My New Travel Backup Photography Kit

Travel Backup Photography Kit

With some lengthy upcoming trips for personal work, I have been doing some research into ways to keep my photographs and video footage backed up in the field. One of these trips involves a three-week stint in remote villages. A particular concern on this trip is data loss; so, I have been working to create a backup system that is durable and can run without access to mains power. Today, I will share my solution with you.

The Problem

For three weeks, I will be out of touch with the modern world. This means no mains power for charging electronics, no internet or phone reception, and a difficult time backing up data. Having lost data to corrupt memory cards a few times before, this is one of my basic requirements now. I considered my usual backup system when I am close to home. Could I take my laptop? Charging a laptop out in the wilderness would be possible using a solar panel, battery, or inverter system. However, this would be bulky and we are planning to be constantly on the move. My backup system would need to be smaller and less energy-hungry than a laptop-based system. Preferably, it would fit in a small waterproof case, as we would be traveling by river most of the time. So, I began looking for products that would allow me to back up without a laptop present.

The Search

The new WD My Passport Wireless was my first port of call when starting my research, as it seemed like the perfect unit with its built-in SD card reader (I will only be shooting to SD cards). However, it failed my durability criterion. As a spinning hard drive, I was worried about damaging it if something took a fall during the trip. Knowing that I probably won't shoot more than about 500 GB of data during my three-week trip, I started looking at SSDs. To date, nothing like the My Passport Wireless exists with solid state storage. So, I would need to find a way to power and transfer to an SSD without a computer.

Initially, I started looking at transferring images from memory cards to my LG G Pad 8" and then transferring back to an SSD connected to the tablet. However, this seemed like a convoluted solution to a simple problem. I continued my search and eventually stumbled on the RAVPower FileHub RP-WD03. It had everything I was looking for: an internal power source, SD card reader, and USB output. It seemed like this would be the missing link in my backup system. So, I ordered one and waited patiently for it to arrive.

portrait man travel photography backup

The Test

All my specs were met with this unit. The internal 6,000 mAh battery can output 5 volts at 1 amp (USB 2.0 spec); so, it is able to power an SSD. The unit can act as a NAS and is accessible from a wireless device like a smartphone. This means that transfers can be done without a bulky, mains-dependent laptop. However, I knew that I would have to stress-test this unit to make sure it would hold up in the field. Could it power an SSD for long periods? Could it reliably transfer the large amounts of data we would be shooting?

First, I emptied my Samsung T1 500 GB SSD and got my last month's worth of memory cards ready to go. I checked to ensure the firmware was up to date and downloaded the latest version of the FileHub app to my phone. After firing everything up, I was surprised to find that everything simply worked. The connection was seamless, and I was instantly given access to both the SD card and the SSD just like a standard NAS.

For the next six hours, I copied card after card to the SSD, relentlessly trying to drain the battery. 6000mAh was enough to power both the SD card and the SSD for just over 300 GB of transfers from seven memory cards. This was where I discovered my first potential issue, however. The seventh card was not completely copied when the battery ran out, and the file was truncated before it could be copied. Although this did not cause any corruption this time around, the file was incomplete and unreadable. The solution is to ensure the RAVPower unit is charged at all times. Several runs through this test have produced very similar times and volumes of transfer, suggesting that the unit is a reliable way to backup cards on the go.

In order to complete this kit, I have a waterproof Pelican 1020 to keep both the SSD and the FileHub in, plus an Anker PowerPort Solar Charger that has been able to fully charge the FileHub in approximately seven hours. Having two outputs, it is also able to charge my camera batteries during the day. The kit is small, relies only on sunlight, and has sufficient battery life to get me through a few days of transfers before needing a charge. Since I am only shooting SD cards, I am able to use the FileHub as the link between my memory card and my SSD. However, a potential issue arises for anyone who shoots to a different medium, such as CF cards. The output on the FileHub being only 1A means that there is not enough power to run a (non-powered) USB hub with a card reader and a hard drive attached at the same time.

Travel Backup Photography Kit Puddle

What Works Well

  • No need for mains power
  • Long battery life
  • Transfer directly from memory card to hard drive
  • Ability to use tablet or phone to move data around
  • The kit is small and portable

What Could Use Improvement

  • Potential data loss if battery dies during transfer
  • 1A input/output on FileHub (it would be nice to have 2.1A for faster charging of the unit, and for powering more than one device)
  • Only SD card slot — might be better to have a second USB port for connecting a card reader
  • Transfer speeds are slow compared to using a USB 3.0 enabled computer

In Conclusion

This is a great solution for portable backup without mains power. With consistent charging via the solar panel and daily backups, it will give peace of mind for the three weeks I will spend off the grid. It would be great to hear other people's solutions to similar problems and get a sharing of information going in the comments. It will be especially interesting to hear possibilities for backing up CF cards.

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62 Comments

Niklas Möller's picture

I had a simmilar situation last year. I found the Sanho IUSB2 iUSBPort 2 ( (http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B00CTTLAO0/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=163...).

The difference: The battery is smaller (just 3300mAh), it has only USB and WLAN, no WAN port and no internal card reader. But I am just putting a card reader on one USB port and the harddrive on the other one.

It can backup from one USB port to the other directly by pushing a button. No need for a smartphone to initiate the copying. Don't know how this is with your device. Can you backup directly without a smartphone? And it recognizes files that already have been backed up.

I don't know how it behaves if it runs out of energy while transfering data. Wanted to post that here just as an alternative device to yours. It's always good to have a choice :)

An interesting link. I like that it has two USB ports, for sure. That could allow the use of CF cards, or multiple hard drives. Thanks for the link!

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

I would just buy 8 * 64GB SD cards. Sure it will cost twice the SSD but less risk of loosing the data during transfer, or failure of the tricky setup. SD cards will survive heat, cold and moisture better than SSD. Also no additional power needed.

This is to create a backup of the cards. I'll be taking 10x 64gb cards on the trip, but will be keeping a backup to another device. I expect to be returning with 500gb+ of data from the trip.

The only points of failure in this setup are the same points with any backup system. I have kept it as simple as possible for that reason.

Michael Kormos's picture

Dylan, I'm surprised your search didn't turn up Sanho HyperDrive: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1191265-REG/sanho_shdcsudma3500_50...

Been using it for years. Comes with a built in HDD, or you can buy the model without one, and install your own SSD instead. It's got a built in battery, a screen, and a card reader in one.

I looked at quite a few of these, and have owned one in the past. They are significantly more expensive for what they do. I shied away from them for this reason.

Michael Kormos's picture

You're spending 3 weeks in a foreign country. What does that cost? Are you really gonna nickel and dime you backup system?

A lot of flights cost less than this option.

Indeed they are. Booking in advance, I can get a $300 return flight to almost anywhere in Asia... :)

Cuthbert Chia's picture

The top customer review on Amazon mentioned something negative about the security of the device.

This could be an issue of you're using it within areas that may contain other connections, but the purpose of it was for remote travel. Security is not a concern 100km into the jungle. :)

How about skipping WiFi completely?
http://www.amazon.com/Inateck-Adapter-Compact-Compatible-Smartphones/dp/...

This is what I use. Plug my phone in, put an SD card in and an SSD drive in to that. Use File explorer to manage transfers and copies. Some drives need to be required so you can use a battery or from your solar charger to power the drive...

Sounds interesting. Judging from the comments however this sounds like that adapter requires an external power source.

Interesting, indeed. I'm not sure the minimal power that comes from the port on your phone would be enough to drive the SD card and an SSD. Solar panels and external power banks produce DC power though, so that might be enough to keep this device running. Could be a good backup for the wifi system at that price!

Claude Lee Sadik's picture

I tried a similar solution before traveling to Vietnam and Thailand for a month. I had to film for a travel agency and backup hundreds of Gb every day. I bought a RavPower (http://www.ravpower.com/ravpower-rp-wd01-filehub-3000mah-power-bank.html) but wasn't convinced by the product.
First transfers were very slow. Secondly, my iPhone was the "brain" taking care of the transfer which, to me is a big downside. If the phone would go to sleep or if I'd had a phone call, etc... the transfer would just stop. I really like the idea of a minimalist setup but this device is not fast and reliable enough. Maybe the one you have is better? Have you tried to put your phone to sleep while transferring see what happens?

I backed up the Kickstarter project: Gnarbox (http://www.gnarbox.com) which is very similar but does all the computing itself so no need for a phone connected at all time + has a USB3 for faster transfers. I won't receive it until March 2016 so I can't say much for now but I'm hoping it will be a better solution for backing up on the road!

This is interesting. Over the 6 hours of transfer, my phone was only used to start and check the status of the transfers. For the rest of the time, it was simply sitting idle on the desk. I only lost 6% power over the total test time for my first test. For the second test, I did it on the go. Walking around the city, going about my day. Neither calls, nor messages (or even the occasional video game) interupted the transfers at all. Every file was copied successfully.

I also looked at the Gnarbox and it looked great, but both of my trips will be before the delivery dates. :(

I was faced with the same issue and I found the earlies RAV Filehub V2 to be too slow - simply becasue all the files where transfered basically from Filehub -> Phone -> Filehub via wifi.

I then found out that you could "hack" the filehub to copy automatically sd cards to hdd without any intervention.

The approach was different as it "moved" the files - but I was able to change it so that it copied the sd cards and even made a second backup to another hdd when just 2 harddisks where attached.

If there is interest I can write up a guide.

Claude Lee Sadik's picture

Now that's Interesting! I'm up for a tutorial on how to do so!

Interesting that version 2 was copying to the phone first. Version 3 doesn't seem to be doing this at all. I'd be interested to see this 'hack' for version 2, as I'm sure would other owners of version 2.

I've updated and cleaned my version with documentation so that it can be actually used with little computer knowledge.

https://github.com/derfrankie/RAVPower-FileHub-SD-Backup

Claude Lee Sadik's picture

I'm guessing you're talking about this hack? https://github.com/digidem/filehub-config
Any chance you could tell us how to proceed? Thanks!

Does this hack work with all rav filehubs? There are multiple listed. I.e. there is the RavPower Filehub 5 in 1 or the RavPower Filehub.

Sorry for the late response ... yes I adapted this version so that it wouldn't delete the SD cards at the end of the process.

Other than that it works - the only tricky part is to get the right file structure - the description is not clear where to put the rsync executable and how the folders are named - you have to look at the swap.sh for the variable STORE_DIR to change it to your will :)

Hi Frank, can you explain a little more about where to put all the files on SD and the external HDD? I tried different things while reading the README file on github but it brings me nowhere :(

On your USB Hard drive, make a directory called monitoreo inside that directory create two directories, fotos and no_tocar in the no_tocar directory place a copy of the rsync program from /build/rsync. Now in root directory of your SD card copy the EnterRouterMode.sh file. Pop the SD card into the RAV device and power it on. Leave it until all the lights stop flashing. You'll know its worked if the EnterRouterMode.sh file has been removed from root directory of the SD card. Power the RAV off and on. Now try an SD card with some media inside a directory called DCIM on the SD card, you should see that the files are copied to the USB drive \monitoreo\fotos\ - this worked for me with a RAV WD03 with latest firmware (as of today) - Hope that helps.

Hi Frank,
Any chance you've posted a write-up detailing this FileHub modification somewhere?

Thanks for the tips Frank - I worked it out - now a happy RAV WD03 user

One important note I forgot to mention.

Do not put you sd cards "write protect" mode - since the script will try to write an ID on the sdcard for future reference.

If the sdcard is protected it will think it's a new card and create a new folder - copying all files over again and you get duplicates.

it might work also that you initialize the sd cards first while empty to get the ID and the have the protected while copying

Thanks Frank, duly noted. What is your workflow for using the RAV now - let the SD card sync to USB drive, and then format the SD card when back in the camera?

Hi sorry for the late response ...
I just use it at the moment for long travel where I don't bring any computer - which means any long travel.

I bring the RAV and 2 external HDDs (the rugged ones from Transcend) and have my camera (2 slots) in overflow and copy the SDs to the 1st HDD and let the RAV make a second copy to the 2nd HDD.

I don't delete the SD cards - I have enough of them, and just want to be sure to have a backup.

When I'm home I use the HDD to import as I have all SD Cards in one folder and the drives are generally faster.

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