Common Shipping Container Sizes and Dimensions

Posted on:
Aug 17, 2020

Common shipping container sizes

If you’re in need of a shipping container for transport or storage, know that there are a wealth of shipping container sizes to choose from. When discussing shipping containers, if someone says a 10-foot container, a 20-foot container, etc., they’re talking about the external length of the container.

External heights vary a little, although most clock in at about eight or nine feet. The weight of the empty container and, thus, the amount of weight you can carry will also vary a little bit, depending on the manufacturer.

But, by and large, you’ll be able to work with the standard shipping container sizes listed below. We’re going to highlight some of the most lengths, from ten feet to fifty-three feet. Whatever you’re needing to transport, we can crunch the numbers for you. Let’s start with a small yet mighty container, the ten-footer.

Ten-Foot Container

One thing you’ll notice is that shipping containers – no matter their length – are typically eight feet wide. Let’s go ahead and take a look at the dimensions of a ten-foot container:

  • External Length: 10ft.
  • Internal Length: 9ft. 2in.
  • External Width: 8ft.
  • Internal Width: 7ft. 7in.
  • External Height: 8ft. 6in.
  • Internal Height: 7ft. 8in.
  • Door Width: 7ft. 8in.
  • Door Height: 7ft. 5in.

Due to manufacturer variations, the internal dimensions may vary slightly but these numbers provide a solid basis for your research.

The maximum gross weight for a ten-foot container is 22,400 lbs. The tare weight (the weight of the container when it’s empty) is 2,870 lbs. This makes the payload capacity (or the amount of weight in materials) 19,530 lbs.

Another variable among containers is the weight. The weights listed for each container may vary slightly, due to the manufacturer and door types. A cargo door, for example, will weight more than a rollup door. Still, these figures will give you a good idea of how much cargo you can plan to ship.

Ten-foot containers are some of the most compact containers you’ll find. These are best suited for small packing and storage needs.

If you have a studio apartment or a small business to relocate, a ten-foot container might meet your needs. And, of course, with lower tare rates and smaller dimensions, you’re looking at cheaper shipping costs and a smaller carbon footprint.

Fifteen-Foot Container

Here are the dimensions on a fifteen-foot container:

  • External Length: 15ft.
  • Internal Length: 14 ft. 10 in.
  • External Width: 8 ft.
  • Internal Width: 7 ft. 8 in.
  • External Height: 8 ft. 6″
  • Internal Height: 7 ft. 10 in.

As with many containers, you might want to examine the difference between cargo doors or rollup doors. If there won’t be a lot of room to swing your doors open wide, then you might want to consider rollup doors.

Instead of a small studio apartment, if you’re moving a one or two-bedroom apartment, a 15-foot container might be better suited to your needs. Fifteen footers can hold the contents of up to 1,200 sq. ft. This means they’re also great for people that require temporary storage during a move.

Twenty-Foot Container

Here are the dimensions of a twenty-foot container:

  • External Length: 20 ft.
  • Internal Length: 19 ft. 4 in.
  • External Width: 8 ft.
  • Internal Width: 7 ft. 8 in.
  • External Height: 8 ft. 6 in.
  • Internal Height:  7ft. 10in.
  • Door Width: 7ft. 8in.
  • Door Height: 7ft. 5in.

The maximum gross weight for a twenty-foot container is 66,139 lbs. The tare weight is 4,850 lbs. This makes the payload capacity 66,139 lbs. Twenty-foot containers are the most common containers.

In fact, they’re one of our most popular shipping container sizes. They’re great for both residential and commercial moves. This is the best container size for approximately four to six rooms. They can house home furnishings, office equipment and furniture, and more.

Forty-Foot Container

Here are the dimensions on a forty-foot container:

  • External Length: 40ft.
  • Internal Length: 39ft. 5in.
  • External Width: 8ft.
  • Internal Width: 7ft. 8in.
  • External Height: 8ft. 6in.
  • Internal Height: 7ft. 10in.
  • Door Width: 7ft. 8in.
  • Door Height: 7ft. 5in.

The maximum gross weight for a forty-foot container is 66,139 lbs. The tare weight is 8,380 lbs. This makes the payload capacity 57,759 lbs.

Forty-foot containers are quite spacious and convenient. As for residential needs, we usually see families with a two or three-bedroom home, living room, den, dining room, and kitchen buy or rent these containers.

They also come in handy when large pieces of machinery need to be safely transported, such as loaders, excavators, and other equipment and supplies.

Forty-Five-Foot Container

Here are the dimensions of a forty-five-foot container:

  • External Length: 45 ft.
  • Internal Length: 44 ft. 4 in.
  • External Width: 8 ft.
  • Internal Width: 7 ft. 8 in.
  • External Height:  9 ft. 6in.
  • Internal Height: 7 ft. 9 in.

The payload capacities for 45 ft. containers are very similar to 40 ft. containers. But, here’s where things get interesting. You can see the standard eight-foot width and eight-foot six-inch height. But, 45-foot shipping containers are often secured at 9 ft. 6 in.

That extra foot makes these containers great candidates for commercial, industrial, and rural purposes. They’re secure and watertight, creating extra storage at a work location with ground-level access. Of course, they’ll also remain secure and tight during transport.

Fifty-Three-Foot Container

Here are the dimensions on a fifty-three-foot container:

  • External Length: 53 ft.
  • Internal Length: 52 ft. 6 in.
  • External Width: 8 ft. 5 in.
  • Internal Width: 8 ft. 2 in.
  • External Height: 9 ft. 5 in.
  • Internal Height: 8 ft. 11 in.

The maximum gross weight for a fifty-three-foot container is 67,200 lbs. The tare weight is 11,110 lbs. This makes the payload capacity 56,090 lbs.

Fifty-three-foot containers have 60% more capacity than 40-foot containers. So, when there’s a lot of cargo at stake, these containers allow shippers to consolidate their goods into fewer containers.

Know the ISO

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has established a worldwide set of shipping container dimensions. If you’ve ever passed a shipping yard, you’ll notice shipping containers are often stacked several containers high and several containers deep.

With the ISO’s standardization, shipping containers from all over the world – no matter where they come from – can be safely stacked. These specifications are very strict. All containers must be built within a few millimeters of each other so they can be shipped with safety and ease.

This is part of the reason why exterior widths and heights are standardized. ISO shipping containers have exterior dimensions that are eight feet wide and a little over eight and a half feet tall. The lengths are where you’ll see some variation. And, as we know, one of the most common lengths is 20 feet.

Know Your Container

It’s also important to note the information listed on the side of shipping containers. These important details will be posted on the shorter sides of the container – or the bulkheads.

Identification Number

If you’re facing the bulkhead, you’ll notice writing on the upper right-hand corner. That’s the container ID number.

Size and Capacity Specifications

Below that are the size and capacity specifications. The first thing listed there is the maximum gross weight. Then, you’ll find the tare weight, net weight, and cubic capacity.

CSC Plate

The next thing to examine is the Container Safety Convention (CSC) plate on the lower left-hand corner. This displays other important information, including the life history of the container, the maintenance examination date, and the allowable stacking load.

Warning Signs

Containers that deviate from standard measurements should contain warning signs. For example, if you come across a container that’s taller than other containers in its class, it should have yellow and black warning stripes across the top.

Variables Besides Dimensions

Along with varying lengths and dimensions, it’s worth knowing a thing or two about the various types of shipping containers. This knowledge will increase your options, especially if you have uniquely-shaped items to transport.

Dry Containers

The most common types are dry containers. These are your air-tight, water-tight, and secure containers that transport most products.

Tunnel Containers

Tunnel containers are just like dry containers, except they have openings on either end. Typically, you’ll see cargo doors on these containers. The reason for two sets of doors is to make loading and unloading easier.

Flatrack Containers

Flatrack containers only have two end walls, which can be fixed or collapsible. These are used to transport items with unique dimensions. With only two sides (on the bulkheads), cargo may stick out of the sides or the top during transport.

Open Top Containers

If you don’t need excess room on the sides, but a little wiggle room on the top, then you might opt for an open top container. Of course, items can still be secured by a sturdy rubber tarpaulin. The dimensions on these containers vary, but they’ll have a larger capacity without the restriction of a roof.

Side Open Shipping Containers

These aren’t quite as common, but they do meet the needs of certain commercial and industrial clients. Instead of doors that open on the bulkheads, a pair of doors open on the sides of these containers. If you need to load something wider than the bulkheads doors will allow, these may be an option for you.

Refrigerated Shipping Containers

Often referred to as reefers or reefer units, refrigerated containers are used to preserve the temperature of sensitive products such as groceries, fruit, vegetables, or seafood.

Car Carrier Shipping Containers

These are special containers made to transport cars over long distances. These often come with collapsible sides to protect the vehicles from any damage.

Shipping Container Sizes to Meet Your Needs

Whew. Feel free to retract your tape measure now. That’s the long and short of standard shipping container sizes. When you’re ready, give us a call at 866-549-9823 to discuss the contents of your shipment.

Here at Drybox, we’ll pair you up with the right size for your needs. We have containers available for pickup in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Utah.

In the meantime, come take a look at some of our modified shipping containers. Together, we can create above-ground shelters, concession stands, event containers, pop up container stores, and even tiny homes.


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