Trunks are packed but not yet zipped. 🙂 We’ve laid out our clothes, removed all but the essential and STILL have too much to fit into a small duffel. The issue is that we’re heading to safari camps as well as the cosmopolitan city of Cape Town in South Africa. The nights will be cool and the days hot. We need comforts items for overseas flights and may need ponchos for Victoria Falls. How do we narrow our packing for an African safari adventure? What are the must bring items for an African safari?
Packing for Safari – luggage restrictions
An African safari involves a lot of hopping around – whether you’re camping on your own, traveling in a group, or bouncing between game camps in a small bush plane. The travel will be dusty, bouncy, and luggage room limited. You will be advised to pack in a soft sided bag with no wheels. You will likely be given a weight restriction which will include your personal items, photo equipment, and gear. On our 2014 trip this was 20 kg or about 40 pounds. Update: In 2019 combined weight for light aircraft is 15 kg or 33 lbs.
If you’re traveling on your own, you will likely have space in your jeep for your gear. If you’re traveling on a luxury safari, you will likely have help with luggage. But don’t count on either. Be sure you are able to carry your own gear. For this reason, we recommend a duffel bag with backpack straps, giving you carry options.
- Eagle Creek Load Hauler (49L expands to 59L), Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler (60 L) or similar – reasonably priced bags with organizational features and a No Matter What guarantee. Both have hide away backpack straps for convenient carry.
- Tom Bihn Aeronaut – an elegant bag with lots of organizational features – Disclaimer: we do not own this bag, but sure wish we did!
- Osprey Transporter (40 or 65L)
- Patagonia Black Hole Duffel a sturdy, water-repellent bag, but well named as a black hole. Pack in colorful cubes to make access easier.
Depending on your overseas flight status, you may be able to fit all of your African safari gear and clothing in your carry-on bags, but be prepared for a last minute gate check.
For our flight to South Africa, we weighed and measured all our gear carefully. Everything fit the restrictions for our overseas flight. But when we arrived at the gate for our short hop to Atlanta, we were told they’d changed planes and our bags wouldn’t fit in the overhead. I only panicked a little bit as I dug through my duffel at the gate, pulling out essentials I’d expected to have close by. The next 20 hours or so were awful as I imagined I’d never see my bag again. (bag arrived in Johannesburg with my flight no worse for wear) Don’t be me. Be prepared!
What to Pack for Safari
In your (Guaranteed to Fit) Carry-On Bag
Paperwork Must Haves for an African Safari
- Passport with at least 4 blank pages – take a picture of your passport identification page and email it to yourself and to a home contact.
- we recommend you photograph and email copies of your drivers license, and credit cards as well.
- Yellow Fever inoculation certificate – check with your country’s health department to see if this inoculation is required. Some countries will require it for entry, i.e., South Africa.
- Visas (if necessary) – you may be able to get your visa online before the flight. But if not, we recommend bringing two passport sized photos with you to facilitate the process.
- Tickets & travel vouchers
- Travel Insurance information – highly recommend getting travel insurance for such an exotic and EXPENSIVE trip.
Gear and Gadgets – (see Travel Gear: African Safari for more information)
- Camera with telephoto lens – Africa will be dusty, so it’s important to minimize the number of lens changes.
- extra SD cards
- lens wipe or brush (we use a Nikon lens pen)
- Binoculars [optional though highly recommended] – our favorites binoculars for travel here
- iPad or small laptop to review and backup images [optional]
- *Plugs, adapters and chargers for all above
- *Flashlight or headlamp
- Money belt or similar security stash
Health and First Aid
- Malarone – malaria pills – check with your doctor to see what will work for you
- Compression socks for DVT prevention on long flights
- *Bush bathroom helpers – toilet paper, wipes, (Amazon offers a packaged set including toilet seat covers call the Restroom Kit) and the ladies might want to bring a Go-Girl for easier ‘going’ mid game drive.
- Prescription medicine – leave in labeled bottles if possible. Or take a copy of your prescription with you.
- Misc. OTC medications – include any basic medications you might reach for at home. There are no convenient pharmacies in the bush. We carry Advil, Pepcid-AC for heartburn, antihistamines for allergies, Imodium for diarrhea, Bonine for motion sickness, etc.
- *Sun screen
- *Bug spray (most camps will supply insect repellent but bring some just in case)
Flight Comfort items – see our Essential for Surviving a Long Flight in Coach
Just in Case Carry-On Clothing
We always include a packing cube with a swimsuit, a tee shirt, underwear, and one change of clothing. For this trip, we’d probably bring a bit more. It’s also a good idea to split your packing between your bags. Packing at least one outfit in a traveling companions bag will be appreciated if you lose your luggage.
Additionally I recommend a sweater, or poncho, for over air-conditioned planes. I love my Diane Kroe carry-on cozy for this as it also will step in as a cover-up if luggage is lost. See more of my easy to pack favorites here.
* starred items can be checked if you’re short of room.
What to Pack in Your Duffel Bag – can be checked if necessary
Your duffel bag will likely be your ‘bureau’ on this trip, so we recommend you organize your clothing with packing cubes for safari travel. We use compression cubes from Eagle Creek for underwear, swim suits, and puffy jackets, but prefer a boxier packing cube for clothing. When we arrive at our destination, we remove the cubes but leave the clothing in place. It’s easy to find our things that way, and easy to repack for the next game camp. Choosing packing cubes that are different colors will also help with your organization.
Note: most camps have options for laundry services. If you don’t expect this on your trip, bring along woolite packets and a Scrubba wash bag to make washing clothes easier.
Is it necessary to buy ‘safari’ style clothing?
No. You may well have everything you need in your closet! Long, quick-dry pants, and roll-up long sleeve shirts in neutral colors will be fine for you trip. The neutral colors are especially important if you plan on a walking safari, or are traveling to East Africa where tsetse flies are attracted to bright blues and black.
Admittedly we bought a few pieces – Columbia pants and Exofficio shirts, and have used them on trips within the U.S. (And investing in the gear was a good reason to plan another safari!)
In Dave’s duffel bag- safari clothing for men:
- 1 pair khakis and 1 sweater for dinners out in Cape Town
- 1 pair of shorts and 1 bathing suit
- 2 polo shirts and 3 tees in earth tones – merino wool recommended
- 2 button down shirts
- 2 safari style long sleeve shirts treated with permethrin insect repellant**
- Windbreaker (Magellan) and Scottevest tech fleece with removable arms
- Photo vest with insect shield (Exofficio)
- 2 pairs of convertible pants (Columbia recommended – treat with permethrin**)
In Amy’s bag- safari clothing for women:
Your itinerary will determine your packing list.
- If you are staying primarily in safari camps, you can limit your packing to safari casual.
- If you’ve chosen luxury safari camps, you CAN stay in safari clothing, but may wish to include a few nicer outfits for the evenings in camp. This is where a nice poncho or colorful skirt will come in handy.
- If you’ll be in Cape Town or another cosmopolitan city, you will want some dressier options.
- If you’ve booked a beach retreat during your vacation, check out the dress code for that area. Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, is an Islamic area, so modest dress is recommended.
- And, of course, if you’ve planned a stopover on your way to Africa, choose clothing that will work for that location.
Simplify #3, 4, and 5 by using packing cubes dedicated to the city or beach stop. This will save you a lot of digging through clothes when you’re in the game camps.
- Windbreaker with removable sleeves (Scottevest jacket has the versatility of a photographer’s vest without the touristy look!)
- Fleece or a puff jacket in a compression cube for cool morning game drives
- 4 tees, merino wool recommended! These take up little room and are odor resistant!
- 2 scarves – one for safari to keep the dust off, one for keeping warm on the plane and dressing up
- Lightweight cardigan (I love my wrap cardigan, the DKNY cozy)
- 2 lightweight, convertible pants, treated with permethrin** (Columbia and Mountain Hardwear)
- 2 long sleeve safari shirts, treated with permethrin.** (I’ve included an Exofficio BugsAway tunic which will be great for game drives AND dressy enough for city evenings.)
- Casual tops – 2019 update – I’ve replaced these tees with merino wool tops which take up half the space and are odor resistant!
- Silky dress-up tops
- Safari hat (wide brim for sun protection)
- 1 dress, 1 skirt, 1 travel pants
Foldable duffel – on your return flight pack your clothing in this and check it- Use your carry-on space for souvenirs. Do not underestimate how many beautiful souvenirs you will want to bring home, not just for the memories, but because your patronage is so important to the people you will meet on safari.
Journal – I keep an electronic journal, but carry a small Field Notes notebook, or similar, to jot down things as we travel. You will want to record the animals you see, and friends made along the way.
Pen – you’ll need this to fill out paperwork on board the plane! Keep it handy
**NOTE: It is not necessary to buy specially treated clothing for insect protection. We use Sawyer’s permethrin to treat our clothing. Saturate the clothing (outdoors) and allow to dry thoroughly – at least two hours. This insect repellent should last for 6 washings.
We’re off to Africa again! And we’re traveling carry-on only! Visit Packing for our Second Safari – In a Carry-On to see what we’re taking this time.
What would you include in your safari packing list that we’ve left out? Suggestions very welcome before we head out in a few months!