Shipping Container Types: Sizes, Features, and Benefits
Sep 2020

Shipping Container Types: Sizes, Features, and Benefits

Posted By   |  0 Comment

Shipping containers in Ontario are typically identified by two features: the type and size. If you’re considering getting an ISO container, your options include single-trip containers, used containers, and modified or custom-built containers. There are more options when it comes to the size of the container, though most applications use 20-foot and 40-foot long units with a standard width of 8 feet. The standard height for containers is 8.6 feet, though you can opt for a high cube with a height of 9.6 feet.

How do you choose the best shipping container for your specific application?

Types of Shipping Containers

1. Single-trip containers

As the name suggests, these containers have been used to transport cargo one-way to Canada and then sold. These containers come about because there are not as many exports from Canada as imports, resulting in a surplus of empty containers. Since it’s not as economical to ship empty containers back to the country of origin (in Asia) for reloading as it is to manufacture new ones, these containers are left at the destination port for sale or otherwise.

Having made only one trip in the seas, these containers have minimal wear and tear. Some sellers even advertise them as “new” containers because they’re in very good condition compared to older units. So you get to purchase a near new container at a fraction of the price of a new one. One-trip containers are incredibly versatile and can be used for just about any application.

2. Used containers

These are containers that have been used to make multiple trips across the sea. Also referred to as recycled containers, these units are typically used to ferry cargo for about 15 years before being discarded. They’re easy to distinguish from one-trip containers because the tear and wear is more visible from their exterior appearance, usually in the form of rust patches, large and multiple dents, and even the manufacturer’s logo.

Used containers are more affordable than single-trip units, but they may not necessarily be the best choice for a repurposed container depending on your specific application. Some of the units tend to accumulate rust and dents over the years, making the structure less sturdy and unattractive with warped walls, patchy floors, and foul odours.

So, if you plan to purchase a used container, you should conduct a thorough assessment to ensure that it is in a repairable condition and a good fit for your specific application. These containers are ideal for basic storage functions and other applications that require minimal modifications.

3. Modified containers

Many sellers also fabricate some containers for specific applications, such as offices, homes, mobile clinics, bars, shops, restaurants, and more. While you can purchase one that has been completely modified and is ready for use, you can also present the dealer with a unique design to customize your container for your requirements. Depending on the modification, the size of the container may vary from the standard sizes. However, due to the custom fabrication, modified containers tend to cost more than single-trip containers. As such, modified containers are mostly used for applications that require customization features.

Features of Shipping Containers

1. Standard ISO containers: 20-foot and 40-foot containers

Standard shipping containers are the ones you’re most likely to find at a local dealer. They’re typically made of steel, though some are made of aluminum to offer a higher payload. All containers are designed to be airtight and water-resistant, necessary to protect cargo from damage by the elements, insects, and pollutants. Even the door that is positioned on one end of the container seals completely when closed.

ISO regulations demand that shipping containers for cargo transported via the sea have a length of either 20 or 40 feet, which is sufficient for most applications. They also have a standard width of 8 feet and a height of 8.6 feet. That said, you can find containers of varying lengths, like 10 feet, 45 feet, or other sizes, but they’re extremely rare. Also, keep in mind that the containers’ internal dimensions and capacity may vary for different dealers even if the external dimensions are standardized.

A 20-foot container has a tare weight of 2,300 kg (5,071.5 lbs); payload capacity of 25,000 kg (55,126.9 lbs); and cubic capacity of 33.2 cubic metres (1,172 cubic feet). A 40-foot container has a tare weight of 3,750 kg (8,268.8 lbs); payload capacity of 27,600 kg (61,200 lbs); and cubic capacity of 67.7 cubic metres (2,389 cubic feet).

If your needs don’t fit within the standard 20 or 40 feet in length offered by most containers, you can discuss with your dealer about making the necessary modifications to meet your design specifications. This may include cutting a section of a 20-foot container and then welding the end wall back on to get a smaller container, or joining multiple containers, side-by-side or stacked, for more space according to your specific needs.

2. High cube containers

Standard containers usually have a height of 8.6 feet, but high cube units provide an extra foot in height at 9.6 feet. You may choose this type of container to enjoy the benefits of a higher ceiling that include improved air circulation and ventilation, which is necessary to create comfortable living or office spaces, as well as workshops and other industrial enclosures that house heat-generating equipment.

A 40-foot high cube container has a tare weight of 3,900 kg (8,598 lbs); payload capacity of 28,600 kg (63,052 lbs); and cubic capacity of 76.3 cubic metres (2,694.5 cubic feet).

3. Special containers

These are containers that are specifically manufactured or converted to suit certain applications that cannot be fulfilled using standard containers. The common special containers include:

  • Reefer containers. These are container-sized refrigerators that feature T-shaped decking that sends chilled air from the floor to maintain an internal temperature in the range of -30°C to 30°C. This makes them ideal for carrying temperature-sensitive items such as drugs, fruits, vegetables, meat, and so on. They’re powered by either a generator or fuel when on the road. Reefer containers are mostly available in a size similar to 20-foot containers with a payload capacity of 27,700 kg (61,078.5 lbs).
  • Double door containers. These containers feature doors on both ends that swing open like a tunnel to provide convenient loading and unloading. They can be found as 20- or 40-foot containers.
  • Open-top containers. These containers don’t have a solid roof like standard containers. Instead, they use tarpaulin sheets to cover the top as needed. They’re used to carry odd-shaped machinery or materials that cannot be stowed sideways and protrude above the roof level, such as cables, pipes, bulky raw materials, machinery, and construction materials.
  • Hard-top containers. These are similar to open containers, but feature a detachable steel roof instead of the tarpaulin sheet. They allow easy loading and unloading from the top instead of sideways.
  • Open-side containers. These units have an additional side door opening on the long side of the container for convenient loading and unloading of bulky items that won’t fit through the end doors.
  • Flat rack containers. These units are open on the roof and long sides, while the short end is covered. They’re intended for carrying heavy loads like machinery and have multiple lashing rings to secure the cargo. This gives them a higher payload than other containers.

Final Note

Considering the wide range of options for shipping containers in Ontario, you can easily find a container that suits your needs and budget. Please contact Sigma Container for help in finding the right container for your applications.

Tom Bray is a freelance writer with over five years experience writing for online publications and over ten years in business and sales. He studied journalism and media and has written for various online outlets on multiple topics. His specialty subjects are shipping containers and transport logistics.

Tom’s passion for writing and transport logistics motivates him to provide frequent direct marketing content that can show you how a shipping container can be effectively utilized and modified to each person’s needs.

You can connect with Tom via email at