No matter what type of African safari you are going on, it is essential to pack the right items to ensure a successful and enjoyable trip. Whilst all good rental companies will provide you with camping-specific gear, there are certain personal items that you must make sure you have before you leave.
This packing list includes 20 things that are necessary for a self-drive safari. Planning ahead should include considerations of weather conditions, activities, and the limited space available on the vehicles.
- Plan ahead and pack smartly for a successful self-drive safari.
- Consider weather conditions, activities, and limited space when packing for your safari.
- Soft duffel bags or backpacks are recommended for luggage, so they can easily fit into small spaces.
- Photography enthusiasts should consider a DSLR camera, tripod, and extra memory cards for capturing memorable shots.
- Bring adapters, power banks, and charging cables for your technology needs.
Luggage & Travel Bags for your Self-Drive Safari
The right luggage and travel bags are crucial. Soft duffel bags or backpacks are highly recommended as they offer flexibility and practicality for small spaces.
Duffel bags and backpacks are easier to pack into safari vehicles than rigid suitcases, which are challenging to fit into tight spaces. Duffel bags and backpacks are more versatile and can be easily transported when you need to move between accommodations or embark on outdoor activities. Bags such as the North Face Base Camp Duffel are water and dust-proof, making them ideal for a bush trip.
You’ll need a daypack to carry daily essentials such as water, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent, and a camera during day trips and excursions. It provides easy access to your belongings without carrying a larger bag or rummaging through your main luggage. Importantly, you can fit a daysack between or behind seats in the limited cabin space of a Cruiser.
Photography Gear for Your Self-Drive Safari
For many capturing the unforgettable wildlife and picturesque landscapes is a priority. Packing the right gear is essential to ensure you make the most of your photographic opportunities. Below we list some of the essentials, but we highly recommend you read our other articles about hiring photographic equipment in the country you are visiting. Hiring has the advantage that you are not lugging heavy and expensive equipment across the globe, the equipment is well maintained and the right type for this field of photography, and you can often get much better quality equipment than you might be able to afford to buy.
Here are some of the photography essentials you might include in your safari packing list:
1. DSLR Camera with Zoom Lens
A high-quality DSLR camera with a versatile zoom lens is ideal for capturing stunning photos on your safari adventure. The zoom lens lets you photograph subjects from a distance without compromising image quality. We’d recommend something that goes up to a 400mm zoom on a 35mm sensor. Bring extra batteries and a charger to ensure your camera is always ready for action.
2. Stable Tripod or Sandbag
A sturdy tripod helps capture sharp and stable images, but quite often, a more suitable solution is a bean bag that can be draped on the door or over an open window of the vehicle. It provides stability and eliminates camera shake, especially when shooting at slow shutter speeds or in low-light conditions. Consider a lightweight, compact tripod that can easily fit into your luggage.
3. Protective Camera Bag
A durable camera bag that adequately protects your DSLR camera and lenses is important. Look for a bag with padded compartments to safeguard your gear from bumps and impacts while moving. Choose a bag with adjustable dividers to accommodate your camera setup.
4. Extra Memory Cards
Pack extra memory cards to ensure you have sufficient storage space for all your safari photos. The high-resolution images captured on a wildlife trip can quickly fill up a memory card, especially if you shoot in RAW. Having extra cards gives you peace of mind and allows you to keep snapping away without worrying about running out of storage.
Technology for your Self-Drive Safari
While this kind of trip should be an opportunity to escape technology, it is important to consider what tech will enhance your experience. Here are some essential items that you might pack:
Adapters for Charging Devices
Whatever electronic devices you use, you must carry adapters compatible with the power outlets in the countries you’ll be visiting. Countries such as Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe all have a combination of UK-style Type G plug sockets and South African-style Type D sockets. This means you should pack both types to ensure you can charge whatever device you have.
Power Bank for Backup Power
A reliable power bank ensures your devices stay charged throughout your self-drive safari. This will come in handy when you’re on long drives or in remote areas with limited power sources. Consider bringing a cigarette-lighter socket charger to keep your power bank charged from vehicle’s electrical system.
Necessary Charging Cables
Don’t forget to pack the appropriate charging cables for your electronic devices. Whether it’s your camera, smartphone, or tablet, having the right cables will ensure you can keep your devices powered up and ready to use.
Cell Phone for Communication
I think that bringing a cell phone is important for communication and emergencies during your self-drive safari. For the most part, gone are the days when we have to put up with expensive roaming charges when abroad or searching for local SIM cards. Use Apps such as Airalo (downloadable from the App Store and here) and purchase an eSIM for the country you are going to. Load it at home, connect when you land, and you should be good for data in most areas.
Sun Protection and Insect Repellents
Out here it is crucial to protect yourself from the sun and insects. The intense African sun can cause sunburn, heatstroke, and other sun-related ailments. Insects, such as mosquitoes, can transmit diseases like malaria and dengue fever. To ensure a safe and enjoyable safari experience, here are some essential sun protection and insect repellent items to pack:
- Sunscreen with high SPF: Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by applying a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF). Use SPF50 and reapply regularly, especially after swimming or heavy sweating. You’ll still get some colour!
- Sun hat: Wearing a wide-brimmed hat, shield your face, neck, and ears from the sun. This will provide extra protection and help prevent sunburn and heatstroke.
- Sunglasses: Protect your eyes and wear sunglasses with UV protection. This will reduce the risk of eye damage caused by prolonged sun exposure.
- Mosquito repellent: Pack insect repellents that contain DEET or picaridin to guard against mosquito bites. Apply the repellent onto exposed skin and clothing, following the product instructions. Where possible use mosquito nets or sleeping in tents with mosquito-proofing to further protect yourself while sleeping. Always use the built-in screens in your rooftop tent.
- Insect-repellent clothing: Consider wearing clothing treated with insect repellents or apparel specifically designed to keep insects away. These garments provide an extra layer of protection and can help reduce the risk of bites. You can pre-treat your clothes with permethrin for an effective insect killer on your clothes.
What to Wear on Safari
Prioritise comfort and functionality on your Africa holiday. Pack lightweight, breathable garments in neutral and earthy tones to blend in with the environment.
It is recommended to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to protect you from sun, insects and thorns. Opt for clothing made from lightweight and quick-drying fabrics to ensure maximum comfort.
Closed-toe shoes are essential for walking safaris and game drives, providing protection and stability on uneven terrain. Choose sturdy footwear that is comfortable for long hours of hiking or standing. Sandals or open-toe shoes are unsuitable for the safari environment except perhaps in camp. But beware that thorns are everywhere in Africa, and flip-flops are no match for the African thorn!
Mornings and evenings can be cool, so have a light jacket or fleece for extra warmth. Layering is key to adapting to changing temperatures throughout the day. This is often the most overlooked aspect, as people fail to understand how cold it can feel in the mornings and evenings in Africa.
Essential Safari Items
1. Important Documents
Make sure to carry your passport, visa, and travel insurance policy. These documents are essential for identification, legal entry into different countries, and safety throughout the journey. If you are travelling with children, bring their Unabridged Birth Certificates, and if both parents (per the original birth certificate) are not present, then bring an Affidavit from the parent named on the birth certificate confirming that you have their authority to travel with the child (or similar proof such as a death certificate).
2. Cash, Bank Cards, and Cell Phone
Sufficient cash and bank cards will allow you to easily pay during your safari. In most countries today, you can withdraw cash from ATMs without problems. But it’s always good to bring some cash just in case. And don’t forget to get that cash before you leave the major towns and head into the bush.
3. Copies of Important Documents
It is always wise to have separate copies of your important documents, such as your passport and travel insurance policy.
Remember, these are just a few essential items you will need. Being well-prepared with the right items will make your safari adventure more enjoyable and stress-free.
Recommended Safari Items
Here a few items we’d recommended to enhance your wildlife adventure:
Binoculars are essential for wildlife viewing. With a good pair of binoculars, you can spot animals from a distance and observe their behaviour up close. Look for binoculars with a higher magnification and a wide field of view for the best results.
2. Charging Devices
Apart from what we have mentioned above, check with the vehicle rental company what electrical system is in the vehicle and what additional items might enhance your comfort.
Many safari camps and lodges offer refreshing swimming pools to relax and cool off. Don’t forget to pack swimwear to take a dip and enjoy some downtime at your accommodations.
4. Comfortable Shoes
Comfortable shoes are a must for safari activities, whether exploring on foot or getting in and out of safari vehicles. Choose sturdy shoes that provide good support and traction, as you may encounter uneven terrain during bush walks or game drives.
7. Pocket Knife
A pocket knife can be useful in various situations during your safari trip. From cutting fruit to opening packages, a compact and multifunctional pocket knife will come in handy when you least expect it. Just remember to pack it in your hold luggage and not your hand luggage (I forget all the time and always have my favourite knife confiscated at the airport!).
Useful Things to Pack for Safaris
Here are some additional useful things to consider including in your packing list:
1. Wet Bags
Packing waterproof wet bags protects your valuables and gadgets from unpredictable weather conditions. These bags will ensure your items stay dry even during sudden downpours or when navigating water-based activities. If you are going to Victoria Falls, then specifically look out for the waterproof camera socks to protect your gear from the spray.
A head torch is essential for nighttime around the camp. A really good powerful torch will illuminate wildlife during night drives and around the camp. Being able to spot nocturnal animals and the nighttime landscape opens up a whole new experience when deep in the African bush.
3. Wet Wipes and Hand Sanitizer
Maintaining cleanliness and hygiene is crucial during your safari trip. Pack wet wipes and hand sanitiser to keep yourself refreshed and germ-free, especially when access to running water is limited. These items are essential for maintaining personal hygiene throughout your expedition. In somewhere like Zimbabwe, where they use old and dirty US Dollar notes, having sanitiser available for use every time you touch a one-dollar bill is essential!
What Not to Pack for Safari Trips
It’s also important to consider what to leave behind. To help you pack efficiently, here are some items that you can exclude from your safari packing list:
- Formal attire: Safari trips are casual and relaxed, so packing formal clothing is unnecessary. Leave behind suits, cocktail dresses, and other formal wear you won’t wear on your safari.
- Fancy dresses: While you may want to dress up for special occasions, fancy dresses are unnecessary for a safari trip. Stick to comfortable and practical clothing options. The Safari-style is smart in its own right!
- High heels: Safaris involve a lot of walking and outdoor activities, so leave your high heels at home. Opt for sturdy and comfortable shoes suitable for long walks and game drives.
When deciding what to pack for your safari, prioritise comfort and functionality over style. Pack clothing and footwear that will keep you comfortable throughout your adventure. Remember, your safari trip should focus on experiencing the wildlife and natural beauty of Africa, so pack accordingly.
Packing the right items is essential for a successful and enjoyable African safari. Following this ultimate packing list ensures you have everything you need for a self-drive safari adventure. Remember to prioritise comfort, functionality, and protection from the sun and insects.