Experienced African wildlife guide, Leon Marais of Lawson’s Birding, Wildlife and Custom Safaris, reveals the secrets of what to pack when you’re heading off on a safari.
In my opinion, the absolute essentials of what to take on safari are a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, phone and charger, binoculars, camera, wallet and passport. I could conceivably guide a very successful safari with only these items! Though some clothes would also be useful additions, I guess…
So, as far as clothing is concerned my top tip is: Don’t overpack! A common post-tour comment from our clients is that they brought too much luggage!
Safaris with charter flights may limit each passenger to just 20kg, including hand baggage and camera gear, and using soft bags only. Be warned – these rules are strict, so don’t assume they’ll give you any wriggle room.
For a safari that doesn’t involve charter or small-plane internal flights you have more leeway with luggage, but it’s still advisable to limit yourself to one main bag and one carry-on. Everyone on the tour takes an immediate dislike to the person hauling way too much baggage out of the arrival gate (as does the guide!).
Photo credit: Lawson’s Birding, Wildlife And Custom Safaris Small plane connections can be the best way to get around remote areas.
What Should You Wear on an African Safari?
Light-coloured, lightweight clothes work best. Temperatures will be anything from warm to very hot during the day on most typical safaris, so materials that breathe a bit, aren’t too tight and dry quickly are recommended. No jeans, and no black shirts! There’s also no need to bring more than about four complete sets of clothing for the average safari length. You can always rinse them out at the camps or use the laundry facilities, and if they’re quick-drying they’ll be ready for you the next day.
You can wear shorts during the day for most destinations if your legs are up to it! Long-sleeved shirts protect the upper body against the sun and possible insect bites.
Photo credit: shutterstock
Depending on the time of year you may need to pack a fleece and/or a windbreaker jacket. Don’t assume because it’s Africa you will never get cold. Your warm gear requirement will depend on your specific safari. For example, in Namibia in October you won’t need much at all but on a Kruger safari in winter you definitely will (and probably more than you realise). Open vehicles = wild chill factor. So speak to your local safari tour specialist for specific recommendations.
What is the Best Footwear to Take?
As far as footwear is concerned, you won’t need proper hiking boots unless your tour includes a specific hiking activity. You can wear sandals or thong-type footwear for most safaris if that’s your comfort preference – just not with socks, please! Otherwise, a light low-cut walking shoe is a good option or even comfortable trainers.
Many guides are Harry-casual about footwear (there’s even one guy I know who hasn’t worn shoes in years) but personally, I’m a firm believer in closed shoes. It takes just one bit of bad luck with a three-inch-long Acacia thorn or an angry Parabuthus Scorpion to ruin your day and possibly even your tour…
For nighttime, though, forget the sandals – closed shoes and socks are essential as the ankles are a prime target for mosquitos, plus there is a greater chance of scorpions and other insects on the ground.
How Do You Cope with Game Reserve Insects?
For the most part, in my experience, guests arrive expecting far worse in terms of insect bites than is usually the case on safari. There’s the odd place that is for some reason inundated with mosquitos, but for the most part, they aren’t that prevalent, even in places like the Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Tsetse Fly can be a problem, though, in certain locations and seasons, such as parts of Zambia and Tanzania in summer, so a good quality insect repellent would be a good thing to pack.
Photo credit: shutterstock
In terms of mozzies, anti-malarial medication aside, prevention goes a long way to keeping you healthy and comfortable, so I always wear closed shoes and socks after dark and use a repellent spray every evening before dinner and in the mornings before I go out. I do have a chuckle to myself sometimes, though. I carry spray-on sunscreen which I apply throughout the day, but often when the guests in my vehicle see this, they think I’m repeatedly coating myself with insect repellant. So they rummage in their bags to follow suit and reapply it all through the day until there’s a cloud of DEET hanging behind the vehicle.
In fact, the daytime application is generally unnecessary. The small, harmless ‘sweat flies’ that buzz around you during the day seem to ignore all forms of insect repellent anyway.
What Are Other Safari Trip Basics to Pack?
Here is a list of other basics that will enhance your experience if you take them on safari.
A torch/flashlight. A good LED one doesn’t cost a lot and it’s essential for walking around at night. Don’t bring your old torch you’ve had for 20 years which casts out a vague yellow glow. Get a good one because you can even use it for a bit of night spotting around the rooms in certain places where you can do that safely.
A good pair of binoculars. There’s no point in spending money to go on a safari if you don’t get great views of the animals. You don’t need to spend a fortune but spend as much as you can on a quality pair of binoculars. And try to sample them in a shop before you buy – an opinion of their ease of use and comfort in the hand can vary tremendously from person to person.
Clear safety glasses for open vehicle drives. These are to protect against dust, wind, etc. You’re either going to look like an idiot or a seasoned pro, but however, you look you’re going to save your eyes from the extra strain. Or maybe save an eye from an incoming Giant Dungbeetle that’s missed his last few optometrist appointments…
A multi-plug, for charging multiple devices. Some accommodations were built in the days before you needed to charge a hundred personal devices every day, so wall sockets in the room can be few and far between.
The following is a guide to African electrical sockets:
- South Africa – large 3-pin, type M. Types C (2-pin) and N (small 3-pin) are common as well. Most guesthouses will have wall sockets or adapters taking all three types. Check out this site for more info.
- Namibia – type M and D.
- Botswana – type G (flat 3-pin), D and M.
- Kenya – type G.
- Note: ‘Universal’ adapters don’t fit type D & M! Most safaris have electricity availability throughout but on certain ones, such as mobile camping safaris and tours to the odd remote destination, you may not have electricity provided in your room. In such cases you will need to bring a mobile power unit, but for most safaris that is not necessary.
A quick-dry towel. I carry my own towel to try and save water. If I visit six places on a tour I’m only using one towel instead of six, which saves on water and washing powder. This is especially important on this continent, given that much of Africa is arid. Furthermore, I would appeal to everyone going on safari to do their bit to save on water and electricity – you really don’t need to shower twice a day.
A mobile phone. Having a good bird app with you is handy and you can also benefit from having a digital itinerary, such as the one the company I work for supplies. There’s generally good wifi coverage on safaris – but don’t spend all of your down time with your head buried in your phone.
You can also use your phone to take pictures for a lifetime’s memories and to make your friends jealous, but a reasonable quality camera might be better for landscape and wildlife shots.
Sun protection. Hat, sunscreen, sunglasses. You can ruin your safari experience by getting badly sunburnt. And protecting your eyes from UV rays is just plain common sense.
Is There a Final Piece of Advice on Packing for a Safari?
Be disciplined! What does discipline have to do with packing, I hear you ask? Apart from keeping luggage to a minimum, it’s about everything having a home in your bag.
Find the best place to keep things and once you’ve done that stick with it! If your sunscreen goes in a particular pocket, then be scrupulous about putting it back in the same place every time you take it out. That way you will always know where it is and you won’t hit a flat spin looking for things when your safari vehicle is waiting to depart.
And one more thing – if you use something, like the phone charger, pack it away in its special place immediately after use. That way there’s less chance of leaving things behind in the room when you move on. I guarantee that on a group tour someone is going to leave their charger behind. Just make sure it’s not you…
Happy packing and even happier travels!
Has This Inspired You to go on an African Safari?
Blue Sky Wildlife has a wide selection of local safari guides and companies to take you on your dream safari in Africa.
Leon Marais has been a guide for Lawson’s Birding, Wildlife and Custom Safaris in South Africa for a number of years. For packing lists and more packing advice see Lawson’s Safari Store partners where you can also buy items for your upcoming safari.
Published on: 14 Feb 2021