Less is more. Repeat that phrase several times as you contemplate what to pack for a safari – or any trip for that matter.
If you need motivation, stare down your measly duffel bag as a reality check. Even better, pack it, wear it and walk it to feel the weight of your packing decisions.
Every ounce counts, especially when you’re schlepping it across airports and, more importantly, keeping it within airline restrictions.
If your safari itinerary includes flying into multiple camps, it’s likely you’ll be boarding some light aircraft with serious weight limits.
For each of us, we could only take 44 pounds of luggage including carry-on. Considering the heft of my 70-200mm lens alone, the poundage can add up quickly.
Forget about roller luggage. Duffel bags are the luggage of choice because they’re pliable enough to fit into the cargo hold of a tiny plane’s belly.
Considering it was my second safari, I was pretty proud of my packing choices going into the trip. However, I could have done better. Repeat again after me, “less is more.”
Learn from my mistakes with the following packing guidelines for your next safari.
Safari-packing guidelines: What to bring and leave home
Stay organized with packing cubes. When you’re moving around every few days and living out of a duffel bag, packing cubes are essential. My favorites are the ones that open in the front and back, giving you two compartments in each cube to organize your stuff. Cubes also help compress your clothing for a better fit in your bag.
Limit safari outfits to two. Every camp we visited had laundry service. While I packed three safari outfits (long-sleeve shirt and pants), I really only needed two sets. All of the camps we visited offered same-day laundry service. Be sure to check on your camps’ options and take full advantage of them.
Two sets of safari outfits, a scarf and jacket are all you need to cover any number of days when you have laundry service at your camps.
Bring one lightweight, warm jacket. If you’re visiting southern Africa in the winter or early spring, mornings and evenings can be chilly. I relied on my Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket to get me through the cooler temps.
I absolutely love this jacket, which we used as a layer for our Antarctica trip last year. It’s light, moisture resistant and snuggly warm. Even better, it packs into its own pocket for easy packing.
These ultra lightweight and super warm down jackets conveniently fold into a pocket to create a packable small pouch.
Wear the heck out of that little black dress, heels and a scarf. We had a challenge on this safari. While typically you can get away with wearing your safari gear at dinner, four nights of fine dining in Cape Town and Johannesburg necessitated more formal dress.
You can never go wrong with a black dress, lightweight heels and a scarf to get you through the trip. I wore the heck out of my ensemble, reasoning that the only person who would notice my repeat dress would be my hubby and he’s pretty forgiving. Trust me, bring that dress you love and enjoy wearing it multiple times. Just be careful not to spill anything on it.
Complete your wardrobe with just a few more essentials. The only remaining items you’ll need are a pair of jeans or other casual pants of choice, a few dressier long- and short-sleeve T-shirts that you can use for city tours and to layer under safari gear, about three pairs of socks, your unmentionables and a workout outfit. If it’s a long trip, you just might want to squeeze in a few workouts to balance all the eating and sitting you’ll be doing on game drives.
Keep footwear to three. On the plane, I wore my favorite lightweight, mountain-trail running shoe. It was my everyday shoe on the trip, as well as my workout footwear for the few times I actually exercised. While you can easily get away with wearing only this shoe during your safari, I liked having a slightly dressier but sturdy ballerina shoe for city touring and evenings. You’ll also want to bring along a dressy pair of lightweight dress shoes for dinners in the city if that’s a part of your itinerary.
Three pairs of shoes are plenty to cover your city and safari tour.
Leave the jewelry behind. For the first time during my travels, I packed no jewelry. I wore a simple pair of pearl earrings and my wedding ring. It was one less thing to keep up with and I never missed any of it.
Zoom it or go mirrorless. Camera gear can easily take up almost half of your airline weight restrictions. I made a major mistake on this trip. I substituted some prime lenses for my go-to zoom. While lightening my load was part of the goal, nothing beats the convenience of having a zoom so you don’t have to switch lenses. Animals don’t wait around for that.
Next time, I’ll pack my 70-200mm (if you have a zoom that goes to 400mm, that’s even better), 24-70mm and 40mm lenses in my camera bag.
My safari lens choices (elephant not included)
I watched with envy as my co-passengers on the game drives effortlessly shot away with their lightweight mirrorless cameras. Next time, I’ll seriously consider making the switch to shave off another 10 pounds of dead weight.
Share one pair of binoculars. If you’re traveling as a couple and one of you is in charge of the camera, you really only need one pair of binoculars. Even better, sometimes you can borrow them like we did from Mombo Camp during our stay. But don’t count on it.
Thanks to our loaner, we now have a new appreciation for fine binoculars. We absolutely loved the travel-friend, optically beautiful 8x32 Swarovski binoculars. But they come at a hefty cost.
Borrowing these binoculars spoiled us for the trip.
Rely on camps’ mosquito-repellant supply. The fear of mosquitoes is a legitimate concern in Africa. These pests carry some nasty diseases including Malaria, and Yellow and Dengue fevers. Both times we packed enough mosquito repellant to cover ourselves from head to toe for each day of our trip. That’s overkill.
Your really just need enough to cover your unclothed parts. Next time I’d just take one travel-size tube to share. Every camp offers plenty of repellant so take advantage of using their supply and save yourself the packing space.
Consider buying a detachable luggage dolly. Hauling a heavy duffel bag through long international airports is a hassle and uncomfortable. On our second safari, I bought a detachable luggage dolly to effortlessly roll my bags through the terminals. While it’s another piece of equipment to keep track of, it was a godsend during those long walks.
You can do it – now share your advice
A modestly packed duffel bag and backpack got me through 16 days of touring including overnight stays in two cities and five camps in Africa. If I can do it, so can you.
What’s your safari packing advice? What do you wish you had brought along and left behind?