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If you are in the planning stages for going on safari, let me first tell you how excited I am for you, as this will be an experience you will treasure for a lifetime. For those of you who might not be immediately planning on going on safari, but are interested, let me tell you with every fiber of my being that you should make that dream come true. The sacrifices to get there and go on safari are worth it a thousand times over.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about what you should and should not bring with you on safari. If you are like I was before I first went, you are probably wondering what you need to bring with you on safari. Don’t worry, you are not alone. Unless you have been on safari before, you likely aren’t familiar with some of the general guidelines for going on safari. This includes what items are essential to bring, and which items you can do without.
In this article, I am going to review some of the general packing guidelines for going on safari with you, as well as talk about some of the essential pieces of gear that you will want to bring with you. Your safari operator will undoubtedly supply you with a list as well, and you should pay close attention to what they suggest you bring and not bring. Every place you visit to go on safari can be different, though these general guidelines should be mostly the same.
Before we start to talk about which items are essential for you to bring, I think it is important to cover some general guidelines for packing for safari. Keep in mind, the list I have below is tailored for a 5 day and 4 night safari. If your safari is going to be longer, you will need to adjust your packing list to accommodate for extra provisions (such as more shirts and pants).
The first general guideline when packing for safari is to make sure that you pack light. There typically isn’t a lot of room in the safari vehicle, which means that there won’t be room for an abundance of luggage. You are going to want to take with you just what you will need. Unless you are instructed otherwise, I wouldn’t bring anything that isn’t on the list below unless you absolutely feel that you must have it with you.
When we went on safari, my wife and I shared one duffel bag for our clothes and gear, and one camera bag for our camera gear. This worked out well because we were each responsible for a bag and our luggage didn’t take up much room in the vehicle. I would strongly recommend a duffel bag, or other flexible fabric bag, over a hard suitcase if you have one. They are much easier to pack into the safari vehicles.
Make Sure Your Protect Yourself From Mosquitoes
One of the most important, if not the most important, general principle that you should have in mind when packing for safari is to make sure you will be protected from mosquito bites. Not just at night, but during the day as well. Mosquitoes are carriers for a lot of deadly viruses, such as Malaria and Yellow Fever, which you want to avoid getting at all costs. Even if you got your immunizations and have an antimalarial, they aren’t guaranteed to protect your.
Your safari operator should provide you lodging with mosquito netting at night, but I would take extra precaution to make sure you are protected. I strongly suggest that you bring long pants and long sleeve shirts with you, as well as an ample supply of insect repellent.
Make Sure You Bring Protection From the Sun
Another reason to bring long pants and long sleeve shirts is to protect yourself from the sun. The sun can be quite intense when you are on safari, and you don’t want a bad sun burn to ruin the experience. To avoid getting too hot, I would suggest investing in some breathable pants and long sleeve shirts to wear. This way you will be protected from the sun and insects, but not get too hot.
Make Sure You Bring Neutral Colored Clothing
When you pack clothes for your safari, you are going to want to make sure you pack neutral colored or natural colored clothes. While the animals generally can’t differentiate between your safari vehicle and the contents in it, if you wear bright colors (especially bright white), it makes it easier for them to do that. You don’t want to scare the animals away, or peak their curiosity in you, when you are on safari.
Make Sure You Bring Layers of Clothes to Wear
The temperatures you experience while on safari can vary from hot during the day, to quite chilly at night. You are going to want to make sure that you pack layers of clothing so that you are prepared. In addition to T-Shirts and some breathable long-sleeved shirts, you are going to want to pack a light fleece or sweatshirt for the chilly nights on safari.
The Essential Gear
Packing for safari sounds a lot more complicated than it is. If you follow the general guidelines I listed above, you should be all set. In case you still aren’t sure about what you should and should not bring, I have included a list of essential gear to bring along below.
2 Pairs of Long Pants (Preferably Ones That Are Breathable)
You are going to want to bring a few pairs of long, breathable pants along with you when you go on safari. I like the convertible pants because they convert into shorts when I need them. Though you I don’t recommend you wear shorts too often while on safari because of the mosquitoes, there may be circumstances where your safari guide says it is alright. This way, you are prepared.
4 T-Shirts and\or Long Sleeve Shirts (Preferably Breathable Ones)
If you get the right kind of breathable material, you should be completely comfortable, even in the heat, while wearing a light, long-sleeve shirt. When I am on safari, I love to wear Patagonia’s Capilene shirts. The wind goes right thru them to keep me cool, but I get some extra protection from the mosquitoes. They also have built in SPF protection to give you some extra protection from the sun as well.
Before you leave for safari, you are going to want to make sure you invest in a good pair of hiking boots. This is especially true if you are planning on taking a walking safari. Hiking boots give your feet a lot more protection than your standard tennis shoe does. When you are looking at hiking boots, make sure you choose a boot or shoe that covers your entire foot. I do not recommend you wear any type of sandal, including hiking sandals, while on safari.
Light Fleece or Jacket
Because the nights can be rather cool when you are on safari, you are going to want to make sure you have a warm layer to put on. A light fleece or sweatshirt should be sufficient. I would stay away from fully cotton fabrics if you can because they will suck out your body heat when wet. If you are looking for a great light weight travel jacket, I absolutely love my Patagonia Nano Puff jacket. They are really warm and conveniently fold up into their own pocket when not being used.
The last thing you want is to be caught without rain protection when on safari. Even if you are in a closed vehicle, you are going to want to have the windows down at times (when allowed by your safari guide) to get some great pictures. Having some disposable rain ponchos handy will save you from having to be cold and uncomfortable on those rainy days on safari.
Wide Brim Hat
Before I went on safari, I contemplated whether or not I should bring a hat, and what type of hat I should bring if I was to get one. I couldn’t be more happy that I decided to invest in a wide brim safari hat. These hats give you 360 degree protection against the sun, which was really nice when we were in the hot African sun. If you want to increase your sun protection, these hats are a great way to go.
I really don’t know what I would have done without my sunglasses while on safari. This is especially true for the walking safari that we took in Arusha National Park. Sun glasses are very light weight and don’t take up much room in your pack. I would strongly recommend that you bring a pair. When the sun as at its strongest, you will be very thankful that you have them.
Sun Screen (SPF 30 or Above)
This is a must if you are going on a safari. Without the proper sun screen, a bad sunburn may end up ruining your time on safari. I recommend that you bring sunscreen that has SPF 30 protection or higher. When we went on safari, we brought SPF 45 protection and it worked very well.
Insect Repellent (at least 30% DEET)
This is another absolute must bring when you go on safari. When purchasing your insect repellent, you should look for some that is at least 30% DEET. While the DEET isn’t the greatest thing for you, it is much better than getting Malaria or Yellow Fever, and is the most effective. When we went on safari, I brought both inspect spray and insect wipes. We put on the inspect spray in the morning, and then refreshed it at around mid-day. The wipes are super convenient should you need some protection in a pinch.
You are going to see so many amazing things while you are on safari, so you are going to want to have something available to record those memories. For this reason, you will want to make sure you bring your camera along.
If you have a DSLR, I would recommend that you bring your best zoom lens with you. You will be very glad you did. It isn’t always possible to get up close to the animals and a zoom lens will give you a lot more reach. A wide angel lens is also useful for those beautiful landscape shots of Africa, so make sure you save enough space in your camera bag for these two lenses.
Camera Bean Bag
Another essential piece of photography gear that you will want to bring along with you on safari is a camera bean bag. Because of the limited amount of space in safari vehicles, it will be very difficult to use a tripod. However, you are going to want to have something to rest your camera on to stabilize your shops because of all the bumps you will experience when driving on safari. This makes these low cost camera bean bags the perfect item for safaris.
Even if you are bringing your camera, you are going to also want to bring a pair of binoculars with you when you go on safari. They can help you spot those far away animals that even your camera’s zoom lens can’t reach. When we were on safari in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, our binoculars proved essential to seeing the animals that were in the center of the crater (where we couldn’t drive).
Pro Tip: A really cool tip that I learned from our safari guide if you are using your phone camera to take pictures is to put your binoculars up against the lens of your phone camera and then take a picture. You will be stunned at how well this works to get those zoomed in pictures with your phone.
Flashlight(s) and\or Head Lamp(s)
A piece of gear that you definitely want to have in your bag when you go on safari is a head lamp or flash light. They are worth their weight in gold when you are trying to find your way around a dark tent at night when out in the bush. Even if you are staying in a lodge while on safari, the unreliable power grids across much of Africa may mean you could be without power some nights. Make sure you bring some spare batteries with you as well.
Depending on the accommodations that you will have while on safari, there may not be a good way to charge your phone battery. For this reason, I strongly recommend that you invest in a portable charger before you go. Good portable chargers will allow you to charge up to four phones completely before they need to be recharged themselves.
Portable Surge Protector and Foreign Power Adapters
The last thing you want to to happen when on the safari trip of your lifetime is to have your phone or camera damaged by a power surge while charging. African power grids are notorious for power surges, which can make them dangerous for electronic devices. A portable surge protector will protect your electronic devices while on safari so that you can just concentrate on getting some really stunning photographs.
You are also going to want to make sure you bring along your foreign power adapters. Without them, you might not be able to charge your electronic devices. I love the Bluegogo Universal all-in-one travel adapter that I have because it is a small, light weight, includes only one piece to keep track of, and has USB ports for portable devices.
Most safari accommodations will come with mosquito netting over the beds, but I would strongly recommend that you come prepared just in case. Especially if you are going to be camping while on safari, it never hurts to have some extra mosquito netting in your bag. When we were camping in the Serengeti National Park, one of the camp sites we stayed at did not have mosquito netting in the tents. We were so glad we thought ahead and brought our own just in case.