Comparing Different Types of Containers: A Definitive Guide to Decide Which Is Best for Your Needs

comparing different containers guide to decide

When it comes to shipping and storage, it all starts with the right container. They keep your goods safe as they sit on the shelf in your warehouse or as they make their way from point A to point B. There are plenty of containers to choose from, but finding the right type all depends on what you’re shipping or storing, where it’s going and how you plan on getting your goods to the final destination.

We’ll talk about the pros and cons of some of the most popular types of containers so you can choose the right system for your business.


Metal Bins and Crates

The automotive industry suppliers use metal bins to ship auto parts. Steel manufacturers store parts in metal bins. The agriculture industry use metal bins to transport product. Metal bins are typically made with steel or aluminum. Reusable and robust, they’re typically much stronger and sturdier than some of the other containers on this list. They’re designed to keep your goods safe from a variety of potential hazards, including weather and tampering.

These containers come in a variety of sizes and styles, so you can easily find the right type of metal bin or crate for your goods. You can choose between mesh and solid walls. Mesh walls are a great choice for dry consumer goods, while solid walls are better for smaller, loose items. Solid walls also help you retain your privacy, so no one can see what’s inside. However, mesh walls keep your goods visible in the supply chain so your team can quickly find what they need in the warehouse.

You can also choose between drop downs, drop bottoms, 2-way or 4-way entry. Having more entryways makes it easy to load and unload your goods. You can also find FDA-approved metal containers that are suitable for food.

However, metal containers are often difficult to customize, so you’ll likely have to choose from a finite selection. They also tend to be more expensive than other containers.

Stack Racks

While not always a container, stack racks are an essential part of any warehouse. They keep your goods organized in the available space, meaning you can quickly take stock of your inventory and sort goods based on demand. They usually feature a metal pallet base and four upright columns. You can connect the racks to create an intricate system of shelves for your products in the warehouse. Assign individual products to each shelf using signs and SKU numbers.

warehouse stack racks quote

You can also use stack racks to ship your products, including large, bulky items that might not fit in a regular container–such as furniture, pipes and other industrial equipment.

Stack racks often come in a variety of different colors, making it easy to color code your inventory. Your employees can find what they need without looking at signs.

You can also choose between collapsible, rigid and heavy-duty stack racks. With collapsible racks, you can break down your storage materials when they’re not in use to make more room in your facility. Heavy-duty racks come with reinforced beams and pallets and are designed for extremely heavy or bulky items. You can even order custom stack racks based on the dimensions of your facility or products.

Gaylord Boxes

The plastic industry stores resin in Gaylord boxes. Non-profit organizations use Gaylord boxes to store collected items. The produce industry uses Gaylord boxes to transport product. By far the cheapest storage container on this list, gaylord boxes are a cost-effective way to ship your goods from place to place. They come in all shapes and sizes and are easy to customize based on your product requirements. However, they’re not nearly as sturdy or reliable as those made with plastic, wood or steel.

They’re best used for lightweight goods and those that don’t need a lot of protection on the road. Without much padding or insulation, avoid using gaylord boxes for temperature-sensitive cargo or fragile items. You can also find boxes with vents or holes to keep air flowing through your containers.

Wire Baskets

Auto Manufacturers uses wire baskets to store auto parts. Food processing plants store goods in wire baskets. Industrial equipment plants use pallet wire baskets to ship their product. Wire baskets are similar to metal containers, except they’re usually much larger and offer more visibility. Your employees can easily see through the basket and identify the goods inside. These containers often come with wheels, which makes it easy to wheel your goods from place to place. They’re commonly used to store and organize products within a warehouse, but you can also use them to ship large, bulky items that won’t slip through the wires.

warehouse wire baskets quote

Some wire baskets come attached to a metal pallet, which makes loading and unloading a breeze. You can also find collapsible wire baskets, helping you make more space in your warehouse.

Insulated Containers

Insulated containers come in all sizes and are perfect for storing temperature-sensitive items like meat, produce, medicine and other food products. They’re made with durable, thick insulating materials, including an exterior wall of plastic, followed by injected foam and sealed with another layer of plastic on the inside of the tote. These features will keep your goods cool and comfortable during their trip. They often come with side or top lids, much like a cooler or a small safe.

These containers keep your food products sanitary. If the temperature dips below a certain point, your products could easily spoil. You can even invest in smart insulated containers that automatically record and share the temperature of your products in real-time. If anything happens during the trip, you’ll be the first to know whether your products are still safe to consume.

Insulated containers are often much more expensive than other types of containers, but they’re necessary if you’re transporting temperature-sensitive cargo.

large plastic totes stacked

Plastic Totes, Crates and Bins

The automotive industry uses stacking totes to store small parts. Warehouses use stacking totes to transport parts within their facility. Distribution centers use stacking totes to transport parts. Plastic totes and crates remain one of the most popular forms of containers. They’re made with durable, lightweight plastic to help you bring down your shipping costs without putting your goods at risk. You can use them to store and ship all kinds of items, including food, consumer goods and retail products. They’re usually made with high-density polyethylene, which makes them durable, reusable and completely recyclable.

These containers come in all shapes and sizes. You can find nesting totes and nodes that slide into each other, making it easy to stack and organize your products on the shelf. You can also find FDA-approved totes and crates for transporting food, including bakery trays, produce totes and crates. Bottle plastic crates are ideal for shipping and storing individual bottles, such as wine, glass bottles and other beverages. These containers can also slide into each other, so you can make more room in your facility when they’re not in use.

Wooden Crates

Steel manufacturers transport parts in wood crates. The agriculture industry stores product in wood crates. The automotive industry ships parts in wood crates.Wooden crates are commonly used as one-way shipping containers. Reliable and sturdy, they offer superior protection for your goods, especially those traveling overseas. They’re perfect for valuable and bulky goods, including those with odd measurements or unique specifications. Wooden crates are extremely easy to customize, so you can design and order a crate that will fit just about any item. They also tend to be cheaper than most containers.

Wooden crates will need to be heat treated according to the ISPM 15 requirement, which prevents the spread of wood-borne insects and diseases. Once you’ve treated your wooden crates, you can reuse them as long as these containers aren’t damaged during the loading or unloading process. Wooden crates are also susceptible to moisture, so be sure to keep them indoors as much as possible.


warehouse aisle shelves

Choosing the right container depends on a variety of factors, including how you plan on storing these containers and goods in your warehouse. Rental rates continue to rise in the warehousing industry, so it’s important to make the most of the space you have while maximizing efficiency. You’ll also need to consider the nature of your business, the workflow of your employees, how much you plan to spend on containers and how you plan on shipping your goods.

Layout/Saving Space

If you want to save space in your warehouse, stack racks can help you get items off the floor, ensuring your employees can quickly find what they need. Stackable crates and totes can also help you make the most of your floor space. Be sure to keep the heaviest items on the bottom of the rack.

You can also use collapsible containers to save on space. As your inventory fluctuates, you can deploy or collapse these containers as you see fit.

Wheeled containers will also help your employees transport inventory through your warehouse without a lift truck. They’re perfect for sorting different items and moving inventory with minimal effort.


Depending on the nature of your business, containers for bulk storage and shipping will help you improve efficiency in the workplace. Your employees can quickly load/unload your cargo, while handling as few containers as possible. You can also condense your shipments to save money.

If your employees are constantly sorting, distributing and picking items off the shelf, nesting totes and stack racks are a great choice. You can quickly assign different trays, shelves and containers to individual items, especially if you need to organize smaller goods like nails, screws, bolts and other hardware. Your employees can quickly retrieve what they need without having to sort through larger containers.

When it comes to loading/unloading, you can buy containers with pallets attached, so your team doesn’t have to waste time looking for pallets before loading each container onto the truck. You also don’t have to worry about pallets getting separated from your containers during shipment.

considerations for your warehouse graphic

Durability and Safety

You’ll also need to consider the safety of your product and employees. It’s best to find containers similar in size to your products so there’s less room for them to move around during transit. Invest in durable storage containers when shipping fragile or valuable items.

Wooden pallets and crates may spread debris throughout your workplace. Consider the workflow of your employees to make sure they don’t injure themselves on the job.

If your company transports or stores hazardous chemicals, use proper shipping containers such as IBC totes and those made for industrial materials.


Sustainability should also be top of mind when choosing shipping containers. If your company ships and receives items regularly, it’s best to buy reusable shipping containers. This will help you save money and reduce your impact on the environment. If your containers are disposable, they should also be recyclable.

Lower costs and better sustainability are also reasons to invest in used shipping containers. Make sure you clean and inspect these containers before putting them back in the supply chain.

recyclable cardboard shipping box


Determining how to purchase containers is the next part of the puzzle. It’s best to purchase containers from a reliable manufacturer or reseller. They should be a BBB-accredited business with a high rating. If purchasing used containers, find a company that specializes in trading containers. They usually have a wide network of sellers and resellers to give you a better selection. The company should also inspect these containers beforehand or have a refund policy in place.


With so many choices to consider, you’ll need to do your research before investing in a new fleet of containers. Every business is different, so give yourself the freedom to come up with a solution that works for you and your team. You can always test out individual containers with your employees before committing to an entire fleet. Get a feel for how they move around your warehouse and how they fit with your products.

You can also collect feedback from your customers and business partners. Talk to them about the challenges they face when it comes to shipping and storage. If some of your goods have been damaged in the past, consider choosing a more durable set of containers.

Choosing between air, sea and railway shipping will also affect your decision. If you send your goods by air, it’s best to go with a lightweight shipping container to save on costs. When traveling by sea, store your products in durable containers that can withstand the elements.

In the end, you can elevate your business model by choosing the right container. Happy shopping!