The Safari Packing Guide
“How do I pack for an African safari?” ranks amongst the top questions that our agents receive when their clients are preparing for this trip of a lifetime.
We may love luxury, but when you’re in the bush, there are just some things that can’t be “luxified,” so we’ve compiled our best tips and tricks to help pack for your next safari! You get a lot dustier than you may expect because of the roads; and you may be surprised to know that you’ll be quite chilly on the early morning game drives. But, we’ve put together a little packing list to help you figure out what to take, and what to leave behind, and leave room for a few curios.
First thing’s first…THE BAG!
An exercise in the art of traveling light
If you are flying between camps, the typical baggage specs are soft (all-sides) luggage/duffel bags with no rigid sides with maximum luggage weight of 20kg/44lbs (in the hold) and lastly, a maximum luggage size of 40cm (16 inches) wide x 30cm (12 inches) high x 60cm (24 inches) long. We recommend flexible bags made of pliable material such as cotton or canvas. The best thing to bring for this is a soft side medium-sized duffel bag and a small carry-on for any extras. You can find our team’s go-to bags here: here, here, and here.
Pro Tip: If you’re staying in a city before and after your safari, or indeed, headed to the beach, we recommend that you store your larger luggage at the airport while you’re in the bush. Also, keep in mind that most camps and lodges offer laundry service. Check with your SmartFlyer agent before you go on laundry and storage services.
What to Pack
For Ladies + Gents: Dressing for Your Safari
Safaris are generally casual affairs, even at the high-end camps, so leave the sparkles at home and make sure that you will be comfortable (not to mention, warm!) by packing layers. In the words of safari expert Claire Eastwood, “It’s not a fashion show, but safari is as chic as right now, so don’t be thinking Jungle Jim!”
Here’s our list for the must-have/must-bring for when our team head out on safaris. This list below should cover all the basics from top to bottom, when in doubt, check with your travel advisor!
- long sleeved tops
- sweatshirt/fleece/versatile jacket
- thin waterproof raincoat if traveling during the wet season
- comfortable shorts
- cotton trousers/pants
- denim for the cooler months
- flannel pajama pants for the chilly nights
- swimsuit (you never know when you will need one!)
- sunglasses + light, fun scarves + bandanas
- socks, undergarments + sport bras for the ladies!
- wide-brimmed hat/baseball caps for sun protection
- walking shoes/boots
You’re there for the experience, so don’t lose sight of that. Dress comfortably…
It will be chilly in the early morning when you start your game drive, so you’ll need to layer up. Don’t forget to bring a fleece! At night, there will usually be a campfire to keep you warm, but you’ll want to wear long sleeves and trousers to cover yourself up and avoid those pesky mosquitoes. Also keep in mind, you get a lot dustier than you may expect because of the roads. Speaking of dust, Julie Palo Hayes shares, “avoid white if possible…there’s a reason that green is popular for safari!”
Addie Law — a safari veteran after just doing her fourth — points out, “You’re there for the experience, so don’t lose sight of that. Dress comfortably so you’re not fidgeting with tight fitting clothing while you’re in a vehicle for hours at a time! Plus, don’t forget that most luxury lodges will offer amenities like ponchos for cold nights. Singita’s are incredible and make the biggest difference!”
Katie Frederick Jacobson adds, “Mix and match different neutral colors in comfortable fabrics like cotton and linen. Keep mostly covered to protect from bugs and the sun. Just don’t wear dark blue or black because they attract tsetse flies, which bite! Baseball hats are good to protect from the sun, and they stay on when the safari vehicle is moving fast!”
Tiffany Figueiredo shares, “My must-haves on safari are quick-dry pants comfortable enough for climbing in and out of the vehicles; a bathing suit for lazy lodge afternoons; cute cotton bandanas, which not only elevate neutral safari staples when tied around your neck or hair, but have endless uses from protecting your nose and mouth from dust, to cooling you down when dipped in cold water.
I also love a field jacket like the classic from J.Crew. Waxed cotton ones protect from wind and rain, while lightweight linen ones provide sun protection. Big pockets mean you won’t have to lug a bag on game drives, but can still access essentials like camera batteries, polarized sunglasses, lip balm, eye drops, and a good no-mess, brush-on mineral sunblock like Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral SPF 45. The African sun is no joke!”
Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda have all banned plastic bags so make sure none of your toiletries are packed in Ziplock bags!
Katie Lee adds, “Maximize what you can bring by using packing cubes (these ones from Paravel are amazing!) but don’t go too crazy; you need to follow the weight restrictions carefully, if not, you might be paying for an extra seat on the flight! It’s important to remember that luxury safari camps will offer laundry on site so you can wash your clothes. Plan 2 -3 safari outfits you can re-wear or mix and match.”
Pro Tip: Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda have all banned plastic bags so make sure none of your toiletries are packed in Ziplock bags!
Lauren Kimball Grubbs shares, “Chambray button up shirts and Soludos canvas slippers were on repeat on my trip to Kenya and Tanzania. They even have a color called ‘Safari so it’s seriously meant to be!” These slip-ons will make for the perfect look during the evenings at the camp, but let’s not forget about boots. Kristina Miller adds, “For walking safaris, I’m obsessed with good sturdy hiking boots. My Merrell pair has been great to me over the years!”
Phyllis Polaner adds, “I just love Anatomie for safari wear as everything is super lightweight, hand washable, multilayered. And as a bonus, they even include packing cubes! This page on their site has some great options, but they also have a Concierge/Travel Stylist to assist your travelers with all their needs.”
The Extra Bits
Photos for Days
Taking photos on auto-mode will still yield images that you will be proud of for years to come.
It goes without saying that you’re going to want to document your incredible adventure. Amy Wyatt shares her advice on photography, “Consider brushing up on some simple photography techniques that will take your photos to the next level. I love my Olympus PEN, which is compact like a point and shoot camera, but comes with many of the features of a larger DSLR. I have invested in two lenses — a 40-150mm zoom and a 60mm macro lens for up-close detail, along with the standard 14-42mm lens.” David Bragg adds, “I know we’re all used to using our phones for photos these days, but getting up close pics with a true camera is so much better.”
Pro Tip: Don’t feel that you need to turn into a professional photographer, taking photos on auto-mode will still yield images that you will be proud of for years to come. After all, the animals are wild and won’t wait for you to get your camera ready!
If buying and lugging equipment from home stresses you out, there’s always to rent and have it shipped directly to camp. Just don’t forget to bring memory card for your camera + extra ones, because you’ll take more video and photos than you ever thought possible. And no matter what, bring a battery pack, so you can be sure to charge on-the-go.
It’s About the Memories
Tom Bartholomew shares, ‘The safari downtime in the midday heat gives a perfect opportunity to catch up on your reading list. I always recommend bringing a book inspired by the safari location. Reading The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony surrounded by the sights and sounds of the bush made the pages come alive. It truly gave me a much deeper appreciation of the game viewing.”
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to actually see the game with your eyes instead of through your lens! Courtney Beaver adds, “A great pair of binoculars will ensure you don’t miss a beat. Sometimes it’s nice to put the camera down and live in the moment.”