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Different Shipping Container Sizes and What They’re Used For

by John Rediehs on March 21, 2016 1 comment

When you’re researching different logistics providers and shipping methods, you’ll notice time and again that there are a number of different sizes of cargo containers. Depending on your products, the shipping class, and the shipment size overall, you’ll pick a clear choice. Let’s take a look at the various, most commonly used dimensions of a shipping container, and from there, you’ll likely be able to make a more informed choice about what’s best for your needs.

Standard Intermodal Container Sizes

Though there are specialized shipping containers you may be able to use for your shipments if it is especially large or oddly shaped, the vast majority of shipping container dimensions are considered to be “standard intermodal container” sizes and are regularly used with dry van shipping. Though they’re commonly just referred to as containers or cargo containers, they may also be called a sea or ocean container, or an ISO container.

20-Foot Container Usage and Details

20-foot containers, also known as intermodal containers, are a large, standardized container for intermodal freight transport. They can be used across different modes of transport, including ship, rail and truck (without unloading and reloading cargo), and are used primarily to store and ship materials. Intermodal containers dimensions vary, and there are a number of different standardized sizes. Intermodal containers are extremely popular, so much so that it’s estimated that there are about 17 million of them in the world.

20-foot containers are suitable for virtually any general cargo, and may be equipped with liner bags suitable for bulk cargo. These cargo containers can come equipped with forklift pockets for loaded containers, as well. Because of how versatile they are, these containers are some of the most common ones to see on the road.

The maximum cargo size allowed for 20-foot containers, due to interior dimensions, is as follows:

  • Length: 19 ft., 3 inches
  • Width: 7 ft., 8 inches
  • Height: 7 ft., 9 7/8 inches
  • Door Opening: 7 ft., 8 inches wide, 7 ft., 5 inches tall
  • Cubic Capacity: 1,165 cu. ft.

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40-Foot Shipping Container

Offering much of the same features as the 20-foot container, this shipping container is suitable for most general cargo, and can be equipped with liner bags as well. A benefit to choosing this size is, as you could have guessed, being able to ship more product at a given time. The maximum cargo size you can fit in these shipping containers is:

  • Length: 39ft., 5 inches
  • Width: 7 ft., 8 inches
  • Height: 7 ft., 9 7/8 inches
  • Door Opening: 7 ft., 8 inches wide, 7 ft., 5 inches tall
  • Cubic Capacity: 2,350 cu. ft.

40-Foot Shipping Container

High Cube Containers

High cube containers are similar to standard shipping container dimensions, however as their name suggests, they are taller.  Where common intermodal container height is 8 feet, 6 inches (or 2.6 meters), high cube containers are 9 feet, 6 inches (2.9 meters) tall. These containers are used for especially voluminous cargo.

40-foot high cube containers can hold a maximum cargo size of:

  • Length: 39 ft., 5 inches
  • Width: 7 ft., 8 inches
  • Height: 8 ft., 9 15/16 inches
  • Door Opening: 7 ft., 8 inches wide, 8 ft., 5 1/2 inches tall
  • Cubic Capacity: 2694 cu. ft.

Open Top Containers

Open top containers are also very similar to standard cargo containers, however they are able to be top-loaded (i.e. cargo placed in the container from a crane).  They are also compatible with door side loading, i.e. with cargo hanging from overhead tackle. Depending on the type of cargo you are shipping, such as timber or scrap metal, an open top container may be the best option.

20-foot open top containers can accommodate cargo as large as:

  • Length: 19 ft., 4 inches
  • Width: 7 ft., 8 1/2 inches
  • Height: 7 ft., 8 1/8 inches

40-foot open top containers allow for cargo with a maximum size of:

  • Length: 39 ft., 5 inches
  • Width: 7 ft., 8 1/2 inches
  • Height: 7 ft., 8 1/8 inches

Non-Standard and Uncommon Sizes

As previously mentioned, there are a number of non-standard metal shipping containers that you may be able to choose from, depending on the size, density, or class of your cargo.

Pallet Wide Containers

Pallet wide containers have about four inches more internal floor than standard containers, which are such to accommodate Euro-pallets, which are common in Europe. If you are shipping product domestically in the United States, however, you probably won’t need to pay much mind to these containers.

48-Foot and 53-Foot Containers

These sizes of metal shipping containers are both high cubes, and they are also six inches wider than standard ISO containers. The 48-foot container is used in the U.S., while the 53-foot container is used in both the U.S. and Canada. The smaller container has 29 percent more capacity than standard 40-foot high cubes, while the larger has 60 percent more capacity.

48-foot high cube containers have interior dimensions of:

  • Length: 47 ft., 6 inches
  • Width: 8 ft., 2 inches
  • Height: 8 ft., 11 inches
  • Door Opening: Width – 8 ft., 2 inches; Height – 8 ft., 10 inches
  • Cubic Capacity: 3454 cu. ft.

53-foot high cube containers have interior dimensions of:

  • Length: 52 ft., 5 inches
  • Width: 8 ft., 2 inches
  • Height: 8 ft., 11 inches
  • Door Opening: Width – 8 ft., 2 inches; Height – 8 ft., 10 inches
  • Cubic Capacity: 3857 cu. ft.

Small Containers

Finally, there are small containers, which are used primarily by the military. They comply with ISO standard container dimensions, and are 8 feet tall. However, instead of being 20 feet or 40 feet in length, they are either one-half, one-third, or one-quarter of the size of a standard 20-foot container. One-half the size, a 10-ft container, is called a bicon, one-third the size is called a tricon, and one-fourth the size is called a quadcon.

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Which Intermodal Container is Best for Your Cargo Needs?

At Red Dog Logistics, we take care with every one of our clients to help them choose the proper shipping method for their needs. We offer services including LTL shipping, 48-ft. flatbeds, door-to-door intermodal, 53-ft. dry van, truckload services, steam ship, and more.

To learn more about what method is the most ideal for your business’ logistics needs, feel free to contact us anytime. Additionally, if you’re ready to go on your shipment and want to price things out, feel free to use our Name Your Rate tool or our Instant Online Freight Quote tool to get started.  We’re ready to help you ship your products and cargo safely, reliably, and efficiently.

John RediehsDifferent Shipping Container Sizes and What They’re Used For

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  • Michael Lee Rambo - May 27, 2016 reply

    I need a good condition bicon, 8 x 10. And one I can salvage for materials.Thanks

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