Packing for a trip to Ethiopia was daunting at first but as I started to piece it all together one at a time, I realized that what I needed was going to be very similar to my recent trip to Peru. This packing list is meant to be a thorough list of everything I’m bringing.
While it’s easy to find generic packing guides online, I’ve always found it hard to find specific ones because as a traveller I know that every trip is different with special considerations. While you won’t be copying what I brought verbatim because you will have your own style of travel as well, the hope is that this’ll give you a good foundation to work off of.
Where I’ll Be In Ethiopia
To set the context of what I’m bringing and why, it makes sense to talk about what I’ll be doing in Ethiopia.
The trip breaks down into two parts – 1) local tribes and 2) trekking.
- The villages – I didn’t know this before but the tribes of Lower Omo Valley are some of the last remaining villages that are left untouched by the outside world.
- The trekking – I’m hoping this trek won’t be as challenging as the Inca Trail but from what I hear I’m going to be in for a treat with the landscapes and endangered Walia Ibex and Gelada Baboons.
Like Peru, I faced the same challenges of having to deal with contrasting climates. In Omo Valley, things will be hot with temperatures hovering around 30°C (90°F) while the Simien Mountains average 18°C (65°F) with the nighttime temperatures can drop to near freezing. So like I said, you kind of need to pack for all sorts of weather conditions. The good thing I have going for me is that February and March are in the dry season.
For more details about the trip itself, make sure you head over to my Ethiopia trip announcement post.
What To Pack For A Trip to Ethiopia
Let’s break everything down from the top.
As a photographer, the age-old question of what backpack to bring to a trip is never as simple as “just bring one”. Travelling light is always something I’m striving towards but when you have camera gear you need to bring and you know you’re going to be trekking, things quickly become complicated.
My backpack configuration isn’t going to be changing much from my trip to Peru simply because 1) I don’t want to spend more money and 2) it worked for me.
- Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 50 Outdry – This backpack by Mountain Hardwear has proven to be a great piece of gear. After several trips, it’s held up very well and I am always comforted by the fact that it’s water proof. It’s just the right size and relatively light on its own.
- 3L Geigerrig Hydration Engine – The backpack has a slot for a hydration system like this one so it’s perfect. Water is critical for high altitude as I learned in Peru so I’m making sure I have my largest bladder in there.
- F-Stop Loka – I’m using this backpack as my daypack and the medium ICU inside will hold my camera gear.
Shirts & Underwear
Like I said, it’s tricky to pack for Ethiopia just because you get the extreme hot in the valley and then you have the other end of the spectrum where the Simien Mountains will possibly drop down to freezing at night. The key at the end of the day will be to hand wash my clothes and layer up as needed.
- Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Cube (M) with rolled shirts – I will be bringing 5 t-shirts this time around which is even less than Peru just because I’m hoping to go even lighter. 3 are quick dry and 3 are cotton.
- Assorted hiking socks – I’ll be packing 5 socks with the expectation that I’ll be washing along the way.
- Exofficio Give-N-Go Boxer – I have 5 of these and I’m going to be bringing them all. I love these because of how comfortable they are and how easy they are to wash (dries in a matter of hours). All the underwear will be organized in this color-coded Cactus Creek Mesh Bag.
- Long johns – On night 2 of the Inca Trail, I remember my legs freezing and wishing I had long johns. Not making that mistake again!
- Columbia long sleeve shirt – This is one of those loose fitting safari-type shirts with good ventilation and SPF protection. Having a lightweight long sleeve like this was critical as I learned in the Amazon. This gives me an option to hide away from mosquitos if it comes to it.
- Patagonia Capilene zip up base layer – I contemplated bringing multiple base layers for this trip but in the end I elected bringing just the one because this with the fleece will be enough if I need it. Plus I’ll be wearing a shirt underneath so there’s not too much worry about this getting dirty.
Pants & Jacket
This really doesn’t look all that different from what I brought to Peru and in fact it’s identical!
- Large Cactus Creek Mesh Bag – The black mesh bag is for the pants to keep things organized.
- Level Six Canyon Boardshort – Great versatile shorts that I can wear as regular shorts or as swim trunks.
- Uniqlo shorts – I’m a big fan of these capri-type pants for travel.
- Khakis – This one I’m still debating about. While I know that one pair of khakis should be enough, I distinctly remember my main khakis were quite disgusting after only having one pair on the Inca Trail and thinking it would’ve been nice to have a second one.
- Patagonia H2No Shell Jacket – This is a waterproof jacket that I can put on if I need an extra layer or need protection from rain. It’s lightweight and packable which makes it ideal for a trip like this.
- Zip-up fleece – Every packing list needs one of these if you need a warm layer.
I really wanted to go with one shoe on this trip but seeing as how hot it’s going to get, I knew I couldn’t leave without my sandals despite the extra space and weight it’s going to take up.
- Columbia Conspiracy Razor OutDry – I used these for the entire trip in Peru and they were rock solid. No slips at all and ridiculously comfortable. I love that these are waterproof too.
- Keen Newport H2 Sandals – I’ve reviewed them before and these are definitively the best sandals on the market. These will come in handy in Ethiopia because they provide the ventilation I need while keep it closed toe.
- Nylon stuff sack – This one is used to store the sandals. The sandals will get dirty so a non-mesh one is required.
Here’s my toiletry kit for the trip. Most of it is pretty self explanatory and a lot of this is precautionary especially since I won’t be relying on anyone else to have this. Better safe than sorry right?
- Thermometer – I’ve always found this useful to have especially when you’re feeling a fever coming on.
- Emergen-C – Super boost of vitamin C in a packet.
- Shower gel
- Cetaphil face cleanser
- Diamox – Altitude pills
- Pills for Malaria
- North Face Base Camp Travel Cannister – This is what will be carrying all of my toiletries. It’s a great bag because it has a ton of space and also comes with a hook so you can hang anywhere.
- Clinique face cream – Girlfriend approved.
- Electric toothbrush
- Body lotion
- Braun shaver
- Centrum Multivitamin – Something I take as a preventative measure while travelling.
- Pepto Bismol – Based on my experience in Peru, I’m almost guaranteed to have some stomach problems in Ethiopia.
- Face wipes – I’m sure there’ll be nights where we won’t have a shower so these are handy to freshen up.
- Tissue paper – You can never have enough of these.
- Neutrogena 60SPF Sunscreen – Beyond the travel size one I have, this will carry me through the entire trip. The sun is strong in Ethiopia.
- Tylenol Daytime/Nighttime
- Pepcid AC
- Ear plugs
- Mosquitno band – Hard to say if these do anything but I’ll use it when things get bad.
- Mosquitno patches
- Watkins Insect Repellent Lotion (80ml) – Deet mosquito repellent.
- MSR Packtowel Personal – Everyone needs one of these.
- Suisse Sport Ultra Compact Sleeping Bag – General uncleanliness and something about potential bed bugs was enough to add this to my list. On top of that, our guide in the Simien Mountains, Dawoud, recommended that we bring one. I really would have loved to have kept this at home but it looks like I don’t have a choice.
- Sleeping Bag Liner (similar one by Teton) – Knowing how cold it’ll get, this will be a nice layer to add on. This also helps keep the sleeping bag clean.
What’s in the Daypack
Wondering what will I’ll be carrying in the daypack other than my camera gear?
- Photocopies of important documents – I’ll end up having a copy stuffed in the bag somewhere, in my passport wallet, and possibly the money belt as well.
- Victorinox Travel Organizer – This thing is great at keeping all my travel documents and cards organized.
- Adventure Medical Kit 0.7 – I may be downsizing to the 0.5 for this trip but this waterproof first aid kit is going to be in my daypack the entire time in case the need arises.
- Power bank and charging cables – Air Canada amenity kits are perfect for this. Inside I have a Xiaomi 10400 mAh Power Bank which is good for about 4-5 charges of the phone. This will definitely come in handy when in a bind for power.
- Sea To Summit Travel Wallet – This wallet has taken a beaten over the years but I continue to use it because the build quality on it is great, zips up so nothing comes out and can carry coins which I find is key.
- Outdoor Research Radar Cap – Love this hat because they’ve finally come up with one that is foldable and can fit in your pocket if you need it to.
- Oceanic OCS Dive Computer – It’s the only sporty watch I own so that’s why.
- Rick Steves’ Silk Money Belt – Oh the love-hate relationship with money belts. For this trip, I’ll want to be careful so I will most likely have this on me for most of the trip in Omo Valley but perhaps less so in the Simien Mountains.
- Tissue paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Strepsils – My get sore throats pretty easily so I always make sure I have a pack of these.
- Buff Headwear – Essential travel gear. Great around the neck, wrist, over my head, around my forehead etc. etc. Read my full review of the Buff.
- Plastic poncho – Picked this up at the local dollar store. Most likely dropping this since it is unlikely to rain and plus I have my waterproof jacket if I need it.
- Winter glove liners – I usually use this for snowboarding but since some mornings will be cold in the mountains, I wanted to bring something that could keep me warm but was also not too heavy duty.
- Toque – Or beanie or whatever you want to call it. I read a ton of reviews of people recommending this for the evenings on the mountain. I’ll be using this and my Buff if necessary to keep my head warm.
- Sunscreen – This travel-sized one with carabiner will be essential to make reapplication a cinch.
- Carabiner – Another one of those survival tools I like to have with me.
While I try to keep most of my electronics with my daypack, inevitably I’ll end up with a bunch of things that need to be stored away.
- Ziplock bags – Our travel friend brought a bunch of these in Peru and they came in handy. I’m bringing a bunch this time since they were such a great idea.
- Sea to Sea Mosquito Head Nets – I’m hoping things don’t get that bad where I’ll need this but we did have to pull this out during the Inca Trail. One thing I learned from that trip was that you really need to be wearing a hat for this to be effective because without it, the net just sticks to your face and the mosquitos get you anyways.
- Mamut headlamp – This model has since been discontinued but in general it’s a good idea to bring a headlamp because you might be doing a sunrise/sunset hike or if a power outage occurs. This is a good alternative.
- Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Sac – I’m using this super lightweight pouch to store all of this miscellaneous stuff. This will in turn be put into my main backpack.
- Backpack bag – I’ve used this to carry my main pack for years. Aside from being a great bag to collect flag patches with, it keeps my backpack protected and acts as an additional bag if I need it. Currently debating whether I want to bring this on the trip or not.
- More Strepsils
- Backup AA batteries – Batteries are hard to find and expensive in Ethiopia from everything I’ve read so these are backups in case.
- Euro plug adapters – Ethiopia uses these round Europe plugs so I’m bringing these two adapters.
- Camera battery charger
- Toilet paper – This is a smaller and compact roll of toilet paper designed for camping but will be equally as handy while trekking.
- More tissue paper
Last but not least is all the camera gear that I’ll be bringing with me. This kit is largely the same as everything I brought to Peru except I recently purchased an even lighter and more compact tripod and I will be bringing one less lens (replaced by the GoPro).
- Sirui T-024X carbon fiber tripod – While in NYC, I paid a visit to B&H and the guy I talked to there recommended this tripod for me that had the best balance of stability, quality, size, and weight. I was this close to buying the Three Legged Thing EVO3 Punk Ricks but this won out despite my nervousness of the brand because it was smaller and lighter.
- Lots and lots of camera batteries – I’m bringing a total of 6 batteries (including the one in the camera) this time around. I’m not taking chances and I’m praying that my 4 third-party batteries won’t expand like they did last time around. The Wasabi BLN-1‘s for the camera held up well last time so I’m hoping it’ll be the same this time around. On the other hand, these ones totally expanded in high altitude and I have since thrown them out.
- Peak Design CapturePro – This is the one that I’m attaching straight onto my daypack so that I can hang my camera on it while hiking. The perfect use case.
- GoPro batteries – I will have 4 in total (2 legitimate batteries and 2 knockoffs)
- SD and Micro SD memory cards – Usually I bring a portable backup device but I’m foregoing it to stay lighter. I will have 2 SanDisk 32GB SDHC cards for the camera and 2 SanDisk 32GB Micro SD cards for the GoPro.
- Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus 12-40 f/2.8 Lens – The workhorse combination for every traveller. I’ve talked about why M43 and mirrorless cameras makes a lot of sense so I won’t go into too much again. My photos from Peru came out amazing and I will never travel with a DSLR ever again.
- Lens cleaning cloth
- Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 Lens – I didn’t want to bring this lens but knowing all the people photos I’ll be taking in Omo Valley, I know that I’d regret leaving this at home.
- GoPro Hero 4 Silver with XShot Pro Pole – I’m excited to be putting the pole to the test ever since reviewing it. I honestly don’t think I’ll be doing too much video there since my priority will be photography but with some of the tribe events in Ethiopia, I just might be keeping it on.
- Rocket blower – Will be using this to keep the lenses clean from dust.
- Assorted hex keys – It’s annoying but you always need to carry these for the tripod.
- Circular polarizing filter – Debating about bringing this one as there was barely opportunity to change lenses let alone filters when I was in Peru.
- LensPen – Everyone needs to have one of these if you’re travelling with a camera.
Vaccines and Medicine
Going to Africa is a big deal and so I wanted to make sure I did all of my due diligence to figure out what shots and pills I needed to buy before heading out. Here’s what you need for Ethiopia:
- Hepatitis A and B – These are shots that you probably already had before but double check to make sure you still have antibodies for them. If not you’ll need a booster.
- Typhoid shot – This is for salmonella. This can be administered by your family physician.
- Malaria pills – Malaria is known to the region and since I will be spending time in the villages, this is a must.
- Yellow fever vaccination – I got this done at a local travel clinic on my trip to Peru last time and so I am good here. All I need to do is bring the yellow card which verifies my vaccination. Some claim that proof of yellow fever vaccination is required. What that really means that the government of Ethiopia requires this only if you are traveling from a country with risk of yellow fever.
- Altitude sickness pills (Diamox) – This trek will be at similar or higher altitudes than the Inca Trail so I’ll be taking these again.
- Dukoral – This is one of those things that adds some protection around traveller’s diarrhea. I don’t pretend to think that this’ll protect me from everything as I still had some stomach issues in Peru but better to have this than nothing at all.
Things You Probably Didn’t Think About
These are tips I’ve shared with in the past but I figure would be worth reminding you about.
- Photocopies of your passport, credit card, and ID – You’ll want to have a copy of this in every single bag you have and potentially even in your money belt.
- Call your credit cards – This time around when calling my bank and credit cards, I was told that I didn’t need to do this anymore. Banks are finally sophisticated enough to figure out that you’re travelling huh!
- Adjust your camera clocks beforehand – A huge pet peeve of mine is having the wrong timestamp on my photos and videos. The best way is to either adjust it beforehand or you can also set up a calendar reminder to pop up when you land.
- Format your memory cards – Go through all of your memory cards and make sure you’ve downloaded them all to your computer at home. After that, wipe them all.
There are a bunch of items that didn’t make the photos but for the sake of thoroughness I added them below.
- Systane Balance eye drops
- Headphones – For the plane.
- Cliff Bars – These were clutch during the Inca Trail trek and so I’ll make sure I have a few of these handy. These will also be a meal replacement in case my stomach doesn’t do well with local foods.
- Natrapel Insect Repellent – I was talking to a rep at MEC (Canadian version of REI) and he recommended this natural alternative which doesn’t contain any deet. He claims that this is as effective so I will definitely be giving this a try. The main active ingredient here is Picaridin/plant-based Citriodiol.
- USB camera battery charger – As a last minute addition I picked up a USB charger as I’m not sure if I can rely on being able to plug into the outlet all the time. This will allow me to use my power bank instead.
- Solar power bank – As a last minute swap, I added this solar charger as an extra external power pack. I will report back on how useful this was.
Last Minute Changes
- Took out the Circular Polarizing Filter for the camera since I doubt that I’ll ever have time to do something like that.
- Poncho is out.
- Brought my Rode iPhone mic for interviews.
So I hope that helps you guys with thinking about what to pack for your trip to Ethiopia or anywhere else in Africa for that matter.
As you know, I’m writing this before heading out on my trip so make sure you check back for all the details when I return!
Featured image by Philipp Schutz