How to Pack for Your First Safari

Whether it’s a visit to the Serengeti for the annual wildebeest migration, a trip through the Okavango Delta in a dugout canoe, or a mountain gorilla spotting trek in the Virunga Mountains, an African safari is an unforgettable experience. But, packing for your first safari can seem like a formidable task. While every trip is unique, there are a few gear essentials that will ensure you stay comfortable, healthy, and make the most of your inaugural safari.


Focus on comfortable attire and layers when packing for your first safari. Forest Simon

Forget about being fashionable on safari, and focus on comfortable attire and layers. Unless you are headed way off-grid, most safari lodges offer laundry services and that means you usually only need three to four outfits. While shorts like those from Vertx and lightweight tops like the Primacy 37.5 Sugar Paper T-shirt from Dike are ideal for wearing during the daytime, be sure to bring pants, long-sleeved shirts, and a lightweight windbreaker or fleece for those chilly early morning and evening game drives.
Coloring is also an important consideration when deciding on your safari wardrobe. Earthy tones, like khaki, tan, or olive green are ideal, while brightly colored clothing can be off-putting to wildlife, especially if you are planning on a bush walk or more extended walking safari. On the other hand, shades of blue and black have proven to be enticing to tsetse flies, the biting flies responsible for transmitting African trypanosomiasis (also called African sleeping sickness). Garments from First Lite come in a variety of technical styles and in muted colors giving you plenty of options for your safari.
In terms of footwear, sturdy walking shoes are suitable for most safaris and standard bush walks. However, if you are embarking on an entirely foot-powered safari—like a trek in search of mountain gorillas —a hardy pair of hiking boots, like Scarpa’s Ribelle Lite OD, is necessary. Bringing a trusty pair of sports sandals is also a good idea on any safari. They’re perfect for warm weather game drives, strolls to the swimming pool, or relaxing back at camp.

37.5 Safari Kit

Clothing from 37.5 Technology will help keep your body at a temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius with a comfortable relative humidity of 37.5 percent, which keeps you comfortable on any safari. The performance-enhancing technology is found in a range of products, catering to all kinds of explorers. Functional layers like the Level Tee from Fourlaps will ensure you are ready for any temperature fluctuation, and help keep the chill at bay on those pre-dawn safari drives. To cope with the late afternoon sun, Éclipse’s Sun Sleeves offer reliable protection that will still keep you cool. For morning bush walks or multi-day treks, Quick Dry Socks from Point6 will ensure your feet are happy in any conditions. No matter the environment, 37.5 Technology will help you stay comfortable as you explore some of Africa’s most amazing regions.

Staying Healthy and Comfortable

Sun is a major consideration when on safari and the right clothing can go a long way to help stave off sunburns. Robin Stuart

In terms of staying healthy on a safari, one of the primary concerns for travelers is the sun. Bringing plenty of sunscreen (dermatologists recommend using SPF 30 or higher) goes without saying, but a few wardrobe accessories can go a long way toward staving off sunburns. Keep the sun’s rays at bay with lightweight long-sleeve layers, a broad-brimmed hat, and polarized sunglasses. A bandana or lightweight scarf can also be handy for shielding yourself from sun and dust, and in a pinch, can also be doused with water and used as a cooling aid.
Beyond the sun, another concern on safari is biting insects, particularly mosquitos. Fortunately, there are a few ways to keep these vexing blood-suckers in check. For mosquitos, DEET-based repellents are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also recommends picaridin and IR3535 based repellents. Additionally, clothing or gear treated with permethrin can also provide another layer of protection against blood-lusting insects, including mosquitos, tsetse flies, and ticks.
Beyond bug-shielding layers and insect repellents, you will also need a destination-specific anti-malarial medication, such as Malarone (Atrovaquone/Proguanil). The CDC provides country-specific information on malaria risk, including recommendations for the most effective anti-malarial medications.
On safari, a general first aid kit is also a key piece of gear. Be sure to bring essentials like bandages, antibiotic ointment, hydrocortisone cream, antihistamines, pain-relievers, antacids, and an anti-diarrhea medication. For more specific information for your destination, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide recommendations for travelers on a country by country basis, and include suggested vaccinations and prescriptions. Beyond the staples, prescription medications like the antibiotic ciprofloxacin (also known as Cipro) can be a lifesaver when coping with stomach issues like traveler’s diarrhea.

Other Trip Essentials

Packing light on a safari is encouraged, but it’s important to make sure you have the essentials. Ms.Sue Huan

Although it’s generally best to pack light on safari, there are a few essential items you should be sure to bring along. First things first, the type of bag you bring on safari is important to consider, and it’s best to forget about using a standard suitcase, and instead go with a sturdy duffel bag. There are a couple of reasons for this, the first being that there is a strict weight limit for luggage on small aircraft. If your trip involves flying into a remote bush camp, a duffel is usually lighter than a suitcase. Second, soft-sided bags are required. Similarly, even if your safari only involves riding in a four-wheel drive vehicle, space will be limited, and a duffel bag is easier to pack than a boxy suitcase.
You’ll also need to be sure you can charge your devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops, and cameras. This isn’t as easy as just bringing your charger along—there are more than a dozen different types of plugs used around the world. Be sure to check the specifics for your destination using the handy World Plugs List published by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).
Don’t forget to check the voltage requirements for your electronic devices too. These days, most electronic devices are dual voltage, which means they are able to handle both of the world’s voltage ranges–110-127V and 220-240V. However, if your device is not dual-voltage, you will also need to pack a voltage convertor.
Other essentials to throw in your duffel include a small daypack and a dry bag for safari drives or bush walks, as well as a headlamp for navigating camp at night or just reading in bed. While bottled water is typically provided by safari lodges and most outfitters, if you want to cut down on waste, bring a wide-mouth water bottle portable water purification system like a SteriPen or LifeStraw. Depending on your destination, you may also need to bring along an International Certificate of Vaccination to provide proof you’ve been vaccinated for yellow fever.

Getting the Most Out of Your Trip

Don’t forget to bring your camera for the amazing wildlife snaps you will get. Sergey Pesterev

Naturally, wildlife is the highlight of any African safari. For travelers, there are a few ways to get the most out of your wildlife-viewing experience. A guidebook, like the Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals, Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa, or National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife, will not only help you know what kind of animal or bird you are seeing, but will also provide insights about regional ecosystems.
Of course, you don’t want to be without a camera on a life-list safari–and a telephoto lens is worth bringing along for epic wildlife snaps. Don’t forget to bring extra camera batteries and memory cards. You won’t want to miss that iconic shot of a giraffe perfectly framed by a fiery sunset. Binoculars are also worth their weight in gold for wildlife watchers, especially if you’re a bird nerd.
Written by Malee Baker Oot for Matcha in partnership with 37.5.

Featured image provided by Niedblog