Figuring out what to take on a safari is flat out intimidating! There are undoubtedly more “rules” for what to wear on safari than almost any other trip I’ve taken. Going on an East African safari has been a dream for years. I wanted to follow every suggestion out there that would lead me to see the most animals possible. But let’s face it, I also wanted to feel good about what I was wearing since these are photos I’ll treasure for a lifetime.
From the Maasai Mara in Kenya, Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania and hundreds of bumpy dusty roads in between. I needed things to be practical, comfortable and stylish in that order. This safari packing guide includes the main things you’ll need. I’m going to assume you already know things like a toothbrush need to be packed.
Where and when are you going
Africa is a continent ya’ll and a big one at that. When you’re packing you’ve got to look at the weather in the place you’ll actually be going. Sounds simple but the often overlooked idea that, yes, it gets cold in Africa can sneak up on you. Game drives consistently start as the sun creeps above the horizon, meaning you’ll be eating breakfast in the cool brisk morning air.
Keep in mind there are pros and cons to all off-season travel.
Best Time To Visit: Mid August – late October to see the Great Migration of wildebeest in the Masai Mara. Kenya is close to the equator, therefore, it does not experience a real summer or winter.
Dry Season: June to October temperatures 75-50°F
Wet Season: March to May temperatures 83-60°F
Best Time To Visit: Since you’ll likely be there for the incredible gorilla trekking, visiting during the dry season is pivotal. The temperature in this tropical climate remains virtually the same 81-60°F year-round.
Dry Season: June-August and December-January
Wet Season: March-May and September- November
Best Time To Visit: October to January are ideal times for the chimpanzee tracking. The temperatures stay in the 70-50°F year-round.
Best Time To Visit: May to September, there is a long dry season here and the animals tend to stay close to larger watering holes.
Summer: October- April temperatures ranging from 45-77°F
Winter: May-September 60-84°F
Best Time To Visit: June-October, although the most popular “northern circuit” is spectacular year-round. Wildebeest calves are however born in January.
Dry Season: June-October temperatures 65-86°F
Wet Season: November-May temperatures 73-85°F
What type of African safari vacation are you taking
Just as diverse as the destination you’ll take them in safari vacations come in all shapes and sizes. If you are looking for full luxury, budget, family-friendly, private or group there’s a safari that is right for you.
The accommodations will vary based on price point. Typically there are two main sleeping options the tent camps which are, as you’d expect canvas tents. The other being safari lodges, typically more of resort vibe. Here is an example of each that we stayed in during our 13 Day East African Safari with Contiki.
One of the key differences to look at when it comes to packing is with the luggage allowance. With a luxury safari, you are likely to be taking small bush planes from one destination to the next, the strict weight allowances on these flights are usually non-negotiable.
On a group safari, there is obviously a limited about of space in the back of the jeep. For our trip, we were limited to 33 pounds of the total weight in a soft-sided bag.
If a walking safari or trekking is on your itinerary. You will have to take greater consideration with footwear, including hiking boot.
When and where we Traveled
Our trip was a total of 29 days. We spent 13 of those as part of the Contiki East African Safari through Kenya and Tanzania. Check out our review of the trip here! Followed by a week-long private safari with family and friends and lastly a week at the beach in Zanzibar.
Our trip started mid-July and ended in Mid August
The 33lb weight requirement seems to be the standard. This is the weight for everything, carry on included. It is important to have something that is soft-sided aka squishable as well as durable. These bags will be loaded and unloaded from your safari jeep multiple times almost always in dirty or dusty places. Leave the full size hard-sided checked bag at home, it’s more hassle than it is worth.
Meg bought the REI Ruckpack 65 Travel Pack right before we left. She’s about 5’3” so finding a full size pack that fits her well took some time and persistence. The REI pack is built specifically for women (or people) with shorter torsos.
It is a two-part pack system that includes a day pack big enough for her laptop and essential. Overall She was really happy with the performance and comfort of the new backpack and i think it will be joining us on my more trips.
I carried my go to Tortuga Pack. This bag has been by my side for nearly two years now and I’m consistently impressed with its versatility. If I’m being honest I was looking for reasons to upgrade my pack for the trip. Mostly for aesthetic reasons but couldn’t bring myself to spend the money with the Tortuga Pack does the job for nearly every situation. I did find a similar bag at a significantly lower price point here.
I love the interior pockets for keeping my clothes separate and the thick padded back sleeve to protect my laptop.
If you don’t love backpacks bringing a duffle if perfectly doable for this style trip. One of the guys I traveled with did all 13 days in a simple Hershel duffle. While it was a bit small for me it was a great way for him to only bring the essentials.
A duffle that I have had my eye on for a while is the North Face Base Camp Duffel.
Worth noting when buying bags specifically from travel- bright colors are always easier to locate. Whether you’re looking in the offloaded safari luggage pile or the airport baggage carousel, black bags are hardest to locate.
Meg carried the daypack portion of her REI bag. She lover every part of having it. It was the perfect size to fit what she needed but small enough to keep her from overpacking.
Since most of your day is spent in the car you have a couple daypack option in my opinion.
The safari outfit stylish or simple practicality. My all-time favorite daypacks are these two from Herschel Supply Co and Jansport . They hold up great with heavy use and when they’re filthy just toss them in the washer.
Honestly, on most days the only thing our daypacks needed to carry was camera gear and bug spray.
Contiki had sent the whole group a simple canvas backpack like this one and many members of the trip were super happy with how convenient it was.
Camera Bags for safari
I carried the Manfrotto Medium Camera bag for this trip. It fit two SLR bodies, three lenses and various small accessories in the side pockets. The top was big enough for me to bring an extra battery pack, hat, and any snacks I felt necessary aka Haribo gummy bears and Stoney Tangawizi, the incredible local ginger beer.
Depending on how much gear you have something a bit smaller like this over the shoulder bag would work.
For the safari, I found having a camera bag to be more important than on a lot of other trips for two main reasons. First, the amount of dust and dirt. Having a clean place to store my camera was so important. Second, the roads are bumpy and our bags bounded right along with us, the padding in the bag was used hard. Lastly, having a waterproof bag will eliminate any stress if a storm rolls in.
First and foremost you do not have to rush out and buy an entire wardrobe based on various shades of khaki. Earth tones are recommended but not required at any point on my 3-week safari. Our Kenyan guide often sported a red t-shirt and many other drivers were dressed in the traditionally bright Masai clothing. **read about our visit to the Masai Village**
Laundry was an offered service at every place we stayed. So no matter if your trip is 4 or 14 days your packing list will look similar.
Planning to bring items that are easily layered is important because the weather changes drastically throughout the day. Being able to add or subtract on the fly is crucial.
The most important fact when it comes to color is the tsetse fly is attracted to blue and black. You will even see what looks like a small blue and black flags hung in some bushes, it turns out they are tsetse fly traps. The flies can bite through your clothing and are linked to sleeping sickness.
Five or six t-shirts, in my opinion, is the right number. After hours of a game drive, you are covered in a pretty decent level of dirt so rewarding might not always be an option. We both went with simple cotton t-shirts. No fancy fabrics, just things already found in our closets
I did pick up a Columbia Sportswear Shirt that felt like peak safari shirt. It has a bunch of pockets, SPF built in and was ideal for tossing on in the early mornings. The sleeves are designed to roll up but I usually just tossed in on over a tee and took it off when I got warm. The one thing I really appreciated about this shirt over the other long sleeve tee tucked in my bag was how easily the dirt brushed off.
A hooded sweatshirt for the early mornings was nice. There were a few mornings that seemed extra cold plus when the top opens up having a hood to block the wind is nice. I’m sort of obsessed with this colorblock one Meg pickup for my birthday.
Pack a rain jacket! Who knows if you’ll use it but if you need it there is really no substitute. Meg and I each have this one from North Face. It takes up almost zero space and has saved us on a bunch of different occasions.
A last-minute decision had me headed to REI the night before the trip to get some safari pants. I flipped back and forth between wanting to wear stuff I already had and wanting something specific for this trip. I ultimately decided to pick up some pants because I was worried if I wore jeans the midday temperatures would have me uncomfortably hot. I tried on a whole bunch of pants and ended up with the Prana Essex Pants. They ended up being PERFECT! The dust and dirt brushed right off them plus they were warm enough for the morning and light enough for the middle of the day heat. They also don’t wrinkle, no matter how twisted in a ball I packed them they came out of the bad ready to wear. I did size up a bit to give them a slightly more androgynous vibe that I prefer with my clothing.
The two pairs of jeans I pack could have easily been left behind. They’re hot and frankly not that comfortable for long hours sitting in the car.
I’ll list some of the other pants I tried on and like here. The Prana pants were the winners based more on fit than anything else.
Columbia Trail Convertible Pant : zip off into shorts
Columbia Silver Ridge Pull on Pant : more of a jogger style
We also both took some Adidas sweat pants and leggings for hanging around the camps in the evening. There was no need to get dressed up for dinners at any of the places we stayed in. So most nights we tossed on something cozy.
Meg prefers dresses over pants in all situations. She knew that short dresses would be tough with getting in and out of the jeep a bunch of times every day. So she opted for longer earth-toned dresses and jumpsuits. All of her outfits we one piece so in the morning she didn’t have a ton of options to choose from.
She had lavender and a yellow jumpsuit that were PERFECT! As well as rust and an olive dress that buttoned up. With the dresses, she put a t-shirt under them so they remained more modest.
Go big or go home! Seriously, if you want that big safari hat of your dreams go for it. You’ll see plenty of other people wearing them and they make for great photo props. Pro tip: make sure it had a drawstring to keep it from blowing off when the jeep is in motion.
A regular baseball cap works just as well. Really its whatever keeps the sun off your face and covers off the crazy wind blow hair look. I took a simple this simple khaki Adidas Strapback Cap.
Shoes for Safari
Shoe selection is WAY more important if you are doing a walking safari or a gorilla trek. Both of those experiences require much more specific footwear. Since I haven’t had that experience I linked to a great packing guide specifically for a gorilla trek.
We were in our safari vehicle most of the time so the shoes for our safari were way less specific. For your primary footwear having something that is comfortable, easy to wear when climbing in and out of the car and easily cleaned is important. You will also find yourself taking your shoes on and off a bunch of times. Reason for that, climbing up on the jeep seats to take pictures. They let us climb all over the car but asked that our shoes were off to do so. Super reasonable in my opinion.
My three recommendations are below.
I love the look of these canvas boots plus they are all day comfortable. If you decide to go with boots for any reason definitely check these out. I wore them on our trip to Peru and got tons of compliments on the look plus the performance was awesome.
Really any solid running shoe will work here. Something with good tread is important because everything is unpaved. I’m obsessed with how comfortable the Nite Joggers are.
Every big trip I seem to obsess over one item I “have to have” and then make Meg buy it too. For this trip it was the slides. I wasn’t sure about the shower situation (they were remarkably clean) and to wear around camp. Meg and I both wore them a bunch to dinner, the pool and even a few times on long car rides. They’re easy, comfortable and versatile.
Best Camera for Safari
This list could be an entire blog post in itself. If you are a professional photographer you probably already know what you need. So for the rest of us, here are a few guidelines I felt were helpful when making sure you have the right camera for safari.
Yes, you can take photos on your phone. Yes, the animals will walk close enough on occasion to get some good ones on your phone. However, there are a ton of situations that you’ll wish your camera had a bit more zoom.
Meg traveled with a Sony A7iii with a 28-70mm kit lens. This is a powerhouse of a camera and it is amazing what we do as travel bloggers. Its mirrorless shoots incredibly high-quality video and is overall our go-to camera. That being said we both wish we would have bought or borrowed a more powerful lens.
I traveled with our Nikon D3400, the first DSLR camera we ever bought. Until we bought the Sony this the camera we used for everything. I think its the perfect beginner DSLR Unfortunately when we were shooting these awesome shots in Oxnard, California we smashed our trusty 18-55mm lens. So for this trip, we packed a 35mm f/1.8 prime lens that I am hooked on. It was amazing for all the shots in markets and around the camps. The other lens I took was a 70-300 f/4 that I kept on the camera a majority of the time.
You the DSLR is not the right fit for you there are some great point and shoot cameras like the Canon Powershot G9 that will be much better than your phone.
Some additional accessories for the camera
Memory Cards: You’re going to go through way more than you think because you’ll be shooting in bursts as the animals are near you.
Camera Cleaning Kit: Again, so so much dust.
Hard Drive: Having a way to back up your photos is important. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling for work like us or on a vacation. Most new cameras now have wifi so you can send the photos directly to your phone. This one from LaCie is specifically designed for travel.
Tripod: It’s great to have a tripod if you’re shooting anything like a sunset that requires a longer exposure. It’s also the ideal way to get photos with your travel companions. Asking some to take a picture is fine but be prepared to see heads or feet cut off. If you want particular shots its best to set them up for yourself. Important to note, when walking away from your camera be sure to keep an eye on your surroundings.
Miscellaneous Safari Gear
Power Strip: Tons of places only have one outlet, this way you don’t have to set an alarm to
switch devices. This was our first trip with one and we’ll never travel without one again.
Binoculars: Yes you’ll want them, no they don’t have to be crazy expensive ones.
Universal Adapter: Ya know to charge EVERYTHING.
Books: Download books, music or games to your phone. There are a ton of long car rides involved in a bunch of safaris. When you’re going from one park to the next you’ll just be hanging out. No matter how much you love your travel companions a little something to entertain yourself will be nice. Plus, most of the accommodations only have wifi in the dining area. So a book is nice for that downtime as well.
Bug Spray: Get one with a high percentage of deet. The wipes are a good option so you’re not getting in the mouth and eyes of everyone in the car with you when you reapply.
Chapstick: My lips were dry to the point they were painful most of the trip. I absolutely swear by this Aquafina lip balm.
Eyedrops: The dust does not mix well with your eyes. I tried to wear contacts one day but they felt terrible. Even while wearing glasses I found myself using the drops each day.