Are photo backup sticks worth it?

With the prevalence of smartphones and digital cameras, most people now have thousands of photos and videos that they want to preserve and protect. However, storing all those large image and video files can quickly eat up space on your computer or mobile devices. This is where photo backup sticks come in handy.

Photo backup sticks, also known as flash drives or USB drives, offer a convenient way to free up space on your regular devices while keeping your files safe in case of an emergency. But are they really necessary, or just another gadget trying to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist? Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons.

What are photo backup sticks?

A photo backup stick is a portable flash drive that is specifically designed for backing up and storing photos, videos, and other important files. They come in different storage capacities, with common sizes ranging from 16GB to 1TB. The high-capacity models are capable of holding tens of thousands of high-resolution photos and hours of HD video.

These backup drives connect to your computer, tablet, or smartphone via a USB port. Once connected, you can easily drag and drop files to transfer them to the drive. The files are stored on the drive so that you can free up space on your main devices.

Many photo backup sticks come with built-in software that makes it easy to automatically back up your files. The software allows you to schedule regular backups, so you don’t have to manually transfer files each time.

Key features that set photo backup sticks apart from regular flash drives include:

  • Large capacities for storing thousands of photos and videos
  • Backup software for automated transfers
  • Durability against water, drops, dust, etc.
  • Password protection and encryption security
  • Compact and portable design

The case for photo backup sticks

Here are some of the main reasons why you may want to use a photo backup stick:

1. Free up space on your devices

Photos and videos take up a lot of storage space. Just a few minutes of 4K video can eat up gigabytes of space. By offloading those files to an external drive, you can free up room on your computer, phone, tablet, camera, etc. This helps those devices run faster and allows you to keep capturing more memories.

2. Keep your files safe from loss or corruption

Having a backup of your files on an external device protects them in case your computer crashes or your phone gets lost or damaged. Disk failures, viruses, accidental deletion, theft, and hardware malfunctions can all result in losing your precious photos and videos forever. A photo backup stick gives you the peace of mind that your memories are safe.

3. Consolidate your photos and videos in one place

Between computers, phones, standalone cameras, cloud storage services, social media, and more, your digital files can get scattered across many different devices and platforms. A photo backup stick lets you consolidate everything in one centralized location for easy access, organization, and backups.

4. Protect your files with encryption

Many photo backup sticks come with the ability to password protect and encrypt your data. This adds an extra layer of security to prevent unauthorized access if your drive gets lost or stolen. You simply set a password when first using the drive, and your data stays scrambled and unreadable without the password.

5. View and share files anywhere

The compact size and USB connectivity of photo backup sticks makes them super portable. You can easily carry them in a pocket and plug them into any computer or device with a USB port. This allows you to view, edit, and share your files from anywhere, without needing internet access or data cables.

6. Automate backups for set-and-forget convenience

Manually backing up individual files onto an external drive quickly becomes tedious and time consuming. The backup software that comes with most photo backup sticks allows you to set automated, scheduled backups. This takes the effort out of remembering to plug in your drive and transfer new files.

Potential drawbacks of photo backup sticks

Using a photo backup stick isn’t perfect though. Here are some of the possible downsides:

1. Cost more than cloud storage subscriptions

Online cloud services like Google Photos offer cheap or even free unlimited storage for photos and videos. So in terms of pure storage capacity per dollar, cloud backup is usually more cost effective than a physical backup drive with a fixed capacity.

2. Can get damaged, lost, or stolen

Since they are physical objects that you have to carry around, photo backup sticks face risks like water damage, drops, dust, misplacement, and theft. So they require more care and precaution than secure cloud servers.

3. Require manual backups

Unless you take the time to set up and schedule automatic backups, you have to manually plug in your photo backup stick and transfer files periodically. This can be tedious compared to seamless cloud syncing.

4. Limited storage capacity

Most photo backup sticks top out at 1 or 2TB. With the average smartphone photo now over 4MB, that capacity fills up quickly. So you’ll need to occasionally free up old space or upgrade to a higher capacity drive.

5. Potential compatibility issues

Really old computers may not have a USB port. And if the backup software is not compatible with your operating system, you won’t be able to setup automated backups.

Who should use a photo backup stick?

Photo backup sticks are ideal for certain use cases and types of users. They make the most sense for:

  • Photographers and videographers with large collections of high-res files
  • People who want full manual control over their backups
  • Those with privacy/security concerns about cloud storage
  • Users who need to backup files from different devices or locations
  • Situations where internet access for cloud backups is limited
  • Anyone seeking a secondary backup to complement cloud storage

Tips for choosing a photo backup stick

All photo backup sticks are not created equal. Here are some tips for picking the right one:

Storage capacity

Choose a drive with at least double your current storage needs to accommodate future growth. For most users, a 1TB drive is a good starting point.

Build quality

Look for solid construction from metal, silicon or hard plastic to withstand bumps and drops. Rubber casings can also help absorb shock.

Security features

Encrypted password protection is essential. Make sure the software offers this before buying.

Backup software

The software should make backing up files simple and allow auto-scheduled backups. Read reviews to compare software capabilities.

Brand reputation

Stick with major brands known for storage devices. They typically offer better reliability, durability, and customer support.


Compact sticks that fit nicely in a pocket are ideal for portability. Some have holes to easily attach to keychains.


Check that the drive and software will work with your operating system and devices.


Drives range from $10 to $100+ based on capacities and features. Figure out your budget and needs before buying.

Top photo backup sticks

Based on storage size, security, software, reputation, and value, here are some top options to consider:

Product Storage Security Software Price
SanDisk Extreme Pro Up to 1TB AES 256-bit encryption SanDisk SecureAccess $70+
Samsung T7 Up to 2TB AES 256-bit encryption Samsung Portable SSD Software $110+
LaCie Rugged Secure Up to 2TB AES 256-bit encryption Seagate Toolkit $90+
Lexar Professional SL100 Pro Up to 1TB 256-bit AES encryption Lexar Imaging Dashboard $55+

DIY photo backup tips without a stick

If you don’t want to buy a dedicated photo backup device, there are DIY ways to accomplish the same thing using hardware you already own:

External hard drive

Use any spare external or portable USB hard drive for photo backup. Just create a folder and set auto-sync.

Old phone

Connect an unused old smartphone to your computer and use it as improvised backup storage.

USB flash drive

A regular USB stick has the same functionality as a photo backup stick, just without specialized software.

Memory card reader

Card readers for SD cards can plug into phones, PCs, etc. to view and transfer files.

Cloud storage

Services like iCloud, Google Photos, Dropbox, etc. allow auto-syncing and backups of mobile photos.

The bottom line

At the end of the day, only you can decide if paying for a dedicated photo backup stick is worthwhile or overkill for your needs. If you have irreplaceable photos and videos that you absolutely need to preserve, the extra insurance of a physical backup device makes sense. But for many typical users, occasional manual backups plus a cloud service may provide sufficient redundancy at lower cost.

Think about your specific use cases, file sizes, device compatibility, and attitude toward backups. This will determine whether you should buy the specialized convenience of photo backup stick or just repurpose other common alternatives you already own.