What to wear on safari requires thought. Some colors are betters than others, there are seasonal considerations, and you have to keep things minimal because of luggage restrictions and weight limits on domestic flights into the bush. Below I’ll explain the nuances, and when you’re done, be sure to download my safari packing list detailing the essentials.
What to Wear on Safari (In general)
Think comfortable and casual when considering what to wear on safari. You’re in the middle of nowhere; who are you dressing up for?
Most of your day is spent in a game drive vehicle (three-four hours, twice a day)—the first excursion around sunrise, the second, late in the afternoon. In between, you’ll relax and have lunch.
Make sure to wear a wide-brimmed hat, the sun is super strong, and closed-toed shoes in case you want to walk around.
For dinner, casual is still the operative word, but sometimes you’ll see people upgrade to casual chic. The higher-end the camp, the more likely you’ll find this to be the case. I’ll bring a couple of cute tops to pair with jeans or my game-drive pants but overall, I wear the same things, and I’ve never felt out of place or uncomfortable.
Whether or not you bring separate clothes for the night depends on how clever you are about packing within the constraints discussed below. Since my camera equipment is heavy, I am very cautious not to overpack on the fashion front.
I’m starting here because these two practical considerations will influence what you choose and how you pack.
Weight Restrictions (33lbs. That’s it.)
Your total weight per person cannot exceed 15kg or 33 lbs (In Botswana, it’s 20lbs). To be extra clear: a checked bag, carry-on, purse or backpack, and camera equipment must, altogether, weigh 33lbs or less.
Weight limitations are no joke. You may slip by one day, but it’s just as likely you’ll have to pay a significant fee or wait for another plane where the extra pounds aren’t an issue. If you’re traveling during the high season, it’ll definitely work against you.
Soft-Sided Luggage. No Wheels.
To reach most camps, you’ll need to take a bush plane, and they have tiny cargo holds. For this reason, you need to use soft-sided luggage. It’s easier to squeeze a duffle into a tight space than bags with wheels. Equally important, wheels add pounds you could use for more important items.
Medium-sized duffels approximately 23” to 26” long are the best. In my Amazon Safari store, you’ll find a great North Face “Base Camp” duffel, but if you want something simpler and less expensive, I also this L.L. Bean “Adventure” duffle which is only sold on the company website.
Packing Tip: Use Cubes
Use packing cubes. I use them for all my trips, but for a safari, it’s especially convenient. They make packing and unpacking when you move to different camps so easy. I use one cube for my undies, another for pants/shorts, and a third for tops. The cubes keep things neat and simple to find. There are compression packing cubes, too, if you tend to be slightly over-zealous with your belongings.
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Free Laundry Service
Every camp I’ve visited provided complimentary laundry service. If it’s not available at the place you’re researching, stay elsewhere. It makes me wonder what else they may skimp on. With laundry service, you can pack clothing for three to four days and be good to go on a 10-day to two-week trip.
Note: The standard safari itinerary includes multiple camps with stays lasting two to three nights at each. This means by the time you have to wear something twice, you’re at a different camp.
The best safari clothes are those which have multiple uses (e.g., pants that unzip to shorts, a lightweight scarf that can be used as a snug, a bathing suit cover-up, or a jacket with a zip-out fleece liner). You’ll save space, weight, and time.
No matter the season, temperatures on safari fluctuate. In the early mornings and evenings, it’s cool (sometimes cold). The hottest part of the day is from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Just how significant the delta between the two depends on the season and what country you’re in. (Links to country climates below)
I always pack a fleece and one of those puffy jackets you can stuff into a tiny bag for chilly mornings and evenings. Note: during a game drive, you’re in an open-air vehicle, so you want to think about windchill. In some cases, a wool hat, scarf, and gloves are in order. Such was the case on my safari in Timbavati during South Africa’s June winter. It was freezing.
Stick with Neutral Tones
Khaki, creams, green, tan, colors that blend into the environment are the best when you’re on a game drive. Bright colors: red, white, yellow, cause you to stick out and potentially send wildlife in the opposite direction.
It’s best to avoid dark tones. Besides the fact that black absorbs heat, in Tanzania, for example, the tsetse fly is attracted to dark colors because it resembles an animal hide. At night, however, it’s not an issue.
Invest in breathable, quick dry fabrics.
Wear A Hat
The best safari hat is anything you’ll wear religiously with a relatively wide brim. The sun is brutal. A baseball cap isn’t enough when the sun’s rays hit you from the side.
Downloadable Safari Packing List
I’ve put together a downloadable safari packing list focusing on the essentials. I didn’t include personal items such as jewelry or cosmetics.
(P.S. I could have crammed everything into one page but then the font would be silly small and what’s the point of that? )
Some Additional Notes Regarding Your Safari Packing List
Camps supply shampoo, conditioner, and bath gel in their guest accommodations. Some of them are great, while others less so. I always include a travel-sized bottle of a shampoo/conditioner combo and bath gel, just in case.
Hairdryers and Electric Shavers
Due to their remoteness, a lot of camps run on solar power or generators. Therefore, appliances such as hairdryers and electric razors, which require a lot of electricity, are not allowed. Check beforehand.
Whether you’re working through a safari specialist or booking your adventure on your own, be sure to inquire whether you need any special gear. For example, a pair of garden gloves come in handy when gorilla trekking to avoid prickly thorns along the way. (In some cases, your accommodation may supply what you need.)
My Amazon Store “Safari Must-Haves”
Suggestions on specific products I use in my “Safari Must-Haves” shop in my Insatiable Traveler Amazon store. (FYI – The shop has affiliate links. If you purchase something using a link, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. )
Country Climate Information
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