Introduction: Unlimited SD Card Backup in the Field - Hard Drive Hack

About: I want computers to be wilder. Running a Jungle makerspace in Panama.…

This instructable shows you how to (relatively easily) convert a Western Digital Wireless hard drive into the ultimate tool for backing up SD card data in the field. I built this device for a month-long expedition into the middle of nowhere in Madagascar ( and it worked great! So nice doing work knowing you had extra copies of the data!

It's a good solution for situations with

  • low-power (don't have to waste laptop power) (can swap out LiPo batteries)
  • lots of data (Can carry around larger or multiple hard drives)
  • intense jostling (can pop SSD hard drives in for SUPER DURABILITY)


If you shoot enough video and photographs for important and rare events, you quickly learn to become super paranoid about backing up data. It's something you REALLY NEED TO DO.

For important data (once in a lifetime interviews with jungle explorers, rare photographs of strange animals),the best rule of thumb I I have come across is:

  • 2 Copies is the absolute Minimum
  • 3 Copies is the only way to be safe

If you are going on a good enough adventure, you can rest assured that at least one copy of your data IS GOING TO BE DESTROYED. Whether this is because of adventure-y things (SD card falls into raging rapids on river crossing), or banal things (SD card just becomes corrupted for no good reason), YOU ARE GOING TO LOSE DATA.

What I do is this: 1) Never erase an SD CARD in the field, 2) Backup all SD cards on 2 separate Hard drives, 3) Keep the SD cards and Hard drives in different people's backpacks. It doesn't help if you have 3 backups if the one backpack holding them all goes over a cliff ;)

Before in the Panama Hiking Hack (, we had to copy all the data onto an external hard drive with a laptop. Not only was this cumbersome (had to have laptop open, and copying), it also used about 80 percent of all the power we dedicated to charging the laptop. This solution was much better!

OTHER SOLUTIONS (are pricey)

Everything else I could find was SUPER EXPENSIVE. These types of devices exist: but are usually SUPER EXPENSIVE and are limited to a certain amount of data. With the solution here, you can just carry around as many extra hard drives as your heart desires! and it's way cheaper!

Step 1: Materials

Step 2: Tear It Apart

Before you yank apart some commercial product, it can be super useful to see if someone out there already has pulled it apart for you.

Often the FCC will have teardown photos for you already! This can be really useful for things like just knowing if things are connected by just latches or hidden screws. (This thing is mostly just latches). This review includes the FCC teardown pics:

First, use the spudger (or credit card, or flat head screwdriver) to just go around the edges and pop the top off the Hard drive.

Next pull the Lipo battery out. (you don't actually have to disconnect it from the electronics, just get it out of the way).

Now is the only tricky part. The HD is held in place with rubber grippy knobs which are sorta-spring-pressured into place. If you just take your Spudger, and slide them towards the center, the HD can just pop out.

Unscrew these knobs from your hard-drive, we are going to make it hot-swappable!

That's the bulk of the tearing apart you have to do!

Step 3: Cut Hard Drive Swap-Slot

Line up your hard drive with the bottom of the EMPTY case. (don't dremel with all the electronics inside! Duhh!). Trace the area with a marker. Now just cut out a slot with a dremel (it's a REALLY HARD PLASTIC, you pretty much need the dremel).

The connection to the SATA and the friction from the lipo and other electronics holds the hard drive in really securely. We had no problems with the Hard drive coming detached at all during the whole expedition.

Some people might be uncomfortable with adding a hole on the bottom of the Hard Drive enclosure. For me this was much more ideal than taking apart the device all the time in the field and exposing all the differnt parts (and risking breaking them by moving them too much).

Making a hard drive swap-slot lets you just pop different hard drives in and out easy and fast (and has a great, Nintendo-cartridge style, feel). I put everything in 2 ziploc bags with a desiccant packet, and it held up totally fine in the middle of Madagascar.

Step 4: Add Pull-Tabs to Hard Drives

Add a piece of packing tape to the side of the hard drive with printing on it. then fold over the sticky-side on itself to give it a "tail."

This lets you easily and safely remove a hard drive from your solid enclosure.

I tried all different types of Hard drives. Bigger, smaller, different brands. Even SSD hard drives! They all worked easily with the Western digital main firmware.

Step 5: Get Safe With Your Data!

First setup your hard drive to to "Automatic SD card copying"

Turn on your drive. Wait for the lights to stop blinking. And then pop in your SD card. It will start blinking white, and then stop when it has finished copying over.

I noticed some weird slowness when trying to copy over exfat formatted SD cards, but otherwise seemed to go fine! It also remembers your SD cards uniquely and will just copy over new files, so you can keep backing up and not wasting tons of time with the same SD card! How nice!


  • More elegant way of making hard-drive slot
  • disable wireless when just copying
  • Make Lipo-batteries more easily swappable

Step 6:

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