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Types of Shipping Containers and Their Common Uses

18.07.2022 - Posted by Updated On 18.07.2022    

There are in excess of 17 million shipping containers moving around the world at any given time; and while the vast majority of them are standard shipping containers, there are several other types of containers that are required for moving different types and sizes of products and equipment. What are the different types of shipping containers and why are they important to containerized shipping?

The most common types of containers are:

  • Standard Shipping Containers 20' and 40' sizes
  • High Cube Containers 20' and 40' sizes
  • Refrigerated Containers 20' and 40' sizes
  • Open Top Containers
  • Flat Rack Containers

The weights, and occasionally the internal and external dimensions can vary slightly depending materials and specifications of the manufacturer and shipping line, in general they stick very closely to ISO standards. The logic behind this size is that nearly every port in the world is geared to manage 20' and 40' containers, so while there are some deviations from 20' and 40' lengths, those deviations are typically created for a special purpose.

Continue reading for a brief introduction to the each type of shipping container and how it's employed to create efficient shipping.

Standard Shipping Containers

Standard shipping containers can be called a few different things depending on where in the world you are. Dry vans, sea cans, cargo containers, or connex containers are some of the most common names.

Standard shipping containers are the most common type of containers around the world. They can carry nearly anything that can be put on a pallet and doesn't need a controlled environment - think any dry goods such as folded clothing, or toys, office supplies, electronics. In general, if you buy in a box and it's marked made in China at some point in time it probably travelled in a shipping container.

standard shipping container

20' containers are the most popular in the secondary market and commonly used as storage units or similar applications because they have a smaller footprint and are easier to transport and maintain.

40' containers are the most common, and the most popular with shipping lines due to the lower price to both produce and transport.

Average Weights and Dimensions of a Standard Shipping Container

Length Width Height Weight
20' standard container 20' 8' 8'6" 4,600 lbs
40' standard container 40' 8' 8'6" 5,820 lbs

High Cube Shipping Containers

High Cube shipping containers are similar to standard containers in that they come in both 20' and 40' lengths. 20' high cubes are less common, and normally are only available in the secondary market as new containers, while 40' high cube containers are gradually replacing 40' standard containers as the industry standard.

High cube containers are used in shipping for nearly everything that standard containers are used for, however given the extra foot in height; they are able to carry more products and allow the shipping lines to have a more competitive price per square foot.

high cube shipping container

High cube containers are commonly used in the secondary market for storage, modular home conversions, or on-site office conversions.

Average Weights and Dimensions of a High Cube Shipping Container

Length Width Height Weight
20' high cube container 20' 8' 9'6" 5,185 lbs
40' high cube container 40' 8' 9'6" 6,600 lbs

Refrigerated Shipping Containers

Refrigerated containers, or reefer containers, are the containers that are employed when the items being transported need to be kept at a constant temperature or humidity level. As with most other containers, refrigerated containers come in 20' and 40' lengths, with the occasional 40' high cube.

Moving frozen foods such as fish, meat, or produce requires specific attention to the climate of the container. Reefers are capable of keeping a constant temperature ranging from -13F (-25C) to 77F (25C) through the use of a three phase power supply.

refrigerated shipping container

Once loaded on the ship they are connected to the ships power system, if that doesn't meet the demands or there is any type of failure they are equipped with their own power pack and diesel generator. Once on a truck they are powered through their own generator set, or gen set.

In the secondary market, refrigerated containers might be used as on-site freezers for ice cream, dairy products, or as additional cold storage for a restaurant.

Average Weights and Dimensions of a Refrigerated Shipping Container

Length Width Height Weight
20' refrigerated container 20' 8' 8'6" 6,750 lbs
40' refrigerated container 40' 8' 8'6" 10,600 lbs

Open Top Containers

Open top containers are a special case and used when the items being transported are large, or have special loading requirements. Open tops come in 20' and 40' lengths, and can either have a soft top (tarp), or hard top (removable steel roof).

Open top containers are usually used to transport tall equipment, assembled or disassembled into transportable parts, or things that can't be loaded through the doors of a standard shipping container. A good example of something that can't easily be loaded through the doors of a container is large pieces of granite or stone.

open top shipping container

A large piece of granite can't easily be loaded through the 8' door of a shipping container with a forklift, so an open top is used and the granite is loaded by crane through the top, and then the top is placed back onto the unit for transport.

Open top containers aren't typically used in the secondary market.

Average Weights and Dimensions of an Open Top Shipping Container

Length Width Height Weight
20' open top container 20' 8' 8'6" 5,410 lbs
40' open top container 40' 8' 8'6" 12,250 lbs

Flat Rack Containers

Flat Rack containers are similar to open tops in that they're used for transporting special items. Unlike open tops and standard containers, flat racks have no sides or top; and the two ends of the container are collapsible for easier storage.

Flat rack containers are used for transporting heavy equipment or similar items. Aside from bulky heavy equipment, a good example of something transported on a flat rack container would be pipes or coiled wires or cables.

flat rack shipping container

Flat rack containers aren't typically used in the secondary market.

Average Weights and Dimensions of a Flat Rack Shipping Container

Length Width Height Weight
20' flat rack container 20' 8' 8'6" 5,210 lbs
40' flat rack container 40' 8' 8'6" 11,025 lbs

Shipping containers are an integral part of shipping and our daily life, and are one of the reasons that so many people have access to necessities of life at an affordable price. They provide the block for efficient transportation of products from the manufacturer to the retail outlet. Without a doubt there are certainly other types of shipping containers in service, but standard dry and high cube containers, refrigerated containers, open tops and flat racks are the most widely employed by various industries around the world. provides both retail and commercial services for shipping lines, leasing and finance companies, and both traders and retail outlets around the world. To learn more about how to efficiently sell shipping containers through our container trading software package, please contact us at (307)222-9085 or by email.

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