Deciding what to wear on safari is easier said than done. The weather in Africa is nothing like you would expect: most people think that this part of the world is constantly warm, if not unbearably hot. Nothing could be farther from reality. Africa, especially southern Africa, does get quite cold, indeed!
I have been to southern Africa many times, in what is winter in the southern hemisphere, as well as late spring. My trips have been to a variety of places including Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Johannesburg, as well as Botswana and Namibia. I went on a bunch of safari trips and know how important it is to pick the right gear and be appropriately dressed – I even made mistakes along the way.
In fact, a safari is a trip like no others and there are some items that need to be on any packing list for Africa, as they are simply essential. If you are planning your safari packing list, continue reading this post to learn what to pack!
Important Considerations When Packing For A Safari
When planning your safari packing list, and especially when thinking about what to wear on safari, there are a few things that you need to be kept in mind. My general tip, which is actually valid for all trips anywhere in the world, is to pick versatile items that can be easily mixed and matched together in terms of colors and fabrics, in order to create a good number of outfits with just a handful of items and which, with the right accessories, can be used either as casual wear or become more dressy.
Having this in mind, the main considerations when deciding what to wear on safari are comfort, ease, temperatures, colors and style. Let me go through these important factors in more details.
Look for comfort
Both men and women can look stylish on a safari, and yet stay comfortable. I wholeheartedly recommend to pick clothes that are breathable, in neutral colors and that can adapt to the changing temperatures throughout the day.
Another thing to consider is that safaris hardly involve any physical exercise – most of the day is spent sitting in the car, looking for animals. Yet, getting on and off the jeep for the occasional bush stop, or to stretch the legs, calls for comfortable attire.
Driving around the bush all day in an open car, you are bound to get covered in dust. T-shirts, pants and whatever else you may be wearing will get dirty and dusty. After all, Namibia is mostly a desert and the bush of Botswana is also mostly sandy.
Yet, especially if camping in Botswana, and even more so when in Namibia, there are no laundry facilities. It’s important to bring items that can be easily hand-washed and that are quick dry. Cotton is by far the best material, as well as technical one that dries in no time.
Layers are key
There is a common misconception that all of Africa is warm, if not even hot, throughout the day and night, and year round. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I realized this on my first day on a safari, where, after a full afternoon admiring wildlife in Botswana, the temperatures dropped dramatically as soon as the sun started to set.
Game drives are usually timed to follow the lifestyle of animals. This means that the typical safari will have two game drives per day: one starting soon after sunrise, before the animals find a hiding spot from the afternoon heat; and one in the late afternoon – with some private game reserves allowing drives to linger on a bit after dark. Thus, wearing layers is essential.
A good packing list for Africa will include plenty of cotton shirts to wear during the day, and a few sweaters and a light jacket to wear in the early morning hours and in the evenings. I also recommend bringing a scarf, a hat and gloves.
Pick the right colors
I love bright colors, and on my first safari I wore bright colored shirts. BIG MISTAKE! When on a game drive, you are expected to blend in with the bush as much as possible. Wear neutral colors, such as khaki, beige, taupe or grey. Black and dark blue are thought to attract the African tse tse flies, whereas predators identify red with wounded animals. With the amount of dust in the bush, white is hardly recommended as it gets dirty very easily.
Consider the type of safari
Picking what to wear on safari doesn’t mean being a fashion victim or mocking Maryl Streep in Out of Africa. But being dressed for the occasion (by which I mean being comfortable, fresh during the day and warm at night) is important.
The safaris I did in Phinda Game Reserve, in Botswana and Namibia were completely different one from the other. The ones in Phinda and in Botswana were luxury safaris – one in lodges and the other one glamping. However, I went mostly camping in Namibia. Either way, there was no need for me to wear anything fancy at night for the evening meals: a pair of nice pants and a nice top usually did the trick. My safari packing list was made of informal, easy to wear items.
What To Wear On Safari
Now let’s finally consider what to wear on safari. Continue reading for a perfect safari packing list, with all the essential items that should be taken.
Clothes and shoes
Having considered what to wear on safari, here’s a selection of the clothes I recommend packing.
Long, neutral color pants are what to wear on safari. You will want something that is comfortable, easy to wash and quick dry, both for the day and for the night. I swear by Kuhl pants – their motto is “born in the mountains” but their pants are perfect for a safari. They have several pants you can pick from – easy-wear, skinny etc. So you can create your style.
You don’t really get to wear shorts much on a safari, not unless you bathe yourself in mosquito repellent. But alas, bring a pair just in case. Kuhl makes a few that are perfect for safaris.
While nights are cold when in the bush, days are actually warm and you will often be wandering around in a t-shirt. Don’t make the rookie mistake I made on my first safari and only pick t-shirts in neutral colors. You will want something that is super light weight and that can be washed in the sink and will dry quickly. Once again, Kuhl is my go-to brand for comfortable, durable and trendy t-shirts.
Long sleeve shirts
Not a fan of mosquito repellent? Then a light, cotton long sleeve t-shirt is what to wear on safari. Once again, remember to pick neutral colors.
Have I told you it gets really cold in southern Africa? You will want some light sweaters that you can layer up to wear on top of a long-sleeve t-shirt and under a nice jacket. My favorite is Kuhl’s Lia Pullover Hoody – but they sell a variety that you may like even better.
A warm jacket
You don’t need anything excessively thick. Kuhl Spyfire Jacket or Spyfire hoodie are perfect. What I love about them is that they actually pack really small – you can fold them into a tiny pillow!
A scarf, a hat and gloves
Yes, it gets that cold. I remember shivering at night in Namibia, and being thankful for my hat and scarf. And my hands cracked so much because it was incredibly cold and dry and dusty. You will need to wear gloves, at least when you head out very early in the morning.
Comfortable walking shoes
Believe or not, but even with all the sitting around you do during a safari, you will need super comfortable shoes – they really are what to wear on safari. Your feet may swell in the heat or from sitting around. I find that good hiking shoes (boots are not necessary) are ideal. My go to brand is typically Montura, but Solomon also makes excellent ones.
Sandals or flip flops
When you get back to your room in the lodge, or to the camp, you will want to take your shoes off. If you are camping, flip flops are also necessary to get in the shower.
Mosquito repellent or DEET
I didn’t see many mosquitoes in any of my safari trips, but it’s good measure to bring a mosquito repellent and apply it to any exposed areas.
The sun shines in the bush, so you will want to wear mosquito repellent and protect your skin from sun damage!
For the same reasons, make sure to also protect your eyes with a good pair of sunglasses.
With all the dust, cold nights and dry air, your skin will be screaming for hydration. Make sure to drink lots of water and apply copious amounts of moisturizer every day. You will also need a very good moisturizing lip balm.
A quick dry towel
In case you are camping, you will have to have your own towel. It’s best to have a quick dry one.
The nights can be really dark in the bush, especially if you are camping – so make sure to throw in a headlight in your safari packing list.
You will need it to charge your smartphone on the go. Make sure to also bring a plug adaptor too.
A hot water bottle
For the same reason you need to bring a hat and gloves and a scarf! I was so relieved to find one at a store in Namibia, after literally freezing during my first night of camping. A hot water bottle will help you keep warm for a few hours at night.
A heavy duty sleeping bag
Most tour companies in Namibia provide a sleeping bag, but most of the time it’s super lightweight and terribly dirty – so bring your own and make sure it’s heavy duty for the cold nights.
An inflatable pillow
It packs super small once you deflate it and it will make sleeping in a tent way more comfortable!
You may favor something liquid as it rinses much faster. Either way, it’s one of the things you need to add to your safari packing list as you won’t have laundry service!
A clothesline and pins
In case you need to do laundry, it’s better to have a line and some pins to hang your clothes. Air is so dry in Namibia that they will dry in no time.
A water filter
You won’t really have access to water in Botswana so you’ll have to bring bottled water, but in Namibia when camping there are fountains so you may bring a bottle and a filter to be extra safe.
Especially if you are camping, someone in the tent next to you may be snoring and earplugs will save you from a sleepless night.
You won’t want to miss any hunting scene or any bird watching, so binoculars are another essential item for your safari packing list.
A good camera and lenses
A safari is a photography extravaganza kind of trip. I don’t think I have ever taken as many photo on any given day as I did during my safari trips. Any packing list for Africa has to include a good DSLR camera – sorry, but not even the best compact camera will do here! You can get a mirrorless one, but these is going to be rather expensive too.
In terms of lenses, you will want at least something that stretches to 300 mm – perhaps more especially if you want to photograph birds.
Other items you will need include a spare battery and extra SD and CF cards and a wallet to keep the memory cards organized. You should also bring along a cleaning kit – all the dust during a safari will deposit on your lens and you’ll have to regularly clean it.
Picking the right bag for a trip – any trip – is important. The good news is that a safari isn’t a challenging kind of trip in terms of the amount of walking and carrying around luggage, whether on a luxury safari where butlers are going to handle your bags, or on a budget one where the distance between the truck and the tent is very short.
The one thing to keep in mind, however, in case you are doing a budget adventure safari like the one I did in Namibia, is the size of the tent. The last thing you want is to have a bag so big to the point that it doesn’t fit in the tent, especially in case you are sharing the tent with someone else.
Especially if you are doing a tented safari, keep the weight and volume of what you carry to a minimum – pack smartly and light.
In terms of bags, here are the ones I recommend.
Osprey Ariel 65
This is backpack I normally use on all my trips, and it came with me to Africa. It’s big enough to carry everything I need, and very comfortable to walk around. Light packers may go for something smaller, such as the Ariel 55. I don’t recommend anything over 65 liters.
Osprey soft duffel bag
A medium size soft duffel bag can be more easily stored in a truck and it takes less space in a tent; plus it’s big enough to take what to wear for safari.
I do not recommend a hard suitcase, as this occupies too much space and it is generally too heavy (something that has to be considered even on luxury safaris where there are occasional flights on small planes to move from one game reserve to the other).
For more packing tips, check out my post The Art Of Packing Light: 21 Useful Tips To Travel Light.
A good day pack is fundamental on any trip. This is where you will carry things such documents and whatever you may need during the day, such as snacks, water, tissues, hand sanitizer, sunblock and that much needed extra layer of clothes for when the temperatures drop at the end of the day.
My favorite daypack is the Osprey Daylite. It’s small enough to be comfortable, yet it can carry a lot of stuff thanks to the internal and front pockets.
Keeping everything organized
Packing smartly means knowing where everything is in a bag, and storing items so that they can be found easily. Quite important when in Africa, especially if the space in a tent is limited and there is not much time to decide what you want to wear for the day.
Below are some items I recommend using.
They help to keep clothes organized either by color, clothing type or even outfit. They are perfect to easily find what to wear for safari. Use the smallest one to keep things such as medications (prescription or emergency) you may need during the trip.
Large ziploc bags
Most people would recommend dry bags but there’s hardly the need on a safari and ziploc bags do the trick whenever you are taking a backpack. They take even less room than packing cubes.
Pick one that multiple pockets and zips and that can be easily hanged. Remember to only bring eco-friendly toiletries to your safari trip.
Have you ever been to Africa? Do you have any further recommendations on what to wear on safari? Anything to add to this packing list for Africa?
Make sure to read my other posts for packing tips:
- All The Useful Backpacking Essentials For Long Term Travel
- The Complete List Of Travel Essentials For Women