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Packing List for Madagascar

Hello everyone,

We are posting our official Madagascar packing list here to the Yak Board. There is one significant change to the list and that is under the tent/mosquito net section. You can find these changes under the sleeping section of the list and in bold font. If you have already purchased the REI bug hut and you want to return it we would recommend that. If you can’t return it the bug hut will be fine for our trip. The real reason that we are no longer recommending that tent is that it almost always starts to fall apart by the end of a six week trip. We want to recommend things that will be useful to you after the program as well as during it.

**If you already have a small hiking tent (one person or two person) it would be perfectly fine to bring that instead of buying something new.


Clothing & Equipment

THINK LIGHT!On Madagascar’s public transportation, bags are often stowed on the top of buses and bush taxis. There may be times when you have to travel with your backpack on your lap for up to three or four hours at a time. We recommend that you bring what’s listed here, and not much more. The lighter you pack, the happier you (and the rest of the group) will be. Please do not bring more than fits IN your pack and do not bring more you are comfortable carrying – we will be carrying our packs through villages settling into homestays and you will need to carry your bag for several days during our trek in Isalo. We strongly suggest that you pack and then walk around the block three times. Students who arrive at the airport drastically over-packed will be asked to send extra items home at their own expense.

It is important to note that Malagasy people dress as nicely as they can afford. It is very important that we present ourselves looking nice, as we will be more openly received. Make sure that your clothes are in good condition, without holes, tears, or stains, and prepare to dress nicely each day. Pack some button-down shirts. Women may wear pants, capris, or skirts that cover the knees. Women may not wear shorts. Women will not be allowed to wear tight leggings as pants. Also, consider bringing clothing that won’t easily show dirt. Although there will be plenty of opportunities to do laundry by hand, you’ll be happier with clothing that doesn’t “scream” dirty. With that, here’s a list of all that you will need to stay comfortable:


GEAR – The most important point here is that your gear should be functional and comfortable. Be sure you know how to pack and adjust your pack, and that you can carry it comfortably when it is full! We have made suggestions of possible companies that make certain items on this list; however, the same product is almost always made by other non-brand-name brands. Comfort is key! For more information, please refer to the purchase chart and shopping guidelines on the pages that follow this list.

  • INTERNATIONAL VACCINATION RECORDSIt is imperative that you arrive without these!



  • BACKPACKWe recommend something under 70 litres.You should be able to pack everything . You’ll be happiest if you can bring all your clothes in just one backpack, with perhaps a few essential pieces of gear carried in a small daypack. Consider getting a backpack with a detachable daypack.  This way you can carry both on your back at the same time during long hauls. Please bring aninternal frame pack, as an external frame pack may break. If you are going to purchase a new backpack, ask the sales person to fit you with a pack and make adjustments with the pack weighted. Keep in mind that many outdoor stores rent backpacks for extended trips as well.
  • BACKPACK COVER (OR PONCHO)Waterproof slip or poncho that fits over & covers backpack.
  • DAY PACK Small, light, nylon bag with straps – like a lightweight school book-bag. This is what you’ll take with you on day excursions. It should be big enough to hold a water bottle, headlamp or flashlight, some food, a raincoat, and a book or journal. Again, consider getting a backpack with a detachable day pack. If this is not possible, look for one that can collapse well and pack into your bag.
  • STUFF SACKS Light-weight and compact, stuff sacks are incredibly convenient for separating clothes, food, toiletries, and everything else so that you may bring order to your pack. We recommend that students bring one or two waterproof stuff sacks (Sea to Summit is one reliable brand). Heavy duty garbage bags or plastic zip lock freezer bags can work, and it’s nice to have some smaller bags to hold toiletries, batteries, etc. We like to bring a few stuff sacks to separate clean and dirty clothes – old beat-up pillowcases are ideal too.



  • HIKING/RUNNING SHOESOur treks through Madagascar’s national parks will only be moderately difficult, so unless you have ankle or foot difficulties, light hiking boots or running shoes are recommended (trail runners with better traction work great, but plain old running shoes will work, too).If you choose to bring hiking boots, there is NO need to pack both hiking boots and running shoes.
  • SANDALS: TEVAS/BED ROCK/ CHACOS: You will need a pair of comfortable sandal shoes to wear around cities and villages. Durable flip flops (such as Chaco brand) are a good option. You can purchase cheap flip flops in Madagascar as well, but the quality tends to be poor and there often aren’t large sizes.



  • ***IMPORTANT CHANGE***We are changing our recommended mosquito tent that we have been using for the last few years. The quality of the REI bug hut has gone down considerably in the last two years and we no longer feel comfortable recommending it. We have found that you can get a better quality tent from Amazon for the same money (if not a little cheaper) and that it will come with a rain fly that will make it a little warmer on cold nights in Isalo and drier on any wet nights we might encounter on X-phase. Any of the ALPS Mountaineering tents like this one: Alps Tentare great and can work both as free standing mosquito tent and a camping tent.
  • ***MOSQUITO NET***It is possible to buy a mosquito net in Madagascar if you do not want to sleep in your tent at your homestays. If you want to buy a mosquito net to take with you we would recommend the Sea-to-Summit Pyramid 2 person net. The one person net is incredibly small and often leaves a person feeling like they have been captured by a large spider by the time morning comes around.
  • LIGHT SLEEPING BAG:Synthetic or down, 30 to 40 degree rating. Down bags last longer, are lighter, but require more maintenance (and don’t do so well in wet weather). It is also essential that if you do get a down bag, you line your stuff sack with a plastic bag. Compared to down bags, synthetic bags are bulkier, but they are a lot more economical and you can stay warm in a synthetic bag even if the bag is wet. We recommend a compression stuff sack for packing your sleeping bag, especially for synthetic bags.
  • SLEEPING PADAn inflatable or foam sleeping pad is okay. Thermarestmakes great inflatable pads that are lightweight and comfortable, but be sure to get a repair kit – they often get small holes and need repairs. Ridge-rest is a foam pad. It’s not as compact, but it’s more economical, and doesn’t require any special precautions or repairs, making it a lot more reliable.
  • SLEEPING BAG LINER: Either silk or synthetic.  These are great as they keep your sleeping bag clean and can be used alone in hot temperatures.


CLOTHING – Dressing in a way that is culturally appropriate will go a long way in gaining the respect of local people and opening doors for you. Clothing that does not show dirt, is lightweight, and dries easily is ideal. Whatever you bring will get a lot of use. Malagasy people prioritize dressing nicely and students will be expected to have some Western business casual clothing and proper close-toed shoes for our visits to local schools or other organizations. Tank tops or shorts above the knee will not be permitted at any time for men or women.

  • PILE JACKET or WOOL SWEATER: We will be in in Madagascar during their winter and it often gets pretty chilly (especially on the plateau and in the desert) so it is very important that you bring a warm jacket. It will be very difficult to find a suitable, durable jacket that fits will once we are in Madagascar. We recommend a pile jacket, often called Polar-tech, or fleece, because its light, doesn’t hold odors, dries fast and keeps you warm even if it’s wet. This coat is an essential element of the layering system, and a wool sweater will serve the same purpose. A light down jacket could serve this purpose as well and packs down very small in your backpack. DO NOT BRING cotton sweaters and sweatshirts as they are heavy, take a long time to dry and will only make you colder if they get wet.
  • LIGHT DOWN OR SYNTHETIC “PUFFY”: While daytime temperatures may get into the 70s or 80s, nights in Madagascar are chilly and can fall to the high 40s or low 50s and there is not much heating on the Malagasy plateau at night. A puffy is a cure-all for layering. This warm insulating layer adds an incredible amount of warmth and comfort in the evening and packs down very small in your bag. For synthetics, Polarguard is an excellent insulator. Look at Patagonia, Mountain Hardware, or Cloudveil for highest quality (and cost!). North Face makes a cheaper down jacket that would be sufficient. This is a highly recommended piece of gear and if you bring a puffy, you can leave your expedition-weight fleece at home. As with sleeping bags, down jackets must be kept dry.
  • WOOL or PILE HAT: Bring your favorite winter hat, or pick up a good cheap hat in your travels.
  • RAINCOATBest if lightweight and breathable. A plastic poncho will work fine. We will be traveling during the “long dry season” so don’t expect to see heavy rainfall, but a rain jacket can also be useful as an extra layer when it is cold.
  • SOCKSWe recommend that you bring 2-3 pairs, although it will depend on how often you plan to wear sandals vs. tennis shoes. Bring at least one pair of synthetic socks (like Smartwool) for hiking–this helps to prevent blisters.
  • UNDERWEAR6-8 pairs (students will wash underwear by hand).
  • T-SHIRTS3 (including your Dragons t-shirt). Should be neither white (gets dirty too easily) nor black (attracts heat and mosquitoes), and in fair shape. Loose-fitting shirts will be more comfortable in the heat. Please make sure they are in good condition and don’t look grungy. Men and women: Please DO NOT BRING TANK TOPS or other shirts which reveal much skin as this will be considered culturally inappropriate. WOMEN: please make sure that your shirts come down at least to the top of your hipbone as not to reveal the skin of your stomach or back.
  • LIGHTWEIGHT SHIRT Something that will keep you cool and will dry quickly (either of synthetic materials, or light-weave cotton). You may like to bring one long-sleeved and one short sleeved. You don’t have to get something fancy at an outdoor clothing store — even a lightweight short-sleeve button down shirt will do.
  • LONG-SLEEVE SHIRT Something to shield sun and provide an extra light layer if needed.
  • PANTS / CAPRIS: 2 pair, at least one synthetic. Your pants should be durable and lightweight, and, if possible, dark in color. We recommend lightweight nylon trekking pants with zippers, if preferred, so that they may be easily converted into shorts or capris. Guys will want to bring 2 pairs of pants, and girls could optto bring 1 pair as well as a skirt. Jeans are acceptable. Your pants or capris should be durable and lightweight, and, if possible, dark in color. Again, something that fits loosely will keep you cooler.
  • SUN DRESS or LONG SKIRT (FOR GIRLS):1 These are also remarkably comfy for hiking! It should be simple and lightweight and MUST cover the shoulders and go past the knee when kneeling or sitting cross-legged. Don’t go out and buy anything fancy! Make sure your dress or skirt is loose enough to squat (to use the toilet without showing skin) and to sit cross-legged in.
  • SWIM SUIT:  Not cotton—something that will dry quickly. For men, this could double as one of your pairs of shorts. Ladies, something modest, please. Two pieces are OK, but string bikinis are not.

PLEASE NOTE: Second-hand Western clothes are sold widely around Madagascar; students should pack a minimal amount of clothing, knowing that they will be able to buy anything they need in Madagascar.



  • WATER BOTTLE 1-quart, plastic or metal water bottle. Nalgene bottles are great, and can be picked up at any backpacking store.
  • SUNGLASSESBring one pair that offers GOOD protection (including UV protection). The sun is bright in Madagascar and you will want excellent eye protection. Not a bad idea to bring a cheap extra pair if you have a tendency to lose things.
  • TOILETRIESEssentials such as shampoo, soap and deodorant are all widely available in Madagascar, so packing light and restocking is often a good way to do it. Bring a 6-week supply of things you need that you think you can’t find in Madagascar. Women, please bring enough tampons/pads for the entire course.
  • SECURITY WALLET / BELTYou’ll want to keep your personal spending money in a secure wallet or belt that’s well attached to your body. We prefer the cloth ones to nylon because they are cooler against the skin in humid weather. Generally waist belts offer more security than the sort that goes around the neck. Eagle Creek makes good products.
  • JOURNAL/NOTEBOOKYou mustbring something that you can write in.
  • TOWELPreferably quick-dry and compact.
  • HAT The sun is strong, so a brimmed hat will be needed.
  • FLASHLIGHT/HEADLAMPA headlamp is a MUST, for use during power outages, when camping, and if walking at night. Bring extra batteries!
  • CAMERA(with extra battery and memory if needed) If you are bringing a digital camera with a rechargeable battery, know that when we have access to electricity, the French 220V plugs are what is used throughout Madagascar (these are two round prongs). It is a good idea to have two batteries, so you can have a back-up if we are without electricity for a long time. Downloading photos can be challenging outside of Antananarivo, so bring enough memory cards to cover your needs without downloading.
  • SUN SCREENSPF 30+, water/sweat proof.
  • INSECT REPELLANT As we will be traveling through malaria zones, a good insect repellant is MANDATORY. Do not bring100% Deet—this is too strong and will melt plastic— 30% Deet is fine.
  • MEDICATIONS Any personal prescription medications that you regularly take (and printed information on side effects and contraindications). Consult with a travel doctor for recommendations; they may prescribe a cycle of Ciprofloxacin or other broad-based antibiotic, though this is also available in Madagascar if needed.
  • GLASSES& CONTACTS Bring an extra pair of glasses. If you wear contacts, it is a good idea to bring a one extra pair of glasses and extra contacts. Also, it is helpful to have a compact mirror for taking your contacts in and out in rural areas.
  • ALARM CLOCKSmall travel clock with an alarm, or a watch with an alarm. Necessary for the home-stay days when we need to meet as a group at a designated time to visit the market or a nearby village. Note: Rural home-stay families may not have clocks and, therefore, it is MANDATORY that students have one.
  • ZIPLOCK BAGSseveral of small and large size. Freezer bags are the most durable.
  • GIFTSa few simple things to present to people who help make our course special. Postcards or picture books of home and inflatable globes or balls are great. Other gift ideas: playing cards, travel games, CDs of American music, old jewelry and toys or sports balls (hackie sacs). Students can discuss other appropriate gifts when their instructors call to introduce themselves in early June or look for postings on the Yak Yak


OPTIONAL – We include these items to give you an idea of some extras that might come in handy; however, they truly are optional – all items that we believe are necessary for this course have been included above. If you have any questions regarding the necessity of a particular item please contact us.


  • BANDANA1+ These can serve multiple purposes while traveling.
  • WATER PURIFICATION SYSTEM We like the “SteriPEN”. Note that they work much longer with lithium batteries. Instructors will carry water purification systems, but students in the past have recommended bringing their own for when they are in home-stays. Families will always be happy and capable of boiling water over a cook fire for you. Most Malagasy families drink a boiled tea made with burned rice that is safe to drink as well.
  • EXTRA PASSPORT PHOTOSNot a bad idea to have a few extra pictures with you.
  • PURELL(hand-sanitizing gel) A small bottle, or anti-bacterial hand wipes.
  • SPENDING MONEYWhatever you will need for souvenirs, snacks, post cards, and postage. See previous “Spending Money” section for more information.
  • GOOD BOOK(S) You need to bring something and the best idea is to bring one to trade!You will read more than you think.
  • DUCT TAPEWrap some around your water bottle, and pull it off as you need it.
  • OVER-THE-COUNTER MEDICATIONS Bring a SMALLsupply of whatever you use at home, along with some vitamins or other things that you take frequently. We stock our med-kit with just about everything, but if you are especially prone to motion sickness, headaches, or menstrual cramps, it’s still a good idea to bring some of your own. Instructors will review and then collect all medications at the start of the course. It is a good idea to bring some probiotics, especially if you don’t like fresh yoghurt.
  • EAR PLUGS These can often come in extremely handy to secure a good night sleep!
  • IODINE TABLETS (WITH OR WITHOUT NEUTRALIZER) Instructors will carry a full supply, as well as other water purification systems, but students in the past have recommended bringing a personal bottle or two to use during the homestays and trek. The neutralizer removes the taste of the iodine.
  • POTABLE AQUA CHLORINE DIOXIDE TABLETS These take four hours to purify water, but do so without the unpleasant taste that iodine tablets produce. In the past, we’ve used them to purify water overnight. Available at REI.



* Spaghetti-strap tank tops, sleeveless shirts, short shorts, cropped or low-cut tops, and skirts that hang above the knee

* Pants that drag on the ground


One final thing that is essential equipment: A HEALTHY BODY!  Your experience will be so much more enjoyable if you come with a body that is fully prepared for the journey. We recommend an exercise regimen that gets your heart rate above 120 beats per minute, for thirty minutes at a stretch, four times a week. If you can’t do this much, do what you can – the more the better! There will be several opportunities on the course to play soccer with local kids, go for a group run or take a long walk from one village to another. The better your condition, the greater the number of opportunities you’ll be able to seize.


Your Instructor Team.