Essential Items to Take on an African Safari

Boarding time at Olkiombo, Masai Mara, Kenya
••• Boarding time at Olkiombo, Masai Mara, Kenya. Getty Images/ChandraDhas

Once the itinerary for your African safari has been decided and the trip has been confirmed, that's when the "So, what exactly do I pack for a safari?" question comes up. One of the biggest issues when deciding what to pack for a safari is the weight and size of your luggage. The small-plane flights that take guests from camp to camp have strict limits on both. The pilots will often be the ones to load the luggage in the hold, and soft sided bags are necessary in order to squeeze and push your belongings into the small cargo space.

It's imperative that the planes be balanced out for safety, so even a passenger's weight is calculated in.

Luckily most camps that you fly into will also offer laundry services as well as a full range of shampoo and soap. The key phrase is "dress-down" -- a safari is also not a fancy affair by any means, and even the most luxurious camps will not expect you to dine in anything fancier than khaki pants and shirt. You truly can survive with enough clothes to last you 3 days and plan on getting your clothing laundered. Nearly every camp or lodge will offer same-day service.

If you have been shopping in Cape Town before you start your safari there are baggage services than can fly your bag safely to Johannesburg, or any other airport, for you to pick up after your trip. Also, most charter companies will keep your excess luggage for free while you are on safari (just confirm you are returning to the airport you left your luggage at).

If you are a keen photographer with bulky equipment or just cannot figure out how to pack light, you can always buy an extra seat for your excess luggage and bring it along with you. 

What to Pack for Your African Safari

What follows is a basic safari packing list. Remember, it's important to pack light especially if you're taking charter flights between parks because the baggage weight is limited to 10 to 15 kg (25 to 30 pounds) maximum.

Pack your belongings in a soft-sided bag that is not larger than 24 inches in length.

Clothes for Women

  • 4 t-shirts
  • 2 long sleeve shirts
  • 1 sweatshirt/fleece
  • 1 pair of comfortable shorts
  • 2 pairs of cotton trousers/pants
  • 1 cotton wrap (great to wear during the afternoon siesta -- buy locally if you can)
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 4 pairs cotton underwear (you can wash and dry overnight)
  • 3 sports bras (ideal for bumpy/rough travel)
  • Very thin waterproof raincoat if traveling during the rainy season
  • Sunglasses (to protect from dust as well as bright sun)
  • Flannel pajama pants for the chilly nights
  • Hat with chin strap (to avoid it blowing off your head and into the bush)
  • Swimsuit
  • Lightweight, durable, waterproof shoes
  • Flip flops or sandals for around camp (or to wear in the shower)

Clothes for Men

  • 4 t-shirts
  • 2 long sleeve shirts
  • 1 sweatshirt/fleece
  • 1 pair of comfortable shorts
  • 2 pairs of cotton trousers/pants
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 4 pairs underwear
  • Flannel pajama pants
  • Very thin waterproof raincoat
  • Sunglasses 
  • Hat with chin strap 
  • Swimsuit
  • Lightweight, durable, waterproof shoes
  • Flip flops or sandals for around camp or shower

Toiletries/First Aid

Every camp or lodge will have a basic first aid kit on hand, and most safari vehicles will too (especially those operated by higher end camps).

It's still handy to bring your own small supply of sanitizer, Band-Aids, aspirin, etc.

  • Malarial prophylactics
  • Sunscreen (SPF 30 or above)
  • Antihistamine (for bug bites/stings and allergic reactions)
  • Aspirin/Motrin/Tylenol for pain and/or headaches
  • Mosquito repellant
  • 3 gallon-sized Ziploc bags (to keep things like your camera dry or free of dust and your dirty clothes separate)
  • Tampons/sanitary pads for women (also, pantyliners are a must since you'll be forgoing toilet paper in the bush on game drives!)
  • Purell or other hand sanitizer gel (handy for washing your hands when there's no water around)
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Band-Aids with antiseptic cream
  • Personal toiletries in small travel sizes (shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant etc.)
  • Prescription medications
  • Spare glasses if you wear contacts (it's often too dusty to wear contact lenses comfortably)

    Gadgets and Gizmos

    • Converter plug to fit local sockets so you can recharge your phone, camera battery, and/or iPad
    • Small flashlight (when walking to and from your room at night, and to use inside your tent)
    • Camera (with zoom lenses and tripod if you're serious, but remember the weight restrictions for flights)
    • Extra memory card for your camera 
    • Binoculars (though higher-end camps should have a spare pair in the safari vehicles for you to use)
    • Spare batteries and/or battery charger (always check to see what the camp or safari vehicle has on hand)
    • iPad or similar device for your books, storing photos, using as an alarm clock and sound recording (fun if you have a lot of wildlife around your camp/lodge at night -- it can get loud!)
    • Cell phone with local plan (optional, but handy to connect with family/friends back home. Most camps will not have Wi-Fi, but will have a cell phone connection)

    Pack For a Purpose

    Many safari camps and lodges now support local community initiatives in and around the wildlife parks, reserves, and concession areas. Please ask if you can bring any school supplies, medical supplies, clothing or other light objects that will help these projects. Check out the website Pack For a Purpose. They have some good suggestions on how to efficiently pack these sustainable items, as well as lists of specific requests from lodges around Africa.