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How To Backup Your Files To USB Drive

Always, always, back up your most important files. Computers go wrong, they get infected with viruses and ransomware and we, the users, make mistakes. Back it up.

One of the easiest ways to do that is to use a USB stick/drive.

In this guide, I’ll show you how to backup your most important file to a USB stick.

Accessing The USB Stick – Backing Up Files.

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

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

And for that, you’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), You’re introducing a new device to your computer. The new device is capable of storing data (obviously) and Windows will react to the new device in one of three ways.

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.

Arrow points to USB device notification popup on Windows desktop.

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 you want to be.

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

Choose what to do with removable drives. "Open folder to view files" is marked.

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

Or, you might get the notification and you missed 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. Or press the Windows key and the letter E on your keyboard.

File Explorer icon on Windows Taskbar is indicated. Also, a keyboard with Windows key and letter e highlighted.

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 drive is highlighted in Windows File Explorer.

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

It just pops up on your screen.

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

USB drive has automatically opened in File Explorer.


Backing Up A Folder To A USB Stick/Drive.

Now that you’re in File Explorer, looking at the contents of your USB drive, you can start backing up your 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.

Selecting folder to be backed up to USB drive in File Explorer.

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.

Copy is highlighted on right-click options menu.

When you click Copy, nothing will seem to happen, other than the menu disappears. But the computer has made an exact copy of 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. You’ll probably have to scroll down a little.

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.

Pasting the Pictures folder onto a USB stick to back it up.

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 backing up to the USB stick.

Progress bar as files are backed up to USB stick.

Check Your Backup Has Worked.

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.

The backed-up Pictures folder is marked on a USB stick.

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

How To Backup 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 the Documents folder, Pictures folder etc. It would be exactly the same.

Whenever you’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 already, 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.

Open File Explorer (left-click the icon or type Windows key and letter E).

Two single files marked on Desktop.

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.

If you keep using the exact same routine, it becomes second nature and you really won’t need to think about it.

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 the Videos folder etc.

Desktop folder indicated in Windows File Explorer navigation panel.

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.

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.

Copying two files from Desktop to clipboard.

And now it’s back to the USB stick.

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

From the menu, left-click PASTE.

What If The Files/Folders Are Already On The USB Stick?

Occasionally you’ll try to save files onto our USB drive that are already there.

If you do that, Windows will warn you before it backs up the files.

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

Normally you’d just 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 Drive Will You Need?

Great, you’re going to have a go at backing up all your most important files onto a USB stick for safekeeping. 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 you need to know, roughly, how much data you’ve got.

Are you any good at adding up?

To find out, open File Explorer again.

Then, in the left-hand navigation 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.

Finding how much data is in a folder.

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.

In the folder properties window, the folder size is highlighted.

This next folder is showing 25.3 Gigabytes (GB).

That makes this a large folder.

Gigabytes are significant amounts of data.

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).

Future Needs.

In the example above, I’d need a USB drive with a capacity of 30 GB. But that’s for now. What if I want to add more files/folders later.

Normally I’d suggest doubling the size that you need right now. That will allow you space to add more files or folders later.

Megabytes & Gigabytes.

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.

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. But ideally, I’d go for a 64GB drive, or maybe more.

Pro Guides.

Megabytes and Gigabytes can be difficult to understand. Read this extra guide to take out some of the mystery What Are Kilobytes, Megabytes, Gigabytes And Terabytes

Back Up To USB Drive – Summary.

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.

Next Page

Using Google Drive For Backups

Save your most precious pictures into the cloud for safekeeping. It’s easy to do and a lot better than losing them.

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