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What Are Small Shipping Containers, & Where Do They Come From?

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20ft and 40ft containers are standard sizes, but you may have seen small shipping containers that are more compact. While they’re less common, you can find containers as short as 8ft long. How does that work? Standard ISO sizes include 10’, 20’, 40’, 45’, and 53’. Our most common sizes are 20’ & 40’. We cut containers down to as short as 5’ long for purchased units or as short as 10’ long for rental units.

Small containers are more space-efficient for crowded jobsites or for smaller storage needs. Unlike standard shipping containers, which are often used for larger volumes of general cargo, small shipping containers are ideal for businesses dealing with smaller quantities of valuable or delicate items.

In this blog, we’ll examine these compact storage boxes, explain how they’re used, and talk about the benefits of using small shipping containers for storage. From providing businesses with on-site storage, to assisting the United States military with logistics efforts, small shipping containers have a wide range of uses around the world.

What Are Small Shipping Containers Useful For?

Small shipping containers, often ranging from 10’ to 15ft in length, are useful for a variety of industries, particularly where space constraints are a concern. The versatility of these compact containers makes them suitable for applications that demand efficient storage or transport solutions in limited spaces. Industries such as construction and agriculture are just a few that use small shipping containers.

Additionally, small shipping containers are instrumental in agriculture, acting as compact storage units for tools, seeds or even as mobile markets at farmers’ markets. The ability to position these containers in strategic locations on farms enhances operational efficiency, and their compact size ensures they’ll keep storage out of sight and mind.

Small shipping containers storing construction equipment for subcontractors working on a construction site,.
Small shipping containers can fit in a wider range of locations compared to large containers, making them great options for people that need secure, portable storage for a smaller number of items. Take subcontractors, for instance, who may need to move their storage around a construction site during the project.

How Are Small Shipping Containers Made?

Making small shipping containers usually involves altering larger ones. For example, a 10ft container might be made by cutting a 20ft container in half and adding an end wall. While some manufacturers directly produce 10ft containers, most of these smaller containers are modified from larger ones. This modification process allows for creating containers with smaller sizes while keeping the necessary strength for shipping and storage.

The materials used in constructing small shipping containers are similar to those used in the construction of standard sizes. The modification process may also involve strengthening the container to meet safety and regulatory standards.

Due to the process of cutting down and rewelding a bulk end or doors is what makes them expensive, getting a small shipping container can be pricier than a larger, standard-sized one. However, the added cost might be justified for the convenience of easily positioning the container.

What Sizes Are Best for Small Shipping Containers?

The best size for a small shipping container depends on what you need it for. Common sizes for small containers include 5ft, 10ft, and 15ft long, with variations in width and height to accommodate different needs.

What Types of Industries Use Small Shipping Containers?

While small shipping containers aren’t limited to a specific industry or sector, there are some industries that make more frequent use of small shipping containers.


Construction sites often have a lot of space constraints. That’s why small shipping containers are so useful for construction workers, especially subcontractors that require less storage space than general contractors. Smaller containers are frequently employed as on-site storage units for tools and equipment.

Their manageable size allows for convenient placement on tight construction sites, providing easy access to essential items without taking up too much space.

The U.S. Military

The United States military isn’t special among the armed forces of the world in using small shipping containers, but they may have been the first. After World War II, the U.S. Army developed the CONEX, which was based off the “transporter” model that had been developed during the war but wasn’t completed in time to see service.

The CONEX was an improvement over the transporter a nd featured a smaller interior volume than the containers that saw regular use on commercial freight lines. These are the typical “shipping containers” we know today.

Today, the military uses a variety of containers, including more standard-sized “MILVAN” units. Twenty-foot units are preferred, because of their ability to fit inside compact spaces. They also utilize even smaller containers, called Bicons, Tricons and Quadcons.

These are similar in length to 10ft, 8ft, and 5ft containers, respectively.

Commercial Businesses

Businesses value flexibility in their buying decisions, and small shipping containers enable them to move around and reposition their storage depending on their needs at the time. When they need to change location or move from off-site storage to on-site storage, it’s easier to move around small shipping containers than standard sizes.

Containers that are 20ft and shorter can be moved with one of our trucks, even while loaded. This means that businesses can load up a container at one location, and then we’ll move it to another location, without the same hassle that larger containers or more permanent storage solutions may have.

The U.S. Department of Transportation allows units 20’ and smaller to be transported using a flatbed truck while larger units cannot be moved loaded via truck and must be unloaded before transport.

Small shipping containers with roll up door and ventilation modifications.
You can modify small shipping containers with a variety of additions that make your container more valuable to your operations. For instance, roll up doors make it easier to access and move storage equipment, while additional vents better regulate the internal temperature of the container.

How Can I Get a Small Shipping Container?

Start experiencing the benefits of small shipping containers for yourself by calling us for a quote. A dedicated container sales representative will be your first point of contact with us, and they’ll work with you during and after the purchasing process. They’ll help you identify the container that best suits your needs and can address any questions that you may have.

After that, your sales representative will coordinate a delivery time for you, and then the only thing you have to do is prepare the site for your container’s arrival, clearing any debris, ensuring a level foundation, and opening any gates that may impede our truck’s arrival.


Small shipping containers provide efficient storage in confined spaces. These containers, often stemming from the historical lineage of compact military containers like the CONEX, have become integral components in various sectors, showcasing adaptability and functionality across a diverse range of applications.

Whether utilized in construction, retail, agriculture or other sectors, small shipping containers play a crucial role in helping your organization store and secure your valuable equipment.

Interested in buying a small shipping container? Let’s work together. Contact us today, and a dedicated sales representative will reach out to provide you with a free quote.

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