What to Pack for Backpacking Africa

Deciding what to pack for travel in Africa, especially when you are travelling long term, covering multiple countries with different dress codes, cultural considerations, weather conditions and temperatures, can be a bit confusing!

But don’t worry, with this universal Africa packing list I’ve got you covered for pretty much every country and all situations!

What to pack for travel in Africa

Baggage

Backpack | When you are travelling around Africa, your bags are likely to get thrown about, strapped to the roof of a car and absolutely covered in dust, so I’d suggest you get lightweight but durable rucksack. A great choice for Africa is something like the Osprey Atmos AG 65, as it’s great for your back because you carry all the weight on your hips. Similar bags are the Osprey Aura AG 65 and the The North Face Terra 55. You can of course take a suitcase too, but I just find backpacks a better choice for navigating busy bus stations.

Packing Cubes | I am a massive fan of packing cubes. If it’s one piece of advice I could give you about packing, it’s separate your stuff. It just makes everything sooo much easier to find and keep clean! I love the Eagle Creek Pack-it Cubes as they are really good quality and they last forever (I’ve had mine for 8 years now), but there are a few different makes to choose from. I also sometimes wrap mine in a jumper and use it as a pillow when I’m camping or on overnight trains. Works like a charm.

Daypack | Having a small daypack like the Osprey Escapist or an Osprey Tempest is really useful for when you’re out on day trips or hiking. I also use this as my carry on for the plane.

Wallet | I always take at least couple with me and spread my money about. Only keeping the minimal amount that I need in the wallet I keep in my handbag.

Wash Bag | I usually take a wash bag that has room form general toiletries and the little bit of make up I take. I currently use this one from Lifeventure because it’s really durable and you can hang up away from minging, wet communal shower floors. But if you were economising, you could use little plastic freezer bags instead.

Buy There | I love picking up bags in the local markets and use these as my handbag when I’m going out at night.


Lion in the Serengeti - The Best Desinations for an African Safari

Electronics

Camera | Africa is a photographers dream, so you’re probably going to want to have a good camera with you. The first time I went, I took a very basic point and shoot which was a big mistake. But that was a long time ago and even basic cameras have come a long way since then. It doesn’t have to be a DSLR and you don’t have to be a professional to get great photos, but if you want to get good pictures on safari, you should at least have a good zoom.

I currently use an Olympus OM-D EM10 with various lenses. However, I got a lot of my really good pictures (like the lion one above) on my old Sony bridge camera and there’s a newer version of the one I have called the Sony DSC-HX400V.

Having a camera with wifi capabilities is a good idea too, so you can back up your photos and send them straight to your phone so you can Instagram away without having to transfer using a computer!

Camera Lens | If you have a camera with interchangeable lenses, as well as the normal lens, you may also want to consider getting a wide angle for all those epic landscapes and telephoto zoom lens for when you are on safari.

Go Pro | Not essential, but I also love my GoPro for adventure activities and in the water.

Memory Cards | Finding (good, authentic) memory cards can be difficult outside of the big cities, so take a stash with you.

Head Torch | Absolutely essential! Brilliant for camping, brilliant for dorms, brilliant for when the power inevitably goes out – take a head torch!

Kindle | For all of those looooong, neverending, bumpy bus journeys you are likely to take! You can find my recommended Africa reading list here.

Portable Charger | Hostel charging points are often located in the bar and can get a bit overcrowded. Bring a portable charger and have it ready for emergencies in case you can’t fully charge your camera/phone. Spare batteries for your camera are also worth considering!

Phone | Consider getting your smart phone unlocked so you can pick up local SIM cards along the way and then you have internet at your fingertips! You may need a copy of your passport to get a SIM card, so you can either take a few copies with you, or take your passport and the phone shop can usually copy it for you.

Adapters | Some places use UK plugs, some use European and some use South African plugs, so I usually take a variety of adapters with me. You can check the plugs you need here.

Chargers | Don’t forget all your chargers so you can use all your stuff!


Playing in the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

Clothing/Shoes

Africa can be really dusty, so the golden rule for every day clothes tends to be not to bring anything that you don’t mind getting dirty, especially if you are travelling overland or going on safari! I’ve lost or damaged many a lovely clothing item on my Africa backpacking trips.

But that’s not to say you shouldn’t bring a few nicer items too, as there will certainly be times when you’ll want to dress up!

What to wear on safari? Lightweight, breathable clothing is best, but you don’t have to be head to toe in khaki and wearing zip off pants!

If you’re doing any type of trekking, you can see my Kilimanjaro Packing List here.

Hat | The sun is strong, so protect your face and neck with a hat. I usually just bring a baseball/trucker style cap.

Warm Jumper | You’ll spend a lot of time outdoors, so to stay warm in the evenings, I usually take a fleece or thick hoodie. Also good protection against mosquitoes.

Vest Tops/T-Shirts | You’ll live in these, so take at least 3 or 4 very basic ones.

Long Sleeved Shirts/Kimono Top | A long sleeved shirt can be useful to cover up out of respect, from the sun or as a little extra warmth at night.

Loose Pants | Colourful, slouchy trousers can be found anywhere these days, so you could either bring some from home, your previous travels or pick some up at a local market in Africa. I bought my favourite pair in a little shop in a place called Bagamoyo on the Indian Ocean and bought another couple of pairs Nairobi and Zanzibar. Here’s a pair of hippie pants similar to mine. Linen pants are another good alternative.

Leggings | Great for wearing under shorter dresses in areas where you shouldn’t show your knees, for hiking or for protecting you against pesky mosquitoes.

Maxi Dresses/Skirts | These are perfect for throwing on for a nice dinner, trip to the local market or the beach. Take a couple of versatile and lightweight items that will work both day and night.

Sarong/Scarf | I always have a brightly coloured sarong with me for the beach, but I also wear it as a skirt and around my shoulders

Shorts | A pair of shorts or two is always useful in Africa. Maybe take one that are lightweight and breathable for activities like hiking or white water rafting, and then maybe a pair of denim shorts for lounging around in.

Jeans | The first time I went Africa, I didn’t take jeans and I really regretted it. They’ll be too warm to wear some places but really come in handy in others.

Flip Flops | When I’m in Africa I tend to live in Havaianas in the day time. They come in all different colours and are pretty durable. Since I bought my first pair I haven’t looked back.

Trainers/Boots  | At night, I tent to switch to trainers, because it gets cold at night and also to protect my feel from any creatures  or sharp objects I can’t see in the dark.

Swimsuit | There will be plenty of opportunities to get in the water, so bring your cozzie.

Underwear/Socks | Breathable materials are best! Sports bras are really good for the bumpy roads.

Sunglasses | The sun is stong, so protect your eyes! Plus they’ll make you look stylish in your photos!

Other | Items you might consider include nice sandals, walking boots and a lightweight waterproof jacket.

Buy There | Maybe get some clothes made whilst you are there, using the gorgeous chitenge/kitenge material you’ll find at almost every market. There are tailors in every town who can whip you up a little outfit in no time.


Cape Town

Reunited with my jeans in Cape Town.

Toiletries/Health

You don’t have to take everything with with you but if there’s anything in particular that you, I’d take it with you. But there are relatively big super markets in most cities and towns that have a lot your usual household brands so even if you run out, you can top up whilst you are there.

Cleanser | To be honest, I just use Dove soap on my face (I know some people who gasp in horror that I use soap on my face but it’s always worked for me) and you can get it in most supermarkets in Africa (I like the pink one which you can’t get at home) but if you like a proper cleanser, I’d take yours with you.  

Facial Moisturiser | Like in Asia, there seems to be a fascination with skin whitening facial creams, so I always bring a little bottle of my favourite moisturiser with me. I usually go between Olay Complete Care Sensitive SPF 15 and Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer SPF 30 depending on how rich I am.

Facial Sunscreen | Girls (and guys), look after your skin. I have long been a fan of Clinique Super City Block SPF 40 and always take a tube on my travels. I love it because it lasts for ages and it gives my skin a nice fresh look.

Heel Cream | Backpacking around in flip flops in the dry conditions wrecks havoc with your feet and within a week or two they will end up a sore, cracked mess. Before you go to sleep each night, just stick on a little bit of Scholl Cracked Heal cream and you’ll be right!

Nail Brush | Your nails (especially your toenails) will get really dirty with the dust, so I’d definitely recommend taking a small nail brush to keep you clean and dirt free.

Make-up | I don’t wear much make up when I’m in Africa, if at all, but for nights out, I take a tube of Maybelline Great Lash Mascara, a black eyeliner and my favourite blusher, Mac Pink Swoon. I use Clinique City Block instead of foundation.

Sun Lotion | Sun lotion can be expensive so I usually take it with me, however I try to keep covered up as much as possible and use sun cream sparingly!

Chitenge - Top 10 Unforgettable Malawi Experiences

Material bought in Zambia, dress made in Tanzania.

First Aid Kit | I always have a little Lifesystems Adventurer First Aid Kit with me. I usually buy a few extra items and stick them in there for emergencies, things like antiseptic cream, rehydration sachets, paracetamol, Tiger Balm and Immodium.

Insect Repellent | You can get good mosquito repellent in the cities, but it’s not always readily available, so I usually take a few bottles of Jungle Formula with me.

Anti-malarials | You could get all your malaria tablets at home, however they are expensive. I usually get a few from home, to start me off and then buy the remainder when I’m over there. Personal choice!

Tweezers | Good to keep your brows looking good and for removing splinters and removing ticks!

Sanitary Products | Usually take a few me, as they don’t take up that much space, you can of course buy them in all the supermarkets there but for convenience I try and take a supply. I also usually take a few sanitary disposal bags.

Hairbrush | Tangle Teezer hairbrushes are tiny and perfect for travel.

Buy There | Soap, wet wipes, razors, deodorant, hand sanitizer, shampoo/conditioner and body lotion/aftersun, toilet paper, cotton buds.


Victoria Falls in Zambia during High Season - The Beginner's Guide to Backpacking East & Southern Africa

Vest tops. Check. Sunglasses. Check. Denim shorts. Check.

Money/Travel Documents

Money | I suggest taking a mix of your own currency, dollars for visas and some activities and local currency (if available to exchange before you go).

Dollars | Most visas on arrival need to be paid for in dollars (always check though). The dollars should be in good condition and dated after 2006.

ATM Card | Visa is the most commonly accepted card in Africa so I’d ensure you have a Visa card, and it’s always good to have a bank account that isn’t going to charge you for taking cash out.

Passport | Remember you will get stamped so your passport should have enough pages to get you through your trip. They usually say 2 pages per country you are visiting, however they will usually stamp more than one stamp on each page. Just make sure you have a few left! And you should have 6 months left on the passport from when you enter the country.

Yellow Fever Certificate | Some countries require a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate to allow you to enter. You can find more info about whether you need a Yellow Fever certificate here and here.

Visas | You can get most visas at the borders, but some you have to apply for in advance so do your research.

Travel Insurance | Make sure you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy that covers you for everything you want to do and keep your documents with the emergency numbers handy.

Passport Photos | Carry a few spare passport photos with you in case needed for visas.


The Rock Zanzibar

Miscellaneous

Mosquito Net | Most dorms/rooms have them and if you do end up camping, you won’t need one so I’d probably leave this at home.

Gaffer Tape | Saying that, occasionally you’ll find that the mosquito nets have holes in, so I usually just bring a roll of gaffer tape, fix the holes and DOOM those suckers about an hour before I go to bed. Gaffer tape also works to fix broken bags

Jewellery | You’ll have an abundance of choice in Africa, so leave your expensive stuff at home and have some fun and support the local economy by haggling for some locally made items.

Towel | Substitute a proper towel for a microfibre towel. They are a bit crap, but they dry quick and are small.

Notebook/Pen | To keep track of all those amazing things you’ll be doing.

Padlock | For securing your stuff in the lockers in your hostels, a combination padlock is great.

Dobble | None essential, but this is THE best game ever. Great for playing with kids or adults.

Buy There | Washing powder.

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Africa Packing List What to Pack for Backpacking Africa

I hope you find this Africa packing list helpful and I wish you an AMAZING trip to Africa!


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21 Comments

  • Reply
    Wai
    February 23, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    I travelled with a Maglite torch. It might seem like overkill, but walking around unlit streets in west africa at night, it gave me both light and a simple weapon just in case!

    • Reply
      Helen
      February 28, 2016 at 6:42 pm

      Hi Wai,

      Yeah a torch is always good! Hopefully you won’t have to use it as a weapon!:)

  • Reply
    Alison
    February 27, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    I love your gaffa tape recommendation, I never travel without that and a few pegs – great for when you do need to wash a few things or fix a mossi net / curtains up X

    • Reply
      Helen
      February 28, 2016 at 6:43 pm

      Hi Ali,

      Yes pegs are a good shout!

      xx

  • Reply
    Ella
    February 28, 2016 at 9:59 am

    I highly recommend a microfiber towel… It was definitely one of the smartest travel purchases I made and saved me loads of time and space. Great post as always! 😊
    Ella recently posted…8 Free Things To Do in Melbourne, AustraliaMy Profile

  • Reply
    Rochelle Fox
    March 2, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    I love your recommendation. Thanks for sharing.
    Good vibes, Fox

  • Reply
    Osiris Tours
    April 9, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    Wow! what an amazing experience! Really thank you for sharing the great experience and packing tips for Africa.
    Love all the beautiful pictures, amazing work! Keep it up, Helen.

  • Reply
    Lynor
    April 26, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    Which sleeping bag did you use ? Thanks

    • Reply
      Helen
      April 28, 2016 at 8:08 pm

      I had a Rab Women’s Ascent 700 and a silk Lifeventure liner.

  • Reply
    MF
    August 8, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    I simply use gallon ziplock bags instead of packing cubes. Keeps everything waterproof and I’ve been using the same bags for years!

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 14, 2016 at 6:59 pm

      Good idea! 🙂

  • Reply
    Lucy
    August 9, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    Great list Helen. I’m travelling through Eastern & Southern Africa soon and stumbled across your blog a few months ago while I’ve been planning – it’s been a huge help, and a huge inspiration!

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 14, 2016 at 7:01 pm

      Thank you Lucy! Glad it helped! You have a cool blog! Have a great trip!

  • Reply
    Fie
    October 14, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    I really enjoyed your post! I am inspired of doing backpacking myself in a month or two. I am a single girl, working for an events promotion company in London where travel and trips is a quite popular category, I am continually getting overwhelmed about all the possibilities in traveling and where to go next! I can see Africa definitely is a good opportunity for great experiences!

  • Reply
    Lisa Schofield
    February 6, 2017 at 12:35 am

    Awesome pictures!!!!! Looks so fun! I like to camping in Africa too but it is so much work recently. Would love to get my self in these kind of camping trip. I actually did it a bunch of years ago and want to do it again next year! Looks like a great adventures!!
    Lisa Schofield recently posted…King Size Air Mattress – Top 5 PicksMy Profile

  • Reply
    Surabhi
    February 12, 2017 at 7:29 am

    Hello Helen,
    My husband and I are about to take off on a trip across Southern Africa. We will be driving from Cape Town to Nairobi. I know that we are driving through areas where malaria is a concern. I am curious as to what anti-malarial did you take and how long did you take it for? What were the side effects?

    • Reply
      Helen
      February 12, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      Hi Surabhi,

      I have taken Lariam, Malarone and Doxycline before. Personally, I prefer Malarone, as I found that it gives me less side effects. The longest I took this for was 6 months. Lariam gave me vivid dreams and some people have a bad reaction to it. Doxy can make you feel sick and have sensitive skin. There are lots of side effects that could potentially occur.

      I would advise that you go to see your doctor or a travel clinic who can talk you through the options. If you can, test them out before you go.

      Have a great trip!

  • Reply
    Pari
    March 2, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    When you are coming to INDIA….?

  • Reply
    Jasmine Hayden
    May 18, 2017 at 5:37 am

    Hi Helen, fantastic blog! I am planning a solo trip from the Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia region, through the garden route of South Africa. As I prepare for packing I am concerned flying from the U.S into first Ethiopia and the Vic Falls, then out of Capetown back into the states, with a check in versus carry on. Because I will be staying for close to a month I intended to bring a backpacking backpack, sleeping pad, tent, and sleeping bag, all of which I do not believe will fit in a carry on, though very compact and lightweight. Do you think it best for the sake of my belongings not getting lost in air travel to pack only a carry on and resort to other sleeping accommodations? I’m mainly concerned with what I’ve heard of high chance of lost luggage though I would personally prefer to camp. Thank you kindly!

    • Reply
      Helen
      May 18, 2017 at 2:15 pm

      Hi Jasmine,

      Hmmm, well that might be a lot to fit in a carry-on. Personally, I don’t think I could fit all that in a carry on, but I am not a light packer.

      Option A, you bring a check in bag and hope for the best. The likelihood is your stuff will get there ok! Just make sure it’s labelled well with your address at Vic Falls. Maybe book a hostel for the first couple of nights.

      Option B, travel carry on and buy all your camping stuff there?

      Option C, make other arrangements.

      I reckon you’ll be fine with option A but can’t 100% say! Out of all the people who came on my last trip, one lost her bag. But it wasn’t the girl who flew through Ethiopia. This girls bag got lost in Amsterdam!

      How are you getting around??

      • Reply
        Jasmine
        May 19, 2017 at 2:11 am

        That’s reassuring! I’ll be getting around via bus and taxi for the Victoria Falls region, then when I get into South Africa I will rent a car. I’m still configuring the best way to get from Vic Falls to Johannesburg because the buses are a lot more economical than the flights however I’ve been unable to find any set schedule times, I assume because August is a bit aways. The buses I am finding from Livingstone/Vic Falls area say they only leave once or twice a week to other regions so that would make a big difference. Long story short, hopefully bus or train, flight if need be!

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