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If you’re a traveling photographer or videographer, especially one who spends time in remote or rugged areas, having a good portable hard drive is vital. When you’re generating hours of footage or hundreds of shots every day, it’s the only way to quickly and reliably back up those irreplaceable files.
Of course, having a backup is useless if you can’t rely on it, which is why most cheap external hard drives aren’t much good on the road. They’re designed to sit on a desk for most of their life, not deal with the knocks, drops, rain, dust, and everything else that makes up the average travel day.
There are a few, though, built with this lifestyle in mind. Some just have basic drop protection, while others can handle even dust storms and complete submersion with ease. Many are very small and light, fitting easily in your pocket (never mind your carry-on), and some are extremely fast, so you can back up even huge video files in under a minute.
The main decision is whether to go for a drive with a traditional spinning disk (HDD) inside, or a more recent solid state drive instead. SSDs are smaller, lighter, more robust, and much faster — but all those benefits come with a significant price tag.
These seven portable drives span the full range of options, from budget-minded versions to high-end performers. We’ve even included a drive that doesn’t need to be attached to a laptop, ideal for lightweight travel in truly rugged conditions.
Note: We’ve linked to the 2TB version of each drive to make price comparisons easier. Most come in other capacities, of course, so you can scale up or down to match your budget and storage needs.
- Best on a Budget: Silicon Power A80
- Runner-Up, Best on a Budget: Transcend StoreJet M3
- Best for Taking a Beating (SSD): G-Technology G-DRIVE R
- Best for Taking a Beating (HDD): CalDigit Tuff Portable
- Best for Minimalists: Samsung T5
- Best Value for Money SSD: SanDisk Extreme Portable
- Best for Traveling Without a Laptop: WD My Passport Wireless SSD
Best on a Budget: Silicon Power A80
For around the same price as standard portable hard drives, the Silicon Power A80 adds extra durability in an attractive case.
Not only is the drive rated to handle up to thirty minutes of submersion in three feet of water, and have some degree of shock protection, the aluminium case can also take up to 660lbs of crushing force.
A short USB-A to USB-A cable is included, which slots neatly into the side of the drive so it doesn’t get lost. There’s a longer version in the box as well — a nice touch in case you do break or lose the first one, or just prefer the extra length.
Performance is reasonable for a spinning drive like this, at around 120Mb/s, and there’s both USB 3.1 (Gen 1) and USB 2 support.
The A80 is slim and fairly lightweight, with a three-year manufacturer warranty. Like all such warranties, though, it only covers the drive, not the data on it.
Put simply, this is a great portable drive option for travelers on a budget, with more protection from the elements than you’d expect for the price.
Runner-Up, Best on a Budget: Transcend StoreJet M3
We’ve long recommended the Transcend StoreJet M3 for travelers on a budget.
While recent price drops on the Silicon Power A80 (above) make it our current budget pick, the Storejet M3 is a worthy competitor if you’re more worried about drops than water damage. Its rugged enclosure, with its anti-shock rubber case and internal suspension system, ensures the drive takes minor knocks and bumps in its stride.
USB 3.1 Gen 1 support (5Gbps) gets the most speed out of the 5400rpm drive during data transfers, with USB 2 compatibility for older machines. The Storejet ships with some basic backup software, and if you use it, there’s a button on the drive that lets you do one-touch backups.
Compatible with Windows, MacOS, and Linux, the M3 is a solid, reasonably-priced storage option for travelers.
Best for Taking a Beating (SSD): G-Technology G-DRIVE R
While basic drop resistance is a good start, you’re going to need something more if your trips take you off the beaten path. When you need your storage to be able to handle even the worst travel days, the G-Drive R series is where it’s at.
With no moving parts, solid-state drives are inherently more able to handle drops and bumps, but here that’s just the beginning. The G-Drive R range can handle being submerged in three feet of water for half an hour, dropped 10 feet onto (carpeted) concrete, and crushed with 1000lbs of force, plus keep out dust and dirt almost indefinitely.
SSDs are faster than standard hard drives as well — combined with its USB 3.1 Gen 2 support, the G-Drive R can push data through at up to a blistering 560MB/s. That makes it more than fast enough for even videographers and pro photographers who need to move large amounts of data around in a hurry.
It’s a USB-C drive, with a cable in the box, but there’s also a USB-C to USB-A cable for those with older machines. Weighing just three ounces and fitting in the palm of your hand, if you’ve got the money, the G-Drive R is about as good as it gets in rugged portable storage right now.
Best for Taking a Beating (HDD): CalDigit Tuff Portable
Can’t justify the cost of the high-end G-Drive (above), but still need an external drive that can handle the rigours of travel? The CalDigit Tuff is a fraction of the price, yet still has several rugged features that should see it dealing with all but the very worst of conditions.
Able to handle submersion in three feet of water for half an hour, the Tuff also has good dirt and dust protection. Since it uses a spinning hard drive, it’s never going to deal with drops as well as an SSD, but can still handle a fall of up to four feet.
Because of that spinning disk, the transfer speed also tops out at about 130MB/s. That’s still pretty good, though — if you need faster, you’ll need to stump up the money for an SSD-based portable drive instead.
Nice extras include both USB-C and USB-A cables, and a plastic “archive” box to store and protect both the drive and its cables. It comes ready to use on Mac, but can be reformatted to use with Windows or Linux instead.
Available in five colours (useful if you’re carrying multiple drives), the Tuff is an affordable portable USB-C drive that’s much more durable than most.
Best for Minimalists: Samsung T5
We’ve loved Samsung’s range of tiny, sleek portable SSD drives since they first came out, and the latest T5 model is no exception.
Available in sizes up to 2TB, as usual you’ll pay noticeably more than you would for a hard disk-based version with the same capacity. In return, you’ll get a drive that’s up to five times faster, weighs 1.6 ounces, and is about the same size as a small stack of business cards. Seriously, it’s absolutely tiny.
Despite its diminutive size and boardroom-style looks, the T5 is surprisingly robust. Sure, you don’t get water resistance or dust-proofing, but it’s rated to handle drops of over six feet without damage or data loss.
Performance is very impressive, with transfer speeds of up to 540MB/s. As with all of these superfast drives, though, you need to be using a computer with a USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gb/s) port to see those kinds of numbers.
The T5 has password protection and hardware encryption built in, and is backed by a three-year warranty. Both USB-C and USB-A cables are included in the box.
If you’re after blazing performance in a tiny package, and are happy to sacrifice water and dust protection to get it, there’s nothing better than the Samsung T5 for travelers right now.
Best Value for Money SSD: SanDisk Extreme Portable
Want the speed, durability, and small size of a portable SSD drive, but don’t want to spend a fortune to get it? Sadly there’s no free lunch when it comes to SSDs — they’re much more expensive than hard drive-based versions no matter which one you buy — but some are better value than others.
The Sandisk Extreme Portable is typically a bit cheaper than the other SSD-based portable drives we’ve listed, and is a good fit for the majority of travelers. Smaller than the average smartphone, it weighs less than 1.4 ounces, and fits in the palm of your hand.
It’s not the smallest portable drive you can buy, but compared to many other models, it’s still minuscule. Transfer speeds are extremely fast, both on the spec sheet and more importantly in independent tests. It ships with both USB-C and USB-A cables.
The Sandisk Extreme Portable is a fairly rugged drive, able to handle drops of over six feet, and its IP55 rating promises a reasonable degree of protection from both water and dust. It’s not fully resistant to either, though.
So, of the three SSD portable drives we list in this guide, which should you buy? If you’ll regularly be traveling in extreme conditions, consider the G-Technology G-Drive R. If you want the tiniest, sleekest drive you can find, go for the Samsung T5 instead.
If you’re just after a fast portable drive that’s small, light, and can still handle a bit of bad weather and rough treatment, the Sandisk Extreme Portable is a great alternative. Given its competitive pricing, it’s our top value for money SSD pick.
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Best for Traveling Without a Laptop: WD My Passport Wireless SSD
While most portable drives need to be plugged into a computer, a few rare models are designed for traveling without one. Particularly useful for photographers and videographers shooting in rugged, remote locations for a few days, drives like these keep everything backed up without needing to deal with the extra weight and fragility of a laptop.
The Western Digital My Passport Wireless is an expensive piece of equipment, but you get plenty for your money. Being SSD-based, it’s reasonably immune to bumps and vibration, and the removable rubber bumper adds three feet of drop protection as well.
For copying files, there’s both a USB-A port and SD card reader built into the side. You can set the drive to start copying immediately, or wait until you press a button. Sensibly, the default option is to only copy new files rather than everything that’s available.
The drive also has Wi-Fi support, both 2.4 and 5Ghz, to connect it to your phone, camera, or other wireless device. There’s two-way sync between the smartphone app and the drive, so you can back up photos taken on your phone, or grab photos from the drive to use with mobile apps.
When you’re back in front of a computer, you can quickly offload all your files via the USB connection, at up to 390MB/s. There’s support for both Windows and MacOS.
The battery in the My Passport Wireless lasts up to ten hours, and can be used to charge phones and other USB devices as needed. You can also use the drive as a media server, streaming video over the wireless connection at up to 4k. It can act as a basic Wi-Fi range booster as well.
The drive is quite bulky, which is unusual for SSD-based devices. Given the cost, it’s also surprising not to see USB-C support or proper water resistance included. Still, with little in the way of competition, it’s a great alternative to carrying a laptop for those needing to back up photos and video on the go.
Title image via Sandisk, others via respective manufacturers.