Which Shipping Container is Best For Me?

29 August 2023
by Pro Carrier

It’s not always easy to know which shipping container your business needs — even if you’re an experienced importer/exporter. That’s one of the reasons to work with an international freight forwarder like Pro Carrier.

But if you’d like to know more about shipping container sizes before speaking to an expert, then this guide is here to help. Below, we cover the four most popular container types, how much you can fit in each one, and everything else you need to know about filling them.

Ready to learn more about shipping containers? Let’s get started.

Different Types of Shipping Containers

There are four main types of shipping containers: standard general, high-cube general, reefers and insulated containers.

Standard General Purpose

Standard general-purpose containers have a single door with four walls and are made of high-strength steel. Standard containers typically come in 20-foot or 40-foot sizes, have a height of 8’6” and are used to transport a variety of goods. Also called intermodal freight transports, you can use these containers across various transport methods, including ocean, railwaysand trucks.

High-Cube General Purpose

Like standard containers, high-cube containers are also used for general-purpose goods. These containers are a foot taller than their standard counterparts, coming in at 9’6”. High-cube general-purpose containers are best for companies wanting to meet higher cargo demands or those wanting to pack as many goods as possible.


Reefers are modified shipping containers that contain refrigeration units. During transport, these containers connect to the power supply on cargo ships to keep goods (fresh produce, pharmaceutics, etc.) at a specific temperature.

Insulated Containers

Unlike reefer containers, insulated shipping containers do not have an external power supply. Instead, they are insulated with materials like foam to help maintain temperatures inside the container.

How Much Can You Fit in 20ft, 40ft and 40ftHC Containers?

Now that you know the major types of shipping containers, the next step is to decide what size you need.

If you’re not sure what to choose, don’t worry. This section will review three main sizes and describe in detail how much can fit in each container.

20-Foot Standard

The 20-foot standard container is the smallest standard size you can buy. But how much can you fit in it?

A standard 20-foot container can fit 10 standard pallets or 11 Euro pallets. This equates to about 33 cubic metres. To put it into perspective, you can fit one standard car in one of these containers.

Look at the table below for detailed information about how much you can fit.

External Dimensions20’ L x 8’ W x 8’6 H
Internal Dimensions18'8" L x 7'8" W x 7'9"
Fresh Air33 cubic metres
Pallets10 standard pallets or 11 Euro pallets
Loading Capacity28,000 KG suggested max loading capacity

40-Foot Standard

Double the size of the 20-foot standard, these containers are popular for larger loads. On average, you can fit up to 67 cubic metres of goods in here, depending on your items' size and shape.

A 40ft container can fit 20 standard pallets or 24 Euro pallets. These containers can handle around 20,000kg in weight without being considered overweight and incurring a charge.

To help you visualise the space, you can fit two standard-sized cars in a 40-foot container. Refer to the table below for more information about its dimensions.

External Dimensions40’ L x 8’ W x 8’6 H
Internal Dimensions39'5" L x 7'8" W x 7'9"
Fresh Air67 cubic metres
Pallets20 standard pallets or 24 Euro pallets
Loading Capacity28,750 KG suggested max loading capacity

40-Foot High-Cube

The 40-foot high-cube container is one of the biggest shipping containers available and is mostly used for industrial and corporate use.

If you want to stack as many items as possible, this box is for you. These containers can fit up to 76 cubic metres of goods, giving you about ten more cubic metres of space than the standard 40-foot. The can also fit more pallets: 26 standard pallets and 33 Euro Pallets

External Dimensions40’ L x 8’ W x 9’6 H
Internal Dimensions39'5" L x 7'8" W x 8'9"
Fresh Air76 cubic metres
Pallets26 standard pallets or 33 Euro pallets
Loading Capacity28,620 KG suggested max loading capacity

Other Types of Containers for Special Goods

While we have reviewed the most common types of cargo containers, these aren’t the only options. Below, you can find other types of containers designed for specific goods — all of which can be arranged by the team at Pro Carrier:

  • Open top. This type of container closely resembles a standard cargo box but, as the name implies, it doesn’t have a top. These containers are best for bulky cargo as it is easier to load. While they don’t have roofs, a plastic sheet is tied across the top to protect the items from the weather.
  • Flat racks. Like standard containers, flat racks are made of steel and come in either 20 or 40-foot sizes. However, they only have two end walls; the rest of the box is open. Using these containers, you can load cargo onto the rack from the side or above, making loading oversized goods easier.
  • Ventilated. As the name suggests, ventilated containers are modified shipping containers with air vents on the top and bottom rails. These containers are best for high-moisture goods such as coffee and cocoa beans.
  • Dress Hanger. Dress hanger cargo containers are fitted with straps, buckles or poles to hang garments such as wedding dresses or other luxury clothing items.
  • Flexi Tank. This special goods container is made to transport non-hazardous liquids. Flexi tanks are single-use, flexible containers that can hold up to 24,000 litres.

Finding the Best Container For Your Needs

Don’t worry if you are still confused about the different types of shipping containers or if you don’t think you can fill one of the containers we’ve discussed above. Our team at Pro Carrier will help you find the perfect container for your needs. And that includes choosing between FCL and LCL.

While FCL (Full Container Load) shipments are the most efficient transportation method, you needn’t waste your money on a full container if you don’t need to. Less Than Container Loads (LCLs) bundle multiple goods from different companies together in a single container so that each importer shares the cost. This makes it a much more cost-effective method for smaller importers.

Here at Pro Carrier, we offer FCL and LCL services on all of the shipping containers we have discussed in this article. You won’t just get a competitive rate, though. You’ll also get industry-leading customer service and access to Horizon, our free digital supply chain solution.

If you’re looking for a long-term shipping partner that puts your needs first, speak to a member of our team today.

Start a Conversation

Speak to our shipping experts

Let's talk
Track Your Parcel

Welcome to Pro Carrier

The new home of DG International