So, you’ve decided to really dial up your backpacking game and head out to glorious South Africa for your next travel adventure. Excellent decision – we couldn’t be more excited for you!  

The beauty of South Africa is that you can find Western comfort commodities if you want them – like in the Western Cape – or venture off into more remote areas and get a taste of the more indigenous, raw side of Africa. There are so many things to see and do because its regions are so diverse – but that also makes knowing exactly what your South Africa packing essentials much less clear.

But not to worry because we’re here to help! We’ve made this South Africa survival guide for you, our fellow backpacking friends.

So, read on and take it all in. By the end, you’ll be a South Africa packing pro and be ready to experience all the magical adventure that awaits.  

Let’s get to it.

The Ultimate South Africa Packing List

After reading this post you should know exactly what to bring to South Africa and what you don’t need to bring.

The Backpack and Luggage: Nomatic Travel Bag

Nomatic Travel Bag

Before you even take on the task of figuring out what to pack for South Africa, you’ll need an amazing backpack to pack it all into. For all types of travelers and destinations, our number one recommendation is the Nomatic Travel Bag.

The Nomatic travel bag covers every detail to make backpacking travel the best experience. Because of its smart design, it manages to provide loads of packing space in a convenient, carry-on size package! Its handy built-in pockets make plenty of room for all the necessities on your what to pack for South Africa checklist – you’ll find separate compartments for important items like shoes, water bottle, electronics, underwear and socks. As an added bonus, there’s also an RFID-safe and cord management pocket.

You have a choice between backpack or duffel bag carry, and extra carrying comfort for your back thanks to its innovative strap system and detachable sternum strap. And its black, waterproof material is every bit sleek and modern as it is durable and tough. There is a reason why most Broke Backpacker staff swear by this backpack. 

Alternative Luggage: AER Travel Pack 2

black backpack
Storage options are very important.

Our number two selection for an epic travel backpack is the AER Travel Pack 2. Like the Nomatic Travel Bag, this AER backpack is fully featured, big enough to hold an extended weekend of clothing, and tough enough to last years of travel abuse. 

I have taken the AER Travel Pack 2 on multiple trips and since then it has risen has in the ranks of my go-to travel backpacks. 

Check out our AER Travel Pack 2 review to learn more.

A Suitcase: Nomatic Carry-On Pro

best wheeled luggage

Backpacks not your thing? That’s ok. Our friends at Nomatic are back again with a great alternative to their badass Travel Bag; the Nomatic Carry-On Pro. 

This suitcase is ultra-durable, sleek, and comes with a handy tech compartment for transporting your laptop and other electronic bits. Nomatic has been an industry leader when it comes to travel gear and that reputation is reflected in the quality build design and functionality of the Carry-On Pro suitcase. 

Check out our Nomatic Carry-On Pro review to learn more about this epic suitcase. 

The Camera: Fujifilm X-T3

For most of us, our smartphones now feature cameras with stunning capabilities. However, a Smartphone camera won’t do any justice to the raw beauty of South Africa and will barely even capture a giraffes long neck. If you are an aspiring photographer who wants to take next-level photos beyond iPhone selfies, I recommend going with a mirrorless camera like the Fujifilm X-T3

fujifulm travel camera sensor
source: Karlis Dambrans (Flickr)

This camera is not a camera for total amateurs per se. It does deliver pro-quality photographs and video if you are an aspiring content creator. Think of a camera purchase like this as a long term investment that will have you taking epic shots well beyond your time exploring South Africa. 

If you are looking for something cheaper and more portable for video, go with a GoPro 8 or an even more affordable GoPro Alternative. Gotta film those rager pool parties right? 

What To Pack For South Africa: Personal Gear

South Africa does get some pretty diverse weather depending on which part you visit and the time of year. It is not always hot and humid and can get chilly and wet. Other than that, you need to bear in mind that the real magic of South Africa is in the outdoors so need to bring some proper gear to experience it with.

South Africa Checklist

Here are our picks for what to bring, and what to wear in South Africa.

Good Walking Boots: Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Hiking Boots

best hiking boots
I am a big fan of the Lowa Renegade boots.

If you are going on Safari, trekking or headed up the mountains then proper hiking boots are an absolute must. If you only pack one thing for South Africa, then make it a pair of good boots.

These are our pick from Low as they are comfortable, durable and well priced. They also look kinda OK – if you are packing for South Africa and need some boots, get these in your bag.

Good Rain Jacket – Arcteryx Beta AR

Arc'teryx Beta Sl review
I appreciate the trim fit of the Beta SL Hybrid…

Did you know that the surface of the earth is over 70% covered in water? And you know how that water got there? Yep because it tends to here rain here on planet earth quite a lot! South Africa does get some heavy rain (because somebody blessed the rains down in Africa perhaps?) and you do NOT want to be caught out in the bush without a jacket.

There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wing gear for it. Don’t let a bit (of a lot) of rain ruin your trip and make sure you are ready with some top notch rain gear.

This is our pick of the many rain jackets we have tried. It’s reliable & stylish and looks good worn out in the mountains or in city bars.

Swimwear

Swimwear

There will be plenty of chances to get in the water down in South Africa so make sure you bring good swimwear. From beautiful beaches, to blue lagoons to hotel pools, taking a dip is the perfect way to cool down when the heat get’s too much.

Travel Insurance From World Nomads

Whilst your South Africa trip will probably end trouble free, there is no denying that the country can be VERY dangerous and stuff can go wrong. Firstly, the cities do have serious crime issues and tourists have been robbed in the past. Then there is a risk of tropical disease or the outside chance of being chased by a rhino (it happens)!

I admit I traveled for many years without having travel insurance. Because of it, I paid the price a few times in foreign hospitals. Don’t let this happen to you and get yourself insured before you go.

We recommend going with World Nomads or SafetyWing. You’ll be happy you did when the time comes to use it.

Sun God Sunglasses

Sungod Glasses a must have while travelling

A reliable pair of sunglasses is undoubtedly one of your South Africa packing essentials. Our favorites are SunGod Sunglasses because they deliver on quality and style.

They’re built tough with triple-layer scratch-resistant lenses and trademarked Adventure-proof Frame Material. You can also customize them with your choice of lense and frame colors to reflect your own style. Plus they’re covered by SunGod’s lifetime guarantee of free repair. Check our in-depth review here.

Suncream: Thinksport Safe SPF 50+

Thinksport Sunscreen

By now, all of us are as pasty as the driven snow from sheltering in place for the last six months. Am I right? This means we are even more vulnerable than usual to the sun’s fierce rays. Packing sunscreen for South Africa may seem like a no brainer, but you would be amazed how many sun-burned cocktail-toting people you see wandering around. 

Thinksport Safe SPF 50+ sunscreen gives folks strong sun protection in a non-oily formula that’s free of gluten, paraben, phthalates and biologically harmful chemicals.

AR Toiletry Bag

best hanging toiletry bag Active Roots

Another backpacker/traveler favorite for staying organized is a hanging toiletry bag. It’s extremely helpful to have all of your accessories neatly gathered in one bag that you can hang for easy accessibility, especially when counter space isn’t plentiful or even available. A well-organized bag is worth having whether you’re tree whilst camping or a hook in the wall – it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.

Historically, I have been the guy who has my stuff all over the bathroom, so getting one of these things really changed the toiletry game for me. Plus they are not too expensive either. A no-brainer essential. 

Your Passport or Other Government ID

To enter South Africa you will need a valid passport. Make sure yours is up to date and check the visa situation in good time. You may also be asked to provide ID during your stay so we suggest bringing a few passport photocopies along too.

Money Belt – By Active Roots

money belt compressed png

There is no point denying that South Africa can be dangerous country and tourists are sometimes targeted by thieves.

Therefore it is always a good idea to use a money belt to hide your cash just in case something does go wrong.

Waterbottle – Hydroflask Vacuum Bottle 32 oz. 

Packing a reusable water bottle is probably the best thing you can personally do to combat single-use plastic bottle use whilst traveling. There is simply zero need to buy plastic water bottles. When the tap water is not safe to drink, you can buy big water bottles and fill this up each morning – it’s far more ecological than buying the small, single use ones.

We love the Hydroflask Vacum Bottle for its quality and because it keeps cold water cold for many hours and vice versa for hot beverages. This bottle is the ideal water bottle to get not just for your South Africa trip but for daily use. Please don’t be that person buying plastic water bottles. We are all judging you…especially mother earth. 

If you go with the Hydroflask, you’ll probably never need to buy another waterbottle again. 

ANTI-COVID PPE

source: Kit Leong (Shutterstock)

Let’s face it; for the foreseeable future, COVID 19 risk is just going to be a part of travel. How do we do our best to mitigate the risk while still traveling and experience life’s pleasures? Pack the right PPE gear. 

South Africa was hit very hard by COVID and therefore, you do not want to add to the problem.

It is absolutely essential that you pack the following items for your trip to South Africa to ensure you keep yourself and the people you will be coming into contact with safe from spreading COVID around like wildfire. 

The Basic Stuff To Pack For South Africa

the top places to stay in South Africa

On top of the essential items listed above, here is an additional suggested checklist of what to pack for a South Africa trip;

  • 1-2 pairs of comfortable pants/jeans
  • 1-2 pairs of shorts (summer/late spring)
  • A few pairs of socks
  • (Sexy) underwear x 2/3
  • Ladies: a few dresses, pants, outfits, or desired lady apparel for a night on the town. Whatever makes you comfy but NO flashy jewellery.
  • Dudes: A few collard shirts or something half-way decent for a night on the town. Whatever makes you comfy! 
  • Smartphone with a good camera for photos if you are not bringing an actual camera
  • Portable power bank for charging your phone on the go
  • Phone charger
  • Amazon Kindle for reading by the pool
  • Basic first-aid kit
  • Copy of your passport just in case
  • Cash (not too much, there are ATM machines everywhere
  • Packable Towel

Final Thoughts on What to Pack for South Africa

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of your South Africa survival guide! Consider yourself fully briefed on everything you need to know about what to pack for South Africa. Remember to focus your efforts on all of the information we provided: the top-23 needs packing list, tips on what to wear in South Africa and how to pack for the seasons you choose to travel; there are also our packing suggestions specific for women and men, and what NOT to pack for South Africa.

Now it’s time to breathe, relax and concentrate on packing smart – remembering that less is more. And don’t worry because everything you need can be found in South Africa, and it’s ready to greet you with open arms.

Happy trails!

Also – don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.

Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation through the site, The Broke Backpacker will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support helps me keep the site going.