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. [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 but base our recommendation on friends who have traveled with the bag.
- Osprey offers many great duffels. I bought the Osprey Trailkit bag for a overseas bike trip. Lightweight, lots of organization and sturdy backpack straps make this bag easy to use. [capacity 40 L, weight – 1.9 lbs, $120 but often found on sale]
- For Professional Photographers (or amateurs carrying professional equipment) – Choose a backpack designed especially for your equipment.
Dave carries a Canon backpack or Lowepro slingback which allow easy access to his cameras and lenses.
- For general photographers – a small camera case – slingback or hipbelt – works well. But consider using camera inserts or wraps within a normal pack or tote. This minimizes packing space and is also good in that it doesn’t advertise the expensive equipment you’re 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 Canon Rebel T3i dSLR.
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, a superzoom with Zeiss lens, 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.
- extra SD cards
- lens wipe or brush (we use a Nikon lens pen)
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.
Smartphones – phone cameras have improved tremendously since 2014. I wouldn’t recommend using one as your only camera but a smartphone camera will come in handy for quick shots around camp.
- Tablet, laptop or other device to backup photos –
SD card Backup drive – from $$ – $$$, but peace of mind for those precious photos
iPad mini 64 GB – At .73 lbs it’s a lightweight solution an entertainment device on flights and portable backup device for photos.
Load the new, waterproof Kindle Paperwhite with books from your library’s Overdrive collection.
- External charger – most camps have charging stations and most airplane seats have outlets, but don’t count on it!
- Flashlight or headlamp – each traveler should carry their own flashlight or headlamp.
We bought the UCO flashlight/lantern combination in 2014 and were glad we did when an elephant broke through the electricity lines in camp looking for jackal berries… In the 5 years since, this light is always by my bedside in case of power outages.