Header photo: I've just dropped my iPhone in that icy river, while trying to take a photo of my ski-touring buddy. It's not the time to be wondering if I have a back-up of my phone data.
I recently messaged a young adventurer to ask "what's happened with your book?" He'd been in the process of finding a publisher for his adventure story. He replied, "my last laptop broke and I lost the memory and a quarter of the book, so that didn't turn out so well."
Last year a friend emailed to ask if I had copies of any of her photos on my computer. She had had a hard-drive failure and lost almost all the images from her South-East Asia cycle-touring adventure.
Two weeks ago, while out ski-touring, I was using my iPhone as a camera, and I dropped it. I watched it slide smoothly down a snow-bank and do a gold medal winning swan dive into an icy river. That phone isn't just my camera, it's my 'office in my pocket', the tool that lets me be out adventuring in the mountains, while still being contactable for work enquiries.
All of these are light-bulb moments when we suddenly think about a boring task that we otherwise tend to ignore - the back-up of our personal and business data.
Books can be re-written - if you can dredge up the time and motivation. Phones can be replaced - but can you refind the messages and images you had on them? Photos from adventures - those are lost forever. And those are a key asset needed for giving talks, selling articles, producing a book.....
As an adventurer, the evidence of your experiences is a key asset. You must have a robust system in place to protect and replicate it.
What does that look like? Work your way through these four key steps. Either put these safeguards in place, or - if you already do this - put a day aside to test the systems you are using.
Back Up your Smartphone
As an adventurer, you are out and about in the wilderness reasonably often - training, planning, adventuring, just having fun! Your smartphone is your 'office in your pocket'.
Every piece of data on that phone should be available to you somewhere else. When my phone slid into the river, all I stood to lose were the photos I had taken that day. Everything else was retrievable via my laptop and iCloud back-ups.
the apple walled garden
What you sacrifice in less flexibility and higher prices, you make up for with Apple's seamless integration. Use iCloud to keep your phone and computer in sync, and your data backed-up in the cloud.
Android meet Google
Give Google permission to your sync your contacts, calendar appointments, docs, photos and app purchases.
Alternatives to Google:
- Almost every smartphone manufacturer offers some kind of back-up solution. Turn yours on!
- Spend $5 on an app like My Backup Pro.
Test your back-up system! It may require procedures and passwords that will be hard to remember in the panic of replacing your phone. Either take the time to do a mock reset of your phone, or the first time you have to do it for real... make notes of what is involved, and keep them somewhere safe for next time.
Back Up your Computer to a Harddrive
To start with, have the most important day-to-day functions of your computer available to you on your smartphone (so your life can keep on trucking while you replace that lost/stolen/crushed laptop). Email, passwords (use a password manager!), social media profiles, documents currently in use, etc.
Have your computer back up automatically to an external hard-drive. On Windows 10 and 8, set it up with File History. On Windows 7, use Windows Backup. On Macs, use Time Machine. Either periodically connect the drive to the computer and use the back-up tool, or leave it plugged in whenever you are at your desk so it can back up automatically.
If you are travelling for more than a few days, carry a small harddrive with you for this purpose and keep in *in a different bag* from your laptop.
Mac users like myself can add a second layer to our local back-up system with SuperDuper. TimeMachine lets me restore individual files or previous versions of files, or a complete copy of my hard drive. SuperDuper gives me a working back-up that can be put in place by rebooting my Mac. It clones the the entire operating system—along with all the applications, files and almost everything else.
PCs work rather differently, but one place to start for full-image back-up software is Acronis True Image 2018.
Test the back-up software so that you know it is working and you know how to use it to restore your data.
This type of back up is fast, easy to automate and entirely under your own control. However: harddrives have a limited life. They fail, they get lost or stolen, or your office floods / burns / collapses in an earthquake, and your computer and your on-site back-ups die together.
Simple Cloud Sync
This is more replication than true back-up, but it is still very useful! It is also easy, simple and (depending on how much you store this way) free.
Instead of having your files in just one place - your computer harddrive - you store them on your computer in folders that live within an online service. That service syncs them with your online account, and lets you access or restore them from any computer - as long as you remember your password.
Most of us now live in one of the 'universes' of computing services that offers this kind of facility.
- Mac users - iCloud
- Google users - Google Drive
- Microsoft users - Microsoft OneDrive
And/or use the classic independent service, Dropbox.
In all cases you may need to buy more space once you run through the free allotment. (Remember the value of your data! Buying more space is worth it.) Note that these services do not 'back up' old files. If you delete a file at any point, it is deleted everywhere.
In addition, for any app or service that you use regularly and where you accumulate data that you value - from Strava to Evernote, from your email to your messages - have an account with that service provider, and have your data backed up on their servers.
Cloud Back-Up - Paid Services
These are services that offer full cloud back-up. For example, Backblaze Business offers unlimited back-up space for one computer, at a flat rate of $50 per year. The data can be sent to you anywhere in the world, on a flash drive or USB drive, so you can do a quick restore. You can also look at Carbonite or MozyHome.
However, the initial upload of all your data to the cloud back-up will take much longer than it would on an external drive. (Thereafter you do incremental back-ups, reflecting the changes since the last back-up, so it becomes much faster.) And if you delete a file on your computer, it may be deleted from your online back-ups after 30 days. Check the small print!
Of course photos are just another kind of data, and all these back-up principles apply to them too. However, they are of particular value to an adventurer. They sell your blog posts, your articles, your books, your talks. And they can't be replicated!
Your problem is not just losing them. It is also collecting so many that you can no longer effectively search through them to find the one you want. For that reason, it is worth having a dedicated cloud storage system for your photos (public or private) where you can make use of the power of automated search to find the right ones.
For home storage of photos - test your hard-drives! Most hard-drives only have a 5 year life expectancy. Your photos must be backed-up in more than one place.
For photo cloud services, beware hot new solutions. They may die as fast as they popped up, and take your photos with them. (Listen to this Reply All podcast episode about the PictureLife service.)
Value simplicity and ease of integration with the rest of your online universe.
- Mac users should start with iCloud Photo Library.
- Google users should use Google Photos. (Google is particularly strong on automated search of your images.)
- Amazon Prime users have unlimited photo storage included at Amazon Photos.
- Flickr remains a strong presence in the photo storage space.
- Have more than one back-up system.
- Have both on-site back-ups (in your home/office) and off-site (in the cloud and/or stored in a different physical location.)
- Back up regularly and automate all systems as far as possible.
- Test they are working. Check you know how to access them and restore.
(Will you have the information to do that if both your phone and your laptop are lost?)