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A Guide to the 14 Most Common Types of Shipping Containers

Did you know that 97% of all shipping containers are manufactured in China? It’s impossible to understand modern globalization without first considering the importance of shipping containers. From coffee to mobile phones, the vast majority of the goods we use and consume each day at one point spent time in a shipping container. It should come as no surprise then that with such a variety of goods to ship, there would be plenty of different types of shipping containers, each designed for a particular purpose.

Here’s a list of the 14 most common types of shipping containers that haul goods all over the world every single day.

1 . General purpose containers

Also known as dry storage containers, general purpose containers are by far the most common shipping containers in existence today. They come in several different sizes, ranging from 10 to 40 feet. They are fully enclosed and provide protection against all elements, which makes them ideal for most normal cargo that does not require temperature control.

2 . Open top containers

Open top containers do not have a solid roof, but instead use a removable tarpaulin cover that can be secured down if needed. This significantly simplifies the loading and unloading process as cranes and rolling bridges can be used. These containers are ideal for oversized and bulky items such as large machinery and heavy equipment.

3 . Flat rack containers

Flat rack containers have no sides and two collapsible ends that can be either left up for added stability or folded down to make a truly flat rack. They are best suited for heavier cargo that requires top or side loading, such as oversized treaded vehicles, heavy machinery, and construction materials.

4 . Double door containers

Also referred to as tunnel containers, double door containers have doors at both ends. This allows for much faster loading and unloading of goods and doesn’t require the container to be oriented a certain way to access the cargo.

5 . Open side containers

In addition to the normal door, open side containers have extra doors that open up to reveal one entire side, from end to end. This allows for the storage of extra wide merchandise (i.e. certain construction materials) that wouldn’t easily fit through normal doors.

6 . Half height containers

Half height containers are, as the name suggests, about half the height of a general purpose container. They are designed for transporting cargo that is especially heavy and dense, such as coal, rocks, gravel, and sand. They have a lower center of gravity, which allows them to handle heavier loads than their taller counterparts.

7 . High cube containers

High cube containers are very similar to general purpose containers, only they’re about one foot taller. They are designed to lie lower on the ground as well and are typically used to transport cargo that requires a slightly larger maximum capacity.

8 . Refrigerated ISO containers

Alternatively referred to as reefer containers, refrigerated ISO containers use external power to regulate the internal temperature. These units are ideal for temperature sensitive shipments such as fruits, vegetables, meats, and other perishable goods.

9 . Insulated containers

Like the refrigerated ISO containers, insulated (or thermal) containers allow for very precise regulated temperature control. These units are constructed of a vacuum flask, which makes them able to withstand much greater temperature extremes. In addition to perishable foods, these containers are ideal for pharmaceuticals, biological materials, and chemicals.

10 . Tank containers

Tank containers, or tankers for short, are designed primarily for the transport of liquid goods. They are made from strong steel and other anti-corrosive materials in order to protect the liquids inside.

11 . Drum containers

Drum containers are cylindrical shipping units made primarily from steel, plastic, or fiber. Similar to tankers, they are most often filled with liquids or small granular goods.

12 . Swap body containers

Swap body containers are designed to be easily transferred from a truck to a rail car, and vice versa. They have foldable legs on each corner to support the container in between the two modes of transit. They are not meant for air or sea transit, and are most commonly used in Europe.

13 . Car carrier containers

Car carrier containers are units designed specifically to safely transport cars and other specialty vehicles. Some larger units have a ramp in the middle to allow for the partial stacking of two different vehicles.

14 . Special purpose containers

Special purpose containers are a bit of a catch-all. They can be custom made in many different shapes and sizes and can be adapted with such accessories as liner bags and flexi-tanks to tailor to the needs of specific cargo.


While we don’t personally offer international air or sea transport, Freight Buddy does specialize in less than truckload (LTL) ground shipping. We are a premier third-party logistics company that can help you obtain the best rates and fastest shipping on all your LTL shipments. When your shipping container of choice finally does reach the port, we’ll help you haul its contents to their final destination as quickly and efficiently as possible. Calculate your free freight quote today or give one of our friendly shipping agents a call at 800.578.6009.