Types of Shipping Containers

shipping container typesAlthough shipping containers have been standardized for decades, there are some variations between different sizes and styles, all driven by particular application requirements.  From open-side shipping containers to high-cube shipping containers to standard shipping containers, and from 10 foot all the way up to 40 foot sizes, the versatility of these workhorses of the world economy is impressive.  Here we’ll detail the different types of shipping containers, with an eye towards helping you figure out what container is right for your specific application.

portable storage containerPortable Storage Container | Portable Storage Unit

Portable storage containers are popular because they can be placed on-site, used for temporary storage of goods, construction materials, or work-in-process, and then later they can be removed and used elsewhere.  They can even be used in a moving situation where household or corporate goods need to be moved a long distance and they need to be safely packed and secured in a configuration that is easily transported.  Used in applications from construction job sites, to remodeling, to even crude hunting lodges and tiny houses, these containers can be configured and used in a myriad of ways.



steel shipping containersSteel Shipping Containers | Metal Shipping Containers

Steel shipping containers are available in many sizes and shapes. Standard 20′ and 40 foot storage containers are the most popular shipping containers. Standard containers have an interior height 7’10” and an external height of 8’6″. The standard metal shipping container’s interior and exterior widths are the same for almost all non-modified containers. They are 7’8″ and 8’0″, respectively. Other sizes of shipping containers come in different lengths, apart from the 20′ and 40′ containers.

You can also create custom-length containers by welding together containers. These containers can be made to order and take longer than the standard sizes available on the market.


20 ft shipping containers20 ft Shipping Containers

A shipping container’s most common dimensions are 20′ long, 8′ wide, and 8.5′ high. Apart from shipping goods across oceans, 20-foot shipping containers are often part of the rental fleets at on-site storage companies. The 20-foot shipping containers are far more common than the 10′ storage containers. Their popularity is largely due to the lower storage costs per square foot. There are many different types of 20ft shipping containers. These containers are typically new (also known as “one-trip”) and wind and watertight. They can also be cargo-worthy.




40 ft shipping containers40 ft Shipping Containers

Containers 40ft in length are very popular and can be bought in any condition. Similar to the 20ft storage container, these containers are 8′ wide by 8.5′ high. These containers can be used to ship goods and long-term storage. These containers can also be used as the foundation for large-scale shipping container buildings.  Their primary advantage is their superior length and larger capacity.





high cube shipping containersHigh Cube Shipping Containers

High cube shipping containers are similar to standard containers but they are 9 foot 6 inches in height (i.e. exactly 1 foot taller than a standard 40 foot shipping container), so they appear to be cube or square-shaped when viewed from the front or back.  High cube containers most often found are those with 40-foot lengths. These containers can often be seen on the highway on tractor trailers loaded with goods for delivery, and have a very large volume of 2694 cu ft.   For businesses that deal with bulk materials, a 40-foot high cube shipping container is often the best option for storing large amounts of materials on-site.

While the most common high cube containers come in a 40-foot length, there are 20-foot high cube containers as well as 45′ high cube ones on the market in the US that can be bought and used for storage on site.   

High cube containers can also come in any size from 10′ to 30’ in increments of one foot.   These irregular sized containers are usually made from 40′ high cube shipping container that have been damaged at only one end. The container is divided and the remainder is used to make the new container.

40 ft double door storage containers40ft Double Door Storage Containers

The type and placement of the doors is another distinguishing feature between containers. All non-modified shipping container have a pair of double “barn style” doors at one end.   Double-door storage containers have barn style doors at both ends, instead of the usual single set of doors at one end. These containers are rare and usually only available in the 40′ class.  They provide the advantage of being able to load and later access goods from both ends of the container, which is convenient in situations where goods are being kept for a short time on a rotating basis (for instance, store inventory).





openside storage containerOpen Side Storage Containers

Double hinged doors are available on open-side storage containers. They can be found on either one or both 20ft sides. These doors can be opened to expose the whole interior of the container. Because of the hinges and open-side doors, they are heavier than other containers the same length. These containers have a number of advantages; they can be loaded easily, can fit extra-large items that would normally not fit into a standard shipping container, and they make accessing goods easily (picture having to pull almost all the items out of a standard container to get to the back, versus the ease of simply burrowing into the right spot from the side).

Storage containers 10ft in length | 10 ft Storage Container

It is difficult to find a 10ft storage container. The standard 10ft shipping container is 8’6″ tall and 8′ wide. You can also modify containers to reach 10 feet by simply cutting down an existing container. Most of these modified 10′ shipping containers will not have the steel corners at the container’s cut or modified end.

Types of Shipping Containers FAQ

Question: What are the different types of shipping containers?
Answer: 20 foot containers, 40 foot containers, open side containers, high cube containers, and double door containers are the ones you will typically encounter in the used container market.

Question: What type of shipping containers are used for homes?
Answer: That depends on the type of home or tiny house you’re trying to build.  20′ and 40′ are popular sizes for many applications.

Question: What sizes of shipping containers are there?
Answer: The lengths of shipping containers that are the most prevalent in the market in the US are 20-foot and 40-foot.  10 and 30 are also available but in fewer quantities and at a relatively high price per foot.

Question: How much does a 40ft shipping container cost?
Answer: Prices for shipping containers vary widely by type and availability.  20 foot containers often have the best price/cubic foot of the different type, but 40 foot containers are often more convenient for certain applications even though they tend to cost more per cubic foot of storage.

Question: How wide is a 40 foot shipping container?
Answer: A 40 foot shipping container is typcially 8 feet wide; this has all been standardized by industry to make them easy to load and pack onto container ships for shipment.

Question: Can you fit an automobile in a shipping container?
Answer: Often a 20 foot shipping container is adequate for storing a sedan or sports car.  It’s important to take into account the actual space inside the container; the external size includes the width of the walls etc, so the internal storage size is actually slightly less. Check our inventory pages <here> for information on dimensions of available shipping containers.

Question: What is the largest shipping container size?
Answer: The 53 foot high, 53 foot wide high cube container variant is the largest standard size commercially made, although it is fairly rare to see in the used container market.

Question: How wide is a 20 foot shipping container?
Answer: Externally they are usually 8 feet wide; but internally only 7′ 9″ of width is available for storage of goods.

Question: How many boxes can you fit in a 40-foot container?
Answer: This depends on the number of boxes; for a standard 40 foot container, take the number of boxes per pallet and then multiply by 20, since 20 pallets typically fit in a 40 foot container.

Question: How many cases fit in a 40-foot container?
Answer: This depends on the number of cases per pallet. For a standard 40 foot container, take the number of cases per pallet and then multiply by 20, since 20 pallets typically fit in a 40 foot container.


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