Thinking Outside the Box: How to Find the Right Shipping Container

Has your business grown to the point at which you need to think about types of shipping containers? 


While these giants of shipping may seem foreign, you’ve already been using them. For example, almost everything you buy for your home and office travels overseas in shipping containers. 


As you grow your outbound logistics operation, understanding a few key shipping containers types and their costs will ensure you make the right decisions and optimize your cash flow. 


Below you’ll find a summary of 13 shipping container options and the cargo they suit. Selecting the right container type is your first step. We’ll discuss that key issue before covering costs and durability. 


Types of Shipping Containers

There are many types of shipping containers. Here are a few of the most common:


Traditional General Purpose Shipping Containers

Have you ever seen a cargo ship stacked with multi-colored shipping containers? These standard containers are made of steel and painted to match the company that owns them. They come in 20’, 30’, and 40′ lengths and stand 8′ 6″ high by 8′ wide. They’re perfect for just about any good that isn’t of unusual height or weight, or that doesn’t have particular loading or refrigeration needs. 

Flat Rack Shipping Containers

These shelf-like containers are used only for the bulkiest goods like construction equipment or heavy machinery. Flat rack containers have only a reinforced floor and a wall on either end. Despite their minimal design, they can withstand loads up to 45 metric tons.

Open-Top Shipping Containers

Are you looking to ship something taller than 8 feet? Unlike most types of shipping containers, open-top containers use a removable canvas rather than a metal ceiling. To stabilize anything with a high center of gravity, open-top containers feature lashings on internal rails that enable products to be tied down to prevent shifting. 

Double Door/Tunnel Shipping Containers

Time has never been more critical to the world of transport as it is today. In traditional containers, whatever is loaded first must be unloaded last. If your operation requires quick loading and unloading, a double-door unit can be the answer. Goods can be brought on or taken-off from either end, cutting the overall unloading time in half.

Side-Open Shipping Containers

Some companies are better-served by containers that open from the side. Their cargo may be too wide to load from the end, or they may need quick access. 

Refrigerated ISO (Reefer) Shipping Containers

Refrigerated shipping containers are the gold standard of the food industry. Commonly called « reefers, » they maintain a steady sub-zero temperature thanks to a built-in refrigeration system. They’re the reason you can get fruit out of season or fish or vegetables from halfway around the world. To operate correctly, they require electrical hook-up at all times.


Insulated Shipping Containers

Often confused with reefers, insulated or thermal containers also regulate internal temperature but not a sub-zero level. Not only are they also used to transport foods but also pharmaceuticals, specialized electronics or other temperature-sensitive cargo.



Tanks are the standard for carrying large amounts of liquid. These pill-shaped vessels feature a supporting rectangular frame of steel. This external frame makes them the size and shape of a standard container, so stacking with other containers becomes feasible. They do, however, need to be more than 80% full to eliminate swaying, and less than 90% full to allow for heat expansion of the contents.

Cargo Roll Storage

As you can guess, not all goods need to travel in a reinforced steel box. For example, a shipment of pillows may weigh significantly less than a standard container itself. Cargo roll storage containers have thick mesh sides that roll up and down for loading and unloading. When empty, they are also foldable.


Half-Height Shipping Containers

Certain raw materials like stone or coal are too heavy and dense to ship in regular containers. Half-height containers keep the weight of each shipment down while lowering its center of gravity and providing more manageable load and unload. 


Car Carriers

Like the car trailers often seen on semi-trucks, these containers feature internal racking to allow for multiple cars to shipped at once. Sometimes they’re also used to transport special machinery like weapon systems. Car carriers protect their cargo from damage while maximizing container space.



Like tanks, drum containers also transport liquids, except they’re cylinder-shaped and smaller. The liquid to be transported determines whether shippers will use steel, light metals, fiber, or reinforced plastic drums. Due to their odd shape, they can require extra space aboard ship.


High Cube Shipping Containers

These versatile containers are one foot taller than standard making them 9’6″ tall. Like open-top units, they also come with internal recesses to allow for a lower center of gravity to stabilize itself during shipment. 


How Long do Shipping Containers Last?

Thanks to their solid steel construction, well-maintained shipping containers can last 20-30 years. With longevity like this, it’s no wonder people are turning them into homes and offices!  


That said, most shipping companies will decommission containers after 10-12 years of regular use. Each oversea voyage amid salt-water waves can take its toll on the container, and they do rust. 


Some companies may need a container for the overseas moving, relocation, and storage of their assets. Therefore, it pays to inspect them thoroughly. 


How Much Do Shipping Containers Cost?

Shipping containers range in price depending on the type, but they can range in price from $2,000 to $4,500 each. For the best possible shipping rates, it’s best to check with a 3PL that provides international freight forwarding services


Do you need to buy or rent a shipping container?  Make sure the 3PL you consult also provides customized logistics solutions.

Your Growing Shipping Needs

Choosing the right types of shipping containers is only one of the many components of a well-run operation. HLOGISTICS offers customized logistics solutions essential to growing your business. Contact us today to learn more!