What to pack for safari is challenging. Packing for a holiday is usually pretty easy. Throw some things in and hope for the best. When it comes to Africa however, you need to be prepared, especially when packing for an African safari. Trying to achieve the perfect balance of essential verses ‘good to have’ is a fine art. Travelling as light as possible is the aim. The less you take, the better. Here’s my list on what to pack for safari, clothes and how to get it all in!
I took my trusty 60L backpack that i’ve been travelling with for years now. It was the perfect size to take on this trip and weighed in at 12KG. Taking a backpack is a necessary evil as you need to load 6 people’s luggage into a tiny boot of the Safari vehicle. A few members from my group did have soft suitcases, and this was manageable as it was only 2 out of 18 people. Therefore had there been more suitcases, all the luggage simply wouldn’t have fit.
I strongly recommend a waterproof cover for your backpack. Not necessarily to protect from water, but from the dust! My backpack was a beautiful shade of orange after this trip. Nothing a good amount of TLC can’t fix, but would have been nice to know before.
WHAT TO PACK FOR SAFARI LIST
Here are my recommendations on what to pack for a 2 week African adventure, with 1 week on safari:
– 1 Ultra Light Down Jacket
– 7 t-shirts
– 1 long-sleeve top
– 2 harem / hippie / cargo (full length) pants
– 1 pair of shorts
– 1 Thermal bottoms
– Comfy PJ’s
– Microfibre towel
– Pool cover-up
– Comfy day shoes
– Flip flops
– Baseball cap
– Mosquito repellent with at least 20% DEET
– Malaria pills
– Cortisone cream (Steroid 1%)
– Hand sanitizer gel
– Eye drops
– Fresh wipes
– Torch and headlamp (with extra batteries)
– A brilliant DSLR camera, extra SD cards and extra batteries
– Binoculars (if you have a great camera with a good zoom, you don’t need these)
– British electricity plug adapter
– Powerbank (10,000mh)
– Air pillow
– Pillow cover
– Warm sleeping bag
– Playing cards
– A day backpack
– Some snacks
My number one piece of advice is to take clothes that are neutral coloured, earthy tones and are comfortable. Try to avoid taking bright colours as this will draw attention from the animals and insects. Cotton is a great fabric as it allows your clothes to breathe. Anything that is fast drying and breathable is ideal.
As Tanzania is a Muslim country, knees and shoulders are expected to be covered. Therefore, I don’t recommend taking singlets or strapless tops. If you do, make sure you have something extra that can cover your shoulders. I found wide shoulder singlets were ok, but nothing on straps. I’ve listed 7 t-shirts as your clothes will get dirty fast. The air is very dusty so your clothes will turn shades of orange quickly. The dust seems to seep through everything. If you’re camping, you won’t have much time to do laundry, so having more clean clothes is a really nice treat.
While you are on safari in the vehicle, it can get quite hot. Therefore, I recommend you ask your driver before you set off, if you can wear shorts. They will most likely say it’s ok. Keep in mind, you are not walking around, so it’s only them that will see you. If you don’t want to wear shorts, hippie pants are an absolute savior. They battle the heat and are below knee. Make sure not to take clothing items that are military / camouflage – you’ll draw a lot of attention to yourself. Strongly recommend to avoid.
Versatility is a must. Have lots of little layers. The mornings are cool, but by 11AM it’s hot. Therefore, have things that zip on and off easily, or easily removed. You’ll be on the road for long hours, so you’ll want to be comfortable easily.
You must take a jacket as the nights get cold. I recommend a Ultra Light Down jacket from Uniqlo, or a good hoodie. A hoodie will be heavier, but it gets the job done. I wore mine every single night, and was so happy with it. Mine came with a little bag that the jacket folds into, super convenient! Long sleeved jackets also help protect from mosquitoes, so consider this when buying jackets / vests. A long sleeve cotton top will come in handy for evenings that are on the colder side. In Ngorongoro Crater, the mornings are very fresh – around 8 degrees. You’ll want to have warmer things like a beanie here. You’ll most definitely feel the difference in climate.
For your footwear, pick comfortably. I took white Converse with me as they my most comfortable and versatile pair. They were perfect, allowing me to run around without concern. They are also relatively light, which always helps. However after 2 weeks in Africa, the shoes were unrecognisable. When I returned, they were a dark shade of grey. I had to wash them twice to no avail, and resorted to bleaching them (twice!!!), which STILL didn’t work. I don’t regret taking them, just be aware that things will not come back white as they once were. On a side note, I now have new white Converse.
I also absolutely recommend taking flip flops. I wore these whilst we were in the safari vehicles. You’ll also want some when you are showering in the bathrooms.
Some other packing guides will recommend hiking boots. I really didn’t see this as necessary at all. You aren’t really ever hiking. What’s important is that you take closed toe, covered shoes.
Make sure to take lots of mosquito repellent with DEET. DEET isn’t great for your skin, however keeps the mosquitoes away. I took way too much for my trip, but wanted to be certain I had enough. For two people, I had 3 x 100ml bottles of Bushman 20% DEET Plus sunscreen pump spray, 2 x Bushman 40% DEET aerosol and 1 x Thursday Plantation roll on insect repellent. I came back with some of the 20% left, and both of the 40% aerosols untouched. Since this was September – a low mosquito month, I would take more for other months. I used the roll on insect repellent for my face as I didn’t want harsh chemicals on my face.
Cortisone cream is something I always travel with. It’s super handy for speeding up the healing process and inexpensive. If you get bit by mosquitos, put some Cortisone cream on it, and the itch goes away insanely fast!
This goes a little outside the standard, however, I also took some vodka with me. I took a shot of straight vodka every night after dinner to sterilise my stomach. You never know what kind of bacteria may accidentally get into your food / cutlery / toothbrush. I avoided getting any nasty surprises or bugs while I was away. I guess I’ll never know the difference had I not taken it, however the extra precaution didn’t go astray in making my evenings that little more happier.
I strongly recommend taking a good camera. I normally travel with an Olympus Tough TG-4, point and shoot. However, for this trip, I did not want to have photographers regret. It is worth investing in a good DSLR camera, and knowing how to use it before you go. I had a Pentax K-5 with a 50-250mm and 300mm fixed lens. The combination of lenses was amazing.
Even though it may be heavy carrying two lenses, majority of the time you are in a vehicle so you aren’t carrying the equipment. I strongly suggest having a lens pen with you. With the dusty conditions, your lens will always be covered with little orange specks.
Changing your lenses will be tricky, however, there is always risk involved with getting a brilliant shot. I considered not taking the 300mm lens with me before the trip because I was scared I would ruin my camera. During the trip, my choice to take it was immediately confirmed as a good choice. The animals do get close, but sometimes I didn’t even need to zoom on the 50-250mm, but it meant I got even closer close-ups on the 300mm. The eye is in the detail.
My sleeping bag was graded to 11 degrees in the “comfortable” range. It was almost slightly too warm for the nights when we weren’t at elevation. However, when we camped at Ngorongoro Crater, the sleeping bag proved perfect. It’s worth investing in a good sleeping bag that compacts down in size. The smaller the better. I didn’t manage to squeeze my sleeping bag into my backpack, I had it loosely attached from the bottom. Clever hacking with the side tabs, and it will attach itself!
FITTING IT ALL IN
I used 4 compression bags inside my backpack. 2 Medium, 2 small. These were ideal as I was able to separate the clothing based on function. Compression bags will save you space and keep your clothes organised. The pull-tags on the side really do make a difference. They are 100% worth investing in.
For example, in a medium sized bag I had all my safari clothes; t-shirts, shorts, hippie pants. In a small bag, I had all my socks, underwear and bra’s. In another medium size, I had my warmer clothes; long-sleeved tops, thermals, beanie. And finally, in another I had my swimming gear. I then had another bag for my dirty clothes (which filled up quickly). Top it off with my toiletries, and my bag was super functional.
I used my day backpack as my hand luggage, which was my Lowepro camera backpack. You don’t need to worry about fashion here. Practicality wins. My backpack weighed 8KG overall. Inside I had a water bottle, my DSLR, 2 lenses (50-250mm and 300mm), iPad, malaria pills, sunscreen, sunglasses, wallet, muesli bar and a lens pen. Obviously the weight depends on how heavy your camera is. I used my iPad for backing up photos, however, it’s entirely optional. If you can’t fit everything into your backpack, get a bigger backpack.
WHAT TO WEAR
The capital city of Kenya, Nairobi is the epicentre for East Africa. Now as Nairobi is a big city, people here are used to see anything and everything, so they say to not be too stressed in Nairobi when it comes to covering your knees or shoulders. However, I’m of the belief that you should respect the local culture as much as possible, and not draw extra attention to yourself. Read more about my Nairobi experience here >>>
The weather in Nairobi is quite temperate all year round, with the temperature during the day typically in the 20s, and during the night around 15 degrees. This is actually super easy weather to dress for respectfully. During the day, a t shirt and hippie pants. During night, jeans, t shirt and a cardigan. You’ll find the mornings chilly, but it will warm up fast!
As Arusha is a smaller town, the presence of international people is smaller. Therefore, it’s more important to dress appropriately here. Simple hippie pants and t-shirts work well. You’ll find the nights a little warmer than in Nairobi due to a change in elevation.
I recommend separating your safari clothes from your city clothes. The safari clothes will become absolutely filthy and you’ll want to have different clothes to wear in the city afterwards. You won’t mind wearing a dirty t-shirt while you are on safari, however, when you are back in town, you’ll stick out if you’re really dirty.
As the temperature on during the day is typically in the high 20s, you can wear t-shirts and hippie pants, or shorts. Read more about my Serengeti Safari experience here >>
Remember to keep your essentials with you at all times. Luggage on internal flights within Tanzania need to be light (12-15KG). When flying, make sure to always carry your passport, wallet and malaria pills on you. Luggage can go missing, but with these three things, you can get by. Do you have any suggestions what to pack for safari? Comment below!