Dimensions for an Expedition Rig that Fits in a Shipping Container

I have spent a lot of time researching, planning, and designing a full-size, custom-built expedition rig. I hope to start this massive project in the next few years. A few weeks ago, though, I took a brief detour down a different path. Rather than a huge RV based on the M1083 LMTV chassis, I spent a few days thinking I would go with a medium-duty utility vehicle instead. The Mitsubishi FG4x4 and the Isuzu N-series, I reasoned, had a few advantages over the LMTV.

  • Ship-ability - These vehicles can fit in a shipping container. With some clever engineering, I could add a spacious living area to the back that would still fit in one of these containers. This would give me an expedition rig capable of long-term adventures in far-flung places, that I could ship around the world with ease.
  • Size - With just a standing-height box and an air conditioner on top, the massive LMTV chassis maxes out the Department of Transportation’s 13’6" height limit with ease. A much smaller, medium-duty utility truck could go more places.
  • Weight - An empty M1083 weighs in at almost 20,000 pounds; even under max load, a Mitsubish FG4x4 tops out at 14,000 pounds. This massive difference makes recovering an LMTV more difficult and more dangerous. Recovering a fully-loaded 4Runner at 5,000 pounds takes training, care, and a bit of risk; doing the same for a vehicle up to six times as heavy requires much more of the former, and a great deal of the latter.

These advantages pushed me further down this new path. I loved the idea of fitting in a shipping container in particular, so I focused on nailing down max dimensions for this type of expedition rig next.

This proved difficult. Most container manufacturers and shipping companies post conflicting information, so I spent the better part of a day searching for a plausible consensus. The following tables contain the results of my research. I cannot guarantee its accuracy, as I pulled it from many sources, but I did my best to cross-reference these figures before recording them here.

I focused on the two most common container sizes, the 20‘ and 40’ High. I ignored 20‘ High cubes, because they only ship from certain ports, to certain ports. It also made little sense to include standard height 40’ containers, because 40‘ High cubes ship at almost the same rate. If I planned for a 40’ container, it made sense to take advantage of the extra height.

Interior Shipping Container Dimensions
Container Length Width Height
20' 19' 5" 7' 6" 7' 5.5"
40'H 39' 6.5" 7' 8" 8' 5.75"

This table summarizes the door dimensions of two common shipping containers, the 20‘ and the 40’ High. Although the actual interior dimensions are a bit larger, building a rig any bigger than this means it won’t fit through the door.

Container Weight Comparison
Container Base weight (lb) Max weight (lb) Carry capacity (lb)
20' 4,800 44,000 39,200
40'H 8,900 44,500 35,600

This table summarizes the weight capacities of two common shipping containers. The 40‘ High container has more structural weight than the 20’, so it has a lower carrying capacity, but both will handle up to 17 tons without issue.

FG4x4 Weight Stats
Chassis Base weight (lb) Max weight (lb) Carry capacity (lb)
FG4x4 5,995 14,050 8,055

This table highlights the most an FG4x4 can weigh, including its payload. Both 20‘ and 40’ High shipping containers can handle well over 30,000 pounds, or more than twice that max. The decision for which container a rig built atop this chassis should fit in, then, should come down to the importance of an extra 12.25“ in height and 2” in width. Do not worry about weight.

What about cost? It stands to reason that it would cost more to ship a 40’ High container, after all. Again, I cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information, as I pulled it from many sources, but I did my best to cross-reference these figures before recording them here.

Container Cost Comparison
20' 100%
40'H 130%

Given how seldom I would ship this rig, and the minor surcharge of a 40’H cube versus a 20‘ container, the decision for which container it should fit in should still come down to the importance of that extra space. Do not worry about shipping costs or weight. Instead, prioritize liveability — which to me means an extra 12.25“ of headroom and 2” of width. You may have different priorities, but if I decide to build an expedition rig at this size, I will do so for a 40’ High cube.

Choosing the 40’ High cube also gave me extra space to ship other gear and accessories outside of my rig, that I could then pack in and on it at my destination. See the table below for the max dimensions of an expedition rig that will fit in this shipping container.

Max Rig Dimensions for a 40'H Cube
Container Length Width Height
40'H 39' 6.5" 7' 8" 8' 5.75"

As you may have guessed, I went through all of this just to change my mind again. While medium-duty utility vehicles have some serious draws, I want a large enough vehicle that I can live in it for long periods of time. I also want enough fuel for a range of at least 1,000 miles, and something I know can get through anything. Mitsubishi and Isuzu’s trucks might be able to do those things, but an LMTV will do them better. The M1083 will never ship in a container, slip down a narrow trail, or get un-stuck without a fight — but for my use case, no other chassis will do. I wanted to post these figures today, though, in the hopes that it will save those of you with different priorities some time.