Despite the increasing use of online approaches such as cloud storage, instant messaging, and email to share digital files, there’s still a place for old-school methods like USB flash drives. They’ve long been a reliable and compact way of taking, sharing, and storing information while you’re on the go, especially for large files or when internet access isn’t available.
When buying a USB flash drive, consider what the primary use for the drive will be and who is going to use it. If you’re a business traveler, you might want to go with a more security-minded USB flash drive, while if you give your equipment a hard time, a metal or waterproof version may be worth considering.
What to Look for in a USB Flash Drive
Speed & Compatibility
Compatibility with the computers you plan to use is one of the greatest factors in your USB flash drive purchase. Therefore, you should glance at the specifications of both the flash drive and the USB ports on your computer to make sure the read and write speeds suit your level of patience. Whether you use Windows, Mac, or Linux also makes a difference, as you may have read-only or compatibility issues when switching between computers.
USB flash drive storage ranges from about 32GB to 1TB, and typically goes up in price as the capacity gets larger. Some users might need more storage than others: video files, for instance, need more space than photos or standard workplace documents.
When choosing which USB flash drive to buy, consider how much data storage you might need. It’s worth buying a bit extra if the price difference isn’t too high, but the higher-capacity models can easily blow your budget if you’re not careful.
The style of the USB flash drive is also something to consider. Do you want a smaller, more compact device? If so, you might be sacrificing capacity or transfer speed for size. If you want a more sleek, professional-looking, and durable USB flash drive—such as a metal one—you can pay quite a bit more than the plastic counterpart.
While flash drives have gotten faster, smaller, and higher-capacity over the years, their durability hasn’t always kept pace. These are sensitive electronic items that can get damaged when they’re knocked around. Most flash drives on the market last a few years on average, but exposure to heat, impact, and moisture can substantially lower their lifespan. As a result, you may want to look for water resistance in addition to a more durable housing.
Device security is (or at least, should be) a concern of anyone using technology when they travel. If keeping your files safe from anyone who gets their hands on your flash drive is important, look out for a model that encrypts and protects your data with a fingerprint reader, pinpad, or password protection.
Taking all these factors into account, here are our picks for the best USB flash drives in 2021.
Best USB C Flash Drive on a Budget: MOSDART Type C Thumb Drive
- Capacity: 64-256GB
- Compatibility: USB C, USB-A 3.0
- Speed: 75-85Mbps read, 20-30Mbps write
- Extra features: Lanyard
USB C has become increasingly common on phones, tablets, and computers in recent years, and for good reason. It lets you charge at high speed, copy files, and connect accessories all from the same socket, with a plug that’s reversible and easy to insert.
USB C flash drives, however, have been quite slow to appear, which seems odd: offering faster transfer speeds than older models and with that handy reversible plug that means you’re not endlessly fumbling around trying to connect it, they should be more popular than they are.
The MOSDART Type C Thumb Drive doesn’t need any additional apps, offers up to 85Mbps read speed, and has two connectors: USB C for newer devices, and USB-A for older machines. This flash drive works with most phone cases and includes a lanyard for convenience of carrying. It’s available in capacities from 64-256GB.
It’s not the fastest USB 3.0 drive we’ve come across, but it’s fine for normal use, especially for the money. If you’re just looking for a USB flash drive that works well with both new and older devices at a reasonable price, this is the one to go for.Buy on Amazon
Best USB 3.0 Flash Drive: Patriot Supersonic Rage Elite
- Capacity: 32GB-1TB
- Compatibility: USB-A 3.1
- Speed: 400Mbps read, 200Mbps write
- Extra features: Rubberized housing, range of colors
A USB 3.0 Flash Drive transfers files more quickly than its 2.0 predecessor and can speed along at a maximum (theoretical) rate of 5 gigabits per second. With the Patriot Supersonic Rage Elite having transfer speeds of up to 400 MB/s and storage ranging from 256GB to 1TB, this flash drive lives up to its Supersonic name.
This model also has a rubberized housing for increased durability, with a slide mechanism to protect the USB port and stop dust and debris from entering. It also comes in a range of colors. When speed is a top priority, the Patriot Supersonic Rage Elite should have you raging to pick one up.Buy on Amazon
Best-Designed USB Flash Drive: Samsung Duo Plus
- Capacity: 32GB-256GB
- Compatibility: USB C, USB-A 3.1
- Speed: 200-400Mbps read, depending on model
- Extra features: Water-resistant
Offering a USB C connector along with a USB-A adapter, buyers can use this drive with just about any computer or non-Apple phone. With a water-resistant design, this sleek and compact USB flash drive is a great choice for travelling professionals or for those who can’t be bothered carrying extra adapters.
With up to 400MB/s data transfer speed and a five-year limited warranty, the Samsung Duo Plus is an all-around top choice giving speed, durability, reliability, and broad compatibility across a range of devices.Buy on Amazon
Best USB Flash Drive With Fingerprint Reader: Lexar LJDF35
- Capacity: 32GB-256GB
- Compatibility: USB-A 3.0
- Speed: 150Mbps read
- Extra features: Fingerprint reader
If security is a concern, the Lexar LJDF35 Jumpdrive has a fingerprint scanner included in its base that remembers up to 10 fingerprints. This biometric safety feature uses AES-256 encryption to ensure the safety of your files and unlocks in under a second, but the accompanying app only works on Windows computers. You can use this as a standard, unencrypted drive on other types of computer, however.
This drive has a read speed of 150Mbps, which isn’t the fastest in the world, but isn’t bad either. If you’ve got a Windows machine, the Lexar LJDF35 Jumpdrive is a secure investment for travelers thanks to both its fingerprint security and the included three-year warranty.Buy on Amazon
Best Password Protected USB Flash Drive: iStorage datAshur PRO 2
- Capacity: 4-512GB
- Compatibility: USB-A 3.1
- Speed: 169Mbps read, 135Mbps write
- Extra features: Pinpad, encryption
If you thought passwords were only for typing on the computer screen, you thought wrong! This iStorage datAshur PRO 2 has a spy-like keypad included for ultimate data protection.
The drive is one of the best options for business and recreational travelers who care about their data security, with strong encryption and the pinpad providing a visual deterrent to thieves. Entering the user PIN incorrectly 10 times results in the PIN being wiped, leaving data only accessible via the admin PIN. Enter that incorrectly 10 times, and the drive and encryption key are securely wiped.
Transfer speeds aren’t as fast as standard USB 3.0 drives thanks to the overhead of the encryption/decryption process, but at 168Mbps read, 116Mbps write, it’s still pretty quick. Capacity options range from 4 to 512GB, so you’ll have plenty of space to store all your important documents.
This Pro version of the drive is made of metal and both dust and water-resistant to protect you from Mother Nature. There’s also a cheaper Personal model that’s made from sturdy plastic and doesn’t have the same protection from the elements.
We reviewed the Personal version of this drive in the past, and came away impressed.Buy on Amazon
Best Metal USB Flash Drive: HP USB 3.0 Metal Hook Flash Drive
- Capacity: 16GB-128GB
- Compatibility: USB-A 3.1
- Speed: up to 100Mbps read
- Extra features: Hook mechanism to attach to keyring
Durability is the name of the game with the heavy-duty construction of this lightning-fast flash drive. For those users who are worried about losing, cracking, or damaging their device—and losing the data it holds—the HP USB 3.0 Metal Hook Flash Drive is durable enough to survive the rigors of hard travel.
It comes with a spring-loaded clip, so you can keep it on your keychain and take it with you on the go, and thanks to its durable metal case, you won’t have to worry about this flash drive succumbing to your abuse.
Available in capacities from 16GB to 128GB and with the backing of a well-known brand name, it’s a solid choice for travel in every sense of the word.Buy on Amazon
Best Budget USB Flash Drive: SamData USB Flash Drive
- Capacity: 16GB-64GB
- Compatibility: USB-A 2.0
- Speed: unspecified
- Extra features: None
If you want compact storage at a very affordable price, this flash drive should scratch you where you itch. This simple drive is plug-and-play with no need to install extra software. The SamData 32GB USB flash drive works on several platforms (Linux, Windows, and Mac) and is available in packs of two or four. With most packs, each drive is a different color to help you easily distinguish them.
It’s only USB 2.0-compatible, so don’t expect blistering speeds, especially when writing large amounts of data. If all you need is a simple, no-fuss USB flash drive with a useful amount of storage space at a low price, though, this SamData model will do the trick.Buy on Amazon
Best High Capacity USB Flash Drive: Sandisk Extreme Pro
- Capacity: 128GB-1TB
- Compatibility: USB-A 3.0
- Speed: 420MB/s read, 380MB/s write
- Extra features: Bundled software
With four capacities ranging from 128GB to 1TB, the Sandisk Extreme Pro offers enough space for pretty much any portable file storage needs. Ideal for videographers, photographers, and anybody else dealing with huge files, this USB 3.0 flash drive is also noticeably faster than most, with speeds of 420MB/s read and 380MB/s write. That’s fast enough to copy a full-length 4K video file in under 15 seconds.
The durable aluminum case provides plenty of physical protection, and your data is equally protected thanks to the Sandisk SecureAccess software that’s bundled with the drive.
If you’re looking for hardy yet high-performing USB flash storage with huge capacity, look no further than the excellent Sandisk Extreme Pro.Buy on Amazon
There’s no lack of variety in the USB flash drive market in 2021. From the security of a fingerprint scanner to massive capacities for storing and sharing all of your pics and video footage, USB flash storage provides an unbeatable mix of portability, versatility, and transfer speed at very affordable prices.
Cloud storage might be the way of the future, but there’s plenty of life in flash drives yet!
Main image via EsaRiutta, product images via Amazon