Types of Shipping Containers


Shipping containers, technically known as ‘intermodal containers’ are used to transport a large proportion of the world’s long distance freight generated by international trade. An intermodal container is a large standardized shipping container, designed and built for intermodal freight transport, meaning these containers can be used across different modes of transport – from ship to rail to truck – securely and protectively without unloading and reloading the cargo.

There are however different types of shipping containers, so with that in mind it’s important to be aware of the differences and what kind of cargo suits which. At Pinnacle we have long standing relationships with all of the major shipping lines, giving us access to all container types and shipment service options for your freight.

Dry shipping containers

Dry shipping containers, also known as ‘general purpose containers’ are suitable for any general cargo being transported by sea, rail or road, so are a type of container that we predominantly work with. They’re mostly either twenty or forty feet (5.88 or 12.03 m) standard length, heights are generally 7 feet 5 inches (2.27 m) and 8 feet 6 inches (2.58 m) – the latter are known as High Cube or Hi-Cube containers.


Dry shipping containers are usually airtight and water resistant to prevent the outside elements from damaging the cargo and most dry shipping containers are made of steel or aluminium and are equipped with various lashing devices on longitudinal rails and corner posts.

Flat rack/platform containers

Flat rack, or platform containers, are used for special cargo such as particularly heavy or oversized loads and cargo that might need loading from the top or sides. This could be pipes or large machinery for example.


It’s very difficult and often impossible to load heavy or oversized cargo into containers with fixed sides or walls. Flat rack containers have a platform design with open sides, no roof and collapsible ends. The end walls on a flat rack container provide stability and very strong lashing devices on longitudinal rails and corner posts allow the cargo to be safely secured.

Open top containers

As the name suggests, open top containers do not have a roof, and are instead covered by a tarpaulin. The flooring is usually made from wood, and the walls from corrugated steel.


Open top containers are suitable for all types of cargo and are designed for especially oversized cargo that needs to be loaded into a container from the top (usually via a crane), as opposed to loading through the doors. They are also perfect for over-height cargo that is too tall to fit inside a standard shipping container, so needs that extra room at the top that the lack of roof provides.

Reefer cargo containers

When transporting temperature controlled goods (often perishable items) such as some types of pharmaceuticals it may be appropriate to use a Reefer cargo container. A Reefer container can sustain temperatures in the range of -35°C to +30°C, meaning that they can keep cargo warm and well as cool. They do this by channelling air underneath the cargo through T-shaped decking which ensures air flow across the shipment. They need a constant supply of electricity, so can be plugged into a power station onboard a vessel, or they can use a clip on generator, meaning they can continue working for long distances.

Reefer containers can even be partitioned to create different departments at different temperatures, so it can both chill and freeze different goods in the same container. When transporting food, the temperature controls can even prevent products from ripening too quickly, and ensure a longer shelf-life by circulating cool air.

Other popular types of shipping container

Aside from the main types of shipping container used at Pinnacle, the list goes on. Tunnel containers, open side containers and double doors containers all work in a similar way to flat rack and open top containers – as the container design allows cargo to be loaded in different ways depending on its requirements.

Something else used by a huge proportion of the shipping industry are tanks, designed specifically for transporting liquid materials. They are mostly made of strong steel or other anti corrosive materials. In the same category are drum containers, smaller than a tank but also commonly used for transporting liquids. For heavy and dense cargo such as coal and stones, half-height containers are a great solution. They have a low centre of gravity so they can better handle heavier loads than taller containers, making them versatile and robust enough to withstand the mining and industrial environments.


Whatever your requirements, we can recommend the right shipping container solution for your cargo. For more information and specific dimension and capacity options, get in contact with us today. If you’re U.K based, give us a call on 0845 6216 111 or drop us an email at enquiry@pif.co.uk. If you’re in the USA, call us on +1 757 306 1211 or email us at inquiry@pinnaclefreight.com. Alternatively, you can request a quote with us today.

Types of Shipping Containers

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