Africa is a massive continent and I hate using the term “African safari” as if the whole continent is one big safari. Out of 54 countries, you really can only have a wildlife safari in a handful of them. The word “safari” actually means voyage in Swahili. What most people think of as a safari is actually a game drive. The entire trip can be considered a “safari”. That being said, what you pack for a safari in Botswana is often similar to what you would need in other places with a few differences. I have done safaris now in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana so I have a pretty good idea of what you need. My post on what to pack for an African safari is more geared to the Southern Hemisphere which has slightly different weather than Kenya and Tanzania which are closer to the equator.
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I was surprised by the coolness of the temperature of both Namibia and Botswana in April in the mornings and evenings. I look back at my photos and often see myself in a scarf and jacket, even in midday. I had to prepare for a 3-month trip that covered the southern hemisphere as well as tropical areas such as Uganda so it was challenging.
If you are doing the kind of safari where you are flown by a small plane, there will be a strict luggage size and weight requirement. These planes have very small baggage holds and wheeled bags are typically not permitted. They want you to have a squishy duffle bag instead. Check with whoever you booked with for ideal bag dimensions and weight limits. After stressing over this for literally weeks and researching every safari duffle bag on the planet, I settled on this one. (it is pictured below)
It comes in 3 sizes. The smallest can be carried on a plane and if I had only been doing a safari and not the rest of my Africa trip, I would have used this for sure. Instead, I got the middle size, not the largest one. It was plenty large and I couldn’t believe how much it fit. It is well made with strong (and pretty) zippers and many compartments to help with organization.
I used this contraption to avoid long periods of carrying it on my shoulder. It wasn’t perfect, because if not attached just right, it snapped off but it came in handy at airports. You have to allow for space in the luggage for this though.
Samsonite Luggage Folding Cart
This whole system wasn’t ideal TBH and I wouldn’t do it again. On a subsequent trip to Kenya, I wasn’t forced to only bring a soft duffel. A wheeled suitcase was okay as long as the weight and dimensions were within the airline’s requirements. This is a lightweight international-sized carry-on by TravelPro that I literally take everywhere.
If you are going on safari, you may be a photography enthusiast. If you aren’t, this bag still may interest you. I provide alternative handbag choices below.
Typically I carry a backpack on trips with all my photography gear but when in the safari jeep I found it more convenient to have a shoulder bag so I could just reach in and get different lenses, binoculars, lens wipes, etc. I have been using a shoulder bag like this for years and always get many compliments on it, since it doesn’t really look like a camera bag. It is also big enough to fit my 11 inch MacBook Air so this is a great travel bag in general.
The one I’m carrying is the Jo Totes Gracie Bag which isn’t available on Amazon anymore but a similar one is. The bag has great pockets on the outside and inside has padded dividers that you can place where you wish with velcro to fit your various lenses and other items. The strap connects with attractive hooks and it comes with a longer strap to make it into a cross-body bag and a shorter one to make it a shoulder bag. Both are easily adjustable. Plus, it’s vegan leather!
Jo Totes Allison Bag
This one is much less expensive and unisex. It is a messenger bag style and comes in many colors.
Kattee Canvas Vintage Camera Bag
If you’re not into photography and just need a good tote to carry your phone, sunglasses, sunblock, binoculars, scarf, etc, I recommend the Longchamp Pliage Tote. This folds into a thin compact rectangle and takes virtually no room in a suitcase if you wanted to bring it as an extra bag. It is great for the plane or as a day bag since it holds a ton. It is durable nylon that can take a beating and be thrown into the washing machine.
Maybe you just want to bring a backpack. This is my favorite backpack of all time.
Osprey Tempest 20 L (The Talon is the Men’s Version)
This just has it all, as far as backpacks go. Well-thought-out organizational compartments (I’m big on that if you can’t tell) and durable. Mine has been through hell.
If you want to turn any of the above “Non-Camera” bags into a camera bag, all you need is one of these. It is designed for the camera and lenses and has pockets for cloths, wipes, memory cards and extra batteries. It comes in 4 sizes depending on the size of your camera and how many lenses you travel with. Very handy and keeps your camera gear protected
Down alternative is more ethical than down and holds its insulation when wet.
I have both these brands jackets, Northface and Patagonia. They are easy to stuff into a bag and are extremely lightweight. Both come with the option of having a hoody. These will give some degree of rain protection as well.
I recommend one of these so you have a cozy layer of warmth for cool mornings and evenings. I prefer the zip-up kind so I can easily take on and off.
***You probably don’t need a fleece AND a puffy jacket unless you are traveling in winter in the southern hemisphere. If traveling in equatorial Africa (not at altitude) then just one of those items should suffice for a little warmth.
These are marketed as hiking pants, but I wear them for everything since they don’t look like hiking pants. They are made from 65% recycled lightweight nylon and have a DWR (durable water repellent) finish and 50+ UPF sun protection. They are comfortable on a plane, easy to clean and dry in just hours.
If you prefer a more snug fit check out these snazzy ones from Columbia. Like the others, they have 50 UPF sun protection, are water repellant and stain resistant as well.
Drawstring linen khaki pants
Pants like this are a great 2nd pair to have. They are comfortable and don’t look as sporty as hiking pants (they come in a few colors)
If you are traveling to a place that gets hotter during the day, throw in a pair of shorts. I recommend longer (at minimum mid-thigh length) since most African countries dress a bit more conservatively. This one can be folded up if you want it shorter for any reason. It looks cute both ways. I did not bring any shorts with me on a recent trip to Kenya which was in August.
A sleeveless option is good for hotter days. This one comes in white as well.
This one is a similar lightweight linen button-down but with long sleeves.
You always need a couple of t-shirts on any trip (I spent some time at an animal sanctuary and wanted to save my “nicer” stuff). It really doesn’t matter what T-shirt you wear as long as it is comfortable and dries quickly. I prefer sporty ones that have moisture-wicking ability.
I love rompers and this one was super cute and safari-esque. You can find similar ones with short sleeves or long sleeves.
***You’ll note that in my photos I have colors on other than khaki and olive green. You will see that 90% of safari travelers are wearing the same colors. I like to spice it up a bit. White is my favorite because it is so cool and matches everything.
You will be advised to avoid bright colors, black and dark blue. Apparently, some insects are attracted to the dark colors in some regions. Whether or not these absolutely should be avoided is the subject of debate but I brought light colors (light blue, pink, yellow) just to be safe.
Even if you are not hiking, these are nice rugged lightweight boots to have. My feet don’t get hot in them and I am not in a hurry to take them off at the end of the day because they are so comfortable. These are waterproof and were necessary for me because of other things I was doing on my trip. See below for an alternative.
A lighter alternative to a boot are these rugged breathable trail shoes. They are incredibly comfortable and can also be hiked in. They are not waterproof.
Merrill Aero All Out Blaze Hiking Water Shoe (available for Men also)
If you prefer a more stylish safari boot, this is the one I used.
Steve Madden Troopa Boot
These are for back at the lodge because while on game drives, closed-toe shoes are best. These are the travel sandals I take everywhere because they are incredibly comfortable and cute.
For my first trip, I brought the combat style boots, the trail shoes, and sandals but I wished I had just brought the hiking boots and killed two birds with one stone! I was doing a lot of hiking before and after my safari and was in quite a bit of mud. On my next trip I learned better and only took hiking boots and sandals.
Read More: Luxury Botswana Safari
This can give you a little warmth, a little sun protection or a little style and pop of color. This one comes in many colors. Get two! (the scarf in the photo above was purchased in the Johannesburg Airport)
This is an absolute must. I love this one because it has a wide enough brim to shade my face but no so big and floppy that I can’t see. It also has UPF 50 sun protection. It comes in ivory and khaki.
Ray-Ban polarized aviators are my go-to and I have them in several colors. If the polarization is not important to you, you can save a bit on them! They are classic, functional and light!
I Jacket plus rain parka or combo
2 Pants plus one cozy pair for lounging around (sweats/leggings/yoga pants)
Optional: Jeans if you are doing any city travel
1-2 pairs shorts (preferably longer shorts)
2 short sleeve shirts
2 sleeveless shirts
2 lightweight long sleeve shirts
Optional: 1 romper or dress (or both if have room and have long enough trip)
Optional: 1 long skirt or dress for dinner
1-2 Scarves (1 is all you really need if pressed for space)
1 pair rugged closed toe shoe
Binoculars are a MUST on game drives because many animals don’t come that close, including many gorgeous birds which you don’t want to miss. You also capture finer detail about many beautiful animals that your eyes may miss. After days of research, I settled on these since they are water resistant and midweight. The super small ones aren’t the greatest quality and the greatest quality ones are big and heavy (or super expensive). These were a great find. Everyone else I was with who didn’t have binoculars liked them too!
Celestine Trailseeker 10/32
I highly recommend having a “real” camera for a safari, and not your phone. The quality of phone photos for wildlife photography is tricky unless you are a pro. Unless the animal is very close to the vehicle, you need a good zoom with stabilization since animals often move before you are ready to snap!
Sony Alpha 6000 Mirrorless
This has been my baby since 2016. Compared to DSLR this is super light and compact. The lens it comes with is the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 which is a decent wide angle and great for landscape shots.
If you are coming all the way to Africa you want to have great memories of the gorgeous animals you are going to see. I was extremely happy with this lens. If you are not a Sony camera user, you should, of course, look for a comparable lens that fits your particular camera.
Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Telephoto E-mount
Getting close detailed photos like these are easy with a good lens.
Bring plenty of lens cleaner and cloths because game drives can be dusty. I keep this box at home and grab a handful of the little packets to stuff in my camera bag before a trip.
You don’t need this while on a game drive but if you are a solo traveler or want to shoot stars, night shots, long exposures, etc, it is good to have a travel-sized packable tripod. This one is pretty light and sturdy.
This is not an absolute must but power outages in Africa happen often and it’s good to have some backup! I’ve been using this one for many years. I like being hands-free with a head strap.
It’s easy to get sunburned in Africa even on cloudy days. Even if you are not someone who sunburns, you can get sun damage. Wear this every second you are out from dusk to dawn and reapply every 2 hours minimum. That’s the nurse practitioner side of me talking. This is a product recommended by dermatologists. It’s a super strong UVA/UVB shielding formulation and is environmentally friendly.
This Grayl water bottle has a built-in filtration system that makes virtually any water safe to drink. Most higher-end safari companies will provide water and hopefully not in plastic bottles. This is nice to have just in case!
A necessity for any trip. I had to use 3 different types of adaptors in the various African countries I visited so one like this is very handy.
This is the best detergent for travel. It is compressed powder detergent formed into sheets of paper. Incredibly light and easy to pack and environmentally friendly (also airplane friendly since no liquid!)
Read More: Ultimate Nambia Tour
Africa stole my heart. It is pure magic and has so many beautiful places that take your breath away.
Have you been on a safari? What items do you think I should add to this list?
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