What to wear, what to pack – probably two of the most often asked questions when planning to go on safari. This can also have added difficulty if you are doing internal flights and are given a maximum luggage weight of 15 kg (33lbs) per person for everything, luggage AND carryon combined. Now, we always travel with carryon only so are used to traveling light – but 33 lbs for EVERYTHING especially when carrying so much camera equipment, binoculars, etc. is daunting!! We worked really hard to have everyone down to the 33 lbs. In all honesty when we left home we were all about 34-36 lbs. each. But, we discovered that while it is important to watch the weight and be mindful of it, they do not actually have scales anywhere on these airstrips and as long as you are not carrying too much oversized luggage you are probably fine. That being said, I would still stay below 40 lbs and not push it. In the end we were happy we had packed light – there was not anything we had left at home that we wished we had brought and having fewer items made it really easy to pack every time we moved. Most camps will provide laundry service so no need to overpack.
I scoured Fodors, TripAdvisor and blogs to learn what to wear and pack. I got all kinds of advice, for the most part all good. The majority would say things like – “wear whatever you want, don’t buy clothes just for the safari, BUT do not wear white, black, bright colors, particularly bright blue.” Considering that most of my wardrobe is black/white and bright colors I did not see how I was going to get away without buying new clothes. I do own some khaki shorts and an army green jacket and I did bring those and they came in handy, but I did need to buy a few things as well. Let’s start by discussing some of the things that are said, and discuss why they are recommended.
No black or white – basically this is because they can get dirty/dusty, particularly if you are driving in an open air vehicle. If you will be in an enclosed vehicle for your game drives this is less of an issue
No bright colors – I have read that many animals can not see bright colors – only black and white so this is not so much for the animals. Plus everyone always points out that the Masai wear bright colors so if you want to you can. I just relate this to dressing to “fit in”, ie you would not wear a suit/tie or dress to go to the gym and you would not wear work out clothes to a wedding. Not everyone you will see, but the majority of people will be in neutral/khaki/nature colors as are all the drivers/guides. I think one just feels most comfortable wearing this while out on safari so you do not stand out so much. OTOH, we did push the envelope on this just a tad with peach tee and purple top…
No blue (particularly bright blue) – This one is important!! Apparently, it is true that tsetse flies are attracted to bright blue – evidenced by the many blue tarps hanging on trees that are put there to attract the tsetse fly. If you see Masai wearing bright blue (which they do), then you know you are not in tsetse territory!
Tennis shoes/trainers are fine – We found this to be correct. Most of your time is spent in the jeep so any sport shoe is fine. Even if you are doing a walking safari it should be adequate unless you are doing some real hiking.
Layers – Yes!Yes!Yes! This is probably the most important thing. Layer up in the morning when it is cold and then peel them off as it begins to warm up.
One thing that was never really made clear to me, but Carol, my friend/agent told me was that you can wear whatever you want in the camp – i.e. a bright shirt is okay at dinner or around camp to take you out of the color doldrums now and then.
Here is a list of what I packed. I wore everything on the trip EXCEPT an extra top I threw in at the last minute and an extra pair of sandals I brought.
Three camis in neutral colors. Ordered online from J Jill. Great layering piece and perfect for when it got hot.
Three long sleeve button up shirts that I could roll up the sleeves – colors – khaki, army green, eggplant. Purchased from REI and one was found at Macy’s.
Three long pairs of hiking pants (one was zip off) and an extra pair of khaki shorts – Bought the pants at REI, Eddie Bauer and Prana, already owned the shorts. Went with khaki colors and a dark gray. We were there in June so not as hot – if going in warmer season would want more shorts.
A patagonia lighter weight fleece with hood and army green jacket – My fleece was the favorite thing I brought, it was the perfect weight for early morning or evening game drives to add as a layer. Did not really need the jacket too much but was glad I had it for the few times that I did.
Three nicer tops and sweaters to change into for dinner – dressing up for dinner is really not necessary, but I do think it feels good to take a shower and get out of your safari clothes and put on something a little nicer for dinner. I also brought a scarf which many had recommended and I was glad I did. These were all clothes that I already had. At the last minute I threw in another top but ended up never wearing it.
This is what I wore on the plane – skinny jeans, nicer t-shirt and long sleeve sweater. I used the skinny jeans to wear to dinner each night with the nicer tops I brought.
These were the shoes I brought – flip flops, sandals, Toms, light weight trail shoes – I already had them all except for the trail shoes. The flip flops were great for walking around camp during the day. I brought the extra pair of sandals because I thought I might wear them for dinners but for me it was too cold at dinner time for sandals. The Toms came in handy to wear at dinnertime when I wanted my feet covered but did not want to wear the trail shoes. All of my sneakers at home are bright colors and I did not want to bring my heavy hiking boots (for weight purposes) so I did go buy a pair of lightweight trail shoes. These are Merrells and they were perfect! I have already worn them a few times since coming home.
Tilley Hat – I already owned this Tilley hat and it was great to have.
Pajamas – I just brought a long pair of lightweight pj pants, two short sleeve t-shirts and one long sleeve t-shirt.
Socks – Three pairs of ankle high hiking socks – helped protect my ankles from mosquitoes
Underwear – I brought 14 pair enough to make it through the entire trip. I had read that in Africa they often will not wash your underwear. Many suggest bringing some laundry soap and washing it in the sink, but frankly when on vacation that is not what I want to do so I brought enough to make it the whole trip with out cleaning. However, the places we were staying all cleaned underwear so was not necessary, but I was glad I was prepared!
Camera gear – We had three of us with 35 mm cameras. I had a little point and shoot but mostly used my iPhone to take pics and upload to social media when we had wifi. For wildlife photography my husband had a Pentax K-3 body (35 mm) and a Pentax 55-300 lens which made it equivalent to a 450 mm lens which he said he used every bit of, particularly when in National Parks and you can not drive off road. In addition, he did have other shorter lenses for pics of people, etc. He also definitely recommends you bring a bean bag for throwing over the top of the jeep and setting your camera on to help stabilize it. We brought a Safari Sack I (R420X) and a Gura Gear Anasi Weight Bag Sack. The Safari Sack was a bit larger and provided more area to set your camera.
Binoculars – These are a must!! We brought 3 pair for 5 of us, which seemed to work out pretty well, since some people were tied more to their cameras anyway. We brought: a Nikon 8×42 Monarch 5, a Nikon 8×42 ProStaff 7, and a Vortex 8×42 Diamondback. The original plan was to purchase those, decide which we liked best and return two and get two more of our favorite. It turned out too difficult to determine the favorite while at home and using it only on a limited basis so we just ended up keeping all three. While on safari we determined that our favorite was the Nikon Monarch 5 – it seemed best for color rendition and its lightweight.
Other things that are helpful to bring even if you do not end up using them: flashlight (we used a lot – if you wake up in the middle of the night it is pitch black in your tent), sunscreen, insect repellant, First Aid Kit, day pack (helpful to have while in the jeep to carry whatever you might need), Immodium, Cipro (or other antibiotic), Malarone (anti-malarial), tylenol/ibuprofen, sunglasses, protein bars (I found these helpful on early morning drives before breakfast)
Makeup – I bring up this subject because a lot of people say not to bring makeup. With early morning wakeups and most dinners by candlelight many people see no need. I think this is a very personal decision. I do not wear a lot of makeup, but to be honest I rarely go out of the house without anything! It can take me just a minute or two to put on light makeup and I was glad I brought it and used it when I felt like it!! I would like to note that I did not bring any body soap/shampoo/conditioner as I figured we were staying in some nice places and this should be provided. However, our first two places did not provide separate conditioner, it was a shampoo/conditioner combo which is never quite the same. Not a big deal, but if important to you bring a travel size conditioner bottle.
For the record, if your wardrobe is made up of a lot of khaki and neutral colors then you probably will find that you can dress for safari from your own closet. My 18 yo son was too busy concentrating on graduation to pay much attention to what to wear on this trip. Luckily he had plenty of khaki pants/shorts, several light grey t-shirts (long and short sleeve), a light grey fleece and light weight grey jacket and he was good to go!!