You finally made it to your destination, and as you kick up your feet and sip from an ice-cold drink, the last thing you want to worry about is storage. It is a little insane that you must rely on a semi-mysterious device to hold the photographs from your most recent excursion safe, especially as you plan to do a bit more shooting as you go about your travels. Hopefully, this portable hard drive guide will help you pick out a reliable and compatible option that allows you to relax a bit during your next vacation.
Interfaces, Speed, and Capacity
Before we jump into travel-specific concerns, I want to address the most critical criteria for picking a drive: make sure it works with your machine. Some drives, or their software, will only work on certain operating systems, or they may require a reformat before you can achieve 100% functionality. Along with this, make sure the interface on your drive is supported by your computer, and is the fastest choice you have available. For example, if you are working with the latest Macs, you are going to want to find a drive that supports Thunderbolt™ 3, or if you have a tried-and-true laptop that is getting a little long in the tooth, then maybe you are going to have to go with FireWire 800 and, if you just want something universal, you can stick with USB (though USB Type-C may be the best if you want to be future-proofed).
Once you have figured that out, you are going to want to find something that is bus powered. What does that mean? Basically, the drive will be powered by the connection to the computer. This alleviates the worry of needing to find an outlet to back up your photos and can be a lifesaver if you need to unload some cards in the back of a cab or on a flight. Even if AC power isn’t going to be hard to find at your destination, it does mean you can pack one less thing.
So now that you can find a drive that will plug into and work with your computer, the next step is then determining the speed and capacity you need. I would recommend looking at solid-state drives, or SSDs, especially if you are going to be doing a lot of traveling. SSDs, such as the Samsung T7, are much faster than HDDs and feature no moving parts, making them less likely to fail if they get bumped or jostled during a trip. However, HDDs can be found at much higher capacities for much less money. As a photographer, you will probably be just fine with slower 5400 rpm HDDs for backing up every night, but if you plan on shooting and reviewing 4K video from the same drive, you will likely to need a large SSD.
Advanced Features and Functions
One of the most obvious features that will benefit travel photographers is ruggedization. Numerous manufacturers have developed lineups or accessories that provide protection from drops and bumps that your drive may incur while on the road. These normally rubberized builds will help add just a little bit more insurance that your drives won’t catastrophically fail during your trip. A couple of good examples of this are the G-Technology ArmorATD Hard Drive and the LaCie Rugged Mini Portable Hard Drives.
If you desire more speed or extra protection, RAID is something you should probably be considering. RAID arrays are common backup solutions for desktops, but there are a few portable options should you absolutely need the added security. For redundancy many portable RAID options, such as the LaCie 4TB Rugged RAID Pro, offer RAID 1, which mirrors your data across two different drives. This means that if one drive should fail, you will still have access to all your data. If you are simply looking for extra speed, however, you will want to get set up in RAID 0, which stripes the data across two drives, effectively doubling the speed by reading from both drives simultaneously, especially if you are using two SSDs like the Glyph Technologies Atom. As a side note, there is a JBOD (just a bunch of disks) option, as well. This basically lets each drive function independently.
Sometimes you will need to perform card backups even when you don’t have access to a computer. This is when options like the WD My Passport Wireless SSD (read the review) come in handy. This drive has a multitude of features that make it ideal for travelers. The most significant feature for photographers is the built-in SD card slot, meaning you won’t need a computer to do transfers. It also has a USB 2.0 port, which can be used to charge your phone and other devices using the drive’s internal battery or as a method for transferring data from a connected camera. Finally, something that is just icing on the cake at this point, is the built-in Wi-Fi, which provides the ability to browse files and setup the drive via a smartphone while you are out and about.
Finally, there is a little something for the action enthusiasts, especially those who like to check out and edit their footage as they ride in the van once they get off the mountain or beach: the GNARBOX 2.0. This is a sweet new device that has numerous functions beyond simply acting as a backup drive for your photos and video. It features multiple USB ports along with SD and microSD card slots to give you multiple ways to unload your files. You can then use the built-in Wi-Fi connectivity to access the drive via an app, and then organize and begin editing your footage while on the road.
Alternatives and Final Tips
Just because hard drives are the most common and obvious solution for backing up files, it doesn’t mean they are the only option. A variety of dedicated memory card back-up devices are available that let you transfer files quickly and easily from your memory cards. Many of these also have a screen and controls so that you can set up and control how your transfers are performed without needing a computer or other connection.
There are occasions when a separate hard drive or backup device is just one thing too many to keep track of. In this case, I would say to just add a couple of memory cards to your kit. You likely already have a few of these in a dedicated case or wallet, and they take up much less space than a dedicated drive. This is especially useful if you have dual card slots in your camera, allowing you to shoot with images instantly being backed up, and then swap out both when they get filled. And nowadays, with pretty much every laptop offering built-in card slots, you don’t even need to carry any readers.
Numerous options are available to help back up your files when you are out on your next adventure, so after going through this article, you should be confident enough to find something that is just right for you. How do you plan on keeping your photos safe during your next trip? Or, if you still have some questions on finding that Goldilocks storage solution for your trip, feel free to let us know in the Comments section, below!