After over 20 years of travelling, I’ve got my packing technique down pretty well – I can even pack a case in my sleep when there’s an early start involved. But there are some trips where your packing list requires a bit more thought, and an African safari is one of them – particularly for fly safaris when there are weight limits on how much baggage you can take with you. When I was doing my research it seemed like there were two extremes of safari style – either zip-off trousers and head-to-toe khaki, or Instragrammers wafting around five-star resorts in maxi dresses and floppy hats – neither of which is exactly my style. But it is possible to pack for the extremes of sun, hot, dust and cold you get in Africa, all in one carry-on size case – and here’s how. This packing list would work for a four- or five-day safari, but if you’re going for a week or longer you can either add an extra set of bottoms and a couple of tops – or do laundry while you’re away.
Read more: A day in the life of a safari in South Africa
A safari can be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so you don’t want to have to buy a load of special clothes you’ll never wear again. But it’s easy enough to use things you already have. You don’t even necessarily need to wear the traditional browns and greens. If you’re in a jeep then most animals see it as one big creature rather than individual people, so it’s not so important what colour you’re wearing. There are a few things to avoid though. Whites and pale colours can get dirty quickly in the dust, and blacks and dark blues attract tsetse flies – evil little buggers that aren’t put off by insect repellent and can bite right through your clothes. It’s also a good idea to steer clear of camouflage as in some countries it’s the military uniform.
If you’re going to be doing a walking safari then you do need to wear neutral colours so you blend into the background and don’t scare the animals – think shades of brown, sand, beige, khaki and green. If you don’t already have some in your wardrobe you can pick up cheap tops and chinos from Primark or H&M.
Another thing to think about is mosquitoes. If you’re in a malarial area (or just want to avoid spending the whole trip scratching) then it’s a good idea to cover up with long-sleeved tops, trousers and closed shoes, which also help protect you from the African sun. You can even buy special clothing that’s impregnated with mosquito repellent, like the Craghoppers Nosilife range. In summer go for light cotton trousers and loose shirts, but in winter and in the mornings and evenings during spring and autumn it can get pretty chilly, so instead go for long-sleeved jersey tops and bring a lightweight fleece so you can layer up.
Safari lodges tend to be pretty casual – even the luxurious ones – so you don’t usually need to pack anything too formal. Normally you have free time at the lodge or camp in the middle of the day when it’s hottest, but there’s usually plenty of shade and not so many mosquitoes around so you can wear shorts and t-shirts/vests – and make sure to pack your swimming gear if there’s a pool. Around dusk you want to avoid mosquitoes so cover up in jeans, trousers or a long skirt, and you might need a cardigan as it gets colder. If you want to look a bit smarter without bringing extra clothes then just add some colourful jewellery.
Lightweight walking shoes are good for game drives as they keep the bugs out and are stable on uneven rocky ground. You don’t have to spend a fortune on them either – I have these £20 breathable ones from Mountain Warehouse. Also pack a pair of comfy sandals to wear around the camp – Clarks and Merell do some pretty ones that are good for walking but smart enough to wear in the evenings too.
The African sun can be brutal, so make sure you bring a good pair of sunglasses and a hat, preferably with a brim to keep the sun off your neck. A foldable hat is a good idea so you don’t have to worry about squashing it, but make sure it fits well or has a neck cord as it’s easy to lose them when the jeep speeds off. A scarf is also a good idea – it keeps dust off your face, covers you from the sun and keeps you warm on cool mornings. And large-boobed ladies might want to bring a sports bra as the tracks can be pretty bumpy!
Many safari areas in Africa are in malarial regions, so check before you go whether you’ll need anti-malarial medication. If you are in a malarial area you’ll also need some strong mosquito repellent – DEET is usually recommended but it does use harsh chemicals so there are more natural alternatives available (we used this Pyramid one). If you’re sensitive to motion sickness it’s worth packing some travel sickness bands or pills as the jeep ride can get pretty bumpy if there’s an animal sighting and you’ve got to speed across the park. And pack some hand sanitiser or wipes in case you need a toilet stop in the bush.
The air is really dry so as well as drinking lots of water, pack some heavy-duty moisturiser. My recommendations are the same old favourites I use for cold climates – Elizabeth Arden’s Eight-Hour Cream and Carmex lip balm. Also pack plenty of high-factor sunscreen and an adaptor plug for your electricals (Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and Zambia usually use the same plugs as the UK; South Africa has it’s own special ones but you can pick these up cheaply when you’re out there). And finally don’t forget your camera – and if do have a DSLR it’s worth buying or hiring a zoom lens if you can as it makes a real difference to your photos (I picked up a second-hand 55–200mm lens for my Nikon camera for around £100).
So that’s my African safari packing list – what are your safari packing tips?
Disclaimer: this article contains some affiliate links, where I’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you, but I’ll only recommend products or sites I genuinely recommend and use myself – thanks.