How to select the type and size of container for a shipment

Learn how to select the right container type and size for your shipment. Ensure safe, efficient, and cost-effective transport with our comprehensive guide.

Selecting the appropriate container type and size for a shipment is crucial for ensuring the safe, efficient, and cost-effective transport of goods. With a variety of container options available, it's important to consider the specific needs of your cargo, such as size, weight, sensitivity, and value. By understanding these factors and the different container types, you can make informed decisions that optimize the shipping process. This guide will help you navigate the complexities of choosing the right container, ensuring your shipment reaches its destination in optimal condition.

1-Know About Your Cargo

The first step in selecting the right container is understanding the nature of your cargo. Different types of goods have unique requirements that influence the choice of container. For instance, perishable items like fruits and vegetables need refrigeration, while heavy machinery requires robust, durable containers. Consider the following factors:

  • Size and weight: Determine the dimensions and weight of your cargo. This will help you decide whether you need a standard container, a high cube container for taller items, or a flat rack for oversized loads.
  • Sensitivity: Evaluate whether your goods are sensitive to temperature, humidity, or handling. Perishable goods, pharmaceuticals, and certain chemicals may need temperature-controlled or insulated containers.
  • Value: High-value items may require extra security features, such as reinforced containers or those equipped with tracking devices.

2-Types of Shipping Containers

There are several types of shipping containers designed to meet various shipping needs. Understanding these options is crucial in choosing the right container for your shipment. Here are the most common types:

  1. Standard Dry Containers: These are the most commonly used containers and are suitable for a wide range of non-perishable goods. They come in various sizes, including 20-foot and 40-foot lengths.
  2. Refrigerated Containers (Reefers): Ideal for transporting perishable goods, these containers maintain a controlled temperature throughout the journey.
  3. Open Top Containers: These containers are perfect for cargo that is too tall to fit into a standard container or needs to be loaded from the top, such as heavy machinery or large pieces of equipment.
  4. Flat Rack Containers: These are used for oversized cargo that does not fit into standard containers. They have no sides or roof, making them suitable for large, heavy items.
  5. Insulated Containers: These containers maintain a stable temperature but do not have active cooling. They are used for goods that need protection from extreme temperature fluctuations.

3-Choosing the Right Size

Selecting the right size container is just as important as choosing the right type. Containers typically come in standard sizes, but your specific needs will dictate the best size for your shipment. Here are the standard sizes and their typical uses:

  1. 20-foot Containers: These are versatile and commonly used for heavy cargo due to their smaller size and weight capacity. They are suitable for smaller shipments and can handle up to 28,000 kg.
  2. 40-foot Containers: These provide double the space of 20-foot containers and are ideal for larger shipments. They are often used for lighter, voluminous cargo and have a weight capacity of up to 30,000 kg.
  3. 40-foot High Cube Containers: These containers offer an extra foot of height compared to standard 40-foot containers, making them perfect for taller items or larger volume shipments.

4-Cost Considerations

Cost is a significant factor when selecting the type and size of container for a shipment. The cost of the container itself, as well as the shipping costs, can vary widely based on size, type, and the distance the container needs to travel. Here are some tips to help manage costs:

  1. Optimize space: Ensure you are utilizing the full capacity of the container to avoid paying for unused space. This can sometimes mean consolidating shipments or choosing a slightly smaller container.
  2. Consider shipping routes: Different routes can have varying costs based on demand, distance, and logistical complexities. Research the most cost-effective routes for your shipment.
  3. Balance cost with protection: While it might be tempting to opt for the cheapest container, it is crucial to balance cost with the need to protect your goods. Damaged cargo can result in higher costs in the long run due to loss and insurance claims.

5-Compliance and Regulations

Different countries and shipping companies have specific regulations regarding the type and size of containers that can be used for shipments. It is important to familiarize yourself with these regulations to avoid delays or additional costs. Key considerations include:

  1. International Standards: Ensure your container meets ISO standards, which are recognized globally and required by most shipping companies.
  2. Weight Restrictions: Be aware of weight limits imposed by shipping companies and countries to prevent fines and delays.
  3. Documentation: Proper documentation is crucial for compliance. Make sure all required documents, such as bills of lading, packing lists, and certificates of origin, are in order.

6-Environmental Considerations

In today's world, sustainability is an important consideration in all aspects of business, including shipping. When selecting a container, consider the environmental impact of your choice. Here are some ways to reduce your environmental footprint:

  1. Reuse and recycle: Opt for containers that are reusable and can be recycled after their lifespan.
  2. Eco-friendly materials: Choose containers made from sustainable materials or those with eco-friendly features.
  3. Efficient packing: Maximize the use of space within the container to reduce the number of trips needed and, consequently, the carbon footprint of your shipments.


Selecting the right type and size of container for a shipment is a crucial decision that can impact the safety, efficiency, and cost of transporting goods. By understanding your cargo, considering the types of containers available, choosing the appropriate size, managing costs, complying with regulations, and thinking about environmental impact, you can make informed choices that benefit both your business and the planet. Taking the time to carefully select the right container will ensure your shipment arrives safely, on time, and within budget, contributing to the overall success of your logistics operations.