My New 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.

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.

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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63 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 :)

Dylan Goldby's picture

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!

Deleted Account'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.

Dylan Goldby's picture

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.

Dylan Goldby's picture

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?

Erik Andersen's picture

A lot of flights cost less than this option.

Dylan Goldby's picture

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.

Dylan Goldby's picture

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. :)

Justin Harrison's picture

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...

Carsten Schlipf's picture

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

Dylan Goldby's picture

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!

Dylan Goldby's picture

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. :(

Frank Neulichedl's picture

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!

Dylan Goldby's picture

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.

Frank Neulichedl's picture

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!

Trenton Dos Santos's picture

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.

Frank Neulichedl's picture

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 :)

Vincent Schaap's picture

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 :(

Rod Little's picture

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.

Alicia Boll's picture

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

Rod Little's picture

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

Frank Neulichedl's picture

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

Rod Little's picture

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?

Frank Neulichedl's picture

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.

Caleb Cook's picture

Actually, I would really appreciate a guide on how to do that. If it could automatically copy files without any wireless intervention, it would be an indispensable item for me.

Frank Neulichedl's picture

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

ron fya's picture

I read through product's page. Maybe those points are worth to mention about the RAVPower Filehub.

- Support Microsoft Windows NTFS FAT16/FAT32.
- Does not work with Mac formatted hard drive.
- Due to the limitation of the Apple iOS system, you can only access the Photos folder on your iPad.
- No app for Windows Phone OS.

Dylan Goldby's picture

All good points.

NTFS/FAT drives are readable from Mac OS (OS X began the support for reading NTFS natively), so it's simply a case of taking a drive formatted for the backup with you.

Unless you are shooting jpg, the files are not viewable without a separate viewer anyway. If you are wanting to backup or view individual files in raw formats rather than a complete backup, Michael's suggestion of a Hyperdrive above could be a good option.

As for the lack of app on Windows OS, all of the above functions can also be performed from a web browser, as the device acts as a standard NAS.

Martin Francis's picture

If I were using this with, say, a small Windows tablet, would Explorer mount the SD reader and USB SSD as drives? Or is it reliant completely on the app?

Dylan Goldby's picture

It functions as a NAS. Therefore can be connected to using any internet browser, or file browser that can see network mounted drives.

Dylan Goldby's picture

Great information coming out of this discussion, guys. There's a wealth of other options explored here that might even warrant another article! Keep it coming!

Alexander Russy's picture

I used to use this item too - BUT: I was not able to copy more then 999 Files.
The program did not let me see more.
Did not notice this before I made a long and very picture- intense travel.
Anybody else noticed this behaviour?

Daniel Moses's picture

Great article - thanks. You mentioned that the solution may not work for CF card users (given that you would need to power both a card reader and a hard drive). Can anyone suggest a setup that could cater for both card types?

Dylan Goldby's picture

There was a great suggestion above about using a non-wireless solution that connects via a micro USB port. I haven't tested it, but I plan on getting one as a secondary backup plan in case anything should happen on the trip.

Gil Aegerter's picture

Or you could take eight 128gb cards and backup to the second slot in your camera. No moving parts to break or lose. No extra juice needed. Nothing much extra to carry.

Dylan Goldby's picture

This is dependent on dual slots. I don't have that luxury except with the D800, which will not be going with me. ;)

Pierre-Alain Maire's picture

Did you think about buying the WD My Passport Wireless and replacing the HDD with a SDD ?

Anthony Maw's picture

I've been shooting digital onto memory cards for the past ten years now and travelling internationally from the Sahara Desert to the Himalaya Mountains. My biggest failures has not memory card failures since I buy only name brands like Kingston and SanDisk, sometimes on-the-road. The cards are formatted as FAT or FAT32 which is very vulnerable to corruption. Do not ever remove them while the camera is powered on, and always reformat using the camera before and after each use. The NAND flash storage chips have always been very reliable although the read speeds are all over the place and the choice of card reader makes a big difference. The biggest risk to a disappointing international travel photography trip that I have experience is actually camera failures - My Nikon D70 crapped on a trip to Ghana, Canon 5D died on a 2 month trans-Africa Safari and my Canon Rebel XT died a slow death in the humid jungles of south-east Asia. I now carry a backup camera body. My suggestion is to bring a small collection of brand-name 32 GB SDXC cards and a backup camera and forget about trying to make on-the-road backup copies - just exercise the precautions mentioned above when handling SD memory cards and you should be fine. Also some cameras like the newer Nikon DSLRs (like the D610) can make duplicate copies of photos onto two SD cards.

Dylan Goldby's picture

All great info. Of course, I'm taking two bodies on this trip and never use off brand memory. However, I have had memory cards from each and every manufacturer I have used over the years, and no longer use memory cards for more than a year at a time. As of now, I use Sandisk Extreme Pros, which are built a little better, and I'll be taking a set of brand new cards with me for this trip. You can never be too cautious.

Macro Men's picture

Less storage but if you are looking for a single device that is small enough to keep in your pocket for pretty snappy backup try one of these:

http://www.amazon.com/Toshiba-Canvio-AeroMobile-Wireless-HDTQ112XCWF1/dp...

I have attempted to use wireless devices with SD and USB similar to the one listed in the article but the biggest issue were always transfer times. Multiple devices are a pain as well. This has been the best mobile backup I have found without spending hundreds on the outdated hyperdrive.

Dylan Smith's picture

what transfer rate in MB/s are u getting with the Aerocast? I saw many negative reviews of this drive.

shawnmoreton's picture

This looks like a great system, particularly that it is self-powered. I have been using a similar setup, but it requires external power.... I posted a blog about it here: http://www.shawnmoreton.com/blog/travel-photography-how-to-backup-files-...

shawnmoreton's picture

This looks like a great system, particularly that it is self-powered. I have been using a similar setup, but it requires external power.... I posted a blog about it here: http://www.shawnmoreton.com/blog/travel-photography-how-to-backup-files-...

Dylan Goldby's picture

Great stuff, Shawn. I'm always looking to minimalise the footprint of the gear I travel with. This time around we needed something self powered. So far so good. I'll be posting a few more tests for this system as the weeks go on.

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