Portable hard drive

The Best Portable Hard Drives for Travel in 2020

By Dave Dean Storage2 Comments

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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 A60
  • Size: 5.5 x 0.9 x 3.4 inches
  • Type: HDD
  • Connector: USB-A
  • Speed: 120MB/s
  • Durability: IPX4, basic drop protection

Runner-Up, Best on a Budget: Transcend StoreJet M3
  • Size: 5.1 x 0.8 x 3.2 inches
  • Type: HDD
  • Connector: USB-A
  • Speed: 100MB/s
  • Durability: Basic drop protection

Sale
Best for Taking a Beating (SSD): G-Tech G-DRIVE R
  • Size: 3.7 x 2.0 x 0.6 inches
  • Type: SSD
  • Connector: USB C
  • Speed: 560MB/s
  • Durability: IP67, 10-foot drop protection, 1000lb crush

Best for Taking a Beating (HDD): CalDigit Tuff Portable
  • Size: 5.3 x 3.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Type: HDD
  • Connector: USB C
  • Speed: 130MB/s
  • Durability: IP57, basic drop protection

Sale
Best for Minimalists: Samsung T7
  • Size: 2.2 x 0.3 x 3.3 inches
  • Type: SSD
  • Connector: USB C
  • Speed: 1050MB/s
  • Durability: 6-foot drop protection

Best SSD Overall: SanDisk Extreme Portable
  • Size: 3.8 x 2.0 x 0.4 inches
  • Type: SSD
  • Connector: USB C
  • Speed: 550MB/s
  • Durability: IP55, 6-feet drop protection

Sale
Best for Traveling Without a Laptop: WD My Passport Wireless SSD
  • Size: 5.3 x 5.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Type: SSD
  • Connector: USB-A
  • Speed: 390MB/s
  • Durability: 3-feet drop protection

Best on a Budget: Silicon Power A60

Silicon Power 2TB Rugged Portable External Hard Drive Armor A60, Shockproof USB 3.0 for PC, Mac, Xbox and PS4, Black

For around the same price as standard portable hard drives, the Silicon Power A60 adds some much-needed extra durability.

Along with IPX4-rated protection against spraying water, the drive’s rugged rubberized case gives a useful degree of shock protection. 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 A60 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. A short USB-A to USB-A cable is included, which wraps neatly around the drive so it doesn’t get lost.

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.

Pros
  • Low price
  • Water resistant
  • Attractive case with cable storage
Cons
  • No official dust or dirt protection rating
  • USB-A to USB-A cable harder to find if you lose or break it

Buy on Amazon

Runner-Up, Best on a Budget: Transcend StoreJet M3

Transcend 2 TB StoreJet M3 Military Drop Tested USB 3.0 External Hard Drive (TS2TSJ25M3)

We’ve long recommended the Transcend StoreJet M3 for travelers on a budget.

While recent price drops on the Silicon Power A60 (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.

Pros
  • Reasonable price
  • Can handle drops better than much of the competition
  • USB 3.1 (gen 1) and USB 2 support
Cons
  • No official water resistance

Buy on Amazon

Best for Taking a Beating (SSD): G-Technology G-DRIVE R

G-Technology 2TB G-DRIVE mobile SSD Durable Portable External Storage - USB-C (USB 3.1), Up to 560 MB/s - 0G06054-1

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, and 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.

Pros
  • Impressive durability
  • Extremely fast
  • USB C and USB-A cables in the box
  • Lightweight
Cons
  • Somewhat expensive, like all portable SSDs

Buy on Amazon

Best for Taking a Beating (HDD): CalDigit Tuff Portable

CalDigit Tuff USB-C 2TB HDD Portable Rugged Tough USB 3.1 Type-C, MacBook, 2016 MacBook Pro, Thunderbolt 3 Compatible (Green)

Can’t justify the cost of the high-end G-Drive (above), but still need an external drive that can handle the rigors 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 take being submerged 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 colors (useful if you’re carrying multiple drives), the Tuff is an affordable portable USB C drive that’s much more durable than most.

Pros
  • Solid value
  • Good durability for a HDD
  • Cables and archive box included
Cons
  • Not as durable as an SSD

Buy on Amazon

Best for Minimalists: Samsung T7

SAMSUNG T7 Portable SSD 2TB - Up to 1050MB/s - USB 3.2 External Solid State Drive, Gray (MU-PC2T0T/AM)

We’ve loved Samsung’s range of tiny, sleek portable SSD drives since they first came out, and the latest T7 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 two 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 T7 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 blazingly fast, with transfer speeds of up to 1050MB/s. You’ll need to be using a computer with a USB 3.2 Gen 2 (20Gb/s) port to see those kinds of numbers, but it’s backward compatible with slower versions as well.

The T7 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 spectacular performance in a tiny package and are happy to sacrifice water and dust protection to get it, there’s nothing better than the Samsung T7 for travelers right now.

Pros
  • Tiny
  • Extremely fast
  • Hardware encryption
Cons
  • Relatively expensive, like all portable SSDs
  • No waterproofing or dust resistance

Buy on Amazon

Best SSD Overall: SanDisk Extreme Portable

SanDisk 2TB Extreme Portable External SSD - Up to 550MB/s - USB-C, USB 3.1 - SDSSDE60-2T00-G25

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, since they’re much more expensive than hard drives no matter which one you buy, but some are better value than others.

The Sandisk Extreme Portable is often 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 T7 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 overall SSD pick for travelers.

Pros
  • Well-priced for a portable SSD
  • A reasonable amount of drop, dust, and water protection
  • Fast transfer speeds
Cons
  • Not fully water or dust-resistant
  • A little larger than it could be

Buy on Amazon

Best for Traveling Without a Laptop: WD My Passport Wireless SSD

WD 2TB My Passport Wireless SSD External Portable Drive, WiFi USB 3.0, Up to 390 MB/s - WDBAMJ0020BGY-NESN

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 direct competition, it’s a great alternative to carrying a laptop for those needing to back up photos and video on the go.

If you want to back up your photos without a laptop but can’t afford this drive’s high cost, however, there is another option. The RavPower FileHub isn’t as elegant and doesn’t have all the same features, but you can still use it to back up an SD card to any (USB-A) portable drive at the touch of a button.

Pros
  • No need to carry a laptop
  • Wide range of features
  • Nothing else quite like it on the market
Cons
  • Very expensive
  • No real water resistance
  • No USB C support

Buy on Amazon

Title image via Sandisk, others via Amazon

About the Author
Dave Dean

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a traveler for 20 years, and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken-down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.

Comments

  1. Avatar

    yes but if i am out in yukon whats best for getting photos off my iPhone? do these have air drop

    1. Dave Dean Author

      Apple doesn’t license Airdrop to other companies and doesn’t make anything appropriate itself, so that’s not an option.

      You could use the wireless Western Digital drive mentioned in the article, but I’d personally use something like this to do the same thing much more cheaply. We listed this, and several other approaches for iOS and Android, here.

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