People who frequently travel with important or sensitive data need some way to store it—preferably on a medium that can take a beating. These flash drives and storage drives fit the bill.
The selection of ruggedized portable storage seems to have tapered off in the last few years. Previously every major storage vendor had at least one tough-as-nails option, but with the advent of cloud storage then market seems to be contracting. That said, there are still a few standouts in this niche, particularly from Corsair and Lacie. Other picks are good for those on a budget or users who need both physical protection and digital encryption.
Best Rugged Flash Drive: Corsair Flash Survivor ($28-$300)
If you need a USB flash drive that can survive in a war zone… well, we suggest you get out of said war zone. But if that isn’t an option, the Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth is the next best thing. This aircraft aluminum-encased tube uses a two-piece design that screws down the cover to lock it in place over the main body of the drive, with a handy loop mount and impact-resistant bumpers on top of that. The various incarnations of the drive are rated to withstand 200 meters (over 650 feet!) of water pressure, plus generic “vibration and shock resistance.”
Exactly how much shock it can handle isn’t enumerated by Corsair, but between the housing and the light weight of the flash components, it’s likely to withstand anything except overwhelming amounts of direct, sustained force. The Flash Survivor and its all-black “Stealth” variant are equipped with USB 3.0 connections for speedy transfers, but have yet to be offered in USB 3.1 or Type-C varieties. Capacities range from 32GB all the way up to 512GB.
Best Rugged Full Hard Drive or SSD: Lacie Rugged Thunderbolt ($130-$486)
Lacie has a legendary reputation for reliability thanks to its range of professional data equipment. Their consumer-grade offerings are appropriately tough, too. The company developed its shock- and water-resistant techniques for hard drives, which are much more fragile than flash storage thanks to big magnetic plates and moving parts. The Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C or USB 3.0 (with a standard Type-A connector) come in hard drive capacities from 1TB to 5TB, with the SSD models offering 250GB, 500GB, or a full 1TB.
They’re expensive—much more expensive than a conventional portable hard drive—but they’re rated for IP54 ingress protection, which should stop a reasonable amount of dust and a quick dunking in water. The hard drives can withstand a fall from five feet (the SSDs are probably much, much tougher), and all of them can shrug off hundreds of pounds of crushing force for extended periods. The electronic components inside the durable casings are supplied by Seagate, and each one comes with a three-year warranty. The Thunderbolt USB-C also gets three years of free data recovery service.
Best Budget Rugged Flash Drive: GorillaDrive ($22-$34)
The Corsair Flash Survivor above can get fairly inexpensive at lower capacities. But if you need something even cheaper or you’re looking for a bulk discount for your office team, the GorillaDrive is the best solution. It uses impact-absorbing TPU plastic instead of metal, but it’s still rated for up to 250 PSI of pressure and 65 feet of water resistance. It can also handle sustained heat of up to 225 degrees Fahrenheit (107 C). The USB 3.0 drive is offered in 32GB and 64GB capacities at $22 and $34 respectively, but there are steep discounts if you buy them in multiple packs.
Best Rugged Encrypted Flash Drive: Apricorn Aegis Secure Key ($76-$192)
For users who want to keep their data safe both physically and digitally, there aren’t a lot of options for drives that offer a tough protective shell and on-device encryption. The Apricorn Aegis is the leader in this very short field, with an impact-resistant aluminum housing that’s IP57 rated for splash-proof water resistance and light immersion in sand or dirt. But what really shines is the 100% hardware encryption, complete with controls directly on the housing of the flash drive itself.
Users can select a total lock, read-only, or total unlock mode, and input their PIN or password on the integrated 10-digit keypad. The Aegis uses 256-bit AES XTS encryption scheme, among the most secure available. The gadget is extremely low in terms of dollars-to-gigabyte ratio, starting at $76 for just 8GB and only going up to 128GB for nearly $200, but you’re paying extra for the peace of mind. If you need more storage, Apricorn offers the same encryption hardware based on portable hard drives as well.
Best Rugged USB-C Flash Drive: None
There are more than a few flash drives out there that have the new USB Type-C connection, but unfortunately, none seem to be available with any kind of explicit “rugged” protection. Plenty have thin metal housings, but they’re more for style than anything else.
This may change at some point, but at the time of writing the options are nil. If you need a USB-C connection on your rugged data device, look to the Lacie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C model above—or if it’s more expensive than you’d like, just grab some USB-A-to-USB-C converters. They’re cheap enough that losing one or two to your rugged lifestyle won’t be a big deal.