in container technology or the development of more sustainable shipping practices, the future of shipping containers looks promising, ensuring that they will continue to be at the heart of global trade for years to come.

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