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It’s easy to over-complicate an African safari packing list. This is Africa, it’s going to be wild, so you feel a need to pack for all eventualities.
Most people really want to look good when coming face to face with an elephant or lion, usually because they want to look good in the photos.
It’s easy to get hung up with your safari packing list so we’re going to simplify everything.
You’ll start to feel butterflies in the stomach and that familiar twinge of anticipation as you pick your clothes and pack your outdoor essentials, and of course your trusty camera for snapping an ungainly hyena or a soaring African fish eagle.
Stick to our carefully considered safari selection and you won’t go wrong!
Simplify and Shorten Your Safari Packing List
It can be daunting. Choosing what to stuff into a suitcase for a beach holiday is difficult enough, never mind the items for an adventure.
Our Africa Freak contributors have experienced guests turning up with a bizarre range of things, including plastic toilet seats, tinned baked beans and fluffy slippers.
Most safari goers appear to have the same safari packing list, because so many on the African savanna are dressed identically.
The most common mistake is to have high-quality walking boots near the top of the list. Yes, they’re essential if you are going on a walking safari.
But many safaris only include game drives and you can’t get out of the vehicle. The furthest most people walk in their heavy boots is 20 metres from the vehicle to the tent.
The big cats and wild mammals don’t care too much about fashion, so they won’t pass judgement if your colours are clashing. Nor do they care if you wear the same trousers three days in a row.
The real reasons why you need to simplify the safari packing list
Traveling light makes everything easy. With most safari itineraries you will be moving destinations and camps on an almost daily basis.
It gets tiresome packing and unpacking, so keep it simple and travel light. Many lodges and camps have laundry facilities anyway.
Simplifying the safari packing list is also essential because there simply isn’t enough space for large and bulky luggage.
Domestic safari flights use light aircraft where space is a premium. They have strict luggage weight limitations, usually of 15 kg for all your luggage.
Safari vehicles don’t have space for oversized luggage. Just imagine watching the great wildebeest migration and getting cramp because luggage ruins your leg space.
Many people want to look their best whenever they encounter other people. Out on the African savanna you won’t encounter many people. Even when you do, the people are looking at animals instead of you.
So dump the fashion and embrace the adventure!
The lighter you can travel the better. And your clothes will get ruined by all the dust and sun so keep the three-piece suit at home and follow this basic safari packing list.
Simple, lightweight clothes
Okay, so you know you need clothes. Nobody wants to get that close to nature out in the African wilderness. But what kind of clothes?
Most people find lightweight shorts or trousers the most comfortable on safari, depending on the time of year and your exact safari location. They don’t need to be the zip-off variety, they just need to be comfortable.
You should also take some loose-fitting, comfortable shirts or t-shirts – maybe not your absolute favourites though, since they’re likely to get a little creased and more than a little sweaty! Lightweight and breathable fabrics are best.
One long-sleeved shirt – possibly with inbuilt insect or sun protection – is also very useful as it provides protection from sun and insects.
Hat and accessories
Moreover, you’ll need a wide-brimmed hat which covers both your face and the back of your neck. Put this one at the top of your safari packing list.
It’s also worth taking a warm fleece with you – yes, Africa is a hot country, but early morning game drives can be quite chilly, and you’ll feel the bracing breeze once you’ve got the windows and roof open!
You’ll also appreciate it on the cooler evenings, especially if you want to take an al fresco drink or sit at the camp fire if you’re staying at a tented camp.
Take some sturdy walking boots if you want to go on a nature walk, a walking safari or a mountain hike. Sneakers or trainers are fine otherwise. Just make sure you have closed footwear as mosquitoes love to find gaps in sandals.
Ladies may also wish to take a sarong or khanga with them. These multi-purpose garments can be used as a headscarf to keep hair out the way if it’s particularly windy, a scarf if it gets chilly, or a lightweight shawl to protect shoulders from the sun.
A sarong can also be folded nice and small to fit in your day bag (we recommend a small backpack) when you’re not using it!
The best colour safari clothing
An essential tip: don’t wear black or dark blue clothes on safari.
Khaki colours are the best because they match the dust.
Black and dark blue attracts tsetse flies, which are a real annoyance, especially in East Africa.
Bright colours are fine for game drives, they just look dirty and dusty very quickly. However, it’s better to wear neutral colours on game walks.
Why? On game drives animals don’t see your clothes. They see the vehicle rather than you. On walking safaris it’s easier to get closer to the animals when you blend into the landscape, rather than standout.
2. Healthcare Essentials
Sun cream and sunglasses
First on the list is some very high SPF sun cream. Even if you consider yourself used to the sun, the sun is extremely strong in Africa and it’s simply not worth getting burnt.
You don’t want any distraction from your game-viewing and you can’t get an all over tan in a safari vehicle anyway. Factor 50 is recommended. Seriously – SPF 50 is the minimum for the African sun.
It’s also useful to bring an extreme/sports sunblock. These are very small – usually the size and shape of a lip balm – and can be taken in a day bag or pocket for reapplication to sensitive areas whenever you feel it’s necessary.
You’ll also need some good quality sunglasses. The reason sunglasses come under healthcare essentials and not clothing in the safari packing list, is that you will need sunglasses to protect you, not just as a fashion accessory.
Physicists recommend you choose sunglasses with at least 99% UVB protection and 95% UVA protection.
Instead of offering proper protection, cheap sunglasses will simply darken you vision, meaning your pupils will dilate to allow extra light in. Without proper UV protection, your dilated pupils will also take in more harmful UV rays and could cause extensive damage to your eyes.
Take some mosquito repellent with you. If you don’t want to carry a large bottle when you’re out on game drives, just bring some wipes in your day bag. They come in tiny sachets and are very handy – especially if you’re out on an evening game drive when the sun is setting and mosquitoes are at their most active.
First on the list has to be a camera, and all the stuff that comes with it!
Depending on your passion for photography you can need anything from spare batteries or a charger, to extra memory cards, a zoom lens and a dust-proof camera case.
Whatever your level, a little beanbag is always useful for resting your camera on and steadying hands. It’s the safari-friendly alternative to an unwieldy tripod!
Even if you have fantastic eyesight and the world’s most observant safari guide, a pair of binoculars will enhance your safari experience immeasurably.
Using binoculars is often the only way to take in those tiny details – examining the differences between a plains zebra and a Grevy’s zebra stripes, marvelling at the sheer size of a black rhino’s horn, even staring into the golden eyes of a hungry lioness.
Luxury item – wildlife book
Of course, you’ll want to know exactly what it is you’re looking at through your fantastic binoculars. Was that a ground hornbill or a Kori bustard? A masai giraffe or a Rothschild’s?
Doing a bit of research in some bird and wildlife books is worth every minute. It’s no use your guide telling you that today you might spot a rare beisa Oryx if you’ve got no idea what these beautiful creatures look like!
The enthusiastic botanists amongst you might even want to take a guide to the plants, trees and vegetation you might encounter. The landscape of Africa is hugely diverse, from the riverine forest to the open savannah to the reed-spotted marshlands. And you wouldn’t want to confuse a doum palm with an oil palm, would you?
4. Safety, Security and Practicality
A torch is always useful to take on a safari holiday. If you’re staying in a campsite, a large torch and a head torch will of course be a blessing.
Even many of the most luxurious tented camps and permanent lodges turn off the power, usually from around midnight to five in the morning (either for practical or environmental reasons).
In this case, a wind-up torch is useful for any late night trips to the toilet! NB – you can usually arrange to have the power turned on before the scheduled time in cases of early departure etc.
Swiss army knife
A Swiss army knife is a marvellous miscellaneous tool for any occasion. The bottle opener is there for opening cold drinks bought at road-side cafés on long journeys.
The scissors are handy for snipping off loose threads. And of course if you’re camping, the various knives and tin-openers will be invaluable.
You may not even use a Swiss army knife, but it can be a comforting item for an adventure in the wilderness.
Although they may not be entirely practical for wear during your actual game drives, a money belt is undoubtedly the most secure way to keep your money, passport and other important documents to hand when you’re in transit.
They are particularly useful if you are flying through large and busy airports such as Nairobi or Johannesburg, or if you have to take coach or train transfers anywhere.
Africa Isn’t Middle Earth – It Does Have Shops
Africa is not a primitive continent. It has shops and shopping malls. It’s not just elephants on the airport runway and pure bush.
In major cities you can buy most things you will need for a safari, the obvious exception being high-end camera equipment.
So yes, you can buy toiletries, suncream, safari clothes, safari hats, and almost everything else after you arrive in Africa.
Furthermore, it’s probably cheaper to buy in Africa than at home.
However, once you’re on the road and into vast national parks there won’t be any convenience stores. So if there’s something you need, speak to your guide before leaving the town or city.
So, that’s our complete safari packing list. Pretty simple huh?
We hope you’ve found the article helpful, and remember the most important thing – safari njema!