Packing for an African Safari is a much more important than packing for conventional trips.
Where it’s easy to pick up a needed item from a shop when you’re relaxing in the city or on the beach, you have no such option while on safari.
So here’s a complete safari packing list plus some useful advice for the world’s most popular safari destinations: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and the rest!
Safari Packing Tips
The golden rule of good packing is to bring as little as necessary – not as much as possible. No veteran traveler has ever said “every trip I take I pack heavier and heavier.”
For a first time safari goer, it will be particularly tempting to bring extra stuff “just in case.”
But the absolute best advice I can give about packing for a safari is to resist this urge. Everything you need to have a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable safari need not weigh a lot – nor take up much space.
Every item on your safari packing list should fit in carry on bag. That means a max of 10-15kg.
You’ll also want a conventional backpack. Even if you normally prefer wheeled luggage, this will be less than useless until they pave the savannah.
It’s not just about weight and convenience – but safety. If your luggege gets lost or delayed in New York or Paris, that’s inconvenient, but your trip can continue. If the same happens to your safari gear, you’re either going to have to spend a small fortune replacing needed items or miss your safari altogether.
Don’t even let this be a possibility. Pack a bag for carry on.
It’s not. Here’s what to do:
- 3 Safari shirts: Go for light, strong, breathable garments. Neutral greens, browns, tans, and khakis are the best colors.
- 1 Long-sleeved shirt: Keep warmer when the sun goes down, as well as protect against pesky mosquitoes
- 1 Safari hat: Make sure this protects the back of your neck, is breathable, and ideally has a waterproof exterior
- 1 Bandana or Shemagh: A super-handy item for sun protection and much more.
- 1 Safari jacket or windbreaker: Useful in rain, wind, and the chill of the night/morning.
- 1 pair long underwear: This depends on what season you’re going in. Don’t be fooled – the African continent gets its fair share of cold weather!
- 2 Pairs of pants: Durable, comfortable, and with plenty of pockets.
- 1 Pair of shorts: Comfortable option for peak-heat and downtime hours.
- Hiking/walking shoes: Comfortable, lightweight, breathable. You don’t need heavy duty hiking boots!
- 4-6 Pairs of socks: You’ll run through socks quickly in the heat.
- 4-6 Pairs of underwear: You’ll want to change these up too. Women should bring at least 1 sports bra for bumpy roads.
- Flip-flops/sandals: Useful for giving your feet a breather in downtime, as well as for public showers.
- Spare shoelaces: A small but potentially important item.
- Microfiber towel: Super-absorbent and quick-drying.
Safari Clothing Tips:
- No need to go for cliche camouflage outfits – nor for brightly colored clothes. It’s even illegal to wear camo in Rwanda as this is the style used by the military. Better options are neutral colors: khaki, greens, browns, and tans.
- If you’re heading to Eastern Africa – meaning Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda & Rwanda, or to Zambia – avoid dark colors, which attract the annoying tsetse fly – a nasty biter just like mosquitoes. Though it’s good to note that you’ll rarely find them in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.
- Bring clothing you can layer: We immediately think of the midday heat and pounding sun when we’re talking about African Safaris, but the nights and mornings can be very cool. You’ll do well to have clothes you can layer in the morning and then remove when the sun starts to beat down.
There are items that will help keep you safe and healthy on your trip – from personal care items to insect repellent and everything in between:
- Mosquito netting: Even if your safari company provides these, bring your own to be sure you’re getting quality protection
- Insect repellent: DEET is an effective deterrent, but it’s a fairly strong poison. One option is to spray some of this on your clothes (not your skin) and use a different repellent for your exposed skin.
- Malaria tablets: Another anti-mosquito measure with negative side effects, you may still want to bring these with you to give yourself the option.
- Sunblock: You’ll want this for long days under the sun!
- Bar soap: On safari you don’t need soap, shampoo, and conditioner. Pamper yourself back at home and save the space & weight by bringing a simple bar of soap.
- Deoderant: You’ll probably be thankful to have it.
- Razor: You can probably get away without shaving during your safari, but if not pack a razor.
- Sunglasses: Polarised lenses are your friend.
- Water Bottle with filter: Or you can buy bottled water on the way.
- Wet wipes: A perfect waterless way to keep your hands germ-free.
- Pocket Knife: Can’t pack these in carry-on, but you can buy one when you arrive.
- Toothbrush/toothpaste/dental floss: Never leave home without ’em.
- Lip balm: Even if you don’t normally use this, you might find your lips getting chapped in the dry heat of the savannah.
- Medication: Any meds you normally take; Motion sickness pills; Painkillers; Re-hydration salts
- Plastic bags: Keep dirty clothes seperate from the rest of your things.
- String/rope: Lightweight, compact, and omni-functional.
- Sterile needles: In case you need an injection and don’t trust the hygenic conditions of your hospital.
- Contact lens solution & a spare set of disposable lenses: As required.
- Birth control: As required.
- Feminine hygiene products: I am hesitant to weigh in here, but having talked to a ton of female travers, I can say that many of them favor diva cups while on safari. Discreet, easy-to-pack, and perfect when you’re far from civilization.
- Binoculars: The quintessential piece of safari equipment. No safari packing list is complete without them.
- Headlamp: Better than a flashlight as it keeps your hands unencumbered.
- Camera, memory cards, extra batteries, battery charger and lens cleaner: YOU’RE GOING ON SAFARI! Bring your camera!
- Small beanbag to use as a tripod on uneven surfaces
- Money belt
- Mobile phone
- Washing powder/travel soap for laundry
- Plug adaptors – generally in Africa it’s 3-prong round or square
- Lighter/waterproof matches
- Mini combination locks: Don’t try to keep track of keys on safari, go with a combo lock.
- Mini sewing kit:
We live in the digital world, making it easier than ever to keep track of important documents, contact info etc. However on safari you may be far from an Internet connection, and it’s good practice to keep important documents on your person in duplicate (original + photocopy).
For digital copies, use DropBox or your favorite online/cloud file storage system. You can also store these files on your phone, but always have digital copies somewhere easily accessible online.
- Passport & visas
- Emergency phone numbers
- Travel insurance policy
- Addresses and mobile numbers (postcards/e-mails/texts)
- Itinerary/flight list
- Vaccination certificates
- American dollars and local currency
- Credit card (Visa/Mastercard)
- Student cards or other discounts cards
- Phone card and international access numbers
- Extra passport photos
- Copy of your passport & other documents, kept in a separate place than your passport in a sealed, waterproof bag.
- Copy of marriage certificate, if especially if you’ve recently tied the knot
- Medical history, allergies, and any other medically important info.
- Copies of prescriptions.
Other Safari Packing Lists & Resources
If you pack light and find that you have extra space, consider checking out PackForAPurpose.com, an organization which helps supply at-need communities with supplies ranging from pencils, to bandaids, to soccer balls and more. It’s an opportunity to do some additional good in the region you’re visiting.
Here are some other sample packing lists to check out:
- Women’s Packing List for Eastern Africa – HerPackingList.com. (Not a safari packing list per se, but very useful.)
- Safari Packing List – Amahoro Tours
- Complete Packing List for Safaris – African-Safari-Journals.com
By following this safari packing list closely and making any adjustments to fit your own travel style, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve got all the essentials for a thrilling safari experience.
I’d recommend printing this list and crossing off items to be certain you’re not forgetting anything.
Did I miss anything? What did you find really valuable on your safari? Feel free to drop me a line…
Additional Reading: The Definitive Guide to Travelling Rwanda