By Tyler Wetherall · April 2020
You’ve booked your safari, and now you’re stuck at the first hurdle: what on earth to pack. Well, here’s a handy list of dos and don’ts for a successfully packed suitcase with both safety and sustainability in mind.
There are over 400 national parks across 50 or more countries in Africa, and the safari experience varies extraordinarily from one to another. The temperature, humidity, exposure, and topography can all affect what you need to pack, as can local culture and customs, or the type of animals you’re hoping to see. Overwhelming? Sure, but this list will provide a great starting point for any trip. And, ultimately, once you’re on the ground watching a pair of lions recover in the shade of an acacia tree after mating, it really won’t matter what shoes you’re wearing.
The small aircraft which service the parks impose tight weight restrictions. If you’re planning a fly-in safari, then use a lightweight duffel to save your available weight for clothes and supplies.
In general, pack practical, lightweight and quick-drying fabrics in natural tones (khaki, beige or tan, but not white). Avoid bright colors, which can deter animals, especially blue which attracts tsetse flies. In some parts of Africa, camouflage clothing is also inadvisable (in Zimbabwe, it’s actually banned). Also, be aware of local religions and customs; in many places, it’s considered inappropriate to reveal too much thigh or midriff.
Your shoes will depend on the terrain. If you’re doing a self-drive safari or have a guide, then comfortable shoes with a decent tread for the occasional game walk will be sufficient. If you’re gorilla tracking in the jungle, you’ll need waterproof hiking boots and a tolerance for mud.
An amazing number of creatures are ready to bite your ankles.
Game drives leave early in the morning and, with peak season during winter, it can get cold.
Cap or hat
These are indispensable to wipe the dust from your face or lens and to keep the sun from your head.
Cotton or linen long-sleeved shirt
Women, this might seem counterintuitive, but if you’re doing any off-the-beaten track travel, chances are you’ll have to squat more often than once to use the toilet and potentially in areas without total privacy – a dress makes this much easier and less exposing. Leave the jumpsuit at home! Also, pack a sports bra for those bumpy roads.
Cut down on plastic-polluting water bottles, and invest in a LifeStraw, a gravity-powered purifier, which removes bacteria, parasites and viruses from any water. With each purchase, a child in need receives safe water for an entire school year.
Quick-drying travel towel
Camera with a telephoto lens
No, the zoom on your phone will not be sufficient for good safari photos. You’ll need a lens with a reach of at least 300mm, otherwise, you may as well put your camera away and enjoy the moment. It’s also advisable to pack spare memory cards, a protective filter for your lens, and a microfiber cloth to wipe dust away.
Headlamp / flashlight
If you’re camping a good flashlight will also help scare the hyenas away when they come prowling around the campfire.
You should keep a safe distance from the wildlife so as not to disturb them in their natural habitat. In the Masai Mara, they impose a 25-meter limit, and with some animals, like rhinos, you’ll be lucky to get that close. A good pair of binoculars will ensure you get the most out of the experience even from afar.
If you’re visiting more than one destination, these are game-changing for unpacking and repacking your bag.
Take the opportunity to put your phone away.
This app offers offline maps of the whole world and good navigation, and, when it comes to much of Africa, they are more comprehensive than Google Maps.
If you’re on a self-drive safari and don’t have a ranger, a thorough local guidebook or app will help you distinguish an impala from a reedbuck.
As with any adventurous travel, it’s alway wise to have your basics at hand: antihistamine, Band-Aids, painkillers, rehydration kits, antiseptic, a thermometer (for confirming the severity of a fever), anti-nausea tablets, Imodium, and whatever medications you require. Most importantly, make sure to pack antimalarials and bug spray (30 percent DEET or higher is needed for it to be effective against malaria).
Pack SPF 30 or higher, and buy a brand that’s reef-safe, biodegradable and non-toxic (Suntegrity, All Good, and Thinksport are good options).
If you’re using a “bush toilet” (as they call doing your business while on safari), then you can’t wash your hands, and in these moments, hand sanitizer is your friend. Antibacterial agents like triclosan are toxic for the environment, so choose a brand without the bad stuff.
Dusty conditions can cause irritation to your eyes.
Animals will retreat from smells they don’t recognize, so avoid anything perfumed.
And finally, make sure whatever you bring into the park leaves the park with you!