African safari packing list – what to bring on a trip to Africa

Safari backpack and binoculars on hardwood floor

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!

Tips for Your Africa Packing List — Keep it Simple

Sturdy walking boots are only essential on safari walks

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 wear similar clothes.

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 meters from the vehicle to the tent.

The big cats and wild mammals don’t care too much about fashion, so they won’t pass judgment if your colors are clashing. Nor do they care if you wear the same trousers three days in a row.

Why you should keep your packing list for safari simple

Tourist luggage at a local safari camp in the Serengeti

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 15 kg for all your luggage.

Bags and small aircraft in the Masai Mara

Safari vehicles don’t have space for oversized luggage. Just imagine watching the great wildebeest migration and getting cramps 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.

African Safari Checklist — Important Items for Travel

Beyond your clothing and gear, these are the items that you do not want to forget when going on an African safari:

  • A valid passport and visa for the country you’re traveling to.
  • Air tickets.
  • Travel vouchers for pre-booked safari tours.
  • Travel insurance.
  • Proof of required vaccinations.
  • Photocopies of all your important documents — passport, visa, air tickets, travel insurance, etc.
  • Cash for expenses.
  • A cellphone and charger.
  • Medication and prescriptions.

1. African Savanna Clothing Essentials

Tourist and safari guide enjoying a break in the Masai Mara reserve, Kenya

Okay, so you know you need safari clothes. Nobody wants to get that close to nature out in the African wilderness.

But what kind of clothes?

When it comes to safari clothing, the rule of thumb is to stick to simple, lightweight 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 favorites 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

A wide-brimmed hat, which covers both your face and the back of your neck, should be at the top of your safari packing list

Moreover, you’ll need a wide-brimmed hat that 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 appreciate it on the cooler evenings, especially if you want to take an al fresco drink or sit at the campfire 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.

In addition, ladies may wish to take a sarong or kanga with them. You can use these multi-purpose garments 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.

You can also fold a sarong nice and small to fit in your day bag (we recommend a small backpack) when you’re not using it!

Swimwear

Some safari lodges may feature swimming pools so that visitors can relax between excursions and escape the sometimes sweltering heat.

Additionally, there are various safaris that pass by waterfalls, lakes, rivers, and rock pools that are suitable for a refreshing dip.

For this reason, having a swimming costume on hand is important. Please note this may not be the case for all safaris.

What color clothing to include in your packing list for Africa

Woman posing outside a private jet, wearing typical safari clothing

An essential tip: don’t wear black or dark blue clothes on safari.

Black and dark blue attract tsetse flies, which are a real annoyance, especially in East Africa.

Khaki colors are the best because they match the dust.

Bright colors are fine for game drives; they just look dirty and dusty very quickly. Having said that, it’s better to wear neutral colors 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 stand out.

2. Healthcare Essentials For Your African Safari Kit List

There are numerous items you may need to ensure you have a pleasant and comfortable experience out in the wild.

From a high SPF sunscreen to a mosquito repellent, here are some things you should not leave out when packing for your African safari.

Sun cream and sunglasses

You'll also need some good quality sunglasses for your African safari

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.

You can carry this 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. Sunglasses come under healthcare essentials and not clothing in the safari packing list, because 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 your 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.

Lip balm, moisturizers, and antiseptic creams

One thing about the wild is that the climate is not always the most forgiving. Oftentimes it will be hot and dry, resulting in chapped lips and dry skin. Lip balm and moisturizer are useful in these cases.

If you’re spending a lot of time out in the wilderness, chances are you’ll need an antiseptic cream. This is a multi-purpose cream that helps with scratches, burns, and insect bites.

Mosquito repellent

Mosquito repellent plants infographic

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.

3. African Safari Gear List — Interactive

When on an African safari, there are several pieces of equipment that you can bring along that will enhance your experience. The items below are popular amongst avid safari-goers and tourists alike.

Camera gear

A nice mid-range DSLR is ideal to take beautiful pics of the African bush

First on the list has to be a camera and all the stuff that comes with it.

Depending on your passion for photography, you may 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 your hands. It’s the safari-friendly alternative to an unwieldy tripod!

Need packing tips for your African photo safari? Well, you will need a bag that can adequately protect your gear. Find out more in this safari luggage guide.

Tip: Check out these African wildlife photography websites for some inspiration before your safari trip.

Binoculars

With a good pair of binoculars you can scan the African bush for wild animals

Even if you have fantastic eyesight and the world’s most observant safari guide, a pair of safari 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, marveling at the sheer size of a black rhino’s horn, even staring into the golden eyes of a hungry lioness.

Luxury safari 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. Packing List for African Safari – Safety, Security & Practicality

Below are important items to include in your African safari survival kit.

Light

Practical flashlight for the African bush (and late night pee emergencies)

A torch is always useful to take on a safari holiday. If you’re staying at 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

Swiss army knives are always handy in the middle of the bush, whether to open a bottle of wine or peel off juicy fruits

A Swiss army knife is a marvelous miscellaneous tool for any occasion. The bottle opener is there for opening cold drinks bought at roadside 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.

Money belt

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 on 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.

Wet bags

Wet bags are convenient on safari trips—especially those that involve getting down and dirty. With this, you’ll be able to keep important items or documents safe from the elements.

They’re also ideal for storing snacks as they will stay fresh. But be sure to keep them away from the animals.

Africa Isn’t Middle Earth – It Does Have Shops

Mall of Africa - South Africa's (and Africa's) largest single phase shopping mall

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.

Do You Have Everything On Your Safari Packing List to Africa?

So, that’s our complete safari packing list. Pretty simple, huh?

But before you go, be sure to double-check that you have everything. From your important documents to your clothing and gear, each of these items will play an important role in ensuring the most memorable experience.

Now that you know what to bring on an African safari, the only thing left to do is book your trip. For some of the most thrilling adventures, check out these incredible safari deals.

We hope you’ve found the article helpful, and remember the most important thing – safari njema!

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