What Are the Different Types of Shipping Containers That Exist Today?

According to the OECD, about 90% of the world’s goods travel by ocean at some stage, and most of them do it via shipping containers.

Nowadays, the logistics industry helps feed and clothe us, furnishes our homes with useful appliances, and keeps us on the road, too.

There’s no doubt that these metal containers that carry goods across the globe play a much bigger role in our everyday lives than we think. They’re so effective at their purpose that shipping containers have barely evolved from the original 1956 design.

Keep reading to find out more about the different types of shipping containers available nowadays.

The Most Common Types of Shipping Containers

Logistics companies use dry storage containers, for transporting goods that require no temperature control in transit. They’re available in 40, 20, and 10-foot lengths.

These are some of the most common shipping containers.

They’re the best cargo containers for transporting a huge range of dry goods, from foodstuffs to motor vehicles. About four standard-sized cars can fit into a 40-foot container.

Flat Rack Containers

These are similar to the above shipping containers except they have collapsible sides. Some have no walls at all.

This means shipping companies can fold them flat to create a rack for transporting large, unusually-shaped loads. They’re ideal for cargo that needs loading from the top or sides, and they come in 20 and 40-foot sizes.

Swap Body Containers

Swap bodies are another type of versatile container used mainly in Europe. These containers aren’t made according to ISO requirements, so they’re not standardized.

The strong bottom and convertible top make them suitable for a huge range of cargo. They can also attach to either a truck or a railcar as needed.

Swap bodies do not have upper corner fittings, so they’re not stackable and thus restricted to land-based transportation.

Open Top Containers

Like flat rack containers, the top of these cargo boxes comes off for easy top loading. They’re the best shipping containers for tall, heavy, machinery, like cranes, or top-loading items.

Usually, a securely fastened tarpaulin suffices to protect the load. Since they don’t have a solid top, you can’t stack any other containers on top of them in transit.

Tunnel and Open Side Containers

Tunnel containers are open at both short ends, and open side containers have doors that transform into open sides. Thanks to this, you can load and unload these containers quickly and easily.

These containers suit items that are too large to fit through the usual container doors, too.

These are among the best containers to repurpose for storage or as a garden shed since you can easily wheel things in and out of them.

Double Doors Containers

Like the above two types of containers, these storage units have two doors for wider access and easy loading. They come in 20 and 40-foot sizes and have doors on the short and long sides.

Refrigerated ISO Containers

These temperature-regulated shipping containers, also known as reefers, maintain a constant low temperature. They’re made from a specialized weathering steel called ‘Cor-ten’ steel.

Reefers are exclusively used for shipping perishable goods, like fruit, vegetables, and other temperature-sensitive foods.

Insulated or Thermal Containers

These containers use regulated temperature control to protect items from extreme temperature changes onboard the cargo ship.

They’re suited to heat-sensitive non-food items, like electronics, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and biological materials.

Thermal containers can withstand external heat and have mechanical compressors to cool or heat the air inside the container. They’re built along the lines of thermos flasks.

Car Carriers

The best shipping companies use these containers for transporting motor vehicles.

They’re designed especially for shipping cars over long distances and have collapsible sides for easy loading. Car carriers have dimensions to suit standard-sized vehicles, so they fit snugly inside and can’t move about in transit.

Do you have questions about the logistics of shipping automobiles? Read this to learn more about getting cars from A to B.

Half-Height Containers

As the name suggests, these containers are half as tall as regular shipping containers. They’re useful for smaller loads or as a cargo platform for transporting goods, like coal and stones, locally.

Their low center of gravity means they can carry heavy loads without becoming top-heavy.

High Cube Containers

These are the opposite of half-height containers in that they’re a different size from the norm.

They’re identical to regular containers, except they’re about a foot higher and have a recess in the floor at the front. This recess helps to center the containers on specially-designed goose-neck chassis during transport.

Specialized Containers

These containers are unique and usually designed for a specific type of cargo, often weapons or highly flammable goods.

Roll containers are a type of specialized containers made for transporting stacks or sets of materials. They’re made of strong, thick wire mess and have rollers for easy movements.

Intermediate Bulk Shift Containers

These shipping containers suit intermediate shipping of goods.

They can handle large amounts of materials and work best for moving items to a place where they’re packed before heading for distant destinations.


Drums are one of the earliest forms of containers used for shipping liquids across land and sea.

They’re made from steel, plastic, fiber, and other lightweight metals and come in a range of sizes. Due to their irregular shape, these vessels take up more space than rectangular containers.

ISO Tank Containers

Like drums, tankers comprise strong galvanized steel or anti-corrosive materials suitable for transporting liquids.

Manufacturers must fill them at least 80% full to prevent dangerous surging of liquids during transport, and less than 95% full to allow for thermal expansion.

Versatile Solutions

You don’t need to be in the shipping industry to find a use for cargo containers. Nowadays, they’re used for a wide range of applications like housing, storage, offices, and more.

Have you discovered a use for one of these types of shipping containers thanks to this article? If so, bookmark our website, so you can check back regularly for more useful advice.

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