There are different container types with diverse dimensions suitable for different purposes. The shipping container is an invention that has revolutionized International trade. In the 1950s, Malcom McLean initiated the history of container shipping by inventing the container. This was done to improve profitability, efficiency and optimize the loading time of container shipping.

Different container types were standardized in 1970 as a result of ISO regulations in an attempt to streamline the industry. ISO regulations dictated that the 20 feet container type and 40 feet container type now were industry standards. Since put to use, these containers have been widely used to ship goods on the international seas, but what are the different container types and dimensions?

Overview: Container types and Dimensions 

Standard ContainerReefer container
Double door container Open top container
Pallet wide Flat rack
Side door container Hard top container

Standard container types

container in different sizes

A Standard container is the most common type of container in the market. It is usually made of steel and sometimes in aluminium. The aluminium containers have a slightly higher payload. They are airtight and water-resistant, preventing damage from the outside. One end of the container has doors through which the cargo is stowed. Despite the standardized sizes of 20 and 40-feet containers, the capacity of the containers can vary from operator to operator.

Standard containers can carry most types of dry cargo such as boxes, pallets, sacks, barrels, etc. It can be customised on the inside to carry a specific type of goods. For instance, hangers can be fit inside to carry clothes that could be directly transported to the store. Since standard containers are the basic, they are not expensive.

Measure20ft 40ft 
Internal length5.9m / 19.4ft12.03m / 39.5ft
Internal width2.35m / 7.8ft2.4m / 7.9ft
Internal height2.39m / 7.9ft2.39m / 7.9ft
Tare weight2,300kg / 5,071.5 lbs3,750kg / 8,268.8 lbs
Payload capacity25,000 kg / 55,126.9 lbs27,600kg / 61,200 lbs
Cubic capacity33.2 m3 / 1,172 cu ft67.7 m3 / 2,389 cu ft

High cubes

High cubes, in short HC, refers to containers that are similar in structure to normal containers, the lenght and the width remain the same, and the height increases.  This enables them to meet more cargo demands. The following picture shows the height difference between HC and standard containers.

Measure40ft HC45ft HC
Internal length12.03m/39.5ft13.55m/44.5ft
Internal width2.35m / 7.8ft2.35m / 7.8ft
Internal height2.70m / 8.10ft2.70m / 8.10ft
Tare weight3,900kg / 8,598 lbs4,800kg / 10,552 lbs
Payload capacity28,600 kg / 63,052 lbs27,700kg / 61,067 lbs
Cubic capacity76.3 m3 / 2,694.5 cu ft86 m3 / 3,037 cu ft


Special container types

Special container have been manufactured or converted for different purposes to suit specific needs that can not be covered by a container with standard sizes and dimensions. May it be a different position of the door(s), the height and width of the container itself or technological equipment, below is a list of special container types and dimensions that you should be aware of.

Reefer container

maersk reefer containers

Reefer containers are nothing but container-sized refrigerators to move goods that need to be maintained at a certain temperature. The flooring of the container has T-shaped decking which sends chilled air into the container to make sure there is a consistent flow air among the goods. They can maintain any temperature between -30°C and +30°C.

Reefer containers mostly come in 20-feet equivalent units and carry temperature-sensitive items such as fruits, vegetables, ice cream, drugs or meat. Each item has a different temperature requirement and it needs to be maintained to protect its freshness. The reefer container can be sectioned to cool and freeze at the same time. It is powered by a generator that provides electricity and by fuel when they are on the road being transported by trucks. The reefer container is expensive considering the power and maintenance requirements.


Measure20ft 40ft 
Internal length5.44m / 17.9ft11.56m / 37.9ft
Internal width2.29m / 7.5ft2.28m / 7.5ft
Internal height2.27m / 7.5ft2.25m / 7.4ft
Tare weight3,080kg / 6,791.4 lbs4,800kg / 10,584 lbs
Payload capacity27,700 kg / 61,078.5 lbs29,520kg / 65,080 lbs
Cubic capacity59.3 m3 / 2,093.3 cu ft67.3 m3 / 2,380 cu ft



Double door container

double door containers

Double Door Containers are built to have double doors that swing open outside on both ends. Both sets of doors are built with the same specifications. It is the most convenient option for loading and unloading a container, as goods can be loaded or quickly unloaded from either end as required. For instance, a car loaded can just drive through and doesn’t have to be reversed.

They are also called as tunnel containers as they are used to create a safe passage in construction sites. The container can be customised according to the storage purposes of the customer. It can be partitioned to make different slots.

Measure20ft 40ft 
Internal length5.9m / 19.4ft12.03m / 39.5ft
Internal width2.35m / 7.8ft2.4m / 7.9ft
Internal height2.39m / 7.9ft2.39m / 7.9ft
Tare weight2,300kg / 5,071.5 lbs3,750kg / 8,268.8 lbs
Payload capacity25,000 kg / 55,126.9 lbs27,600kg / 61,200 lbs
Cubic capacity33.2 m3 / 1,172 cu ft67.7 m3 / 2,389 cu ft



Open top container

open top containers

An open top container, as the name suggests, has an open top. The roof of the container is covered with tarpaulin sheets instead of a solid roof and can be covered or left open according to convenience. It is made of steel with wooden flooring and the door heads can be swung open for easy loading and unloading. They are usually available in the sizes of 20-feet and 40-feet containers.

Open top containers are used when the cargo is too large to be loaded in a regular shipping container. For instance, machinery or heavy materials that cannot be stowed sideways but arranged from the top through heavy-lifting cranes. These containers have larger capacities than the normal ones as the roof is open. It has lashing rings that help to keep the cargo stable and has the capacity to load 1000 kgs.

The open top containers might be generally high in price as there are not many units in circulation in the market. The price may also differ based on whether the container is in “gauge” or is not, as in if the height of the cargo is under the roof level or is protruding above the roof level. If the cargo is protruding, it is expensive and other containers cannot be stacked on top of it, and it is very wasteful.

Some of the common items loaded in an open top container are pipes, cables, construction materials, machinery, bulky raw materials and so on.

Internal length5.89m / 19.4ft12.03m / 39.5ft
Internal width2.35m / 7.8ft2.4m / 7.9ft
Internal height2.35m / 7.8ft2.34m / 7.8ft
Tare weight2,260kg / 5,982 lbs3,980kg / 8,774 lbs
Payload capacity28,220 kg / 62,214 lbs26,500kg / 58,422 lbs
Cubic capacity32.7 m3 / 1,155 cu ft66.7 m3 / 2,356 cu ft


Pallet wide

xChange offers every different container dimension including pallet wides

These containers were designed specifically to carry wooden Euro pallets that are commonly used within Europe. They are available as 20-feet, 40-feet, and high cube containers. The pallets are usually in the size of 1200x800x144 and a standard 20-feet container can carry 11 of them, while a pallet wide 20-feet container can carry 15 pallets. This is possible because the containers are approximately 5m wider on the inside than the standard ones.

The pallet wide containers keep the cargo tight, so there is almost no chance of cargo slipping. As seen, this kind of container is made to measure exactly two euro-pallets in width. In comparison, the standard container is only able to carry one.

Internal length5.89m / 19.32ft12.03m / 39.46ft
Internal width2.44m / 8ft2.44m / 8ft
Internal height2.39m / 7.84ft2.38m / 7.80ft
Tare weight2,400kg / 5,291.09 lbs3,800kg / 8,377.56 lbs
Payload capacity28,080 kg / 61,905.80 lbs26,680kg / 58,819.33 lbs
Cubic capacity34.34 m3 / 1,213 cu ft69.86 m3 / 2,467.12 cu ft



Flat rack containers 

flat rack containers

Flat rack containers are used for heavy loads and cargo that needs loading from the top or sides such as pipes, machinery or busses and only have sides on the short side of the container.

The numerous lashing rings allow the load to be secured safely and by the legal regulations. For example, crates exceeding the size of a closed container can be loaded. It is even possible to attach stanchions, thus creating a lateral boundary without having to forego the other advantages of a flat rack container.

The new generation of flat rack containers is capable of accommodating loads of up to 40,000 – 50,000 kilograms with uniform distribution of the load. Although this makes it possible to load the above-mentioned goods, they usually take up a single place on a container ship. Due to the dimensions of the cargo or its weight, stacking is not possible.


Flat rack container types and dimensions

Measure20ft 40ft 
Internal length5.94m / 19ft12.13m / 39.8ft
Internal width2.35m / 7.7ft2.40m / 7.9ft
Internal height2.35m / 7.7ft2.14m / 7ft
Tare weight2,360kg / 5203.8 lbs5,000kg / 11,025 lbs
Payload capacity30,140 kg / 66,458.7 lbs40,000kg / 88,200 lbs
Cubic capacity32.7 m3 / 1,154.3 cu ft62.2 m3 / 2,195.7 cu ft


There are different sizes of flat rack containers and two different types. A collapsible flat rack has sides that can be collapsed to that empty containers can be shipped more efficiently. Fixed-end flat racks can be shipped and have greater top load as they are often stronger in construction.


Flat rack container vs open top container

flat rack vs open top

Open top container (left) vs. flat rack containers (right)

Just like for instance open-top containers or reefers, flat rack containers are special containers. This means higher freight costs for transport and stacking is often not possible due to dimensions or weight, which makes it necessary to occupy a single space.

However, open tops and flat racks are similar, it is recommended to use open tops for heavy or over high cargo and flat rack containers when there is no other choice as roofs bows add to the structural integrity of a container to avoid buckling.


Side door container

containers with side door

A side door container also known as an open side container has extra doors that open on the long side of the container apart from the doors on the end. The floor is fitted with surringsrings to hold the cargo in place. The side doors make it extremely convenient to load cargo that is bulky and cannot fit through the end doors. More workers can work simultaneously while loading or retrieving the cargo and it gives full access to retrieve what is needed.

Measure20ft 40ft
Internal length5.9m / 19.4ft12.03m / 39.5ft
Internal width2.35m / 7.7ft2.28m / 7.4ft
Internal height2.34m / 7.7ft2.29m / 7.5ft
Tare weight3,200kg / 7,054.7 lbs6,100kg / 13,448.2 lbs
Payload capacity20,800 kg / 45,856.1 lbs30,400kg / 67,020.5 lbs
Cubic capacity31.0 m3 / 1,094.7 cu ft64 m3 / 2,260.1 cu ft




Hard top container

hard top container type

Hard top containers are very similar to open containers with the difference being a detachable steel roof instead of a tarpaulin sheet. The roof of a hard top container has points through which a forklift can lift the roof.  As seen with the previous containers, this design allows for easy loading/unloading of specific types of cargo.

Measure20ft 40ft
Internal length5.89m / 19.4ft12.03m / 39.5ft
Internal width2.35m / 7.8ft2.4m / 7.9ft
Internal height2.35m / 7.8ft2.34m / 7.8ft
Tare weight2,260kg / 5,982 lbs3,980kg / 8,774 lbs
Payload capacity28,220 kg / 62,214 lbs26,500kg / 58,422 lbs
Cubic capacity32.7 m3 / 1,155 cu ft66.7 m3 / 2,356 cu ft

Here at xChange, we provide you with containers to fulfill your every need – whether you wish to cut your costs by supplying or using SOC containers. We pursue to equalize the surplus and deficits of containers happening globally by working in more than 2500 locations, providing you with a transparent network of more than 200 NVOCCs, carriers, freight forwarders, traders and leasing companies to simplify and optimize the process.

In this manner, we have already moved more than 300.000 containers – should the next move be yours? Find SOC containers for your next move on xChange.


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