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Beginners Guide to Packing for a Wildlife Safari

I am a chronic overpacker. I let my preparedness get the best of me and end up with the equivalent of a loaded moving van for a two-night getaway. I know I have a problem.

pile of cameras, binoculars, and guide books on safari
In between us on safari was always a stash of cameras, binoculars, sunglasses, and field guides.

Guide to Packing for a Wildlife Safari

Now that our honeymoon safari is just weeks away, I want to share some of my helpful tips for getting my own packing problems under control. I’ve learned from experience that being prepared for safari is essential to making every moment amazing. That doesn’t always mean packing everything and the kitchen sink. But yes, it does mean packing the right kind of shoes. Packing for safari can be pretty simple, as long as you know what you’re doing. I have made plenty of packing mistakes, so I’m excited to share my tested tricks to prepare you for your trip.

With most safaris, planning begins months and months in advance. I highly recommend beginning the packing process weeks if not months in advance too. I know that sounds extreme but hear me out! Having that extra time to layout and plan your outfits will make the weeks before significantly less stressful. That way you won’t be endlessly scrolling online to find that perfect hat you’re missing.

Before diving into the details of what to pack and what to leave behind, it is crucial to note that safari bush flights strictly limit the amount of luggage you can travel with. These small aircraft simply cannot handle everyone’s 50 lbs. (22 kg.) roller suitcases. Instead, most bush flights limit bags to just 33 lbs. (15 kg.) for your luggage- and that includes your carry-on items as well. Before packing for your journey, find out what transportation you’ll be using. Some safaris are entirely land-based, while others rely heavily on bush flights. For those flighted adventures take a soft-sided duffle bag. This way you won’t be asked to repack to get your luggage within the allowed weight restrictions. Take it from me, that is never a fun exercise!

Like any other adventure, your packed clothes take up the most amount of space in your luggage. For safari make sure you capitalize on this space and pack clothes that can be re-worn with many outfits. Just remember that less is more when it comes to visiting the African wilderness.

What Clothes to Pack for Safari

Let’s start from the ground up with your most important item to pack – comfortable walking shoes. These should be a pair of closed-toe shoes that have enough tread to protect your feet from stepping on any surprise thorns.  But take it from me, you will want to get outside your jeep to explore, be sure to check out: Skip the Safari Jeep: Discover Wildlife on Foot. Many assume they will need full-blown hiking shoes, but that’s not always the case. Most safaris are jeep-based, with limited bush walks. Meaning you can save on packing weight and opt for a lighter option instead of the heavy-duty hiking boots. Also, a pair of sandals or slide-on shoes are a must for having around camp during the day and evening.

Oddly enough a few pairs of socks should do for your trip. Fortunately, most lodges offer complimentary laundry services for their slimly packed guests. Personally, I prefer to splurge and pack more socks and underwear, that way I’m not having to fuss over laundry service.

As for bottoms, I would recommend a mix of pants and shorts. African safaris can be both surprisingly cold and unforgivingly hot. I prefer to have options, and even change multiple times each day.

For your tops, just remember lots of layers. Your game drive could begin with seeing our breath in the morning and end with a hot midday sweat. Pack a variety of tops, including t-shirts, button-up shirts, and even long sleeves. A jacket is an absolute must for a safari! This extra layer will be your saving grace for chilly mornings and evenings in the bush. Some like to pack denim jackets, while others pack a lightweight synthetic down jacket.

I highly recommend unpacking your clothes while on safari, that way they can air out and freshen themselves a bit. Plus seeing everything hung up helps you switch up outfits day to day to capitalize on your restricted wardrobe.

You might have already read this elsewhere, but it deserves repeating. Leave your black and dark-colored clothes at home. Your safari ensemble should consist of neutral earth tones that blend in. Biting insects like the tsetse flies are attracted to striped patterns of blue and black, so remember to avoid dark colors when packing.

Safari Clothing

  • Closed-toe walking shoes
  • Camp shoes – comfortable slide on shoes or sandals
  • A few pairs of socks
  • Underwear
  • One to two pairs of lightweight pants
  • Two pairs of khaki shorts
  • Three to four tops (t-shirts, long sleeves, and button-ups)
  • One jacket
  • Bathing suit

What Accessories to Pack for Safari

I cannot say it enough that a hat is an absolute must for your safari. The African wilderness is not known for its shady canopy of trees, certainly not on the grasslands. This hat will be essential for helping to shield your face from the sun. Personally, I like to pack a couple of wide brimmed hat options to mix it up a bit. Don’t forget to bring along a couple of pairs of sunglasses too. Having a spare is great for when you accidentally sit on your favorite pair….. take it from me.

Also, bring along a scarf or bandana for your neck. This will help keep the dust off and protect you from the sun’s rays.

Safari Accessories

  • A wide-brimmed hat
  • A lightweight scarf or bandana
  • Two pairs of sunglasses

Helpful Toiletries to Pack for Safari

While you’re out in the middle of the bush it is always comforting to know that you have a stash of “just in case” supplies. There is nothing worse than feeling sick while you’re in a strange new place and not being prepared. I like to be sure to bring a little bit of everything to make sure my bases are covered. Be sure to ask your doctor for vaccination advice before you go, they’re the professionals.

Safari Toiletries

  • Sunscreen
  • Antihistamine tablets
  • Nausea, upset stomach, & diarrhea relief tablets
  • Bug spray
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Vitamin C Packs
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Moisturizer
  • Insect repellent
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush

Extra Gear to Pack for Safari

Top on my mind when packing for any trip is my camera gear! Whether you borrow from a friend or rent a camera, just make sure you’re bringing more than just your phone to take photos. For everything you need to know about photographing wildlife ethically I recommend reading: 10 Practices for Ethical Wildlife Photography. I know personally I end up snapping thousands of photos on safari. I make sure to pack a solid handful of new memory cards, that way instead of backing up my photos I can switch out cards for each game drive. Just remember to keep everything charged. Do not forget to bring along a couple outlet adapters.

Also be sure to pack a tiny flashlight. It is DARK in the wilderness at night, most camps try to preserve the natural darkness of the night. Plus, you never know when you might have a view of what’s around camp at night, maybe a bushbaby or a noisy colony of fruit bats. Just make sure to not shine the flashlight directly in their eyes. For more tips on how to ethically view wildlife at night read: What to Expect from an Ethical Night Game Drive Safari.

Finally, I never embark on an adventure without packing Your Travel Notes (aka my prompted travel journal). On safari you will see and experience so much in such a short amount of time. It’s my best tool for remembering each and every moment from these adventures. Plus, it is a therapeutic way to pause midday and reflect or cap off each evening with some writing. Archive it all, I promise you will thank yourself later. 

Safari Gear

  • Camera and lenses
  • Charge cords
  • Outlet adapters
  • Plenty of memory cards
  • Binoculars
  • Pocket sized flashlight
  • Travel journal

Additional Safari Planning Resources

NEVER forget to bring along your curiosity and sense of adventure on safari!

To help peak your excitement for discovering Africa’s wildlife check out these safari-focused features.

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