Are you wondering what clothes to pack for Africa? Packing for Africa can be downright daunting if you’ve never been. Whether you’re on an overland safari, Peace Corp Volunteer, a mission trip, or just traveling around the massive continent, it’s important to make sure you’re prepared.
Once you get outside of South Africa and African capital cities, it will be hard to replenish your wardrobe and even a little difficult to stock up on basic essentials, so you will want to make sure you arrive with the necessities.
This Africa packing list is a guide for everyday travel around Africa. We traversed the continent and have spent a lot of time traveling around Africa. After all that time, we think we have nailed down what to pack for Southern and Eastern Africa.
Tips For Your Africa Packing List
Africa is a huge and vast continent, and naturally, the climate varies a LOT based on the season and location. You have probably seen the movies about Africa where people are decked out in khaki, a pith safari hat, and binoculars.
However, the truth is you probably won’t need any of that gear unless you are actually in the bush or on safari. Don’t worry if that is you – we safari clothes covered here!
- Pack light if you plan to backpack as travel days can be long in Africa. You’re more likely to regret packing too much than too little.
- Mesh/breathable packing cubes help separate damp and dirty clothes from clean ones.
- Sun protection is always a good idea, whether that is sunblock, hats, or UPF clothing.
- Adventure clothes such as hiking footwear and active clothes are great.
- Bring your any essential toiletries or medications you may need.
- Shower sandals are always handy to have to protect your feet.
- Dark shades of blue attract the dreaded tsetse fly, which is found throughout pockets of Africa. So it’s best to try and avoid this color.
- Africa has some tremendous diving and reefs, but we suggest you pack reef-safe sunscreen to help preserve the reefs.
- Most of Africa dresses conservativly so it’s best to dress sensibly and leave the booty shorts at homes.
- Be sure to note what time of year you are traveling to Africa. The rainy season in Southern Africa varies greatly from the rainy season in Eastern Africa. If you are traveling during the rainy season a rain jacket is essential.
What To Wear in Africa
Hiking Shoes or Boots
A reliable pair of shoes are perhaps the most important thing to pack in your bag. An excellent recommendation for a boot or shoe is the Merrell Moab. They’re dependable, comfortable, and most important, a good value. If you want more classic options, we have a post on the best safari boots.
A good pair of shoes are worth their weight in gold because if you are anywhere outside of South Africa, a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot, get thick rubber-soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes.
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Unless you’re staying only in five-star resorts and safari lodges, some shower shoes to escape nasty floors are vital. It also helps with the journey to shower if you’re camping as you’ll often be walking around a lot outside.
We even stayed at a few high-end safari lodges that were rustic with outdoor bathrooms, where we really appreciated having small rubber flip flops. Of course, you can go with the goofy classic with a pair of crocs.
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You won’t want to live in hiking shoes, and you certainly won’t want to live in rubber shower shoes. A good pair of sandals are great for comfort on long travel days and under the hot African sun, like in Namibia or Egypt.
I travel with my Rainbow leather flip-flops as well as my Teva Hurricanes, which get me through anything. Like the locals, we spend 90% of our time in a pair of sandals when traveling around Africa. The only time we opt for our boots is on bush walks, long hikes, and dirty streets.
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You will 100% be able to buy this from the local women and markets. African Batik fabric prints are all over the continent and many cultures love to dress in fantastic colors. Sarongs are great for just about anything.
You can use them to cover up at the beach, dry off after a shower, or wear them as a cute skirt. It’s even common for men to wear them at night when relaxing. Keep in mind most Africans dress conservatively so it’s best to have a decent length in the sarong. This is something you do not need to pack as it’s easy to find!
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
We love the pants from prAna. Both the Men’s Brion Pant and Women’s Halle Pant, are tremendous pairs of hiking pants at a reasonable price. They’re durable for how lightweight they are, perfect if you’re doing volunteer work or on more of an adventure. They also happen to be some of our favorite pants for safari.
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Women’s Halle Pant
Men’s Brion Pant
I love to wear relaxed pants when I travel. I’ve tried a bunch of pants and have fallen in love with a lightweight hiking pants called the Trailhead from Coalatree. These pants are seriously amazing! It would also be a good idea to pack loose or relaxed cotton pants.
They are perfect for Africa, especially in the more conservative countries when it’s hot out. The men are lucky with the prAna Vaha pants. They are made from a hemp blend that is the perfect material that feels stylish and comfortable.
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Men’s Vaha Pant
Women’s Trailhead Pant
A pair of comfortable shorts will keep you cool in the African heat. The vast majority of days you can find us in a pair of shorts as they are much more comfortable than pants. The standard outfit for us in Africa was a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals if we’re honest.
If you’re worried about Malaria keep in mind most mosquito bites occur at dusk and nighttime. So we’d often switch to pants in the evening along with a good layer of insect repellant. Trail shorts are perfect for travel in Africa as they provide sun protection and many contain insect repellants. Their stretchable fabric makes them ideal for sitting in a vehicle or bus for long hours throughout the day.
Lightweight Long Sleeve Shirt
I wear a long sleeve almost every night in Africa. Malaria is a real threat in most of Sub-Saharan Africa and it’s best treated by prevention rather than medication. Every evening in malaria-prone regions we make sure to wear long-sleeve shirts and pants to cover our skin as mosquitos bite in the evenings.
Long sleeves are also great for sun protection and we wore them on desert walks in Namibia and a canoe safari on the Zambezi River. Temperatures aren’t always hot, as morning and the mountains can often be very cool a long sleeve shirt provides more versatility. They’re also stylish and a classic look to sport in Africa.
See Our Recommendations For shirts
On an average day, we spend our time in a classic tee-shirt. It’s pretty hot in Africa and it’s tough to beat the comfort of a short-sleeve shirt. Our absolute favorite technical shirts are the Outdoor Research Echo shirt.
That being said almost every shirt you pack for Africa should be loose and light-colored. It gets bloody HOT in Africa and the last thing you will want to be wearing is a skin-tight blacktop.
One Nice Outfit
Just because you’re traveling to Africa does not mean it’s all villages and wild bush. We found plenty of reasons to dress nice from concerts, bars, restaurants, and even vibrant art scenes. Especially if you’re in many of the major cities from Cape Town to Nairobi or Accra we’ve found plenty of bars and restaurants.
I would definitely recommend throwing at least one dress into your Africa packing list. Of course, if you happen to find a local fashion designer it’s always great to support local businesses!
Outside of big cities, it will be hard to find a swimsuit. For women, one of the best brands for swimsuits I’ve found is Andie Swim. They make amazing swimsuits that fit as nicely as they look. Many of their pieces are stylish yet supportive. They’re perfect if you plan to go surfing, bodyboarding, kitesurfing, or go snorkeling while in Africa.
Cameron loves Quicksilver’s Amphibian shorts. The material looks like heavy cotton, but they’re super lightweight and durable. Best of all, they look great on the beach or in town.
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This all depends on where you are traveling, but you might be surprised to find out Africa can get really chilly in the evening and mornings. We saw freezing temperatures in South Africa, snowboarded in Lesotho, and had to bundle up for the perpetual spring of East Africa.
Check the climate before you head off on your trip and if you’re traveling extensively you’ll definitely encounter cold evenings. Consider it a necessity on your Africa packing list or at least something warm. When we spent a full year in Africa we were thankful to have both a great fleece, but a down jacket too.
A great item to have in Africa is a shell jacket that is designed to protect you from the wind and rain. They’re tremendous at protection from the elements like rain, wind, sleet, and even snow. Of course, there are days where no jacket will protect you from the torrential downpours of the rainy season like the photo above in Zambia.
I have several shell jackets that I cycle throughout the year, but the one I reach for the most is my Arc’teryx Zeta LT Jacket. The LT line from Arc’teryx is the lightweight line and it packs down well in my backpack. I can even wear it in the winter as a waterproof shell over my down jacket. If you want more help we have a post on our favorite hiking jackets.
Nothing fancy here, but for the most part you aren’t winning any fashion awards in the bush. I absolutely love Handful’s sports bras. They fit incredibly well and have removable pads, can be worn multiple ways, and are smooth, non-chafing, and quick drying. Seriously, they are the best sports bras I’ve ever owned!
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You should try to pack several pairs of sports underwear. In general for a typical trip, we’ll pack five to seven pairs of underwear. We recommend at least several pairs of underwear that are made from wool or a synthetic material.
These materials are antimicrobial so they stay fresh longer and they can dry quick overnight if you hand wash. For women, it’s best to not wear your typical cheap cotton undies. Women’s hygiene is important so undies that are antimicrobial when you’re active in the heat are a lifesaver.
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I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back. A barber can be pretty tough to find in Africa, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf, face covering (dust), and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun in Africa since you’re near the equator. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses. Our first trip to Africa was with $5 pairs from the side of the road.
What To Pack For Africa
Camera with Telephoto Lens
If you can swing the money and are going on an African safari I would highly recommend investing in a proper camera. Those lions don’t look quite as majestic on an iPad. If it’s your first time on safari or traveling around Africa we have a great post on the best safari cameras.
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We live in a digital age and I hate to say this but…our phones are our lifelines in Africa. They are our maps, our news sources, our online social lives, and yes they are even used as telephones to get around.
We always get a local sim card when we arrive to a new country. Data is super cheap in most of Africa so there is really no excuse not to get a SIM card. Granted sometimes it can be more hassle than it is worth.
One of the last things when considering what to pack when visiting Africa is an adaptor. Most of Southern Africa uses the plug M. We arrived in Johannesburg without this adaptor and were stuck venturing around the city at night looking for one (not ideal). The further north you go the more you will see the British “type G” plugs. I would recommend getting a good one on Amazon before arriving.
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Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa as you’re close to the Equator. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the African sun and it can be very hard to find in grocery stores in Africa (and when you do find it the pricing will be insane).
We highly recommend getting an eco-friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals. They’re mineral-based and usually only cost a few dollars more to help protect our oceans. If you’re not going to swim in the ocean just go with a reliable name brand.
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Grayl Water Bottle
It’s not advisable to drink tap water in most of Africa so we carry a Grayl Water Purifier. This is a purifier, not a filter. The Grayl water bottle system purifies water vs. filters. Purification removes viruses and virtually removes all threat of waterborne illnesses.
We previously used the Lifestraw Go and had good experiences with the bottle for the most part. However, it is a filter and not a purifier which is effective, but not perfect. Luckily, we’ve never had food poisoning in Africa (shocking!). However, we distinctly remember our entire hostel in Morocco getting sick from the water, but not us thanks to our filters.
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Walking around and taking part in everyday activities in Africa can get pretty dirty. It was also a reoccurring theme to find hand soap nowhere. You can’t go wrong bringing some hand sanitizer and baby wipes in your bag.
We’d recommend packing a bottle of insect repellant that has DEET in it so you’ll scare away those annoying biting demons. It reduces the chances of Malaria or Yellow Fever.
Keep in mind that DEET can destroy plastics so mind your sunglasses or camera when applying. It’s good to bring a small bottle, but it’s easy to find great insect repellent all over Africa as it’s commonly used to prevent malaria.
Dehydration in Africa is a real concern and should be taken seriously. These tablets should have your body back to normal should you happen to fall sick. You may not need a whole bottle so take a few in a plastic bag or pill holder to save luggage space in case you need it.
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Pillow and Sheets
Certainly not a necessity when packing for Africa but comes in handy when you get to a room and find the conditions are…less than desirable. A sleeping bag liner or even a sleeping bag also does a great job at this!
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If you cherish your teeth then make sure to pack extra floss before you get to Africa. Toothpaste and toothbrushes can be found just about anywhere. However, we had a hard time finding dental floss.
I have terrible eyesight, but I also hate wearing glasses. Contact solution isn’t easy to find in Africa and when you do find it it will be expensive. If you wear contacts make sure to add some to your Africa packing list.
Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights.
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Medical Packing List for Africa
Medication For Malaria
Many people think that malaria is similar to the flu and isn’t that serious – this is not the case. Malaria is very serious and if not treated can even lead to death. Do your research and determine if you are traveling to a malaria zone on your African trip.
Most of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and much of Northern Africa are not affected by malaria. Malaria is a vector-borne illness and spread by mosquitos, and mosquitos require water to live and reproduce. It’s very rare to find Malaria in arid climates.
My advice is to wait until you land in Africa to get your malaria medicine, it is cheaper and I find the information to be better than Western doctors who can barely diagnose the symptoms. If you don’t have the time to get medicine after you land in Africa make sure you have enough for your entire trip before your departure.
There are two different types of medication used for malaria prevention, Malarone and Doxycycline. It’s best for those on a short trip to take some form of malaria prevention as both come with their own batch of side effects.
In all our time in Africa, we have only taken prevention for about two weeks while in Malawi because of its high risk. Numerous months on end taking a drug posed too much risk to our bodies. Some volunteer programs require their members to regularly take some form of medication. It’s also worth picking up the treatment over the counter if you can when you land in Africa (Mozambique and Malawi sell it OTC).
The key to malara prevention is to avoid mosquito bites in the first place! Wear long sleeves in the evening/night, spray insect repellant, and use a mosquito net at night.
If you forget medicine at home, don’t panic! Pharmacies are located in many of the towns and cities around the continent. We were able to find everything we needed when we landed in Johannesburg. However, it’s a good idea to have a decent first aid kit if you’ll be remote like some Peace Corp volunteers.
- Diarrhea Medicine
- Aspirin or Ibuprofen
- Antiseptic cream
- Butterfly Suture (This actually came in handy one night in the bush…)
- Calamine Lotion
- Burn Cream
- Mosquito repellant
- Antibiotic (You can get these OTC outside of the US)
You Should Definitely Get This!
We never travel without travel insurance, like World Nomads. I’m a bit of a worrywart and would rather stay safe than sorry. World Nomads offers incredible flexibility and great plans!
You never know if the worse could happen while you’re abroad and often your insurance plan at home will not cover medical emergencies abroad. Having the peace of mind that we have a good backup plan helps us sleep at night.
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How To Wash Your Clothes in Africa?
You’ll always be able to find local women who will wash your clothes for you. For a small fee, they will hand wash, hang dry, and many times iron your clothing for an affordable price. It’s a great way to support local families as women can do the work at home.
I highly recommend seeking them out. We do so by asking our accommodation staff for recommendations, many times it was one of their close relatives who did it for us.
Africa Packing List Summary
All of these items I personally have and have tried and tested throughout Africa. Whatever you bring remember that you will be able to find most things that you need in Africa (especially in the capital cities), but outside of them you will have a very tough time.