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Five years ago we traveled on what we expected to be THE once-in-a-lifetime trip – an African Safari! But safaris are addictive so, with retirement and a big birthday to celebrate, we decided to splurge on a second trip. We contacted Rhino Africa again [see review: Rhino Africa – our Choice for an African Safari], decided on our itinerary, prepared our reading lists, and focused on our safari packing list.
Which brings me to a confession… As social media so often skips over the difficulties of life, we didn’t dwell on the near hysteria I felt when our luggage was deemed over-sized before leaving Boston. We chose to leave out descriptions of me wrestling with the gate agent when she took my bag away, or me running back out of the plane to rummage through my sadly abandoned bag for any medications and documents I might need en-route. We skipped over the fact that my husband’s bag broke halfway through the trip. And we neglected to mention the extra set of binoculars (1.6 pounds!) that we carried unused over 19,000 miles of travel.
We have learned some packing wisdom in the past few years, but perhaps more importantly, we have slowly been investing in products that work well for travel – travel sized tech products, lightweight but sturdy luggage, and merino wool clothing. These ‘specialized’ items are often expensive, but we watch for sales and signed up for alerts for off-season items on websites like sierratradingpost.com and similar.
So, with lessons learned, how to pack light for safari:
As almost all safaris involve some hopping around, usually on light aircraft. You will likely be restricted to packing in a soft sided duffel (no wheels), and a small personal item – a backpack, camera bag, or similar. These items combined should weigh no more than 15 kg, or 33 lbs. However, no worries!, most camps offer same day laundry.
New Favorites We’re Packing for Safari
- Before and After – Packing space saved with merino wool tops and a smaller set of binoculars
Eagle Creek Load Hauler Duffel bag/Backpack – 40 L expandable carry-on luggage – can be checked on return flight.
Osprey Daylite Plus backpack – ~20 L, lightweight, with lots of pockets for organization. Small enough to be accepted as a flight personal item!
Pacsafe Camsafe hip pack – we hesitated about bringing this bag as we didn’t feel the need for the security Pacsafe is famous for, but ended up bringing it and LOVED it. The bag is solid, well cushioned, and has enough organization for a day on safari. I loved how stable it was on the floor of the vehicle, even over rough terrain.
Tom Bihn Packing Cube Shoulder bag – a super lightweight and colorful seat-back organizer during flights. Add a strap to use as a handbag, or add an insert to convert to a camera bag. Never leave home without one!
We love Tom Bihn bags and we’d love to take these on safari someday!
- Aeronaut duffel bag/backpack – An elegant travel bag with great organizational features.
- Western Flyer or the soon-to-be-released Trinity- with multiple carry options, these would make a great personal carry-on for outbound trip and primary carry-on for trip home when we’ve checked our duffel.
Swarovski CL 8 x 30 pocket binoculars – at 1 lb., 1 oz. we saved 9 ounces from our Vortex Talon (an at-home favorite) and the optics are AMAZING!
Our Safari Packing List
If you are traveling to Kenya or Rwanda, note that plastic bags are illegal and subject to significant fines.
Required Travel Paperwork
- Passport with at least 4 blank pages – add a scanned copy of the passport to another bag and email a copy to yourself
- Yellow Fever inoculation certificate – scanned and emailed as well
- Tickets & travel vouchers
- Travel Insurance information – Travel Insurance is a must for a safari.
Gear and Gadgets – (see What to Pack for Safari: cameras, gear and gadgets for more information)
- Camera with telephoto lens – Africa will be dusty, so it’s important to minimize the number of lens changes
- Camera wrap or bag insert to eliminate the need for a dedicated camera bag (unless you plan on carrying more than one camera body and lens). The insert can go in your carry-on bag, and can be put into a smaller bag on safari. We use a basic wrap for our dSLR but also pack an Ape Case cubeze insert for our shoulder bag.
- Binoculars [in our experience, one set shared is sufficient!]
- iPad or small laptop to review and backup images [optional]
- Plugs, adapters and chargers for all above
- Flashlight/headlamp or both
- Money belt or similar security stash
Health and First Aid
- Malarone – malaria pills
- Compression socks for DVT prevention
- Bug spray [most safari camps will supply insect repellent that is much stronger than what’s available in US. Bring a small amount just in case]
- Prescription medicine – leave in labeled bottles if possible. Take a copy of your prescription with you.
- OTC medications used regularly
- Bush bathroom helpers –
- Almost all toiletries, shampoo, etc., will be available in camp.
Safari Clothing for Women and Men
Choose clothing in earth tones for safaris. Game drives are dusty and subtle colors are less likely to disturb wildlife. This is especially important for safaris in East Africa where tsetse flies are found. These flies, which carry diseases, are attracted to black and bright blue!
No camouflage clothing! It’s actually illegal in some countries.
Again: pack light. Most upscale lodges will include daily laundry.
In Dave’s bag:
- 2 merino wool polo shirts
- 2 merino wool tees (Icebreaker merino)
- 2 safari style long sleeve shirts treated with insect repellant*
- 2 pairs of convertible pants
- 1 pair of shorts
- Fleece jacket
- Sun hat
- 1 bathing suit
Dave recommends Scottevest fleece jacket with removable sleeves.
In Amy’s bag: (note most items mix and match)
- 3 merino wool tees (incl. one long sleeve)
- 2 safari-style shirts
- 2 silky blouses (for dinners)
- 2 lightweight, convertible pants treated with permethrin*
- 1 casual knit pants (for travel days and dinners)
- 1 skirt or skort
- 1 knit convertible sweater/wrap
- 1 merino wool sweater
- 1 scarf
- Sports bras for those bumpy game drives
- 1 swim suit (Lands’ End swim separates double as workout wear or casual tops)
- windbreaker with removable sleeves (I recommend Scottevest too!)
- pack-able down jacket or vest for cool morning game drives -compresses to next to nothing in a small Eagle Creek compression cube.
- safari hat
*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. This insect repellent should last for 6 washings.
What to Wear on Safari Evenings – Safari camps are decidedly casual, but it can be fun to dress up a bit after a dusty day. A sundress packs light and might be perfect for dinner with new friends. I always travel with a few Diane Kroe items. They are lightweight, versatile, and add color to a simple wardrobe. My favorites are the Carry-On Cozy (as a scarf, skirt, AND poncho!), Wanderlust as a convertible sweater (and airplane blanket!), and the Origami, a fun piece that goes from casual top to cocktail dress.
Tips for Packing in a Duffel Bag
An African safari usually involves short stays in various camps and tents. You will be living out of your duffel bag. To make this easier, we suggest using colorful packing cubes to organize your clothing and gear. We use some Eagle Creek specter cubes for general gear but love to bring a few boxier cubes as they function as ‘dresser drawers’ when out of the duffel.