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6 Common Types of Shipping Containers - SME Logistics

6 Most Common Types of Shipping Containers for Every Purpose

Shipping containers are an essential part of the global logistics industry. They play a crucial role in transporting goods from one place to another efficiently and securely. With various types of shipping containers available for trading, it is important to understand their purpose and characteristics to ensure the smooth flow of international trade.

In this article, we will explore the 6 most common types of containers and their uses in shipping. So, let’s begin!

What Are Shipping Containers

Shipping containers, also known as “Freight Containers”, are large, standardized metal boxes designed to withstand the difficulty of long-distance transportation. These containers transport goods by sea, land, or air. However, they provide a secure and cost-effective solution for shipping various types of cargo, including dry goods, perishable items, and dangerous materials as well.

Key Benefits of Shipping Containers:

  • They are very strong and durable, capable of enduring heavy weather and rough conditions.
  • Additionally, they’re easily transportable and can be stacked on top of each other, minimizing their space.
  • Moreover, they can be adapted to suit different storage needs and are simple to modify as well.
  • Shipping containers, constructed from eco-friendly materials, and recyclable.
  • Furthermore, they are available in different sizes, meaning there is a variety of options for every person’s needs.

Ready to streamline your shipping process and maximize efficiency? Read our blog post on some tips for shipping!

6 Common Types of Shipping Containers

The shipping industry utilizes a wide array of container types, each designed for specific types of cargo. For example, reefer containers are perfect for transporting temperature-sensitive items such as medications.

Moreover, both the type and size of shipping containers distinguish them. They fall into categories of ISO containers, which can be single-trip, second-hand, or custom-made.

However, different types of shipping containers come in various heights and have different purposes. And the most common types of containers are:

  • Dry Containers/Standard Containers
  • Open Top Containers
  • Flat-Rack Containers
  • Refrigerated Containers
  • ISO Tank Containers
  • Swap Body Containers

Let’s delve deeper into these options to gain a clearer understanding of the different container varieties.

1. Standard Dry Containers

Standard dry containers are one of the most common container types. They are versatile and suitable for transporting a wide range of dry goods, such as electronics, clothing, furniture, and machinery. These containers, made of steel, come in various sizes, including 20 feet and 40 feet. They feature double doors at one end, allowing easy loading and unloading of cargo.

Furthermore, standard dry containers generally withstand weather conditions and come equipped with ventilation systems to prevent condensation. They are also designed for easy stacking, which makes them ideal for efficiently utilizing space during transportation and storage.

2. Reefer Containers

Reefer containers, also known as refrigerated containers, are specially designed to transport perishable goods that require temperature-controlled environments. These containers maintain the desired temperature range using built-in refrigeration units, ensuring the freshness and quality of the cargo throughout the journey.

Moreover, reefer containers are commonly used for shipping fruits, vegetables, pharmaceuticals, and other temperature-sensitive products. They provide precise temperature control, ranging from -25°C to +25°C, and incorporate advanced monitoring systems to ensure the cargo remains in optimal conditions.

3. Open-Top Containers

Open-top containers are designed with an open roof instead of a solid steel roof. This design allows for easy loading and unloading of cargo that exceeds the height of standard containers. However, open-top containers are commonly used for transporting oversized or bulky goods, such as machinery, vehicles, and construction materials.

Removable overhead covers, known as tarpaulins, equip these containers to protect the cargo from weather conditions during transportation. Furthermore, the open-top design provides flexibility in loading and unloading operations, making them suitable for cargo that requires crane or forklift handling.

4. Flat Rack Containers

Flat rack containers are utilized specifically to transport oversized or irregularly shaped cargo that cannot fit into standard containers. However, they have collapsible or fixed end walls and no roof, allowing for easy loading and securing of cargo from the sides or top. Additionally, flat rack containers are commonly used for shipping heavy machinery, vehicles, and large industrial components.

These containers, equipped with lashing rings and corner posts to secure the cargo during transit, come in various sizes, including 20 feet and 40 feet. Besides, they provide a cost-effective solution for transporting bulky or non-stackable items, as they can be easily loaded onto trucks or vessels using cranes or forklifts.

5. Tank Containers – Types of Shipping Containers

Tank containers, also known as ISO tanks, are specialized containers designed for transporting liquids and gases in bulk. Stainless Steel manufactures these containers with a cylindrical shape. Moreover, they come equipped with safety valves, pressure relief devices, and fittings for easy loading and unloading.

Tank containers commonly transport chemicals, food-grade liquids, and gases. They provide a safe and efficient solution for shipping hazardous materials, designed to withstand high-pressure and temperature conditions.

Additionally, the capacity of tank containers varies, ranging from 5,000 to 35,000 liters, depending on the specific requirements of the cargo.

6. Swap Body Containers

Swap body containers also known as exchangeable containers or interchangeable units are unique containers designed for intermodal transportation. However, they have a similar design to standard containers but feature detachable chassis or frames. This design allows for easy transfer of the container from one mode of transportation to another, such as from a truck to a train or vice versa.

Additionally, swap body containers are commonly used for transporting goods over long distances, where multiple modes of transportation, for example, Sea Freightand Land Freight are involved. They offer flexibility and efficiency in the logistics chain, as they can be easily transferred between different transport systems without the need for unloading and reloading the cargo.

Types of Shipping Container Sizes

Here is a table summarizing the container ship types and sizes:

Container TypeContainer Size
Dry Shipping Container20 ft
Dry Shipping Container40 ft
Refrigerated Shipping Container20 ft
Refrigerated Shipping Container40 ft
Open Top Shipping Container20 ft
Open Top Shipping Container40 ft
Flat Rack Shipping Container20 ft
Flat Rack Shipping Container40 ft
Tank Container20 ft
Swap Body Container45 ft


What are the most common container types?

The most common types of containers are:

  • Dry Containers/Standard Containers
  • Open Top Containers
  • Flat-Rack Containers
  • Refrigerated Containers
  • ISO Tank Containers
  • Swap Body Containers

Are shipping containers waterproof?

Yes. Standard dry containers are designed to be weatherproof and protect the cargo from rain and other external elements.

How long can perishable goods be stored in reefer containers?

Reefer containers can maintain the desired temperature range for an extended period, typically up to a few weeks, depending on the specific requirements of the cargo.

Can open-top containers be used for hazardous materials?

Open-top containers are not suitable for transporting hazardous materials, as they do not provide the same level of protection as standard containers.

Are tank containers suitable for flammable liquids?

Yes, tank containers can transport flammable liquids if they meet the necessary safety regulations and requirements.

Can swap body containers be used for international shipping?

You can use swap body containers for international shipping as long as they meet the standard dimensions and requirements of the respective transport systems.


Shipping containers come in various types and sizes to cater to different cargo requirements. However, understanding the purpose and characteristics of each type of container is crucial for the efficient and secure transportation of goods. Whether you need to ship dry goods, perishable items, oversized cargo, or hazardous materials, there is a suitable shipping container available to meet your specific needs.

Besides, for reliable freight and logistics services, contact Super Middle East Freight & Logistics. Our expertise in handling various types of shipping containers ensures the smooth flow of your international trade operations.

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