The present study evaluated shell utilization and preference of two sympatric hermit crab species, Calcinus tibicen and Clibanarius antillensis, from Ilha Galheta de Dentro, Vitória Bay, south-eastern Brazil. Distribution of individuals and use and availability of shells were estimated in the field, where micro-habitat and shell partitioning were demonstrated between the two species of crabs. Calcinus occurred in higher numbers in the infralittoral fringe and shallow subtidal, while Clibanarius was found mainly in the midlittoral zone. The crabs used shells of different architectures and sizes. Calcinus used mainly globose and low spired shells (Tegula viridula and Cymatium parthenopeum), while Clibanarius utilized predominantly the elongated and high spired ones (mainly Cerithium atratum). Clibanarius used shells with smaller volume, weight, and aperture. Free access experiments were conducted in the laboratory and showed that Calcinus and Clibanarius had a high satisfaction rate, i.e. only 50% of the crabs exchanged their shells. From those that exchanged, they chose shells with higher internal volume than that used in the field, while shell weight did not present any increase. Clibanarius was found in shells closer to the preferred ones and in a very different proportion from shell availability, contrasting to Calcinus, which followed shell availability instead of their preferences. Shell internal volume was more important as a choice factor than the weight for both hermit crab species, showing that crabs optimized shell volume in relation to shell weight in the free access experiments.