Let’s cut to the chase here people – South Africa is just one of those bucket list countries you HAVE to visit!
Little known fact coming up, but South Africa was actually the first country I visited as a backpacker outside of Europe at the tender age of 19!
It blew me away then and this country has continued to blow me away on every subsequent trip I’ve made since!
From glorious coastline and amazing surfing opps, to incredible safaris and wildlife spotting experiences (yes I’m looking at you penguins!), right through to a fascinating cultural narrative and rich traditions, South Africa just about has it all.
Oh and that’s without mentioning the amazing city of Cape Town, where you could easily spend a week or 2 and still not see everything!
So from Table Mountain to Kruger National Park, the Durban beaches to the wonderful wine regions, here’s the only packing list you’ll need when it comes to being fully kitted out for the ultimate South African experience…
Oh and if you’re looking for a great tour in South Africa too, then check out these great options!
- The Complete Cape Town Itinerary
- 15 Best Things to Do in South Africa
- How to Book a Cheap South African Safari
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Keep Luggage Weight Down!
Before I get onto the actual checklist of what you should pack for your trip to South Africa, I wanted to write a quick few tips to cover some specific questions you might have.
First up, this packing list is designed to be lightweight i.e. it’s ideal for backpackers, but also for anyone else heading to this country who doesn’t want to haul massive suitcases around.
If you’re moving about South Africa, which you definitely should by the way, then lugging massive bags on and off buses or flights is simply no fun, so this packing list is designed to make sure you have everything you need, for every inch of this country, without being too weighed down!
And if you manage to condense your stuff down well, then this whole South Africa packing list below should fit into a 40-50l backpack (or a medium suitcase).
I never take anything bigger, even when I’m travelling for 6 months at a time, so you’ve got no excuse!
This 50l Atmos backpack from Osprey makes a great option and would be brilliantly accompanied by some good packing cubes!
Yes these guys are the answer to all your packing problems my friends, and if you want to compress your gear to take up less space, as well as have it nicely organised, I highly suggest you get some!
I absolutely love packing cubes and personally would never consider heading off to Africa, or indeed anywhere, without them!
Packing for a South Africa Safari
So while we’re on the subject of keeping the luggage weight down, it’s worth pointing out that the main checklist below does detail everything you need if you plan to safari in South Africa too, which I highly suggest you do!
The main overall advice here is to bring layers that are thin, but that still protect you from humidity, harsh UV rays and insects etc.
A thin, light waterproof / windproof jacket will be very handy when packing for a safari at dawn or dusk and, as always, I recommend garments with lots of pockets so you have easy access to things like tissues, camera, sanitiser, snacks etc.
You may even want to think about a warm hat and socks depending what time of year you are visiting this country.
A silk sleeping bag liner will also be useful, especially if you enjoying any multi-day safaris on a budget, most of which involve camping.
And no matter whether you’re tackling a big adventure safari in a remote park, or just a day activity close to Cape Town, an active camera like the Go Pro will be ideal with its waterproof, compact and durable attributes.
And if you are still looking for your perfect safari adventure in South Africa, don’t forget to check out these recommended options, which give you loads of flexibility over dates and parks.
Packing For Your Flight to South Africa
It’s also worth taking some time to think about what to wear on a flight over to South Africa.
Making sure these items tie in as much as possible with the checklist below will help you keep your packing light as you won’t be doubling up or carrying unnecessary things you won’t wear again until the flight home.
Quite simply, layers are key.
You never know how hot or cold a plane might be and if you want to get some sleep, comfy clothing is king.
This is especially true given flights to South Africa from North America, Europe or Australia / New Zealand are long haul, so I’d certainly advise wearing things you feel at ease in.
I always wear leggings on long-haul flights and love these natural bamboo fibre ones from Boody, which I now never travel without.
I pair them with either a thin cotton top or dress (depending how much coverage you want) and then also take a sweater and a scarf on the plane for extra cosy layers.
The travel wraps from Sholdit, which have hidden security pockets are perfect for travel adventures and I love mine!Compression flight socks are also a must in my book when it comes to long haul flying as they help you avoid the possibility of DVT and I pair these with a lovely eye mask and ear plugs to ensure I get some good zzz.
A travel pillow will also help you here and I love this one from MLVOC, thanks to its memory foam, high-sided design.
FYI, a travel pillow will also come in handy if you’re taking any long vehicle journeys in South Africa too… which you definitely will!
Otherwise, if leggings aren’t your thing, then loose-fitting jeans or comfy cargo pants might be a good option. Pairs these with a t-shirt and thin sweater on top.
Small Essentials Kit for Travel Days
I always travel with a small bag of essentials when I take long-distance flights.
Normally this is a small, plastic ziplock bag (so it passes airport security liquid checks) with toothbrush and toothpaste, floss, small facewash, small moisturiser, lip balm, tissues, wet wipes, spare underwear and compression flight socks all tucked inside.
But it’s not just on the flight to South Africa I would use this.
Nope, given the long-distance vehicle rides which are a fundamental part of travel in this country, I found it very handy to keep this small essential kit packed and ready to go with me throughout the trip.
Instead of packing it away, as I normally do when I arrive in a destination, keeping this small pack of essentials constantly topped up and included as part of my hand luggage in South Africa was so handy for when I had to catch long-distance buses or drive long distances.
Knowing I could always brush my teeth, or have toilet paper handy, was a game-changer and I strongly recommend you having a similar, essentials kit with you in South Africa too.
Ultimate South Africa Packing List
And so finally here it is – my item by item checklist for exactly what to pack and wear in South Africa…
1x Thin Waterproof / Windproof Jacket
Because it’s so far south, this country can actually get colder in the autumn and winter months, and Cape Town can be very windy at almost any time of the year!
As such, taking a thinner jacket to protect you from wind and rain showers, and that you can layer on or off when being active, makes a lot of sense.
I love the North Face Venture 2 which is also ideal for any hiking or mountain time you might enjoy in South Africa as well.
2x Thick Hoodies / Sweaters / Fleeces
Again key to keeping warmer in the high altitude areas of the country, as well as on any dawn or dusk safaris, you’ll definitely want some thick, cosy sweaters on your South Africa packing list.
A good thermal one, like this Columbia thermal fleece is well suited to the job as it is designed for active travel and is perfect for hiking and camping.
2x Thin Long-Sleeved Tops
Good for cooler days or when hiking / travelling, thin long-sleeved tops are also good when you need to layer as they can be worn under thicker jumpers.
Choosing a good natural fibre like cotton or bamboo is a good choice for budget vs wear, as these fabrics are more durable and garments made from them won’t have to be washed as much.
Choosing dark colours will be better for safaris too and they won’t show up the dirt as much!
7x Singlets / T-Shirts
Choose tops that match the trousers / leggings / shorts you choose to pack and consider quick-dry options.
T-shirts are good for covering shoulders and offering more sun protection in the harsh heat that you’ll find in South Africa in the summer months.
2x Pairs Long Pants / Trousers
Great for going out in the evening, wandering around cities when it’s a bit cooler or rainy, or enjoying wine tours, a couple of pair of versatile trousers are a must when it comes to what to pack for South Africa.
I think 2 is a good number to cover a wide range of activities from city strolling to nature time.
2x Pairs Leggings / Hiking Pants
One of my travel essentials, leggings are so helpful for putting under trousers if cold, for hiking or exercising, for being comfortable, for extra nightwear or for under a casual dress in the evening.
If you have room, my advice is to take 2 pairs and make them bamboo fibre ones if poss, as these guys are soft, light, comfortable, breathable and hypoallergenic… what’s not to love?!
If you don’t like leggings, hiking trousers or loose-fitting pants will do instead as they are also good for travel days or if you plan to undertake any volunteer work.
2x Pair Shorts
You’re going to need something to wear during those hot days in South Africa, especially if you’re in Cape Town during the summer when hitting the beach is a must!
1x Light Dress / Tunic
Again, a good item for city days or beach days, or both!
A light dress is also good if you want to dress up a bit during the evening and you can also wear this over a pair of leggings!
You see, so versatile!
I always recommend a couple of scarves whenever I travel because they are so versatile.
Great for hiking or trying to keep your neck warm or sweat out of your eyes, the list goes on and on!
Travel wraps like this one from Sholdit are also ideal for keeping valuables safe on long bus journeys (care of their secret security pocket) when you might want to dose off too!
1x Beanie / Warm Hat
Great for when you’re at altitude or camping or hiking, a warm hat will keep you amazingly warm.
During cooler safari rides, say at dawn and dusk, (because don’t forget those vehicles are open-sided!) you’re also likely to appreciate one too!
1x Cap / Sun Hat
Something to shield your face, neck and ears from the strong UV rays that are very prevalent in South Africa.
2x Swimwear & Sarongs
South Africa has some of the most beautiful beaches going, so make sure you come fully prepared with 2 swimwear options and a sarong or 2 for that quick beach dry, lightweight option!
7x Pairs Underwear
Small and compact, 7-8 pairs will save you a lot of handwashing!
2x Bras + 2x Sports Bra
Small and great for hiking, sports bars can also be useful on bumpy safari rides!
I really love this black, padded one from Nike.
5x Pairs Socks
Make sure you take socks of various lengths / thickness, including ankle socks for city days and good, anti-blister over-the-ankle socks for hiking activities.
Make sure the sunglasses you travel to South Africa with offer UV protection.
You can always double up on your daywear here to save room!
1x Pair Trainers / Runners
In general, safaris in South Africa can be enjoyed with just trainers.
Boots aren’t really necessary unless you’re undertaking some seriously big walks or are visiting during winter here.
These New Balance black trainers are great all-rounders.
1x Pair Pumps / Flat Evening Shoes
Either converse or pumps are great for exploring cities and towns on foot, as well as pairing with something a bit smarter if you’re heading out for dinner or going to a wine tasting event.
1x Pair Flip Flops / Sandals
Personally I’d never travel anywhere without my Arizona Birkenstocks.
Thin Toiletries Bag with Hook
A light and thin wash bag is essential for keeping the weight in your backpack down.
Hooks are handy for hanging up your washbag in a bathroom – especially if it’s shared.
Shampoo & Conditioner Bars
I also go for shampoo and conditioner bars when I travel to save the plastic and keep the space down!
Although they are a bit pricey, they last for ages.
Say goodbye to mid-travel spillages and bulky bottles people, this is the eco-friendly future!
Keep in a ziplock bag to prevent from getting soap slime on everything you own!
I suggest an anti-bacterial bar as they are great for keeping you clean in tropical climates where you’re likely to be sweating a bit!
I always pack a natural crystal deodorant as they last forever (great if you’re travelling for a few months) and are free from many nasty chemicals.
They are also the only thing that stops me from sweating in the African heat!
Face Cleanser, Serum, Toner & Moisturiser
Great for bringing your skin back to life after any strong sun or dry desert days!
Choose a 30 SPF or higher for those hell-strong rays in South Africa and go natural if you can to keep the chemicals out of your skin.
Natural Bug Repellent
See my post about how to make your own DEET-Free insect spray, or else there are plenty of ready-made, great products on the market – like this plant-based one.
This doubles as a great moisturiser, soother and aftersun.
Buy some here.
SPF Lip Salve
Very important for those strong UV conditions if you want to keep your lips healthy and happy.Burt Bees are always my go-to as they never dry out my lips.
Tea-Tree Essential Oil
A powerful antiseptic, anti-mould and anti-fungal treatment.
Also great to throw in a few drops with your washing and ideal for freshening up smelly bags / laundry etc.
Get an organic tea-tree oil if you can.
An ideal remedy for headaches, sore muscles and insect bites, tiger balm is super versatile and a must on my South Africa packing list, especially if the mosquitoes love you as much as me!
Paracetamol, Antihistamine, Antiseptic Cream & Band-Aids
The only medicine you need to take!
Most other things you might need can easily be bought in South Africa.
The best way to deal with your time of the month when travelling ladies.
Check out the best prices for them here.
Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Floss
Razor & Spare Blades
Nail Scissors, Nail File & Tweezers
Cotton Buds / Pads
Hair Bands & Hair Brush
Safety Pins & Tweezers
Glasses / Contact Lenses if you wear them
Eye Mask & Earplugs
Key for sleeping in hostels and on those long South African travel days.
This eye mask from Alaska Bear is super comfy… go on treat yourself!
I recommend Latrek when it comes to the best travel towel because they are cheap, compact, soft and don’t smell.
Love, love, love mine!
Read my full review here.
Definitely needed for hiking, sightseeing and safari days, this Kompressor from Marmot is perfect for the job as it’s super featherweight, water-resistant and packs down to nothing.
Very useful for locking up bags and valuables when staying in hostels or on bus rides, these don’t have to be expensive, just reliable!
Best to get a TSA-approved one in case of any hassle at the airport.
Filter Water Bottle
Try not to add to the world’s plastic problem and consider travelling with a filter water bottle like one from LifeStraw.
Not only does this mean you can safely and easily drink the tap water anywhere in the world, but it will also save you the money and hassle of having to buy bottled water.
Much cheaper and more environmentally friendly, the LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle has amazing technology that filters out 99.9% of harmful bacteria and the filter lasts for 4000 litres, which means you’ll likely only have to replace it once a year!
Travel Handwash & Travel Washing Line
Great for doing emergency washing, such as underwear in a sink, travel handwash is always a must when I backpack anywhere.
It’s a given on this South Africa packing list when it comes to rinsing your sweaty undies after a good day hiking – yum!
So useful in South Africa for beach days and diving trips, these small and compact guys are great for keeping your electrical equipment dry when you’re at the coast.
Check out this top-rated one for ideas.
Silk Liner & Sleeping Bag
If you’re doing any camping in national parks or during safari, these will come in very handy.
I always recommend a silk sleeping bag liner to keep you sweat-free and a Snugpak sleeping bag, which packs up really small and is perfect for travel.
Smartphone & Bluetooth Headphones
Taking your smartphone to stay in touch with those at home, checking maps, booking accommodation and uploading some pics while you’re in South Africa is a great idea.
Also download some audiobooks and music onto your phone before you leave home – a great tip for journey days especially.
I recommend Amazon Audible and Spotify Premium for these purposes and wouldn’t travel without either these days.
Bluetooth headphones are the best because you don’t have to deal with any wires getting caught up!
Portable power packs are great when travelling, especially if you’re out sightseeing all day and worried about your phone or camera battery lasting.
I recommend the Anker Powercore, it’s light and can charge my iPhone 12 Pro around 3 times!
I love my Sony A6000 mirrorless camera, which I used throughout my travels in South Africa and beyond.
Light, compact and sturdy, it’s perfect for travelling.
A GoPro Hero is also a great idea to help capture the more active adventures you might have in this country such as hiking or mountaineering.
It’s also great for video!
Lens, Spare Battery, Memory Card, Chargers & Cleaning Cloths
All essential for the camera and / or the Go Pro,
South Africa uses European and British style outlets, so come prepared with a Skross World Adapter that won’t fail you!
Headlamp & Spare Batteries
I never travel anywhere without a headlamp and recommend you choose a product that uses commonly found batteries and has a red night light function to avoid the bugs.
I love my Black Diamond number, which has served me very well across Africa, especially during those occasional power cuts!
You can easily get an affordable pair like these Binoteck ones, which are ideal for safari.
Documents & Paperwork
Passport & Photocopies
Definitely take a colour copy of your passport with you to South Africa and keep it with you at all times.
Taking a photo of your passport and storing it safely in your email account is also a good idea.
Depending where you’re from, of course, you may or may not need this.
Always good to have with you wherever you travel.
Travel Insurance Policy
World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.
Credit Cards and Debit Cards
Make sure you have a current account and debit card that doesn’t charge you for transactions or ATM withdrawals in South Africa no matter how much you withdraw or spend.
The easy way to spend abroad with real exchange rates, no markups and no sneaky transaction fees, I always travel with my Wise card.
It works just like a debit card and links easily with Google and Apple pay. Grab yours here.
Hidden Cash in Small Thin Purse
Take some USD as well as Rand with you that can be used in case of an emergency.
Sadly, at some point, it’s going to be time to go home *sob sob *
PIN IT TO PINTEREST!
And there it is, my ultimate South Africa packing list and the only one you’ll ever need!
Designed to be practical, while keeping things light, I hope I’ve covered all eventualities with this item by item checklist
Have any questions about what to wear in South Africa?
Did I miss anything out on this packing list?
Please drop any comments into the box below and I’ll get back to you…
2 thoughts on “Only Packing List for South Africa You Need!”
What time of year is this designed for? I’m going in the winter time (July). Thank you so much!
Hi Courtney, this packing list is designed for all months of the year, but has an emphasis on summer visits as that is when most people head to Cape Town. July is during the winter months, as I’m sure you are aware, so stock up on the waterproof and warm clothing if you’re heading to CT at this time of year – it can be wet, cold and definitely windy! Happy travels, Steph 🙂