Packing for a safari requires thought, some colors are betters than others, there are seasonal considerations, luggage restrictions, and stringent weight limits on flights into the bush. The nuances are unique to safaris but are easy to mitigate once you have the information you’ll find below. Plus, to make things even easier, I’ve included a free safari packing list you can download and print 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 killer, and closed-toed shoes in case you 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 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 the way you pack.
Weight (33lbs. That’s it.)
Your total weight per person cannot exceed 15kg or 33 lbs (In Botswana it’s 20lbs). Just to be extra clear: 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 high season it’ll 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 a little over-zealous with your belongings.
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Free Laundry Service
Every camp I’ve been to has 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 day’s for a 10-day to two-week trip and you’re good to go.
Note: The standard safari itinerary includes multiple camps with stays lasting two to three nights at each. Which 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 can potentially send wildlife in the opposite direction.
It’s best to avoid dark tones. Besides absorbing heat, in Tanzania, for example, the tsetse fly has attracted to dark navy and black 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? )
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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