The Guide to Shipping Container Types and Sizes

The Guide to Shipping Container Types and Sizes

There are many options when it comes to your freight shipping. Here is a guide to shipping container shapes and sizes to determine your needs.

Worldwide shipping is what keeps our economy going and the shelves in stores well-stocked. If you have goods that need to be shipped, you are likely looking into freight shipping prices and what shipping container sizes will work best for your cargo. 

Many factors work into what the best shipping option will be for you. You can select from the different container sizes and types available to best suit your shipping needs. Thankfully, the numerous options make it cost-effective and straightforward to find a suitable container.

What To Know

You’ve got options when it comes to deciding what mode of freight transportation to choose. Freight shipping can be done by truck, train, plane, or ship--or a combination of all those if your products are coming from around the world. 

There are a few simple terms to know as you look into freight shipping and the best type of shipment equipment for your business.

Standard Sizes

A standard-sized shipping container approved by the ISO is 8ft wide, 8.5ft tall, and a length of either 20ft or 40 ft. 

This is the most common size that can ship efficiently worldwide. There are different container shapes and sizes that allow more specialized cargo. It might affect the shipping costs and methods depending on how outside of the standard the delivery method is.

This standard changes between different modes of transportation. 


LTL is also known as less than truckload. Selecting this type of shipping means that your goods share freight with other shippers. You are only paying for the space used within that truckload.  

This is a cost-effective option, especially if you are testing the waters with what type of fright to use. It won’t be as quick as some other options since there will be multiple stops for the different cargo. 

LTL shipments tend to be between 150 and 15,000 pounds.


FTL means a full truckload. There is no space sharing, and the freight goes directly to the final destination, cutting out any secondary stops or detours. 

If your cargo is delicate, having an FTL service can help keep damaged goods to a minimum and ensure quicker and safer delivery. 


Intermodal is the use of different shipping methods such as rail and truck. This can also include ships and air. 

Using more rail for freight shipping can help cut fuel costs and allow for even larger shipments at once. 


If you need a shipment delivered under tight time restraints, expedited shipping is likely the way to go. Often, expedited shipping proceeds by air freight or a smaller truck to ensure it reaches its final destination. 

Expedited services tend to cost more but have more reassurance that your cargo is being handled correctly and will arrive on time.

Container Types

These are the most common container types used in freight. 

Dry Storage

The dry storage container is the most common for international shipping. It protects cargo by sealing it from outside moisture and weather. 

This container is traditionally used on ships but can be transferred to rail or truck easily. 

Dry containers come in three sizes: 10ft, 20ft, and 40ft.

Flat Rack

Suppose you have cargo that is oddly shaped or abnormally heavy. A flat rack has no side walls or roof. There might be the option for walls at the ends, but those tend to be removable or collapsable. The lack of sides lets heavy cargo be loaded quickly.

Flat rack containers tend to come in 20ft or 40ft sizes.


Also known in the industry as “reefers',' these containers are refrigerated. If you are in the food or medicine business, you will want to ensure your cargo is temperature-controlled.

Refrigerated containers are essentially the same as dry storage ones, but they allow for cooling and temperature control. They can keep temperatures lower than outside and are essential for sensitive cargo. 

A refrigerated container comes in a 20ft or 40ft size.

Open Top

You can ship tall or bulky cargo in an open-top container. This allows loading from above. If weather or security is a concern, the top can be covered by a plastic sheet and ropes.


Tank containers are for shipping liquid or gas cargo-- both hazardous and non-hazardous. 

These containers are usually spherical but built into a steel frame to allow for standard shipping methods. Tanks consist of material that won’t corrode when they come in contact with harsh liquids or gas. Steel tends to appear the most in these container types. 


These are highly efficient dry storage containers that open up on either end. They allow cargo to be loaded and unloaded faster since the access is at both ends.

Open Side 

Open side containers have one door at the end and a second door opening the side of the trailer. This way, cargo can be loaded and stacked using a forklift.

This type of container is best for wide cargo that won’t fit through a standard end entrance. 


The opposite of refrigerated, these containers are thermally insulated to keep all cargo within at a higher temperature than outside. These can be useful for shipping through colder climates to ensure no freezing occurs.

High Cube

These are a foot taller than the standard container height and allow for more stacking room and taller cargo to be shipped. 


International freight shipping has many options to make sure your products reach their final destination promptly. 

Choosing what service would work for you depends greatly on the type of cargo you intend to ship and how far the final destination is from the shipping point. 

There is no lack of choice when it comes to freight containers and what size you can utilize. This decision doesn’t have to fall directly on your shoulders, however.

Cargo companies like Coastal Cartage help you decide and execute your freight shipping plans. For your shipping needs in Southern California, contact Coastal Cartage today - experts that know the best ways to help your shipping endeavors take off. 

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