The Ultimate Safari Packing List: What to Pack and What Not to Pack for Safari

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The Ultimate Safari Packing List

When I went on my first safari way back in 2014, I went a tad overboard when it came to following the packing list Shadows of Africa had sent me.

I didn’t just buy the binoculars and the headlamp and the first-aid kit, I bought a whole new wardrobe of safari-friendly clothes.

I had a broad-brimmed safari hat, heavy-duty hiking boots, a kit to let me wash my clothes in a river, and even a pocket knife in case lions gave me grief.

Suffice it to say, I came back from the safari realizing that 90% of the stuff I’d packed wasn’t remotely necessary.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: unless you’re camping, going on safari isn’t so different to any other vacation.

The sleeping leopard wakes to regard me with disdain from his lofty perch.
The sleeping leopard wakes to regard me with disdain from his lofty perch.

What to Wear on Safari

You don’t need a brand new wardrobe of you beaut outdoor gear for your safari.

The truth is, you’re likely to spend 50% of your time comfortably seated in your safari vehicle and the other 50% of the time snug and warm in your tented camp or safari lodge.

While there are undoubtedly opportunities to get down and dirty gorilla trekking or going on a walking safari, most of the time you’re going to be able to wear the same kind of clothes you’d wear at home.

Clothes to Pack for Safari

Obviously, you need clothes to go on safari.

As comfortable as those lions and giraffes look buck-naked, you’re just going to look silly with your tallywacker flapping about like a frantic leech.

As a good rule of thumb, you’ll want to pack:

  • T-shirts and shorts for warm weather;
  • Jeans or slacks for cool weather;
  • A lightweight windbreaker;
  • Something smart casual for dinner at fancier lodges;
  • Comfortable walking shoes;
  • A warm sweater or jacket;
  • Underwear;
  • Socks etc.

As you can see, it’s a pretty pedestrian old list. There’s nothing super fancy in there.

No water-proof trousers.

No state of the art hiking boots.

No safari shirt with eleven pockets.

Just regular, run of the mill clothes.

safari packing list
The colours are right, but what was I thinking with that hat!?

So, I can wear whatever I want on safari?

Not exactly.

There are two factors you’re going to want to take into account beyond the obvious concerns such as weather and temperature:

1). Cultural Respect

Regardless of where in the world you’re from and what might be acceptable ‘at home’, you need to be respectful of the culture you’ll be immersing yourself in.

Many African nations are more conservative than the footloose and fancy-free west, so dressing appropriately is a great way to show respect.

Don’t wear revealing clothes or clothes with offensive slogans or images.

Many African nations also take their religious beliefs more seriously as well, so be wary of that when packing.

Inquisitive giraffes rubberneck at us as we drive back to civilisation.
Inquisitive giraffes rubberneck at us as we drive back to civilisation.

2). Neutral Colours

While the animals in safari parks are quite used to seeing tourists, you’ll stand a better chance of spotting the Big Five if you’re dressed appropriately.

Neutral, natural colours such as greens and browns are recommended, as brighter colours are likely to alarm animals not used to such garish displays.

If you’re in tsetse fly country, be wary of wearing black or blue – both of which are attractive to these painful little bastards.

A hippo doing its trademark yawn in a pool by the Serengeti Four Seasons.
A hippo doing its trademark yawn in a pool by the Serengeti Four Seasons.

Shopping for Safari Clothes

You might be lucky and already have everything you need for your safari, but on the off chance you don’t, sites such as LYST can be a great resource.

With a selection of more than 11,000 retailers and the ability to search by keywords such as ‘natural colours’, this site can be a godsend when doing your shopping.

Better still, it learns from your tastes and puts together curated lists for you. If your first safari turns into a second and third, you’ll have recommendations tailored to your tastes.

Sun Protection on Safari

Another vital part of your wardrobe for your safari is likely to be appropriate sun protection.

The sun out on the Serengeti or the Maasai Mara can be absolutely unforgiving, so you’ll want to make sure you’re adequately prepared.

A good, wide-brimmed hat is a good starting point, although you don’t need to get anything too dramatic.

You’ll also want sunscreen, sunglasses, and a little aloe lotion in case you do get a bit pink.

A lioness sleeps under a tree to escape the scorching Serengeti sun.
A lioness sleeps under a tree to escape the scorching Serengeti sun.

Electronics on Safari

Let’s be honest, most of us would be hard-pressed to survive a week or so without our electronics.

As enchanting as the idea of a digital detox might be, does a safari really happen if you aren’t able to Instagram it, share your thoughts on Facebook, and Skype home?

(Obviously, yes, but bear with me)

We’ve become reliant on our electronics, and a safari is no different.

  • Camera and charger;
  • Smartphone;
  • Flashlight or headlamp;
  • Travel adapter;
  • Battery pack.

A camera is not only vital for snapping photos, but it’s also a good substitute for binoculars if a certain someone is hogging them.

A flashlight or headlamp is a good idea even if you aren’t camping, as many tented camps may not have 24 hour electricity.

This female elephant came up to our truck to play in the puddle we were parked in.
This female elephant came up to our truck to play in the puddle we were parked in.

Charging Electronics on Safari

Many safari vehicles have charging stations as a standard inclusions these days, but it pays to make sure you have a good universal travel adapter or, failing that, the right adapter for the country you’re visiting.

Check out this guide to power outlets around the world to figure out what you’ll need for your trip.

On the off-chance your vehicle doesn’t have a charger or your hotel doesn’t offer 24 hour power, it might be a good idea to buy a good, heavy duty power bank as well.

Staying Connected on Safari

If you can’t bear to be away from your online life while you’re on safari, it’s relatively easy to get connected.

Despite the perception that Africa is somehow behind the times, many countries are every bit as connected as we are used to being in the west.

In fact, with infrastructure for fiber connections a rarity, you’ll be surprised at how good the 4G coverage can be even at the heart of the Serengeti!

Local SIM cards are easy enough to obtain, although it can be a bit time-consuming to wait in line while they scan your passport etc.

A lonely hyena is spoiled for choice by the impala surrounding him.
A lonely hyena is spoiled for choice by the impala surrounding him.

First Aid and Medications for Safari

Heading to Africa isn’t quite the journey to “deepest, darkest Africa” that it might once have been, and while the continent undoubtedly struggles with health problems that we don’t experience in the western world, it’s still quite safe to travel if you take appropriate precautions.

Vaccinations for Safari

Exactly what vaccinations you’ll need will vary from country to country, so it’s always a good idea to consult your doctor about requirements for the specific country you’re visiting.

However, the below vaccinations are a good rule of thumb:

  • Hepatitis A & B;
  • Yellow Fever;
  • Typhoid Fever;
  • Meningitis.

Depending on where you are traveling (and your previous vaccination history), you may also want to look into Polio and Rabies vaccines.

Another shot of the leopard as it surveys its domain from its treetop roost.
Another shot of the leopard as it surveys its domain from its treetop roost.

HIV, Ebola, and Zika

It would be remiss of me not to mention these three intimidating diseases, even though your chances of encountering them are slim.

Unless you’re engaging in dangerous behaviour such as unprotected sex or drug-use, your risks of HIV exposure are no greater in Africa than they would be at home.

Ebola, which affected small pockets of the continent in 2014, is not a major concern as of the time of this writing.

The Zika Virus, which is prevalent across Africa, is a risk to pregnant women. While there is no vaccine against Zika Virus, taking precautions to avoid mosquito bites will protect you.

Hard to believe the Cape Buffalo is such a dangerous animal as it munches on ferns by the road.
Hard to believe the Cape Buffalo is such a dangerous animal as it munches on ferns by the road.

Medications to Pack for a Safari

In addition to the above vaccinations, you’ll also want to pack a few specialized medications for your safari that you might not normally pack when you travel.

These includes:

  • Anti-malarial medication;
  • Anti-diarrhea medication;
  • Antihistamines for allergies and bites.

The risk of exposure to Malaria can be quite high in humid climates, so the side-effects from anti-malarial medication are worth it to avoid a long and potentially expensive hospital stay.

With mosquitoes, tsetse flies, and other biting insects likely to be a problem, having a cream or medication to reduce itching is a good move as well. Especially if you’ve got delicious blood like mine!

Lastly, a good anti-diarrhea medication is a must! While food safety is of a good standard in most lodges you’ll encounter, roadside restaurants may not have the same cleanliness standards. Likewise, water quality in Africa is generally poor, so even brushing your teeth with it can lead to some uncomfortable situations.

Trust me, you don’t want to be hunkering down on the savannah ‘bush toilet’ worrying about lions and hyenas while doing your business.

First Aid Kits on Safari

Any safari company worth its salt will have a fully stocked first-aid kit in your safari vehicle, but it doesn’t hurt to carry your own small kit with band-aids, rubbing alcohol, tweezers etc.

You never know when you might need a first aid kit.

Don’t forget your insect repellent!

Seriously, mosquitoes are a pain in the ass no matter where you go, and when you factor in bloodborne diseases such as Malaria, it’s not worth taking the risk.

Tsetse flies, which can carry sleeping sickness in some countries, deliver a painful bite even without the risk of disease.

Pack insect repellent and plenty of it, trust me.

Danger! Danger! This bull elephant let us know in no uncertain terms that we weren't welcome.
Danger! Danger! This bull elephant let us know in no uncertain terms that we weren’t welcome.

Don’t Panic

The above may seem like a daunting list, but going on a safari isn’t so different than any other trip you might take.

Sure, you need to take a few extra medical precautions and you’ll have to leave your hot pink tank-top at home, but you’re not packing for Everest.

Just remember: natural colours, something warm for night, a travel adapter, and plenty of insect repellent.

You’ll be fine.

Want to Know More?

I’m a safari expert at Shadows of Africa and I plan and book safaris in Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

If you’re looking to make your African adventure a reality, get in touch!

contact me

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