The Africa Packing List Items You’ll Want to Have • 2020 Update

Are you wondering what clothes to pack for Africa? Packing for Africa can be downright daunting unless you have a handy Africa packing list. Whether you’re on an overland safari, a mission trip, or just traveling around the massive continent making sure you’re well packed for Africa is essential.

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 bare essentials so you will want to make sure you arrive equipped.

Champagne On The Rufiji River

When Packing for Africa, Keep in Mind


Africa is a huge and vast continent and naturally, the climate varies from what time of year you are visiting to where you are going. I know you have probably seen the movies about Africa where people are decked out in khaki and dark green clothes, with their safari hats, 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 have you covered here!

This Africa packing list is a guide for everyday travel around Africa. We traversed the continent and spent over a year traveling around Africa. After all that time, we like to think we have nailed down what to pack for Southern and Eastern Africa.


The Ultimate Africa Packing List


Essential Africa Packing List Items


Hiking Shoes or Boots


If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.

I love my Merrell Moab Ventilators and have been going strong in them for two years! Check out my other recommendations on women’s shoes, and we have a post on the best safari boots.

I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land 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. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.


Shower Shoes


Speaking of thin rubber sandals, unless you’re staying in only five-star resorts 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 we’re very 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.


Sandals


what-to-pack-for-africa

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 is great for being comfortable on long travel days and under the hot African sun, like in Namibia.

I travel with my Rainbow leather flip flops as well as my Teva Hurricanes which get me through anything.

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 in busy dirty streets.


Sarong


Walking out from The Tides Lodge

You will 100% be able to buy this from the local women around Africa, but if you want one before you land here is one that I love.

Sarongs are great for just about anything – covering up at the beach, drying off after a shower, or just looking cute as a skirt. It’s even common for men to wear them at night when relaxing.

Keep in mind that Africa is conservative in its dress so it’s best to have a decent length in the sarong.


Hiking Pants


Africa Packing List - Pants

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.

I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.


Loose Pants


I love wearing a relaxed pant when we travel. Their Women’s Mantra pants are made out of hemp and recycled polyester while offering 50+ UPF protection.

They are perfect for Africa, especially in the more conservative countries. These pants are lightweight and weigh nothing in a carry-on bag. I could literally live in these pants if it were acceptable to wear them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner out. Cameron has now found his favorite pair of pants in the men’s version which is the Vaha Pant.


Lightweight Long Sleeve Shirt


I wear my button up almost every night in Africa. Malaria is a real threat in most of Sub-Saharan Africa and it’s best treated by prevention.

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.


Lightweight Shirts


That being said almost every shirt you pack for Africa should be loose and light colored. It gets bloody HOT in Africa and trust me the last thing you will want to be wearing is a skin tight black top.


Buff


I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa.

I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!


Sunglasses


best hiking sunglasses

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 off the side of the road.


Comfortable Shorts


A good pair of comfortable shorts will keep you cool in the African heat.

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 safari vehicle for long hours throughout the day.


Warm Fleece


Best Fleece Jackets - Patagonia Synchilla

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.

Patagonia’s Synchilla Snap T Pullover fleece is the best fleeces for the travel in our opinion. The fleece has a classic relaxed cut that has a timeless look for a walk or sitting around an evening bonfire. It’s a double-sided fleece that provides plenty of warmth while remaining soft and comfortable.

They also make a great gift for travelers as they’re a wardrobe staple.


Sports Bras


I absolutely love Handful’s leggings and their sports bras are no different. 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!


Sunscreen


Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling to the 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.


Electronics for Your Africa Packing List


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. See all our camera gear below.


Drone


We get a ton of questions about our drone photography and videos around Africa. If you want killer landscape shots of Africa from above you’ll need a drone.


Smartphone


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 our telephones to get around.

We always get a local sim card when we get to a new country and top it up with data and airtime so that we can call the local numbers in case of emergencies.


Travel Adaptor


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).

I would recommend getting a good one on Amazon before arriving. The further north you go the more you will see the British “type G” plugs, which we also have on stock.


Laptop


We travel with our MacBook Pros to keep up with this website and also entertain myself with movies while I’m bored in the African bush. However, it’s probably not necessary for most travelers!

To accompany our laptops we travel with two 1 terabyte hard drives that house all our movies and photos!


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. The result, 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 tell you what the symptoms are. If you don’t have the time to get medicine after you land in Africa then make sure you have enough for your entire trip before you leave.

There are two different types 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 our last year in Africa, we took prevention for about two weeks while Malawi because of its high risk. 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).


Additional Medicine


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.

  • Diarrhea Medicine
  • Aspirin or Ibuprofen
  • Antiseptic cream
  • Calamine Lotion
  • Mosquito repellant: Can also be found at any supermarket in Africa.

Additional Africa Packing List Items


Swimsuit


The Beaches of Mozambique

Outside of big cities, it will be hard to find a swimsuit you are used to. One of my favorite brands for swimsuits is Solid & Striped.

They are stylish, yet supportive. So if you’re planning to go surfing, bodyboarding, kitesurfing, play beach volleyball, etc while in Africa and want to make sure your ta-tas stay intact these swimsuits are for you. Here’s $20 off any order over $100!

Cameron loves a good pair of board shorts from Billabong or Dakine. Both make great quality shorts that are lightweight and built for surfing so they stretch and move with the body.


At least one nice outfit


Inside the Hemingways Lobby

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 to Accra we’ve found plenty of bars and restaurants. I would definitely recommend throwing at least one dress into your Africa packing list.

My favorite dresses that look nice, but are still made for active women are made by prAna. I’ve traveled all over with their Cantine dress and can attest to its durability.

Of course, if you happen to find a local fashion designer it’s always great to support local businesses!


Grayl Ultralight Water Bottle


It’s not advisable to drink the tap water in most of Africa. We have the Grayl Ultralight Purifier. This is a purifier, not a filter. The Grayl water bottle system purifies water vs. filters which removes viruses and virtually removes all threat of waterborne illnesses.


Hand Sanitizer


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.


Insect Repellant


They love to hand around forests, ponds, lagoons, or anywhere with moving water – still water actually has the wrong ph in the Amazon. It’s pretty common for the unsuspecting travelers to leave with legs full of mosquito bites.

We’d recommend to pack a bottle of insect repellant that has DEET in it so you’ll scare away those annoying biting demons. And in a worst case scenario and it reduces the chances of Malaria or Yellow Fever. Just keep in mind that DEET can destroy plastics so mind your sunglasses or camera when applying.


Electrolyte Tablets


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.


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 do a great job at this!


Dental Floss


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.


Contact Solution


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.


Travel Insurance


africa travel

We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads.  Natasha is a bit of a worry wart and would rather stay safe than sorry. World Nomads offers incredible flexible 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.


Guide Book


Travel Tips - Guidebook

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.


Tips On Packing For Africa


Here are a few things to remember before you go on a shopping spree for your trip to Africa.

  • 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.
  • I like to travel around Africa clothes made from synthetic materials, linen or hemp as they dry fast and fight stains. You’re often faced with very humid climates and it’s easy for clothes to get funky.
  • Just because it’s Africa doesn’t mean you should toss style out the window. I would recommend packing at least one dress or skirt for nice occasions. We have a women’s safari clothing guide with stylish options.
Safari Clothes for Africa
  • Dark shades of blue attract the dreaded tsetse fly, which is found throughout parts of Tanzania, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and other general pockets of Africa. So it’s best to try and avoid this color.
  • You’ll be able to find local clothing in many villages on the side of the road. The most common wear is a type of Batik print for women, you’ve seen those vibrant women before! It’s actually Asian in origin, but it’s hugely popular through Sub-Saharan Africa and easy to find everywhere.
  • If you need new shirts or pants, big cities are your best bet for Western-style clothing. Outside of a few tourist hot-spots where you can find nice gift shops.
  • 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.

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5 thoughts on “The Africa Packing List Items You’ll Want to Have • 2020 Update”

  1. What a helpful and thoughtful write up ! Really appreciate your insights and simple explanations – makes it seem manageable all of a sudden! Takes the angst away – thanks!

  2. Maybe not tone deaf, but the wrong choice of words. What we mean is it’s not all bush and villages there are nice restaurants, bars, and even fashion trends set by many Africans.

  3. Hey, don’t forget books! Twenty years living in Africa taught me that I’d be sitting around waiting a lot of time. E-books and the ability to get them on line changed my life. But, what to read to prepare or enjoy the places you’ll find yourself? I’ve got ideas on that…

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