how to backup your files to a USB stick.

Always, always, back up your most important files. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to use a USB stick/drive.

Computers are absolutely brilliant at storing files. Documents, pictures, music, videos etc. They're so good in fact, that we'll often forget that a computer is just a machine.

And machines go wrong.

When that happens, when our stuff is no longer available to us, that's when it comes home to us, just how much data we've got on the PC.

It's now that having a backup of your files comes into its own. It's an insurance policy. Hopefully, you'll never need it, but if you do....

In this guide, we're going to copy our most important files, the ones we couldn't do without, and save them onto a USB stick.

Home » Free Computer Course. » How to Backup Files to a USB Stick

accessing the USB stick - backing up files.

Before we can begin backing up our files, we'll need to plug in the USB stick that we're going to be using (obviously), and then we need to find it on the computer.

We need to be able to actually get to it, to open it up.

And for that we're going to make use of File Explorer. We covered using File Explorer here How to Navigate Your PC

To demonstrate how to back up your files, in this guide, I'll back up my Pictures folder to a USB drive. But obviously, you can backup any file or folder in the same way.

plugging in USB stick.

When you first plug in your USB stick (drive), one of three things might happen.

We'll cover all three in turn.

The first thing that might happen when you plug in your USB stick, is that you'll see this notification pop up.

If you do, left-click on it.

click on the notification.

The notification doesn't hang around for very long, so you'll have to be quick.

Also, it doesn't show up on everyone's computer, it all depends on how your machine is set up.

If you weren't quick enough, or the notification simply didn't appear, no worries, we'll tackle that further down the page.

After clicking the notification in the lower right corner, an options menu will open in the upper right corner.

Click the option to OPEN FOLDERS TO VIEW FILES.

This option will open the USB stick in File Explorer.

Which is where we want to be.

If this happens to you, then you're ready to start backing up.


The second thing that might happen, is that you don't get any notification at all.

Or, you might get the notification and miss it. It pops up and disappears too quickly for you to click on.

Either way, the thing to do is to click File Explorer on your Taskbar.

file explorer.

When File Explorer opens, you should be able to see your USB drive.

If you can't, click THIS PC in the left-hand panel.

To open the USB stick (drive), double left click it.

You're now ready to start backing up your files.

USB stick in file explorer.

And the third thing that might happen to you, is the USB stick might just open automatically.

It just pops up on your screen.

If that happens, great, you're ready to go.

the USB drive just pops open.


What actually happens on your machine will vary, depending on how you've got it set up.

The main thing here, is that no matter what happens to you, we're all now in File Explorer with the backup USB stick open.

Plugging In Your USB Stick.

backing up a folder to USB stick

Now that we're all in File Explorer, we can start backing up our files.

As an example, I'm going to back up my Pictures folder, but this works exactly the same if you back up your Documents folder, Music folder or whatever.

In the left-hand panel of File Explorer, I need to find my Pictures folder.

If you were backing up your Documents folder, you'd look for your Documents folder in the left-hand panel, and if you were backing up your video folder, well you get the idea.

You may have to scroll up or down or click the small arrowhead beside THIS PC to find it, but it'll be there somewhere.

find the pictures folder.

Once you've found the Pictures folder (or whichever folder it is your saving), right-click on it.

A menu will open.

Left-click once on COPY.

That'll tell the computer to copy the entire Pictures folder.

Everything inside it.

Now we need to Paste it all into our USB stick.

click COPY.

When you click Copy, nothing will seem to happen, other than the menu disappears.

But the computer has copied the folder, and everything inside it.

The next thing we'll need to do is to Paste the folder onto the USB stick (drive).

Still in the left-hand panel, find your USB drive.

Again, if you can't see it, left-click the small arrowhead by THIS PC.

When you've found it, right-click on it.

On the menu that opens, left-click PASTE.

click PASTE.

The entire folder and all its contents will be copied (backed up) onto the USB stick.

You might see a progress bar appear. You might not, it all depends on how much data you're transferring to the USB stick.

the progress bar.


The last thing to do is to check on the USB stick that the files have actually been backed up.

So in the left-hand panel, left-click on your USB drive to open it.

In the main window, you should be able to see the folder you just backed up.

safe at last.

What we're doing is using File Explorer to "jump" between our USB stick and the folders we want to back up.

That's my Pictures folder backed up to my USB stick.

I could easily do the same for my Documents folder, or any other folder.

backing up pictures folder to a USB stick.

back up a single file to USB stick (drive).

So that was pretty painless.

But what if you only want to back up a single file, not an entire folder.

As an example, I'll back up a couple of files from my Desktop. You could be backing up files from any other folder, such as Documents folder, Pictures folder etc. It would be exactly the same.

Whenever we're doing anything like this, saving files onto a USB stick, the big question is always, "How do I start".

I've got my USB stick plugged in, and I've just backed up my Pictures folder.

Now I want to add a couple of files from my Desktop to the stick.

I don't want to save the entire Desktop folder, just the 2 files.

Left-click once on the File Explorer icon on the Taskbar.

backup these 2 files.

Always start in File Explorer for anything like this. There are other ways to do it, but for us right now, we'll use File Explorer.

The files I'm backing up are on my Desktop, and the Desktop is a folder like any other.

So in the left-hand panel of File Explorer, I'll click Desktop.

If you had files in your Documents folder to back up, you'd click Documents.

And for Videos, you'd click Videos folder etc.

click desktop.

After clicking Desktop, the right-hand panel shows everything on my Desktop.

Now I need to find the 2 files I want to backup.

When I find them, I need to select them both.

Hold down CTRL and left-click once on each file.

back up these 2.

We covered selecting multiple files at the same time here How to Select More Than 1 File at a Time.


Now right-click on 1 of the selected files.

The options menu will open.

Left-click COPY.

click copy.

And now it's back to the USB stick.

Find it in the left-hand pane, then right-click it to open the options menu.

From the menu, left-click PASTE.

click PASTE.

This works whether you're backing up a single file, a folder, multiple files/folders or a combination of both.

Find what you're looking for, copy it, then go back to the USB drive and paste it.

How to backup/save files or folders onto a USB stick.

what if the files/folders are already on the USB stick?

Occasionally we'll try to save files onto our USB drive that are already there.

That's when this message pops up and we hit the panic button.

Something's gone wrong. What could it be?

Windows will usually warn you if your duplicating files on your USB stick.

Normally you'd just click SKIP THESE FILES.

normally, click SKIP THESE FILES.

When this message pops up, there's nothing actually wrong.

All that's happening is the computer needs to know what you want to do.

It goes something like this -

"Hey boss, did you know you've already got these files (these pictures, these documents etc) on your USB stick? What do you want me to do?

Should I delete them and then copy them over again, or should I skip this job and move onto something else".


what size (capacity) USB stick will you need?

Great, you're going to have a go at backing up all your most important files onto a USB stick for safe keeping.

But now you'll want to know what size, or capacity, USB stick to buy.

Well, that obviously depends on how much data you need to back up. So we need to know, roughly, how much data we've got.

Are you any good at adding up?

To find out, open File Explorer again.

Then, in the left-hand panel, find the folder you want to save onto the USB drive.

When you've found it, right-click it.

The options menu will open.

Left-click PROPERTIES.

click properties.

When the properties dialogue box opens, it'll show you the size of the folder.

In this example, the folder is 8 Megabytes (MB).

Which is tiny. 8 MB is so small an amount of data it's not worth worrying about.

But yours could be significantly larger.

folder size 8 MB.

This next folder is showing 25.3 Gigabytes (GB).

That makes this a large folder.

Gigabytes are significant amounts of data.

a bigger folder. 25 gigabytes.

So to find out what size USB stick you need to get, you simply check out the Properties box for the files and folders that you want to be backed up and add up all the sizes.

You can ignore individual documents, they'll be tiny, maybe a few hundred Kilobytes (KB) at most.

Don't bother adding up any folders that are less than 200 Megabytes (MB). It's not worth it.

Round everything up. You don't need a calculator.

So in my examples, I've got a folder of 8 MB, which I'll just ignore, and another folder of 25.3 GB.

So I'll call that 30 GB.

Which means I'd need a USB drive with a capacity of at least 30 Gigabytes (GB).

megabytes & gigabytes.

Now don't go all glassy-eyed on me here.

Whenever I mention Megabytes & Gigabytes, my clients often just stare blankly at me.

It's those words (Megabytes and Gigabytes), they make people just switch off.

But they're just words. Think of them like pints & gallons. Or better still, litres & kilolitres,

We all know there are 1000 litres in a kilolitre, right. It's easy.

Megabytes and Gigabytes are the same. They simply sound strange. They sound technical.

But here's the thing, you can do this. You can.

USB sticks are sold with capacities measured in Gigabytes (GB).

2 GB, 4 GB, 8 GB, 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB etc.

There are 1000 Megabytes (MB) in 1 Gigabyte (GB)


1 GB = 1000 MB.

whichever way you prefer it.

a USB stick.

So in my quick example, I've got around 30 GB to back up, which means I'd need to buy a stick of at least 32GB.

That would easily hold both of the folders above, plus a little room to spare.

If you'd like to know where megabytes and gigabytes come from What are Kilobytes Megabytes Gigabytes

summing up.

It's very important to back up your files, one way or another.

There are millions of people out there (me included) that have lost stuff from their computers. Don't be one of those people. Save your most important files and folders.

The method we've used here, simply Copy & Paste, files/folders onto a USB stick, is probably the easiest way into backing up.

It'll suit you if you're the type of person that rarely adds files to your computer. Maybe you drop your holiday snaps on there once or twice a year. That kind of thing.

But if you're adding files or folders regularly, then perhaps you should think of using some other method of backing up.

Windows File History is a great way to automate the process. How to Use Windows File History.



tick blue

don't leave it to chance.

However you choose to back up your files, do it. Do it now.

Next up we're going Phishing.

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