A safari adventure presents the ultimate packing challenge. A trip to Africa is a big investment in time and money. Long overseas flights, short flights on bush planes, and no convenience stores in the bush. All clothing, gear, and essentials must fit into what’s basically a carry-on bag. And as a wildlife safari is a lifetime dream for photographers and videographers, you won’t want to leave your best gear behind.
Each traveler is allowed a maximum or 44 lbs (including camera equipment and personal items) in a soft sided bag. For most of us that means we bring the bare minimum of clothing, mixing and matching as we go, and relying on laundry during the trip. Fortunately, most safari camps offer laundry services so you can count on some help here.
Duffel: No hard-sided or wheeled luggage allowed!
- The Eagle Creek No Matter What bag is well priced, and works great for safaris and road trips. Small enough to be stuffed into bush planes yet with pockets and dividers for organization. We used an older version of this bag (with backpack straps) on our last safari and loved it. Unfortunately our version of the No Matter What ended up too long for Delta airlines carry-on standards and was gate-checked. EEK! [capacity – 59 L, weight – 1 lb 14 oz, $53-80]
- Tom Bihn, a Seattle based company, makes quality ‘Made In The USA’ bags. This Aeronaut 45 converts from a duffel to a backpack. It’s wide opening makes living out of the bag easy. It’s pricey but will do the job in style and last forever. [capacity -45 L, weight (halcyon) -2 lb 7 oz, $295] NOTE: we do not own an Aeronaut bag yet but base our recommendation on friends who have traveled with the bag.
- Osprey offers many great bags. I bought the Osprey Trailkit bag for a overseas bike trip. It’s made specifically for cyclists, with a spot for your helmet and a ventilated bottom compartment for wet or dirty clothes. Lightweight, lots of organization and sturdy backpack straps make this bag easy to use. I am unsure whether this will be the bag we bring on safari (see my review of the Osprey Trailkit) but it is soft-sided, organized, and fits as carry-on. [capacity 40 L, weight – 1.9 lbs, $120 but often found on sale]
Dave carries a Canon backpack or Lowepro slingback which allow easy access to his cameras and lenses.
I minimize my packing space by using camera wraps and inserts within a basic bag. This is also good in that it doesn’t advertise the expensive equipment I’m carrying. (I recommend the Tom Bihn packing cube shoulder bag – right – as I can use it for an seat-back flight bag, but re-purpose it for as a camera bag at my destination.)
Dave is carrying his T3i Canon. For this trip he has decided to rent a high end Canon EF lens. These lenses are often available to rent in Africa but he will rent here so as to have time to adjust to the lens.He’ll also bring a couple of prime lenses.
In 2014 I purchased the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 for its low light capabilities and long range. I loved having a high-quality point and shoot so I could savor my time in the field without concern for lens changes. I debated upgrading the camera for the second safari, but decided that the quality of the FZ200 in relation to its weight was too good to trade.
Binoculars – One set is sufficient for a couple traveling. We maximize quality in a small package with the Swarovski CL Companion line. The optics are astonishing for such a small, lightweight binoculars. Love these binos!
Smartphones – phone cameras have improved tremendously since 2014. I still cringe when I see someone using a phone exclusively on a big trip, but I use my iPhone for many quick shots around camp.
iPad mini 64 GB – At .73 lbs it’s a lightweight solution an entertainment device on flights and portable backup device for photos.
Kindle Paperwhite eReader – taking the new, waterproof Kindle Paperwhite loaded with books from the library’s Overdrive collection.
External charger – yes, most camps have charging stations and most airplane seats have outlets, but don’t count on it! Bring a small lipstick Anker (3 oz.) charger or, my favorite, the Anker PowerCore 10000 (6.3 oz).
Flashlight or headlamp – we bought the UCO flashlight/lantern combination in 2014 and we glad we did when an elephant broke through the electricity lines in camp looking for jackalberries… In the 5 years since, this light is always by my bedside in case of power outages.
Extra camera batteries