What to Pack for Namibia: Camping in the Desert

Considering how many times I’ve packed my suitcase in the last year alone, I may very well put ‘pro packer’ on my CV. Wake me up in the middle of the night, and I can throw together my stuff in a matter of minutes, with the light still off. Well, most often. When I was wondering what to pack for my trip to Namibia, the situation was slightly different. Not only had I never been to Africa before, but I’d also never been camping. My childhood summers spent in a caravan on the Croatian coast don’t count. This is sleeping in a tent in the middle of the desert we’re talking about. Now throw in limiting baggage allowance as well, and you’ve got yourself one very stressed out Sandra.

what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia sesriem

Just when I did tons of research, bought every never-owned-before item on my to-pack list, and thought I finally had everything under control, the reality set it. I put my sleeping bag and my sleeping mat in my suitcase, and there was about 5 centimetres of space left for the rest of the hundred items I was supposed to take with me. Luckily, four meltdowns and a genius idea later, I somehow managed to squeeze almost everything in. Who would have thought you could turn a hole of the sleeping mat into a snack drawer, a closet AND a beauty cabinet?! With my suitcase full to the bream (although as light as ever at only 15 kilos), I hopped on the plane and hoped for the best.

what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia spitzkoppe

Here’s what I ended up taking with me. Turns out, I did quite alright! I only had to buy a couple of extra items in Namibia, so I can now confidently say, below is the list of things you’ll need to survive three weeks of camping and traveling around one of the most magical places on planet Earth.

WHAT TO PACK IN YOUR CARRY-ON

  • Passport
  • ID
  • Plane tickets
  • Accommodation confirmations
  • Driver’s license
  • International driver’s license
  • Travel insurance
  • 2x copies of all your important documents in case your documents get lost or stolen. Upon arrival, I always keep one copy in my backpack and one in my suitcase.
  • Wallet with at least two credit cards and cash to exchange into local currency.
  • Pen to fill in the customs declaration form on the plane.
  • Notebook that carries all your important travel information and passwords, plus you can use it to jot down your memories.
  • Mobile phone + charger
  • Power bank + charger
  • Camera equipment, which in my case includes two cameras (Nikon Z6 and Canon G7X Mark II), extra lenses, extra SD/XQD cards, extra batteries (take as many as you have), battery chargers, a microphone, card readers, etc.
  • Laptop if you’ll need it to transfer photos, otherwise don’t bother. Also note that the sand gets everywhere, so I would avoid any laptops on the expensive side. I wasn’t brave enough to take my MacBook Pro with me, so I bought a cheap, basic Asus Notebook for this trip.
  • External drive to transfer photos (if you wish).
  • Charger with 3 usb slots is my favourite to travel with, as I can charge several devices at the same time, without occupying extra sockets. There’s never enough sockets! Especially when you’re camping – one per camp site is the standard.
  • Car charger to charge your phone and camera batteries while driving. We didn’t have access to electricity for three days in a row, so it came in very handy.
  • Travel adaptor is of course a must, just make sure it’s the right one – Namibia has unusual sockets. If you can’t find it in your homeland, you can just get one from a supermarket in Namibia. They’re not hard to find.
  • Headlight to be able to function once the sun goes down. Making your way to the toilet, setting up a tent or cooking dinner is mission impossible if you don’t have one. The reason you should put it in your hand luggage is because batteries of any kind aren’t allowed in hold luggage.
  • A few days worth of clothes just in case your luggage gets lost. Unfortunately, you can’t just pop into Primark and quickly gather some clothing essentials in Namibia, so pack a few pairs of underwear, socks, two T-shirts, a pair of shorts, and a pair of long, comfy pants.
  • Jumper and a warm (winter) jacket, as it gets absolutely FREEZING at night in the desert. You can wear both on the plane.
  • High protection sunglasses
  • Contact lenses (if you wear them)
  • Multi-purpose cream/balm that can treat chapped lips and dry skin – the desert climate really wreaks havoc to your skin. I took a tube of Paw Paw Cream, which is also great for bites and hair finishing. Love a good multi-tasker!

P.S. For my carry-on I always use the Herschel’s Retreat Backpack, which doubles as my day-to-day backpack on pretty much all my travels. I take a considerate amount of camera gear with me, so I need something spacious, but small enough to fit under my seat if I’m flying with a low-cost airline. I can squeeze A LOT into it. It’s almost like the Mary Poppins bag!

what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia
what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia

CLOTHES & FOOTWEAR

  • Underwear for as many days you’re going.
  • Socks
  • T-shirts
  • Jumpers
  • Shorts
  • Long travel pants
  • Leggings or sportswear
  • Swimsuit (some camping sites have pools)
  • Fluffy socks to sleep in when it gets super cold.
  • Beanie to sleep in when your ears are freezing at night.
  • Summer scarf mainly for sun protection in the car.
  • Sun hat/cap to wear in the desert during the day.
  • PJs
  • Towel that dries fast. If you take a shower at night and leave in the early morning hours (which you probably will all the time), you won’t be able to dry a big, fluffy one properly. I went for a microfibre towel that not only dries fast but also takes a lot less space in the suitcase.
  • Small towel to wash your face/hair. I just took a normal one.
  • Bag for dirty clothes, which also comes in super handy for taking your clothes to wash at the campsite and to put them away when you’re in the shower.
  • Sneakers – you don’t need proper hiking shoes, just something comfy to walk in, with a closed front (the sand is HOT). I had my Nike Free Runs.
  • Flip-flops is what I wore most of the time, and they’re essential for taking a shower in the shared camp site bathrooms too.

How many pieces of clothing you’re going to take with you obviously depends on the length of your stay and whether you’ll have the opportunity (or the will) to wash them. I took a week’s worth, as I didn’t have space for more in my suitcase, and hand washed them at every opportunity. One piece of advice, though – don’t pack anything nice. The sand goes everywhere and all your clothes will get dirty and turn orange at one point or another. Basically, take the things you’re okay with being ruined.

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COSMETICS AND TOILETRIES

  • Tissues for nose blowing (dry air ain’t kind to nasal passages) and toilet going needs.
  • Anti-bacterial wipes
  • Sunscreen with SPF 50
  • Aloe vera gel in case you get a nasty sunburn.
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Hair brush
  • Dry shampoo in case you won’t have time to wash (and dry) your hair.
  • Hair ties
  • Shampoo + conditioner
  • Shower gel
  • Deodorant
  • Razors
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Baby wipes to come to the rescue when you don’t have access to water and can’t shower.
  • Super hydrating cream (desert dry skin alert)
  • Travel laundry detergent
  • Medicine – whatever you can think of, as I haven’t seen a single pharmacy. Some of the things I took are plasters, pain relief pills, allergy pills, cold/flu medicine, rehydration salts, probiotic powder, active carbon, nasal spray, insect repellent, eye drops, tea tree cream…
  • Makeup and tools – I didn’t end up wearing/needing any, but I had tweezers, a nail file, nail scissors, CC cream, a brow pencil, mascara, concealer, makeup brushes, an eyelash curler, and a little mirror.
  • Micellar water that you can use as a makeup remover. I just used it to clean the dirt off of my face. Lol.
  • Cotton pads
  • Face wash
what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia

CAMPING GEAR

  • Sleeping bag for below zero temperatures – I was told the one for down to zero degrees Celsius was alright, but it was not enough to keep me warm whilst we were sleeping in the desert. My whole body was shaking from the cold despite putting on my winter jacket and my beanie as well! When we moved up north, a thinner sleeping bag was enough, though. I even slept in nothing but shorts and a T-shirt in the end.
  • Self-inflating mattress – I took a sleeping mat with me, which turned out to be the worst idea ever, as it did NOTHING. I felt every rock on the ground and every bone in my body! Luckily, my fellow travellers had a spare self-inflating mattress, and they’ve kindly let me borrow it. It saved my life!
  • Inflatable pillow
  • Reusable cutlery
  • Reusable cup
  • Reusable plate
  • Reusable bowl
  • Zip-lock bags to protect items like food and camera gear from the sand.
  • Massive bin bags to cover your suitcase with, again, to avoid the sand getting everywhere.
  • Rope and pegs for drying clothes.
  • Extension cord with several outlets.

We rented a tent and all cooking gear at the same company we rented a car from.

what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia

OPTIONAL EXTRAS

  • Binoculars for safari
  • Food – I’d advise you to take some with you in case you have special dietary requirements. The big supermarkets have a decent selection, but special items are harder to find. The food can be brought into the country without a problem. There’s no need to declare anything.
  • Alcohol to ‘disinfect yourself’ – I had a bottle of vodka with me, but didn’t have a single sip. Potential dehydration freaked me out more than bacilli.
  • Reusable water bottle – we were buying the 5 litre water bottles to share for cooking and drinking, and gave the empty ones to the locals. They really appreciate it, as they use them to carry the water from the well/river to their home.
  • Pencils and candy for local kids
  • Tripod in case you want to do some astrophotography.
what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia milky way
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