Best Portable External Hard Drives for Travel

As a full-time digital nomad, content writer, and amateur photographer, you better believe I know my way around an external hard drive.

Now on my fifth hard drive, I’ve tested different types, brands, and capacities. From the old-school, AC-powered HDD to the ultra-portable SSD - I’ve used them to store website copies, create PC backups, and store digital memories from around the world.

Today, I primarily use my external hard drive for the latter. It’s full of pictures from Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, etc. I’m confident in my storage system, the essential tech I work with, and the alternatives currently available on the market.

In this article, I’ll guide you through the top portable external hard drive picks available today. I’ll then walk through the key specifications, pros, and cons before explaining exactly how we narrowed down the market into our bitesize list.

Portable External Hard Drive for Travel: Our Top Picks

1. SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD

Best Overall

SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD
  • Capacity: 500 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB & 4 TB
  • Dimensions & Weight: ‎0.38 x 2.07 x 3.97 inches, 1.76 ounces
  • Interface: USB 3.2
  • Durability: IP65 water and dust resistance, drop protection up to 3 meters
  • Special Features: Handy carabineer loop, password protection, reddot winner 2021
  • High-speed 1050MB/s read/write speeds
  • Password protection featuring 256‐bit AES hardware encryption
  • Durable, drop protection (up to 3 meters) and IP65 water/dust resistance
  • Multiple colors and sizes are available
  • Not quite as fast as the Pro version
  • Short connection cable

The SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD is both the external hard drive that I use as a digital nomad and our overall best portable external hard drive for travel.

The ultra-portable external hard drive is perfect for us full-time travelers. Measuring just 0.38 x 2.07 x 3.97 inches and weighing only 1.76 ounces, the Sandisk Extreme is designed to go anywhere and do everything. There’s even a handy carabineer loop to attach the drive to your keys.

Available in 500 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB & 4 TB, there are options for every nomad's storage needs. I use the 1 TB drive as an amateur travel photographer and think it’s simply the best external hard drive for photographers.

2. LaCie Rugged Mini

Most Durable

LaCie Rugged Mini
  • Capacity: 1 TB, 2 TB, 4 TB & 5 TB
  • Dimensions & Weight: 1.02 x 3.39 x 5.32 inches, 3.52 ounces
  • Interface: USB 3.2
  • Durability: Drop, rain, dust, and crush resistant
  • Special Features: Encrypted drives for extra protection
  • Rugged build can withstand travel wear and tear
  • Portable and large capacity available
  • Protection plan with Rescue Data Recovery Services
  • Complimentary 1-month subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud included
  • HDD, resulting in slower transfer speeds (130 MB/s) compared to SSD competitors

Popular among adventure travelers and digital nomads alike, the LaCie Rugged Mini is a rugged external hard drive perfect for high-action content creators.

Unlike most of the portable hard drives on our list, the Rugged Mini is a HHD rather than an SSD. This helps keep the cost down but does limit the performance. For example, the maximum transfer speeds of 130 MB/s are far slower than the SanDisk Extreme’s 1050MB/s read/write speeds.

The rugged build is designed to withstand the wear and tear that comes with travel and at just 1.02 x 3.39 x 5.32 inches and 3.52 ounces - it’s super small and hugely portable. The drive is available in 1 TB, 2 TB, 4 TB & 5 TB. We would recommend 1 to 2 TB capacities for this drive. For larger capacity requirements, consider upgrading to the LaCie SSD Pro.

3. SanDisk PRO Extreme Portable SSD

Fastest Transfer Speeds

SanDisk PRO Extreme Portable SSD
  • Capacity: 1 TB, 2 TB & 4 TB
  • Dimensions & Weight: 0.41 x 2.28 x 4.36 inches, 2.72 ounces
  • Interface: USB 3.2
  • Durability: IP65 water and dust resistance, drop protection up to 3 meters
  • Special Features: Handy carabineer loop, password protection, reddot winner 2021
  • Ultra-fast 2000MB/s read/write speeds
  • Password protection featuring 256‐bit AES hardware encryption
  • Durable, drop protection (up to 3 meters) and IP65 water/dust resistance
  • More expensive than the non-pro version
  • Overkill for most file types

The SanDisk PRO Extreme Portable SSD is our pick for a travel external hard drive with the fastest transfer speeds.

Not to be confused with the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD, the PRO version offers a similar spec sheet with dramatically improved performance. Instead of the 1050MB/s that you’ll get with the Extreme, the PRO offers a huge 2000MB/s of read/write transfer speeds. It may be overkill for most - but if you’re a videographer or work with large (multiple GB) file sizes, it may be worth the upgrade.

The same tough, highly durable, and incredibly portable benefits still apply. There is a marginal increase in both the size and the weight, but it’s barely noticeable. If you’re looking for the best of the best - it’s the SanDisk PRO Extreme Portable SSD.

4. SAMSUNG T7 Shield 4TB

Best for High Capacity

  • Capacity: 1 TB, 2 TB & 4 TB
  • Dimensions & Weight: 3.39 x 2.24 x 0.49 inches, 3.42 ounces
  • Interface: USB 3.2
  • Durability: IP65 rating for water and dust resistance, dynamic thermal guard, advanced outer elastomer
  • Special Features: 1,050 MB/s transfer speed, 3m drop-tested
  • IP65 water and dust resistance and a dynamic thermal guard for heat control
  • Compatible with iPhone, Android, MacOS, Windows
  • Stylish, rugged design with multiple color options
  • Lightning-fast 1,050 MB/s transfer speed
  • Reformatting for MacOS devices
  • Pricier than standard SSDs

The SAMSUNG T7 Shield is a high-quality, high-capacity portable hard drive for travelers.

Available in 1 TB, 2 TB, and 4 TB, the device is tailored to content creators with a focus on photography and videography. Similar to the SanDisk Extreme, there’s a lightning-fast 1050MB/s transfer speed and IP65 water and dust resistance.

The rugged exterior - available in several colors (Black, Blue, and Beige) - is drop-tested to 3 meters, matching the SanDisk Extreme’s performance metrics across the board. There’s only one major downside to the hard drive and that lies in the reformatting requirements for MacOS devices.

5. Western Digital Elements Desktop External Hard Drive

Best for Back-ups

Western Digital Elements Desktop External Hard Drive
  • Capacity: 6 TB to 22 TB
  • Dimensions & Weight: 5.31 x 1.89 x 6.53 inches, 1.98 pounds
  • Interface: USB 3.0
  • Durability: N/A
  • Special Features: USB 3.0 and 2.0 compatibility
  • Huge maximum capacity (6 TB to 22 TB)
  • Ready for use with Windows PCs
  • Cost-effective storage solution
  • Reformatting is required for use with MacOS
  • Requires mains power supply

The Western Digital Elements Desktop differs somewhat compared to the other external hard drives listed.

Not only is this one of only two HDDs, but it’s the only external hard drive that requires mains power - but there’s a sensible reason for both of those. This isn’t your “take anywhere and everywhere device”, this is your “keep at home” hard drive that always stays in a safe location.

That may sound counter-productive, especially for digital nomads. But hard drives can corrupt and only keeping single copies is a surefire way to meet disappointment in the long term. I always recommend making multiple copies - especially of digital photographs - so that corruption doesn’t result in memories that are lost forever.

Alongside a portable SSD as part of your digital nomad office setup, a high-capacity HDD - such as the Western Digital Elements Desktop (offering a huge 22 TB!) - is a great way to keep everything safe and secure.

6. Western Digital P40 Game Drive SSD

Best for Gaming

Western Digital P40 Game Drive SSD
  • Capacity: 500 GB - 2 TB
  • Dimensions & Weight: 4.21 x 2 x 0.51 inches, 2.72 ounces
  • Interface: USB 3.1
  • Durability: Shock-resistant structure
  • Special Features: Customizable RGB Lighting
  • Customizable RGB Lighting
  • Compatible with PlayStation, Xbox, PC, & Mac
  • Lightning-fast speeds up to 2,000MB/s
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Customizable RGB Lighting is available on Windows only
  • Not dustproof or waterproof

Gaming on the go is always a bit of a headache, but using a high-speed SSD such as the Western Digital P40 Game Drive can make that process just a little bit smoother.

The hard drive offers a shock-resistant structure and lightning-fast speeds up to 2,000MB/s. There’s compatibility offered on PC and Mac as well as PlayStation and Xbox - great if you’re lucky enough to travel with a console.

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How We Picked The Top External Hard Drives for Travel

Durability: (shockproof, water-resistant, etc.)

Where travel is involved, durability is an important consideration for everything we purchase as digital nomads.

A durable hard drive is vital. It’s not just the device that you’ll lose in an accident (dropped, submerged, lost), but the files, photos, and videos stored.

Look for hard drives that are dust/water resistant, drop-tested, and shockproof. The better it’s built, the less you have to worry about corrupted files.

Size & Weight: (easy for carrying)

The size and weight of external hard drives have shrunk massively over the last decade - great news for us digital nomads.

Now, with drives like the SanDisk Extreme, we can store as much as 4 TB on a drive that fits in the palm of your hand. We’ve prioritized those small, lightweight devices throughout our recommendations.

Capacity: (how much storage you need)

The majority of external hard drives are offered with multiple storage capacities, typically ranging from 500 GB to 5 TB.

For most users, a 1 TB hard drive will be plenty for backing up data and storing photos/videos. If you work with large files (HD videos or high-resolution photos) a larger size may be required.

Connection & Speed (USB-C, Thunderbolt, etc.)

The transfer speed is the most important performance metric to consider when investing in an external hard drive.

Top-of-the-range drives will offer as much as 2000 MB/s - this is typically overkill for most digital nomads. A 1000 MB/s rate is more than fast enough and is the most common figure for popular SSDs.

SSDs vs. HDDs

Solid State Drives (SSDs) offer several benefits over Hard Disk Drives (HDDs). The devices are faster, smaller, and more rugged than their outdated counterparts. However, SSDs are more expensive and often only offered in smaller capacity sizes.

If the budget allows, invest in one of each. An SSD makes for a fantastic “working drive” (the drive you travel with) and an HDD is best for storage (a hard drive that stores all backups and stays safely in one location). You can never have too many backups.

Ready To Add a Portable External Hard Drive to Travel Gear?

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