The best USB flash drives are perfect for carrying files around as they're so small – and there's no risk of them being corrupted. These flash drives are super convenient, and you can choose from an affordable flash stick (or thumb drive), a fast and powerful solid-state drive (SSD) or a hard disk (which is small and doesn't need a power supply). Though a lot of people are choosing cloud storage now, USB storage is still pretty essential in case you don't have internet.
Creatives and students find USB storage a simple solution for keeping vital project files backed up, as carrying around portfolios or folders isn't ideal. But which is the best USB flash drive for you depends on your specific needs. Most drives still use the traditional USB Type-A connector, but you'll also see the smaller, rounded USB Type-C. Apple Macs are available only with Type-C, and you'll need a dongle or alternative cable to use older USB devices.
The performance of USB storage devices can vary wildly. Older USB 2.0 flash sticks would chug along at under 20MB/sec which could make backing up a lot of 4K video take hours. USB 3 sticks are much faster and you can expect speeds as high as 450 MB/sec. If you're looking to store a lot of files, you should also see our guide to the best cloud storage. Below, we pick out the best USB flash drives available now, with a range of capacities, speeds and price points for every budget.
The best USB flash drives available now
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The Samsung Fit Plus range offers the best USB flash drive overall for our money. It comes in capacities from 32GB up to 256GB – the 128GB option priced above strikes a great balance between cost and storage space. All models support USB 3.1 connectivity with data-transfer speeds up to 300 MBps – faster than many other USB memory sticks. The drive is also water-, shock-, magnet-, temperature- and X-ray-proof, which means you can bring it just about anywhere without fear of damaging your content.
The device is tiny, so it's easy to carry around. That also has the downside that it might be easy to lose, but then that applies to many USB drives. It's also back-compatible with USB 2.0, it should work in any device you might have.
PNY is a memory manufacturer that entered the USB market. This flash drive is one of the best options if you're looking for more capacity, offering a hefty 256GB. It offers decent – though not spectacular – read/write speeds of 80Mbps and 20Mbps respectively, while the capped design helps protect the device. If you need faster performance, there are other options in our list, but if you need a reliable device with decent amount of storage capacity at a good price, this is a good option.
The Kingston Technology DataTraveler 100 Generation 3 USB flash drive is a very compact, and also very affordable flash drive. In some cases, the cost of shipping a drive is more than the price of the device itself, but this is a case where the shipping won't cost much. It's the most affordable 64GB USB 3.0 flash drive on the market and offers respectable read/write speeds of 150Mbps and 70Mbps respectively. Not the fastest, but very good value.
If you’ve bought a new MacBook or MacBook Pro in the last few years, you’ve had to give up the immediacy of your old USB flash storage since they've said goodbye to the old USB Type-A ports and only offer USB Type-C, which means you need a dongle, dock or converter cable to use them with Type A.
A handy USB-C flash drive gets around this though, plugging directly into your Mac, and one of the finest examples is the SanDisk Ultra USB-C. It's a native USB-C device, freeing you from the irritating need to carry a converter for USB plugs. SanDisk has long been pushing the boundaries of USB flash drive performance with its super-fast Extreme range, and it has brought that performance over to this drive too.
Ranging from 16GB to 128GB, it manages read and write speeds of 150 MB/sec, quite an improvement from what you might expect from old fashioned USB 2.0 devices, and a solid entry in this best USB flash drive list.
If you’re nervous about losing your work, this is one of the most secure flash drives on our best USB flash drive buying guide, with multiple levels of security and a rugged waterproof design. The drive is password protected with 256-bit AES encryption, to comply with FIPS standards that most corporate environments demand, with all decrypting done in hardware on the drive itself.
It’s also IPX8 waterproof, meaning it will survive being continuously submerged up to one metre, making it safe from drops in puddles, baths and even being placed in the washing machine by mistake. If the worst happens and you lose your drive, with the Managed version of the D300 IronKey, you can remotely delete your files so you can be sure they won’t fall into the wrong hands. Speeds vary depending on capacity - the largest 128GB drive has the fastest write speeds, with 250MB/sec read and 85 MB/sec write.
We’re cheating a bit by including this as the one of the best USB flash drives since it's actually a full external solid-state drive, using the same fast storage technology you'll find inside your computer. Because of this, it’s faster than any other kind of USB storage, making the absolute most of the high bandwidth of USB 3.1 to deliver transfer speeds up to 550 MB/sec.
Of course, it’s also considerably more expensive than a standard flash stick, with some eye-watering high prices for the 512GB version. You don’t need this kind of speed purely for file backup or to carry a few JPEG images around. Rather, it’s so fast you can edit and work with large files directly on the T5 itself. In fact, there are all kinds of alternative uses for a drive this fast. It works great as an external boot drive, so you can run an entire operating system from it at full performance, which is handy for Mac users who need to work in Windows too.
This is another hard disk option that might be of interest to anyone looking for an alternative to the best USB flash drive. The unique feature of the LaCie Rugged USB-C is its orange rubber casing, which makes it extremely durable. While flash drives don’t have any moving parts, and can survive even severe drops, a hard disk (when powered on) is far more fragile. Drop your laptop while files are copying to a hard disk and there is a real risk the disk could be destroyed and your data lost.
Lacie’s rugged design apparently can withstand a 1-ton car, is resistant to rain (other versions are fully water and dust resistant) and can handle a drop of up to 1.2 meters. That makes it a great choice for content creation on the move. If you’re capturing images and video in harsh environments, and need more capacity than a standard USB flash stick, this is a great choice. One nice additional touch is that Lacie has thoughtfully included both USB Gen 1 and Gen 2 cables in the box, so you won’t need any adapter or dongles, whatever ports are on your computer.