Packing for Africa – Top 5 Best Items to Bring (and What to Leave at Home)

After years of travelling in Africa, our team have got packing down to a fine art.  This allows them to minimise the weight of what they bring along, while maximising usefulness.  It also allows them to hit the road at a moment’s notice, which is useful when that desire to chase the sunset hits. This […]

Nov 2, 2023

After years of travelling in Africa, our team have got packing down to a fine art.  This allows them to minimise the weight of what they bring along, while maximising usefulness.  It also allows them to hit the road at a moment’s notice, which is useful when that desire to chase the sunset hits.

This article covers the Top 5 Items to Bring when packing for Africa, specifically when a vehicle is also involved, however many of the suggestions are also relevant to backpacking without a vehicle.

So here we go!  These are, in our opinion, the best items to bring, when packing for Africa.

  1. Clothing Options

While the humidity in most of Africa is fairly low, the dry heat will ensure (for the majority of the year at least) that you can pack light clothes.

Our team, in sub-Saharan Africa, will always opt for a selection of Hawaiian shirts normally with board or cargo shorts to match.  The benefit of this light fabric means you are less likely to sweat, and from a packing perspective you can easily roll up the shirts to minimise the amount of space taken up in your bag.

Yes, roll… not fold.  The additional benefit of Hawaiian-shirt-esk fabric is that it never appears creased, so you can roll these shirts into a small ball in your bag, and know that they are always ready for wearing.

You might also want to add in an Africa Rally vest top in order to allow your Hawaiian shirt of choice to remain open and loose around your shoulders.  These are designed with a small Africa Rally logo on the front, and the words “When’s Your Next Adventure?” printed on the back – as modelled below.

2.  Tools
While overlanding in ridiculous (often old) vehicles, it’s usually a good idea to have a couple of tools with you in case an impromptu fix is required while in the middle of nowhere.  That said though, there’s no point bringing half the garage with you if you’ve no idea how to use it – we’ve made that mistake before!

Prioritisation is therefore key.  Know what you are likely to need for your vehicle, and know what is easy enough to borrow from a friendly neighbourhood mechanic.  We’d suggest at a minimum you think about packing these items:

  • Cable Ties
  • Flat Head Screwdriver
  • Star Head Screwdriver
  • 13mm and 10mm Spanners
  • Tow Rope
  • Portable Air Compressor
  • Jack & Spare Tyre

The tow rope is key because if you can’t fix or bodge whatever has gone wrong at the side of the road, flagging down the next vehicle to pass and asking for a tow into town is always an option.  Most individuals having been in this situation once or twice before, are happy to help.  Our team has in fact been towed across both Tropics… more than once.

Top Tip:  When under tow try to ensure the tow rope is tight at all times, and make sure it’s fixed to your recovery point underneath the car (not the bumper).  Coming up with hand signals to communicate with the person doing the towing is also a good idea.

The best place to be towed to?  Well, we would recommend asking to be towed to the next petrol station.  On all occasions when we have gone for this approach, the owner or manager of said petrol station has known a mechanic who has been able to help.

3.  A Paper Map
In this age of digitisation it’s easy to think we can rely on Google Maps, GPS devices, and our mobile phones in order to find our way around.  Although this may be true for a large area of the world, these devices will inevitably lead you astray in Africa, and potentially result in you missing out on some awesome interactions.

Paper maps, especially if provided by a reputable company such as Tracks4Africa, will be infinitely more accurate than Google, and also have the added benefit of never running out of battery.

They additionally open up the discussion of “left or right” at that ominous fork in the road, allowing the adventurer to get lost without getting truly lost.  All else fails, there’s no problem with stopping for directions, opening out the whole map on the bonnet of your vehicle, and waving people over in order to help get you back on the right track.

This approach also transcends language, so if you are in the middle of the Sahara Desert lost in Mauritania for example, without needing to speak each other’s languages, you can still be quite literally pointed in the right direction.

4.  Basic First Aid Kit
This is one so often forgotten by people while packing, and while we all hope nothing goes wrong, having a pack of plasters and some mosquito cream to hand can make the difference between instant relief and a very long day.  Small injuries happen out on the road through the most unexpected of situations.

It could be that one bolt that refuses to loosen on your vehicle, after being wedged in place for 40 years.  It could be your co-driver deciding to use a hunting knife to cut up limes for your evening’s Tequila Sunrise… either way, a basic first aid kit is always a useful item to pack.

One final added benefit of this is also if you come across someone outside of your group needing help.  We would advise approaching the scenario with caution, unless you are of course a qualified doctor or nurse, but having the right equipment to help goes a long way.  It also makes you an officially awesome human being for stopping to help.

5.  Tradeable Goods
There is a fair amount of personal preference involved in this category, however we’ll provide a few examples which we’ve seen work well over the years, then leave it up to you to get creative with this.

Tradeable goods are a nice way to say thank you for someone helping you out, and to ensure you’ve had a lasting effect on their lives.  These could be as simple as a cool drink for an officer stuck out in the heat on a checkpoint in the sun, or as lasting as a pair of Africa Rally sunglasses.

Africa Rally Sunglasses, surely an essential item when packing for Africa.

Africa Rally Sunglasses, surely an essential item when packing for Africa.

These are provided free of charge to Africa Rally Teams, and handed out at our Start Line Party, but they are also available from our Website Shop, in case you wanted to get yourself a pair ahead of your own trip.

There is always of course the argument of simply bringing cash, however this does set a dangerous precedent for future travellers, as it’s important to remember that not everyone is travelling with your budget.  In situations where cash is the only option, we would recommend carrying low denomination notes in local currency, and if you are bringing foreign currency (likely US Dollars), no more than $5 notes kept separately to your day to day wallet.

An ash tray in your vehicle doubles up nicely as a change holder!


There are of course lots of other optional items which we know many of our team travel with, such as a good book, or a few home comforts, but in our opinion these are the Top 5 Best Items when packing for Africa.

What would you bring with you?  What items do you pack when undertaking an overland trip?  Do let us know in the comments, or feel free to email our HQ team on info@africarally.com

About the Author

British adventurer, explorer, and Africa Rally organiser, Paul Clayton, has been lost, stuck, and usually found himself in highly unsuitable ridiculous vehicles on all continents, but Africa is by far his favourite. Since first taking part in a charity rally between the UK and Mongolia as a university student, he has both led and participated in further events, such as the Plymouth - Dakar Rally, the Peru Monkey Run, and is now also the owner of the world's first flying monkey bike. He writes from personal experience, and is never afraid to dive in head first, often without fully knowing what he is doing, but safe in the knowledge that he'll find his way. Do get in touch with Africa Rally HQ, if you've a mad idea for an expedition, and want him to get involved.

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Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I will definitely bring earplugs (you haven’t met my co-driver yet 🙂 )

    Reply
    • Paul Clayton

      Charming! …it can’t be Dirk though, as we have indeed met – he swung by the workshop in September.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Even in the UK, driviNg a modern car, I tend to carry jump leads. A flat battery can leave you stranded

    Reply
    • Paul Clayton

      Very true Kevin! I think I’m so used to push starting the Cortina (with the help from friendly strangers, or quickly jumping in) I forget about jump leads – good advice though.

      Reply

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