There are two main things to keep in mind when you're going to Africa to see the animals: sun and insects. It's worth preparing well for your African safari so that you can comfortably focus on the wild beauty before you.
Here's a list of what to consider when you're deciding what to pack for an African safari, and how to prepare for a walking safari. We've included a few other things you'll want to bring, based on Tom's experience in Malawi.
Pack for the heat
The first defense against the sun and heat is a wide brimmed hat. I bought my Tilley Hat more than ten years ago. It's been all over the world with me–the Camino de Santiago, hiking in the Andes, and now, the bush of Africa. It's durable, washable, and has a great sweat band. I also like to soak it in cool water when I'm out in the sun, wring it out, and put it back on. That makes for a nice cool. There are lots of variations on the Tilley Hat, so pick the one you like.
For cool, it's hard to beat the ExOfficio Men's Air Strip Long Sleeve Shirt. They have good sun protection, which includes long sleeves and a collar that unrolls to protect the back of your neck. ExOfficio also makes versions with Insect Shield technology (see below.)
Again ExOfficio for me. Sweat wicking is the key. And, when you rinse them out, they're quick drying.
Ok, it's getting tedious, but I'm a big ExOfficio fan here, too. Cool, washable, and quick drying. And yes, I'm a boxers kind of guy.
Pants–go for durable over light weight
I varied here from the pure concern for cool and bought tough Carhartt Men's Rugged Flex Rigby Dungarees. If you're walking through the bush, keep in mind that the animals and bugs aren't the only things that are aggressive. It seems that most African plants have thorns, or at least pointy brittle branches. And the grasses often have little serrations. So, all that requires something tougher than the typical nylon blend travel pants. Remember, too, when choosing all your clothes, to pick colors other than blue or black. Those colors attract tsetse flies. Really. The Malawian park service actually hangs poisoned blue/black cloths on the trees in the park to attract tsetse flies.
You might want to add gaiters to your anti-vegetation armor. Optional, but also keeping the thorns and sharp seeds out of your socks is not a bad idea.
I've used a variety of socks over the years, but I just got some Point6 recently and they're fast becoming my faves. They have all the usual wash and quick dry attributes, but I particularly like the fit and breathability. And, they slide around nicely inside my boots. No blisters!
Unless it's the rainy season or otherwise wet, I don't like waterproof shoes. But you do need substantial shoes/boots for Africa to ward off the thorns I discussed above. (Every day, I removed at least a half dozen half inch thorns from the bottoms of my boots. I really like my Oboz Sawtooth Low Hiking Shoes. Cool on the feet, and thick protective soles. I also really have been a complete convert to Oboz because they come in wide. If I were going in the rainy season, though, I would take my Oboz ankle height waterproof Bridger models.
Pack for the bugs
Treat your clothes
I only discovered this recently, but I'm sure glad I did. I treated my shirts, t-shirts, pants, and socks with Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent according to the instructions. In short, it works. No mosquito bites through the treated clothes.
Deet. It works, too. But you probably don't want it on your hands while you're eating. Use the strong stuff. African mosquitos are relentless. But don't forget to wash it off when you go inside.
A head net and other natural anti-insect ideas
Yeah, a head net can look sort of silly. But note that while Deet will keep the mosquitoes away, it seems to have no effect on tsetse flies. There will be at least one time when you'll be glad you have this. Or you can just swing your hands around frantically and constantly.
You also might consider some of these non-Deet wipes for your hands and face, especially when you're eating.
Finally, some of the campers used clove oil as a tsetse repellent. Not sure it worked, but it sure smells good.
All the other miscellaneous stuff you'll want to pack for Africa
I'm not going to go into long explanations of why you should carry these. It should be fairly obvious why you need them.
- Lifesaver Liberty water filter pump and Kleen Kanteen wide mouth water bottle. The Lifesaver Liberty is just what the name says: a pump. It's not a water bottle itself. I used it on all the “dicey” water supplies I ran into in Africa, and had absolutely no traveler's “problems.” That's well worth the weight. This wide mouth water bottle also fits with the Lifesaver pump so you can set the pump right on top of the bottle and fill it up. Of course, it also means you won't be using all those throwaway plastic bottles.
- Head lamp and extra batteries: This is a basic economical headlamp. You might want to consider more powerful versions, if you need a more intense light.
- Knife: I like this knife because it is substantial, has a serrated blade, which occasionally comes in handy, and incidentally, is the knife the Swiss Army actually carries.
- Ear plugs: I buy these by the hundreds and always carry them when I travel. You can never tell when there will be noisy hippos outside your tent. Really.
- Day pack with water bladder. I like this Osprey 10 liter pack, but it may be a bit small for some, depending on what you have to carry. You might want to look at these to pick one that's a little more versatile and a little bigger.
- Bio degradable detergent: for all those very washable clothes you're carrying.
- Silk sleeping liner: These are slightly pricey, but I've had mine for ten years. It's indispensable in a camping situation.
- First aid kit: Don't forget to stock it with Immodium and ibuprofen.
- Quick drying towel
Oh, and one more thing. Never undertake a trip like this–or any other long trip, for that matter–without travel insurance. We use Allianz Travel Insurance. Check them out.
While you're packing for Africa, don't forget your tech needs. You can see our recommendations for your best travel tech accessories here.
This is an update to a post originally published in 2018, just after my first trip to Africa. We're in the midst of planning another trip to Kenya soon, so we revisited our preparations.
I visited Africa as part of Biosphere Expeditions expedition to Malawi to study elephants, hippos, baboons, bats, and bugs.
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