How to back up files to external USB memory in Windows 11

On Windows 11 computers, there are various ways to lose files. Files may get corrupted or accidentally deleted. Or a pc startup issue may even prevent you from logging in to Windows and opening files.

A backup is a secondary copy of a file. As a precaution against data loss, you can back up many files to an external USB storage device. Windows 11 includes a number of built-in utilities to choose from that enable you to back up your files to a storage drive in different ways. Next, let’s take a look at how to back up files in Windows 11 with these tools.

How to create a system backup using the backup and restore features

As a safeguard for Windows startup issues, you can create a complete system image backup. A system backup (or image) is a full snapshot copy of everything on an entire hard disk (or SSD) drive. It is the largest type of backup and can consume hundreds of gigabytes of storage space. Therefore, you need an appropriately sized external USB hard drive to create a system backup.

Backup and restore is still the best built-in tool in Windows 11 for creating a full copy of a hard drive. It was a control panel tool that Microsoft introduced in Vista, and Microsoft hadn’t updated it in a while. Still, backup and restore is still available in Windows 11.

Here is how you can set up a full hard drive copy with Backup and Restore:

1.  To view the file search tool, press the Windows 11 taskbar button with the magnifying glass icon.

2.  Enter Control Panel in your Type here to search box.

3.  Click Control Panel in the search tool to view that app.

4.  Select Small icons on the View by drop-down menu.


5.  Then select Back up and Restore to open that utility.

6.  Plug an external USB hard drive into your PC.

7.  Click Create a system image on the left of the window.


8.  Select the On a hard disk radio button and your USB drive on the menu.


9. Press the Start backup button.

A full system image backup may take a while to complete. If you’re using a laptop, make sure it’s plugged in and wait for the backup process to complete.

You can also restore a backup copy of the system image outside of Windows from the Advanced Boot Options menu.

From there, select Troubleshoot > Advanced options and click See more recovery options. Clicking System Image Recovery will bring up a Re-image your computer tool from which you can select to restore your backup system image.

You can also copy single user folders with Backup and Restore. Click the Setup backup option within the Backup and Restore tool. Choose a storage device or folder to copy the data to, and select the Next option. Select the Let me choose radio button and click Next to view the window directly below.


Click the arrows of the “Computer” and “C: Drive” checkboxes there to see more folders to choose from. You can then choose to copy only your user folders or more specific directories within them. Press Next and select the Save settings and Run backup options.

How to Back Up User Folder Libraries With File History

File History is a backup tool that is more specifically designed to copy user file data. The advantage of this tool is that it automatically copies files to the connected USB drive at selected intervals. It also enables users to configure the time at which copies of files are saved. So, File History is the preferred tool for many users to back up user files in Windows 11.

However, some users are a little confused about the file history option disappearing from Windows 11’s Settings app. File History is still fully available in Control Panel. You can enable the tool in Windows 11 to back up your files by doing the following:

1.  First, open your Control Panel and select Small icons as covered in the first four steps for the previous backup method.

2.  Click File History within the Control Panel.

3.  Insert a USB flash drive to back up files on.

4.  Press the Turn on button to enable File History.


5.  Click Advanced Settings on the left of the File History tool.

6.  Select a time period in the Save copies of files drop-down menu.


7.  Choose an option of preference within the Keep saved versions drop-down menu.

8.  Press the Save changes button.

Now, when the external flash drive you choose is connected to your computer, File History will automatically back up all user files in its library folder. However, you can choose to exclude certain user folder libraries. Click The Exclusion Library to the left of the File History applet. Then press the Add button, select a user library to exclude, and click Select Folder. Don’t forget to click Save changes to apply.

You can turn on the backup data by clicking on the Restore Personal Files option in the tool’s Control Panel applet. A new window will open and you can select a copied file from it to recover. From there, select a file and click on the Recover button.

Alternatively, you can view the file history folder on the backup drive in Explorer. The folder includes copies of files. You can choose to open the files from there or move them back to your C: drive.


How to Back Up Folders and Files With Robocopy

Robocopy is a handy command-line utility for copying folders and files. You can quickly back up a whole folder or single file by entering one Robocopy command within the Command Prompt. This is how to back up single a folder to an external USB drive with the Robocopy tool in Windows 11.

1.  Launch Windows 11’s file and app search tool, which is included on the Start menu, and type Command Prompt in that utility’s text box.

2.  Open Command Prompt by selecting the matching search result.

3.  Enter this Robocopy command with actual folder directories and drive letters included:

robocopy C:\Folder1\Folder2 X:\Folder1\Folder2

4.  Press Return to back up the folder with Robocopy.


You need to replace the X: in the command specified above with the actual letter of your external drive. Enter the full paths to the source directory and the backup directory. For example, suppose you want to back up the entire user folder on the C: drive to a backup folder on an external D: drive. The command looks like this:

robocopy C:\Users D:\Backup folder

Protect your data with ease

You may not often need to restore a backup copy of your files. However, this does not mean that you will never need a backup copy of your files as there are many potential data loss scenarios. Therefore, it is recommended to back up folders that include more important user files at least in the above methods in case of emergency.