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The best flash drives in 2021: portable USB memory sticks for storage & back-up

Best flash drives for USB-C and USB-A
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it comes to keeping your images and videos portable, the best flash drives are hard to beat. They're more compact than even the best portable SSDs, and don't require a separate connection cable. And unlike cloud storage, you don't need to worry about connecting to the internet when you want to access or back up your files.

USB flash drives have been around for decades, so there are plenty to choose from. There's no shortage of super-cheap options out there if you just want some basic portable storage, but in this list we've rounded up faster USB-A and USB-C flash drives from well-regarded brands. After all, your data can be irreplaceable, so there's no point risking it on a drive of dubious quality just to save a few cents. A fast USB flash drive will also save you precious seconds waiting for files to transfer, and that can really add up when you're regularly dealing with large, high-res video files.

USB flash drives almost always use the USB 3.2 Gen 1 USB connection speed, which at 625 megabytes per second is fast enough to let even the fastest USB flash drives run at max speed. Some manufacturers may advertise their drives as USB 3.1, or USB 3.0, but it's all the same speed. The original USB 3.0 standard has been re-numbered twice over the years, yet nothing technical changed. Yup, we're just as confused by that as you. What is clear is that no matter what USB 3.x label your chosen flash drive has, it'll be backward compatible with USB 2.0 ports on older computers, though speed will be limited to under 60MB/s (for this reason, don't even consider cheaping-out on a USB 2.0 flash drive - it just isn't worth it when transfer speeds will be so achingly slow).

The physical USB connector on the end of a flash drive is another thing to consider. Most flash drives still use the older, rectangular USB Type-A plug. This plug type has been around since the dawn of the original USB standard way back in 1996, so pretty much any PC you'll likely to come across now will have at least one USB Type-A port you can plug a USB Type-A flash drive in to. However, things get a bit complicated with Apple MacBooks. Since 2015, MacBooks have only featured USB Type-C ports, so if you want a USB flash drive to use with a 2015 or newer MacBook, you'll need a USB Type-C memory stick. Fortunately there's a growing number of USB-C flash drives available, as well as dual USB-A and USB-C drives that have both plugs, usually one at each end of the drive, to maximize compatibility.

So without further ado, here are the best USB flash drives you can buy right now:

Best USB flash drives in 2021

Editor's Choice

(Image credit: WD)

1. SanDisk Extreme PRO USB 3.2 Solid State Flash Drive

Simply the best USB flash drive

Available capacities: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB | Max read/write speed: 420 / 380MB/s | Interface, connector: USB 3.2 Gen 1, Type-A | Dimensions: 71mm x 21mm x 11mm

Seriously fast
Up to 1TB capacity
Retractable USB plug
USB Type-A only
Pricier than many rivals

SanDisk only applies its 'Extreme Pro' branding to its fastest storage products, so it should come as no surprise that this Extreme PRO USB 3.2 Solid State Flash Drive is blazing fast. With read/write speeds of up to 420MB/s / 380MB/s, you'll struggle to find a USB stick that can beat it on speed. That 380MB/s write rate is particularly impressive, and makes this USB drive a practical alternative to a bulkier portable SSD when working with memory-intensive Full HD or even 4K video.

Capacities range from 128GB to a whopping 1TB, though the latter costs big bucks, naturally.

Just bear in mind that this flash drive uses an old-school USB-A connector, which while good for compatibility with older computers, means you'll need an adapter to use it with a modern MacBook.


(Image credit: Samsung)

2. Samsung DUO Plus USB Type-C Flash Drive

Best USB drive for USB-C & USB-A compatibility

Available capacities: 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, 256GB | Max read/write speed: 400MB/s read | Interface, connector: USB 3.2 Gen 1, Type-A & Type-C | Dimensions: 58 x 18.3 x 7.3mm

USB Type-A and Type-C compatibility
Quick read speed
64GB and 32GB drives are slower
Not as quick as SanDisk Extreme Pro

If you need a USB stick that's compatible with the older, rectangular USB Type-A connection as well as newer Type-C ports, this is the flash drive to go for. It's primarily a USB-C drive, but an integrated Type-C to Type-A adapter is stored neatly at the back of the drive, ready to be fitted over the USB-C connector on the front should you need it.

Not only is this USB stick versatile, it's also speedy, boasting read speeds up to 400MB/s over it's USB 3.2 Gen 1 connection, while also being backward compatible with USB 2.0. However this speed only applies to the 256GB and 128GB versions. Go for the 64GB drive and read speeds top out at 300MB/s, while the base model 32GB option can only achieve 200MB/s. It's also a pity that there are no versions of this flash drive above 256GB. Even so, the Samsung DUO Plus is still a great all-round option.

(Image credit: WD)

3. SanDisk Ultra Fit USB 3.1 Flash Drive

You can leave this super-small flash drive plugged in all the time

Available capacities: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB | Max read/write speed: 130MB/s read | Interface, connector: USB 3.2 Gen 1, Type-A | Dimensions: 30 x 14.3 x 5mm

Incredibly small...
...yet can still offer big storage
Very well priced
Only fits a USB-A port
Not the fastest flash drive

Want to expand your laptop's internal storage in the neatest and most convenient way possible? You could try one of the best cloud storage platforms, but for hardware-based storage, the tiny SanDisk Ultra Fit USB 3.1 Flash Drive is a great option. Barely bigger than a USB Type-A connector plug, it can slot into a spare Type-A port on your laptop and you'll barely notice it's there.

And yet despite its diminutive dimensions, you can still get up to a huge 512GB of storage space - enough to double the capacity of a typical laptop's built-in SSD storage. Even the price for the 512GB variant is super-low, and the smaller capacities are downright cheap to buy.

This flash drive's 130MB/s max read speed won't quite keep up with the latest internal SSDs in modern laptops, but it's fast enough that read/write speeds shouldn't be annoyingly slow.

(Image credit: PNY)

4. PNY PRO Elite 3.0

A fast, spacious and well-priced USB stick

Available capacities: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB | Max read/write speed: 400 / 250MB/s | Interface, connector: USB 3.2 Gen 1, Type-A | Dimensions: 58 x 18.3 x 7.3mm

Very fast
Big 512GB and 1TB capacity options
Retractable USB plug
USB Type-A only

The PRO Elite 3.0 may not look particularly inspiring, but it packs a punch. Up to 400MB/s read and 250MB/s write rates make this one of the faster USB sticks you can buy. Capacities top out at a generous 1TB, meaning this thumb drive has the speed and space to be well suited to working with high-res images and video. A nice touch is the retractable USB connector, so there's no separate cap to worry about.

The only downside is that the USB connector is an older Type-A design, meaning you'll need to use a Type-A to Type-C adapter to plug this flash drive into a recent MacBook.

(Image credit: Kingston)

5. Kingston DataTraveler 80 USB Flash Drive

The best USB-C flash drive

Available capacities: 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, 256GB | Max read/write speed: 200 / 60MB/s | Interface, connector: USB 3.2 Gen 1, Type-C | Dimensions: 42.2mm x 15mm x 6.7mm

Modern USB-C connector
More compact than most
Fairly quick
Could be faster
Won't plug into older computers

USB-C is here to stay and is set to eventually replace the older (rectangular) Type-A USB port, so if you'll only be using a USB stick with modern PCs or Macs, it makes sense to go with a USB-C stick. At 42.2mm x 15mm x 6.7mm, the DataTraveler 80 USB Flash Drive is nice and compact, and that native Type-C connector means you can use it with phones and tablets, as well as computers.

Read/write speeds aren't the fastest, but up to 200MB/s read and 60MB/s write rates are by no means sluggish. Choose from 32GB up to 256GB capacities, each of which is well priced.

best flash drives: Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth

(Image credit: Corsair)

6. Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth

The best rugged USB flash drive

Available capacities: 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB | Max read/write speed: | Interface, connector: USB 3.2 Gen 1, Type-A | Dimensions: 7.62 x 2.54 x 2.54cm

Supreme ruggedness
Available in loads of capacities
Reasonably priced for such toughness
Relatively big and bulk
Don't expect super-fast performance

If you're a bit accident-prone, or just like to live life on the edge, look no further than this ultra-tough flash drive. With its anodized, aircraft-grade aluminum housing that's waterproof to 200 meters, vibration-resistant, and 40G shock-resistant, you can go virtually anywhere with this memory stick and not have to worry about your data.

Of course, with such ruggedness inevitably comes some bulk, and at 7.62cm long with a diameter of 2.54cm, this is one of the larger flash drives on the market, though it's not unreasonably big. Storage space is also sizable, topping out at 1TB, though the 256GB variant currently offers the lowest price per gigabyte.

The Flash Survivor Stealth dates back to 2015, so don't expect the latest ultra-fast transfer speeds, but if survivability is paramount, this is the drive to go for.

(Image credit: Patriot)

7. Patriot Supersonic Rage Elite

Fast, tough and spacious: a decent flash drive all-rounder

Available capacities: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB | Max read/write speed: 400MB/s read | Interface, connector: USB 3.2 Gen 1, Type-A | Dimensions: 5.3 x 2.1 x 1cm

Fast read speed & large capacities
Rubberized, water-resistant casing
Retractable USB connector
Not USB Type-C
Could be even quicker

And the winner for the most hyperbolic USB flash drive name goes to.... the Patriot Supersonic Rage Elite! Give Patriot's marketing team a raise...

But thankfully this isn't all talk, no action, as the Supersonic Rage Elite is capable of up to a blazing-fast 400MB/s read speed. Its Type-A USB plug is retractable, so there's no separate cover cap to lose, and the drive has a shock- and spill-resistant rubber coating. It's just a pity there's no USB Type-C connector or adapter to enable you to use this drive with a modern MacBook right out of the box.

The Supersonic Rage Elite comes in capacities from 128GB right up to a huge 1TB, making it perfectly suitable for transporting high-res video footage. What's more, all this storage is packed into a very travel-friendly 5.3cm x 2.1cm x 1cm drive size.

Ben Andrews

Ben is the Imaging labs manager, responsible for all of the testing on Digital Camera World and across the entire photography portfolio at Future. Whether he's in the lab testing the sharpness of new lenses, the resolution of the latest image sensor, the zoom range of monster bridge cameras or even the latest smartphones, Ben is our go-to guy for technical insight. He's also the team's man-at-arms when it comes to bags, filters and all manner of accessories – his lab is a bit like the Batcave of photography!