Going on a safari is a great experience everyone should tackle at least once in a lifetime. If you’re used to the great outdoors, then adapting to a new environment and coming up with a packing checklist shouldn’t be too hard. But given the fact that there are a few essential items you should not leave home without and taking into account the luggage restrictions, you’ll need to pack cleverly.
When packing for a safari adventure, keep this one golden rule in mind: “less is more!” You need mobility, as you’ll probably be switching between various modes of transport (e.g. plane, boats, trucks, 4X4s, etc.). Not to mention that some small charter aircrafts may restrict luggage to 10 kg (22lbs), including camera gear! Furthermore, suitcases with wheels don’t really belong in the savanna; a duffel bag or a backpack is much more practical.
So here it is, our ultimate safari packing checklist that will hopefully make your life a little easier and your adventures that more intense:
- Avoid bright colors – you need to blend in as much as possible. Colors like khaki, green and beige should do the trick.
- White is simply not practical.
- Camouflage is not a good idea because, in most parts of Africa, that’s the outfit of the military and that’s also what poachers wear. It will draw unwanted attention and it has even become illegal for civilians to wear camouflage in Zimbabwe.
- You should also avoid dark colors like black and blue, as they tend to attract the nasty tsetse fly, responsible for transmitting African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness).
- Wear comfortable clothes and fabrics. Nowadays, quick-drying and well-ventilated clothing is widely available.
When traveling to Africa, you may be picturing sizzling hot weather, vast arid savannas and deserts. Sure, it has all that, but also much more. Africa’s diverse landscape makes for a deceiving weather, and temperatures can vary from hot during the day to pleasantly cool in the afternoon and even bitterly cold in the morning, especially during winter months (June-August). Therefore, you should layer up and not leave that warm sweater or jacket at home.
Here are the essential clothing items you should pack for your safari adventure:
- Wear long-sleeved blouses and shirts even during summer. They will protect you from sunburns and mosquito bites. Depending on the length of your stay, fetch 2-4 comfortable short and long-sleeved shirts.
- Pack 1-2 pairs of trousers and 1-2 pairs of shorts. Trousers that convert into shorts (those with a zip at the knees) are one of the greatest inventions yet! (When it comes to safaris, at least). Consider grabbing a pair so that you can escape the heat while in a safari vehicle.
- Fleece or warm jacket
- A Windstopper jacket
- A light raincoat
- Swimming suit
- Wide-brimmed hat – it should be wide enough to cover your face, ears and neck. Keep in mind that even the shortest exposure can result in sunburns or heat-stroke.
- Undergarments and socks.
As I mentioned earlier, you need to pack light. The good news is that there are laundry facilities at most game reserves in Africa, so there’s no need to bring too many changes of clothes.
The shoes you should pack depend on the type of safari you plan to undertake. Do you wish to climb Mount Kilimanjaro? Then you’ll need a pair of sturdy hiking boots.
If you are going on other types of safaris that do not involve trekking or hiking, then there’s no need to pack heavy boots. You do, however, need reliable footwear. For bush walks and tracking game, a pair of light and well-ventilated walking shoes that offer good support and stability is a must.
Pack a pair of sandals, flip-flops or rubber clogs for staying around your lodging, for taking showers and when riding in the car. You’ll need to let your feet breathe. However, these are not recommended out there in the bush, as you will be exposed to snake bites, rocky terrain and thorns.
Essential safari gadgets
These can make or break your safari trip, so think twice before sacrificing quality and double-check to make sure you’ve packed all necessary accessories, batteries and chargers.
Going on a game-viewing safari without binoculars takes the “viewing” out of “game.” It’s just no fun. There will be lions, zebras, giraffes, various primates, leopards and cheetahs, colorful birds and other enchanting wildlife, but they will most likely not be that close. That’s where binoculars come into play! Get a pair with 8x to 10x magnification for the best experience; anything more than that is useless and will result in a blurry, unstable image.
If you want to take decent wildlife photos, then you need a good camera. iPhones have no business being here unless you’re planning to call your family while staring into a lion’s eyes. All joking aside, you need some serious zoom, preferably up to 300mm.
Don’t forget extra batteries or battery charger, lens cleaner and memory cards. If you don’t have a tripod or don’t wish to carry one with you, you can use a bean bag instead. These come empty and you can use them as luggage and fill them with any material of your choice when you arrive at your destination.
As soon as it gets dark in the African savanna, turning on your headlamp when walking around your lodging will prevent you from running into some creepy crawler or, God forbid, a predator.
The unpolluted savanna sky may be shimmering with stars, but it can get pitch dark in the bush.
If you are camping, it will be the same inside your tent too. Opt for a reliable headlamp that offers sufficient beam distance and brightness, preferably at 200 lumens or more.
Other items to pack
Other than the prescription meds you may be on, which you definitely should not forget to bring along, make sure you pack a small first-aid kit that contains meds you might need in case you run into the usual travel health issues.
Your kit should contain meds for diarrhea, nausea, headaches, indigestion, heartburn, sore throat, stomach flu, antiseptic lotion, bandages and Band-Aids, sunburn treatments, antihistamines for bites (you never know what you may be allergic to), eye drops and malaria tablets if malaria transmission occurs in the country you are planning to visit. And don’t forget about insect repellent!
Depending on the country, season and type of safari, you may need a waterproof bag to store your essentials, especially if you plan to embark on a mokoro safari in the Okavango Delta.
Even if you’re certain that your stuff will not get wet, it is still a nice item to have around. Dust is a much bigger issue than water. During drive safaris, everything will be covered in a layer of dust, so store your belongings in a waterproof bag to keep them clean. If you don’t have a waterproof bag, ziplock bags are easy to come by and are a lifesaver for documents, phone, camera, batteries and other non-waterproof accessories or items that may be affected by dust.
There’s usually plenty of space in safari vehicles to carry your luggage, but a backpack will come more in handy as it is much easier to carry around whenever you get out of the car and on long bush walks. Opt for a lightweight backpack between 20 and 25 liters.
The most obvious item on our safari checklist, sunscreen is a customary item in any traveler’s luggage. Opt for SPF 30 or more, and carry a lip balm with SPF 15 around with you.
Chances are that your African safari will take place in a dry environment. Therefore, it is important to choose a sunscreen that does not leave too much grease behind but is able to moisturize your skin properly.
Extra batteries and adapters
Pack extra batteries and chargers for your headlamp/flashlight and for your camera. Check and see what type of electrical plug is used in the country you are planning to visit and get an appropriate adapter off Amazon. It will be much cheaper and will save you the hassle. Keep in mind that there’s no fully universal plug adapter for Africa, so do your research beforehand.
On guided tours, your guide will act as a living encyclopedia, don’t hesitate to ask any questions. That being said, it never hurts to have a guidebook to introduce you to various cultures, not to mention a wilderness book at hand while on game drives. Being able to identify various species of wildlife and birds by yourself will only add to the excitement.
Last but not least, check to see if you packed all necessary documents, such as passports, visas and travel insurance. Keep a small notebook with emergency phone numbers in case your cell phone lets you down, addresses and respective phone numbers and contact names, as well as your itinerary. You can also use this notebook as a journal to keep track of your travels.
Ready for your next great adventure? Pack clever and enjoy every moment on a wildlife safari that will change the way you look at nature!