South Africa Kit List - Operation Wallacea

Expedition Information

South Africa Kit List

The objective is to take the smallest amount of equipment needed to be comfortable and safe. Always aim to buy equipment that is compact, light weight, durable, quick drying, versatile and in good repair. You may find that you have suitable gear already, so don’t feel you have to buy everything new. Shop around and price everything before purchasing anything. Some items you may be able to borrow from friends or relatives, pick up second hand, or get deals off the internet.

We have done some research and certain outlets will give you some excellent deals if you mention our name. In the UK our main contacts are: Nomad Travel (0207 833 4114), for the terrestrial projects whilst Watersports Warehouse provide good deals on any marine equipment needed please email with Dive Voucher in the subject box and we will send you a copy. Please mention that you are joining an Operation Wallacea expedition when you contact them and you should be able to get a further discount on the published prices.

In North America Back Country Gear and US Outdoor Stores have a good selection of equipment for the forest for volunteers in the US, whilst Mountain Equipment Co-operative is the best for Canadian volunteers. Scuba Store has a good range of marine equipment with outlets in both the US and Canada.

Try out your kit in realistic circumstances if at all possible before your expedition, especially new boots which can often need time to fully mould to the shape of your feet, and even more specifically new boots which should be soaked and worn till they dry on your feet to prevent blisters whilst trekking. All baggage, clothes and kit should be clearly labelled to avoid confusion. There are many volunteers, and some may have the same or similar items to you. Valuables are very occasionally at risk. Please make sure you have insurance, record all serial numbers and keep all receipts. Remember to carry all personal documents and cash safely in a concealed money belt.

The sections below relate to equipment for terrestrial projects, marine projects, medical kits and relevant books.

230V electricity is available at many of the camps. You will need a South African plug adaptor since they use 3 large round pin plugs.

If you need to contact home or friends when on expeditions you should be able to use your normal mobile phone although reception is very patchy in the various reserves. Changing to an MTN sim card in South Africa generally gives you the best coverage. There is no internet access at most of the sites, so it is best to tell your friends and family that you will mainly be out of touch during the expeditions.

Please note that this is a general list designed to give advice relevant to all our sites within South Africa and Swaziland. However, the sites vary considerably and as such you will be sent a kit list tailored to your specific expedition closer to your start date. If you would like more information on what is needed for your expedition before this, please email Dr Heather Gilbert on

What to take for terrestrial based projects

Hiking boots. Make sure your boots have firm ankle support, a semi-flexible sole with good grips and dry relatively quickly. Light-weight Gore-tex boots (or a cheaper equivalent) are a comfortable and sturdy solution.

Rucksack or Large Travel Bag. Please bring a large rucksack or hold-all. Lowe Alpine and Karrimor are both good makes with adjustable back systems, though other makes also have this feature, providing a more comfortable fit. Many packs on the market today are not ‘rucksacks’ but ‘travelbags’ and there is a big difference. Rucksacks are built for wearing for longer periods, whereas travelbags are designed for carrying between bus stations and airports. Decide what you want not only for now but for the future. Due to the nature of the South Africa Expeditions you will not need to be trekking long distances with all of your kit, and so a rucksack is not essential.

Day bag/Small rucksack. Needed for your field work for carrying water, paper, pens, binoculars, cameras etc.

Waterproofs. For our northern sites, a plastic poncho or lightweight rain jacket is useful, although it very rarely rains at this time of year in northern South Africa and Swaziland. Expensive heavyweight Gore-Tex raincoats are not recommended – they are hot and may get snagged and torn. At our site on the southern coast of South Africa (Gondwana) waterproofs are essential as rain is much more common.

Sleeping Bag. It can get extremely cold at night (below freezing), so we recommend a 3-season sleeping bag. It is also worth taking a sheet sleeping bag that can be used as a liner for your main sleeping bag.

Roll Mat. This is only needed for the marine site – Sodwana.

Water bottle/platypus, etc. A combination of leak-proof plastic bottles (total capacity at least 2 litres) is imperative. There are many styles to choose from – it is not necessary to get anything fancy, though if you do want to invest in one of the ‘hydration systems’ on the market (Platypus, camelback, Ortileb) they do have the advantage of packing flat when not in use. Nalgene do a heavy-duty wide mouthed bottle with a measuring gauge.

Torch. Some form of torch is essential, preferably a head torch which leaves your hands free. Make sure you take lots of batteries as it is not always possible to re-charge batteries and access to shops is limited.

Insect repellent. As it’s winter, the mosquito count is fairly low, but it is still recommended that you bring insect repellent and use it in the evenings. DEET is not recommended due to it’s impact on the environment, but there are natural alternatives such as Ecoguard and Mosi-guard Natural that are very effective.

Clothing. It is vital that you do not bring lots of bright coloured clothing for your time in the bush, as this will seriously impact on the viewing of game. Please bring neutral coloured clothes as much as possible (e.g. khaki, beige etc) and avoid black and white wherever possible. Temperatures can drop below freezing at night so make sure you bring warm clothing. It is also advantageous to pack as lightly as possible and bear in mind you will have to do your own laundry at most sites.

  • Lightweight long baggy trousers (1 – 2 pairs)
  • Warm trousers/combats for morning surveys (1-2 pairs)
  • Cotton t-shirts for undershirts (3-4)
  • Fleece top/warm jumper (2-3)
  • Warm coat/jacket
  • Cap
  • Warm woolen hat/beanie
  • Socks (6 pairs at least)
  • Woolen gloves
  • Knickers/underpants (6 pairs at least)
  • Bras (2-3)

Towel. Travel towels are perfect as they’re lightweight and quick drying, alternatively a small/thin towel, or sarong works well. Don’t bring a standard towel as they’re bulky, heavy and take a long time to dry. If you are visiting the marine site, bringing a second towel or sarong for use on the beach is also recommended.

Sunblock. An important part of any African expedition kit, although at the time of year you will be in South Africa the temperatures will not be particularly high. However, the sun can still be fierce and a factor 25+ is recommended.

Teva type/reef sandals or flip-flops. After a long day’s working in the bush you will want to let your feet breathe. The advantage of Tevas are that they stay on securely in water if you are also going to the marine site. Alternatively Croc sandals can be used.

Notebooks/pencils. These are a necessity for all fieldwork.

Binoculars. These are essential for all bird projects and highly desirable for game viewing. 8×40 is the minimum recommended.

Desirable Items
The following items will come in useful, but are not essential

Head Torch. These are more convenient than normal torches, particularly for going to the toilet in the night! Don’t forget spare batteries!

Watch with alarm. It doesn’t have to be anything technical. A travel alarm clock will also do. However, a waterproof (up to 50m) watch works best as you can also use this while diving.

Sunglasses. We wouldn’t recommend bringing expensive sunglasses.

Camera. Bringing a digital or standard camera will enhance your experience but is not essential. If you have one bring it — you will come back with some amazing pictures.

Mobile phone. Your hand-phone, if it is tri-band, will work at most sites in South Africa although reception is patchy. An MTN Sim card purchased in South Africa gives the best coverage of most sites.

Laptop. Essential if you are going to be gathering data for your dissertation. At most sites there will be limited access to electricity to recharge your batteries.

Hot water bottle. Lovely for the really cold nights!

What to take for marine based projects

All of the equipment that you need to dive (with the exception of a wetsuit, swimsuit, and a dive watch/computer) is available to hire on site. If you plan to continue diving in the future, it might be well worth investing in your own kit. If you would like to invest in your own equipment, most divers would recommend that your first purchases should be a wetsuit, then a mask and then fins.

Dive Training Courses
All those learning to dive will need to bring the following items:

PADI Open Water manual
PIC – allows you to register completion of the course.

You can find information on purchasing these from

If you want to buy these items elsewhere, please remember that the PIC is rarely included with the training materials, but it is still required. You can buy them on their own from us, but they’re £30 (or equivalent) each.

You will not be able to complete the Open Water course if you arrive on site without these items.

If you are already a qualified diver, we will require proof of your dive qualifications on site. You will also need to bring with you your completed log books, and PADI medical forms (if applicable, see below). We do accept non-PADI qualifications, as long as it is equivalent to or more advanced than PADI Open Water.

PADI Forms. You must complete these online via the Opwall portal ( at least 3 months prior to travel. If you need a form signed by a doctor in order to dive then you must bring this form with you to site.

Logbook. A simple A5 sized hard-back notebook will suffice although you can also buy specially designed PADI logbooks on site or as part of your PADI pack.

Dive watch or computer. This is not essential for the PADI Open Water course, but if you are planning on doing any diving beyond this, you will need a watch that is waterproof to at least 100m. Specific dive watches can be purchased for around £50, although you can pay considerably more.

Swimsuit. This is essential if you want to dive!

Wetsuit. You’ll need a full length 5-7mm wetsuit.

Dive equipment hire. We have negotiated a deal where if you are diving a full set of gear can be rented for £40 a week. Note this is a discount on the normal $14 a day charge but it has to be paid in advance and there are no refunds available. Snorkellers can rent a set of equipment for £20 a week. Payments will need to be made in advance of your expedition, and we will contact you regarding this around March before your expedition.

Please note that all dive equipment must be checked and serviced prior to departure, if taking your own kit.

Roll mat. Essential for those going to Sodwana.

Sleeping bag. It can get extremely cold at night, so we recommend a 3-season sleeping bag. It is also worth taking a sleeping bag liner that you can use for extra warmth and to keep your bag clean.

Waterproofs. A plastic poncho or rain jacket is useful, although it very rarely rains at this time of year in South Africa. Expensive heavyweight Gore-Tex raincoats are not recommended – they are hot and may get snagged and torn.

Medical Kit

Although every expedition will have its own medical supplies and medical teams on site, you MUST carry your own personal medical kit. This way you will be as self sufficient as possible and able to treat minor scrapes and injuries yourself, which is vital when, for example, you are involved in a bush training exercise. If you are travelling as a group or with friends, one full kit can be shared amongst you to share out the cost.

The following are essential items:

  • Sun cream (SPF 25+)
  • Insect Repellent
  • Antihistamine tablets (Piriton/Piriteze) and antihistamine cream
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Paracetomol
  • Ibuprofen
  • Rehydration salts (Dioralyte/Electrolade)
  • Alcohol swabs/antiseptic wipes
  • Plasters/Band-aids – assorted sizes
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Lip balm
  • Blister plasters
  • Sanitary towels/tampons
  • Sea sickness tablets or aquastraps/seabands
  • Antimalarials – if recommended by your doctor. Please note if you are diving you cannot use Larium

If you need to take prescribed medicines whilst on expedition, please bring sufficient supplies to cover your stay. For example if you are asthmatic you MUST bring you own inhalers, or if you have a history or recognized risk of going into anaphylactic shock due to an allergy, you must supply your own Epipen.
Always waterproof and clearly label drugs (with generic, rather than trade names). Occasionally there are restrictions on travelling with certain medicines. If you think this may be relevant to you, please contact your Home Office Drugs Branch (in the UK: 0207 273 3806).

Reference books for the South Africa expeditions

Although there will be adequate reference books on site for the surveys you might like to get some of the books listed below to help you prepare for the identifications and to help ensure that you get the most out of the expedition:

Sinclair, I, Hockey, P & Tarboton, W (2002) Sasol Birds of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Capetown. ISBN 1 86872 721 1

Newman, K (2002) Birds of Southern Africa, Struik Publishers, Capetown. ISBN 1 86872 761 0

Chittenden, H. & Whyte, I. (2009) Roberts Bird Guide: Kruger National Park and Adjacent Lowveld: A Guide to More than 420 Birds in the Region. Jacana Media, Pretoria. ISBN 1770096388

Kingdon, J (2015) Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Bloomsbury Natural History; 2nd Revised edition. ISBN 1472912365

Walker, C (1996) Signs of the Wild – a field guide to the spoor and signs of the mammals of southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Capetown. ISBN 1 86825 896 3.

Taylor, P. J. (2000) Bats of Southern Africa. University of Natal Press, Scottsville 3209 ISBN 0 86980 982 2

Reptiles & Amphibians
Branch, B (1998) Field Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles in Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Capetown. ISBN 1 86872 040 3

du Preez, L (2009) Complete Guide to the Frogs of Southern Africa. Struik Nature; Pap/Com edition, ISBN 1770074465

Van Wyck, B, Van Wyck, P & Van Wyck, B. E (2000) Photographic Guide to Trees of Southern Africa., Briza Publications, Pretoria.

“A field guide to the Seashores of Eastern Africa and the Western Indian Ocean Islands (second edition)”, edited by Matthew D. Richmond, published by Sida/SAREC – UDSM. 461 pp; ISBN 91-586-8783-1