The best flash drives let you store, copy and transfer photos, videos and other data, quickly and easy. Light enough to slip into a pocket or bag, you can take them anywhere, and compared with other devices, they're hugely cost-effective.
Supremely portable and surprisingly affordable, flash drives are smaller than even the best portable SSDs. And while cloud storage requires an internet connection, a flash drive doesn't, so it can't be scuppered by bad Wi-Fi or poor data coverage.
Don't go too cheap though, or you'll end up with minimal capacity and slow transfer speeds; your data might even be vulnerable to data corruption. Instead, check out our guide the best flash drives you can buy to keep your data safe. They're all from trusted brands, and all are pitched to different budgets. If you need guidance on how to choose between them, skip ahead to our section on How to choose the best flash drives.
The best flash drives in 2023
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Right now, the Kingston DataTraver Max is the best flash drive you can buy. Why? Because it offers speeds of up to 1GBps. Because it offers up to 1TB of storage, which is huge. And because it's small, light and compact. We also like how its keyring loop makes it easy to carry, and its sliding cover means you're less likely to lose the cap. The only reasons not to buy this, in short, are its high price, or if you have an older device that you can't connect via its USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C port.
Want a high-end flash drive that's more affordable than our number one pick? The Patriot Supersonic Rage 2 is designed with an aluminum coated housing for better thermal dissipation, and that's part of the reason it can achieve such fast read/write speeds (up to 400MB/s and 300MB/s respectively). Capless, reractable, durability, and very light at just 9g, it's great for commuting and travel. It also comes with an LED Light Indicator, up to 1TB in storage space, and a five-year warranty. It's a little on the pricey side, though.
Need to connect devices via USB-A? Here's our top pick. It's capable of achieving read and write speeds of 420MB/s and 380 MB/s respectively. And if you get it in a big enough capacity (it goes up to 1TB), it's a credible alternative to a portable SSD. Just be aware doesn't have a USB-C connection, just the old-style USB-A, so make sure that is what you need (though adapters are available in a pinch).
Not all flash drives are designed for taking from place to place – some are made to sit quietly and just give you more storage space. The tiny SanDisk Ultra Fit USB 3.1 Flash Drive is an excellent choice if your laptop has a USB-A port that doesn't see much use since all your devices these days are USB-C. It's barely larger than a USB Type-A connector plug, so you can just slot it in there and bang – you've got 16-512GB of extra storage with no increase to your laptop's footprint.
Getting 512GB isn't all that expensive, with the price for even the largest version of this flash drive being pretty reasonable. The smaller capacities are absurdly cheap, and the fact that it's a SanDisk means you can be confident you aren't being sold a dud. The transfer speeds top out at 130 MB/s, which isn't anywhere near record-breaking, but should be fast enough for most purposes.
Looking for a bargain? Then you’ll find the 128GB model of this flash drive offers the best ratio of gigabytes to cash on this list. The drawback is the very slow read/write speed. But if you’re looking for a flash drive mainly for storage, and are prepared to wait a while for downloads and uploads, you might be willing to take that hit.
This flash drive also has a push and pull sliding feature which protects the USB connection when it’s not in use without the need for a separate cap. It comes in a variety of colours including Sunkissed Yellow, Eucalyptus Green, Hot Pink, Caribbean Blue and Volcanic Orange.
Is your data highly important or sensitive? Then here’s the best flash drive we can recommend to help you sleep at night. The Kingston IronKey D300 is super-safe to use, with both sophisticated security features and a rugged waterproof design
It’s password protected, with a 256-bit AES hardware encryption in XTS mode, to comply with FIPS standards. Encryption and decryption is done on the drive, with no trace left on the host system, and the drive locks down and reformats after 10 invalid attempts, to protect against brute force attacks.
This flash drive is physically protective too. It’s rugged and waterproof up to four feet, conforming to IEC60529 IPX833. And it's tamper-resistant, thanks to its zinc casing and tamper-evident epoxy seal.
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.
Another great flash drive from PNY, this stick ranges up to a generous 256GB in capacity. It features a sliding-collar, capless design that means you won't have to worry about losing the cap. And as befits the 'Turbo' name, it offers decent read/write speeds of 185 / 135MB/s. That's about all we can say: there's nothing particularly exciting about this flash drive in general. But it does the job well, and at a pretty decent price.
How to choose the best flash drives
What flash drive is best for MacBook?
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. For our money, the best flash drive for MacBooks is the Kingston DataTraveler USB Max 1TB Flash Drive (number 1 on our list above).
How do you pick the right flash drive for your needs?
When making our picks for the best flash drives you can buy right now, there are a few key things we look out for:
• USB interface: Flash drives will connect via USB-A, USB-C, or both. USB-A is the classic style of connector that's been in use for years, while USB-C is smaller and relatively newer. USB-C connectors are both faster and more versatile than USB-A, however the USB-A is still very common, especially on older laptops.
• USB Gen: USB devices will have a Gen number like USB 3.1 Gen 1, or USB 3.2 Gen 2. It's complicated and not really necessary to understand – all you really need to know is that higher numbers = faster transfer speeds.
• Capacity: This determines how much data a flash drive can hold. Some can go as high as 1TB. Obviously higher capacity is better, but it also costs more.
• Physical size/toughness: The whole point of a flash drive is portability and data protection, so look at their size and weight, as well as how well-protected they are against knocks and bumps.