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 it’s important to make sure you’re well packed for Africa.
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.
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 and where you are headed. 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 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.
The Ultimate Africa Packing List
Clothes For 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.
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 were 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.
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 being comfortable 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 in busy dirty streets.
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.
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 Stretch Zion 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.
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 pant 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 pant blend that is the perfect material that feels stylish and comfortable.
A good 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 night time. 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.
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. One of my favorite brands for swimsuits is Andie Swim. They are stylish, yet supportive. They’re perfect if you plan to go surfing, bodyboarding, kitesurfing, or play beach volleyball while in Africa.
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!
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.
For men, Cam has several pairs of Saxx Underwear. If you’re unfamiliar with Saxx it’s the underwear that has a small pouch for your business. After, extended use I can say it’s a phenomenal feature that works perfectly. There is no need for adjustments when putting them on and off. The result is exceptional comfort that does an effective job of pulling away moisture and heat.
For women, it’s all about personal preference, but 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. You have two options underwear material synthetic or wool.
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!
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.
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. If it’s your first time on safari or traveling around Africa we have a great post on the best safari cameras.
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. Please keep in mind to follow local regulations and rules. The last time we traveled the contienent was when they were first released and no regulations had been passed.
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.
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.
We travel with our MacBook Pros to keep up with this website and entertainment when we’re bored in the African bush. However, it’s probably not necessary for most travelers!
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 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. 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).
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
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.
Grayl Ultralight Water Bottle
It’s not advisable to drink 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.
We previously used the Lifestraw Go and had good experiences with the bottle for the most part. However, it is a filer and not a purifier which is effective, but not perfect. Luckily, we’ve never had food poisoning in Africa (shocking!). Definitely remember our entire hostel in Morocco getting sick from the water, but not use thanks to our filters.
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.
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!
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.
We never travel without travel insurance with 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.
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.
- 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.
- 15 Things We’ve Learned From Overlanding Africa
- How to Plan a Safari in Africa: A Step by Step Guide
- Ultimate Safari Clothes Guide: What To Wear On Safari In Africa
- The Best Safari Bags to Take to Africa