Offshore Reefer

Reefer Container vs. Dry Container: What’s the difference?

Reefer containers vs dry containers

The shipping container is arguably one of the 20th century’s most revolutionary modular products. Shipping containers continue to transform the world’s economy by facilitating inter-continental transportation of high-value products. These include electronic equipment, perishable food products, and even pharmaceuticals.

Generally, there are two main types of shipping containers that underpin global transportation, dry containers and reefer containers. 

In today’s article, we aim to dissect the nuances and differences between these two container types, as well as discuss their application scenarios. 

What are reefer containers?

Offshore reefer containers are fundamentally regular shipping containers that are refrigerated. Reefers can sustain stable temperatures with controlled humidity levels and adequate airflow mechanisms. 

Their specialised features help keep perishable goods in pristine condition, protecting them from spoilage due to excessive cold, humidity or heat, or even lack of adequate airflow. 

Uses of refrigerated containers

Refrigerated containers provide an optimal low air temperature environment to store frozen goods that require temperatures of at least -5 degrees Celsius. For example, ice cream, meat products like poultry and pork, or frozen seafood like salmon and tuna. 

Furthermore, they provide an optimal environment for chilled products that need to be shipped at low temperatures but don’t require freezing. For example, dairy, confectionery, eggs and fruits and vegetables. 

They also provide a storage and transportation medium for extremely temperature-sensitive products like pharmaceuticals, batteries, industrial chemicals and tobacco. 

What is a dry shipping container?

A dry container is essentially a type of standard shipping container used to accommodate dry, non-temperature-sensitive and non-hazardous shipments. Typically 40′ in size, these containers constitute strong steel to resist rain, wind and saltwater elements. 

What are dry containers used for?

Because dry containers are strong, versatile, and durable, they are extensively deployed for bulk international shipping tasks that typically involve non-perishable items. For example, electronics, vehicles, furniture and non-perishable foodstuffs.

Are dry containers the same as insulated containers?

As already alluded to, dry containers are standard containers used to transport items that aren’t impacted by temperature, or humidity.

On the other hand, insulated containers are specialised containers used to transport items that require safeguarding from thermal shocks, humidity infiltration, odours, condensation, and cross-contamination.

Insulated containers aren’t designed to refrigerate or heat goods, but prevent damaging spikes or dips in temperature that could damage products. Principally, they are designed to offer optimal protection from contamination, without compromising on space or eco-friendliness. 

Reefer container vs dry container


Because of their specialised electronic components, reefer containers are more expensive to hire, maintain or purchase than dry containers. However, their benefits in terms of technology make them much more cost effective in the long term than dry containers. 


Reefer containers are highly durable as they can be used even in adverse weather conditions. However, in contrast to dry containers, they could be slightly less durable.

This could be because dry containers are predominantly made of aluminium or steel to handle large payloads and do not constitute any specialised electronics which could break down.

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Purpose and application

Reefer containers are mainly utilised to transport perishable and temperature-sensitive items. For example: 

  • Pharmaceuticals: Like medicine, multivitamin supplements, and some medical tools and supplies. 
  • Food and beverage: Like meats, dairy, chocolate and seafood.
  • Disaster relief: Reefer shipments can be used in case of natural disasters to deliver aid to communities that may otherwise be highly challenging to ship on short notice—for example, medicines and food. 
  • Military and government application: Some reefer containers are employed in military and government applications. For example, at testing sites and deployment areas in order to meet stringent safety standards for electromagnetic interference and vibration resistance exercises. 

Dry containers are used to transport and store non-perishable or dry items. In fact, dry containers are mainly suited to products that aren’t liquid, gas, or hazardous if mishandled. For example:

  • Books and paper products.
  • Toys.
  • Sand.
  • Furniture
  • Vehicle parts.
  • Coal and stone.
  • Grains,sugars and salts.
  • Building materials.
  • Clothing.
  • Tools and equipment.


Reefer container containers use a plethora of technological components. For example, most reefers are equipped with controller units that adjust the temperature, humidity, and ventilation settings for disparate cargo types. 

On the other hand, dry containers rarely have any electronic components and come in standard formats, without requiring controller units or exchange systems to maintain optimal oxygen levels to keep products fresh.

Which shipping containers are best for my business?

As we have already established, both reefer and dry containers share similarities in the sense that they both offer a fast and efficient bulk shipping medium for transporting items across land and sea. 

However, reefers tend to have multiple temperature control mechanisms in contrast to dry containers.

That being said, the choice between the two depends on your business needs. If your products are non-hazardous, then a dry container might be a more cost-efficient option when dealing with heavy loads.

However, if your cargo is perishable and environmentally sensitive, then a reefer is the best option to remain safely compliant with local and industry regulations.


Dry containers are primarily employed to transport general dry commodities, whereas reefer containers are well suited to moving products which dictate temperature control. 

Depending on the sensitivity of your cargo, you can choose between the two container types to determine which suits your exact business needs. 

Reach out to us at MGS Icestorm if offshore reefer containers are your need!

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