What to pack for backpacking in Egypt (2020)


You’ve bought your cheap plane ticket to Egypt, checked that you have the proper vaccines, talked to your neighbor about watering your plants, and now it’s time to pack. Even to a seasoned traveler, it can be a little daunting. After two months of gallivanting around Egypt, here is our list of what the adventurous backpacker should pack for Egypt.

There is a lot of content out there about traveling with just a carry-on bag. If you can do it, that’s fantastic! It saves money on planes and is infinitely easier to transport. To pack for Egypt, though, we knew there would be some opportunities to camp, and the addition of a sleeping bag and bivy to the rest of our gear just didn’t squish into a carry-on. Ultimately, I used my 60-liter pack along with a smaller day pack to fit everything I needed for a couple of months of travel in Egypt.

Check out our much more thorough backpacker’s packing guide to learn what you’ll want to pack on virtually every trip. This article is a simplified version for Egypt but should still prove useful!

My backpacks I used for two months in Egypt.
My backpacks I used for two months in Egypt.

Here are the things you’ll need in your trip to Egypt

1) The basics: passport, proof of vaccinations, copies of passport and ID, flight itinerary and travel insurance info. Stash all of the documents into one folder for simple organization, and never lose track of that passport! We also bring extra passport sized photos for visa extensions. When your passport is not on you, it’s a good idea to hide it in your room.

2) Four t-shirts. Make sure they’re quick to dry because you will be doing your laundry by hand.

3) Two pairs of travel pants. By that I mean a durable sort that has deep pockets, is not heavy or thick, and can withstand being worn every other day for months. To pack for Egypt, we suggest browns and khaki colors over black, because you’ll find sand and dust pretty much everywhere you go. (Note: I didn’t bring shorts because Egypt is a pretty conservative place. It turned out to be a good idea. The only people I saw in shorts were clueless western tourists).

4) Four pairs of underwear: two quick dry and two cotton. They make these super cool underwear these days for both men and women that you can easily wash with you in the shower and let dry overnight. So convenient!

Don’t forget, the sun is pretty strong in Egypt!

important documents to bring traveling
Don’t forget to bring a folder of all your important documents.

5) Sun protection: Sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, maybe a cotton long-sleeved shirt. I used to wonder why so many locals wear long sleeved shirts in the blistering sun. Fact is, it can actually be more comfortable with a layer protecting your skin from the penetrating sun.

6) A water bottle that holds at least a liter. Dereck and I developed a method of buying a large water bottle from a vendor (you can’t drink tap water), keeping it in the hostel room, and filling our water bottles with it when we went out. Sometimes we just brought the big bottle along, too. You’ll be surprised how thirsty you get around the Great Sand Sea.

6) Bug repellent. Most of Egypt is pretty low in elevation, and stagnant water is common near the Nile, so mosquitoes, gnats, flies and other annoying insects thrive. On that matter, look for hostels with mosquito nets if they aren’t airtight.

Camping gear is a surprising essential in Egypt

Using a bivy in the warm desert of the Sinai Peninsula.
Using a bivy in the warm desert of the Sinai Peninsula.

7) Bivy. For those who don’t know, a bivy sack is a cross between a tent and a body bag. It fits just you, your mattress and your sleeping bag, and then has a little pole you bend into an arch to keep the fabric off your face. Small, compact, economical, and light, aka perfect for a backpacker trying to keep pack weight down.

8) Sleeping bag and mattress. We didn’t camp a ton in Egypt, but we did camp some, including in a couple different deserts, where we were grateful for the extra warmth of our sleeping bags. Some people might forgo the mattress, but if only for warmth the extra weight of a Thermarest is totally justified.

9) Electronics. We brought our phones, earbuds, and shared my tablet. We used our phones as cameras because we don’t like hefting a real camera around, but Egypt is a very photogenic place, and you’ll see sites you never want to forget. If you’re okay with the extra weight and bulk of a camera, by all means bring it!

10) Travel adapter: Egypt uses plug types C and F. Both are very similar to each other and both are very different than plug types you can find in North America. Generally, a cheap travel adaptor found online will get you long ways. Most recent electronics don’t need a converter as it’s already built in the charger.

Don’t forget your electronics.

11) Toiletries. Besides the basic essentials, don’t forget to pack laundry soap, Pepto-Bismol, and if you’re like me where insects love you, hydrocortisone cream. Also always carry extra toilet paper, even when wandering around with your day pack. It’s useful as napkins when you eat street food, and not every toilet / hole in the ground provides the stuff.

12) A spoon or spork. More useful than you’d think in a country where your hands are generally dirty.

13) Three pairs of durable socks. You’re going to be walking a lot, and most of the time your feet will be sweating. These socks will take a lot of abuse, so choose wisely.

14) Decent shoes. I wore basic hiking boots with low ankles, but I would have been fine with running shoes, too. You’ll need something with grip, but it doesn’t have to be major, especially if you’re okay with some sand getting in.

15) Cheap flip flops for lounging and showering. Trust me, you don’t want to walk into showers here with bare feet. The goal of a shower is to get clean, not foot disease. In the evenings and around the hostels, flip flops are a nice relief for your feet.

Basic sandals for showers are always a good idea.
Basic sandals for showers are always a good idea.

16) Fleece. Egypt is generally warm enough that you won’t need a serious jacket, but you will want a decent fleece on chilly evenings. A windbreaker/ basic rain shell can be useful over the fleece on particularly chilly evenings.

17) A couple of stuff sacks for wet flip flips, dirty clothes, extra food, whatever! These are super useful. Reuse them throughout the trip to get the most out of them. Check out our guide simple ways to travel for cheap to learn more travel hacks.

18) Extra snacks, whether nuts, chocolate, or bread stashed away from the morning hotel breakfast. It is never fun to be hungry while [lost/tired/exploring/socializing], and it’s so easy to avoid. Just bring a little something in your day pack when you go out each day.

Packing the proper gear brings you freedom

Camping in the Western Desert of Egypt, near Siwa
This could be your bedroom,
for the night.

Still have space? Our philosophy when packing for long term travel is simple: Being efficient with what we pack allows us to pack everything we need to fully enjoy our trip. In this age, many people rave about flying on ultra low-cost carriers. Sure, the dirt cheap flight ticket is appealing. But is the flight worth the trip?

If you’re going to be traveling Egypt for weeks or months, you want to be able to enjoy every single part of it. This includes not missing a crucial piece of equipment essential to your independent travel. We’ll give you an example. One day we wound up in Siwa, a beautiful oasis at the end of a long desert road.

While we’d both seen our share of deserts during our travels, this one was different. The Great Sand Sea, as they call it, is the desert of your dreams. The one you’ve seen in movies, the one you’ve always imagined. Dunes of sand, lifeless, quiet… it wasn’t long before we had decided to make it our goal to get across! It was also pretty quick that everyone in Siwa told us the Western Desert is a no go.

Since tourists got shot by a military helicopter who mistook them for terrorists crossing from Libya, the area has been off-limits to foreigners. Thing is, we’re quite stubborn. Despite the repeated ”no” we heard everywhere, we eventually met someone who was willing to help us. Through the Western Desert? No way. But he’d drive us kilometers inside it so we could camp.

He personally wasn’t fond of the idea and clearly didn’t want us to camp there. But as his 4×4 truck disappeared in the horizon, with the promise to pick us up in the morning, we knew we had made the right choice.

Having the chance to camp here, the two of us, alone in this vast surreal expanse? No way we want to miss it. The only reason we were able to do it, however, is because we had the proper equipment. With a small bivy, sleeping bag and mattress, we were in for a defining moment of our two months itinerary in Egypt.

Feeling inspired? Have questions? Comments? Feel free to react! Dirt Cheap Travel Guide is no fun without readers like you and while we do this as a hobby, we love hearing from like-minded travelers.

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What to pack for two months in Egypt

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