How to Pack for an African Safari

Whether you've been on none, one, or a million African safaris - packing for one always feels a bit daunting.

First you've got the anti-malarial pills, the antibiotics, the vaccinations. Then you've got visas and passports to suss out, Yellow Fever cards to obtain, and a slew of other necessary items before you're even on to the packing itself.

Next comes the camera gear. Clothes. Backpacks and suitcases. It's a seemingly never-ending checklist of items... but I am here to help! I've been on a few African safaris now and feel I've learned a good deal along the way. Enough to hopefully ease the minds of future safari-goers. Below is my list of items, divided up into categories. 

Happy Safari-ing!

 Safari to Lake Natron in Tanzania. Photo: Zach Fackrell.

Safari to Lake Natron in Tanzania. Photo: Zach Fackrell.

My Pre-Pack Checklist:

1. Schedule a consultation with your doctor to ensure you're properly vaccinated for the countries you'll be visiting. I also always request antibiotics in case I find myself battling a bout of traveler's diarrhea / food poisoning. (PS: This always happens to me and the antibiotics - though I don't like taking them - have saved my life on more than one occasion.) I highly recommend. I also recommend bringing along and taking a probiotic to help your gut adjust to any new bacteria you encounter while abroad, as well as to ease the consequences associated with taking the antibiotics if indeed you end up needing them.

2. Determine if you are visiting a malarial region. If so, research which anti-malarial you believe will suit you best while abroad. It would be wise to also consult a malarial map of the region(s) you intend to visit, as some strains have resistance to specific anti-malarial medications. I personally take Malarone. I have never had any noticeable symptoms. I chose Malarone after having heard the troubling side effects of many of the other, less expensive options which include night terrors, sensitivity to light, and upset stomach -- among other things. Ultimately, your doctor and yourself will determine which is best for you, but I have found Malarone to be preferable. 

3. If you will be traveling to multiple countries in Africa, you will want to find out if you will be visiting any countries where Yellow Fever is endemic. If so, you will not only need the vaccination, but you will also need proof of having been vaccinated. You will run into issues crossing the border into other countries who do not have a Yellow Fever problem without your Yellow Fever card on hand.  Save your hassle and do the research necessary to avoid this problem on the ground.

4. Passports and visas. Make sure you won't be turned away at the airport by not having appropriate documentation handy. Your passport should be valid for at least six months after your departure date. Also make sure that you have enough pages in your passport to accommodate any stamps and visas you will acquire while abroad. Yet another important factor to consider are the fees. Some African countries have quite high visa fees, and you won't want to be blind sighted by them upon arrival. Be aware that many visa offices will only take cash, and sometimes only in U.S. dollars. This goes without saying, but knowing all the particularities about the customs in the countries you intend to visit will save you a lot of time, energy, money, and frustration when all is said and done. 

5. Always visit Travel.State.Gov and the U.S. Department of State (or your country's equivalent) to read up on the conditions, exit and entry requirements, travel advisories, etc for the country(ies) you'll be visiting. This is an invaluable resource and something I highly recommend checking out whether you're planning a trip to visit the Catacombs in France or the plains of Tanzania. It is always important to be aware. It makes for much smoother, safer travel when you're well-informed. 

6. Purchase a guidebook of your choosing for the country(ies) you'll be visiting. One like this Lonely Planet Botswana & Namibia Travel Guide, or this Lonely Planet South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland Travel Guide. (I'm using these as examples as I am currently using them to plan for my safari later this month. I find they are great resources for planning and familiarizing yourself with the region before you go. Also, they include bits of history, safety tips, a plethora of recommendations, and a section on the language. I actually love reading through them just to get a sense of the history and culture in the country. Quite valuable.

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Clothes: 

What you pack will obviously vary according to season and forecast. However, when packing for an African safari, you are likely to encounter a variety of temperatures and weather conditions regardless of season, and you'll want to be adequately equipped. Early morning and late night game drives will be cooler than you might expect whether it is summer there or not. On the flip side of that, in winter months you may encounter moderate to hot temperatures. Research and familiarize yourself with what conditions to expect, or ask friends and family who may have visited the destination before. Doing so will make it much easier to pack successfully. 

*For the purposes of this blog, I will be including what I would pack on a two week long, overland truck camping adventure through multiple countries. This won't be everyone's situation so modify accordingly, but this will be a decent base for you to start. 

- 3 or so t-shirts.

- 2 cardigans. I find they always are nice to have while traveling for layering purposes. 

- 2-3 warmer sweaters. Again weather dependent. Try to include something like this Smartwool Women's NTS Mid 250 Pattern Zip T. I also pack along a pair of Smartwool leggings to go along with it. This makes a great early morning / late evening layer option. Or even a great outfit to don to bed. (Though I'll admit the bugs can bite right through them.) Any product with Merino wool is a smart choice. It has a natural ability to breathe, wick moisture away, and resist odors, making it a great option for your safari adventure. I also love this Patagonia Women's Better Sweet 1/4 Zip. I bring it with me on most trips abroad.

- 1 vest. I love my Carhartt vest. It's cute, warm, and matches everything. Only downside is it takes up a bit of space when packing. So other vests that pack down a little smaller are a great option as well. 

- 1 rain coat. Like this North Face Venture 2 Jacket. You may have the safety of the truck to shield you from the rain. You may not. It is best to be prepared for even those quick drizzles. Nothing is worse than damp, cold clothes.

- 1 down coat. Depending on the season, I either bring my micro-down, or a warmer option. Again, regardless of season, I'm certain you will use it at some point during your trip. Always better to be comfortable. Side note - if your itinerary calls for a night or two camped along, say, the Ngorongoro Crater Rim in Tanzania, prepare to freeze your butt off. Definitely bring a warm coat and layers. I had that, and even still I was quite uncomfortable in the evening. Aside from wanting to be comfortable at camp, you don't want to be distracted from viewing the animals because you're teeth are chattering and your fingers are cold while driving around in the safari vehicle. Better to be too warm if you ask me.

- 2 pairs of jeans. I like to bring a pair of Boyfriend jeans along with me. They're comfortable and loose, so a great option for long hours in the car. I also bring a "normal" pair for whenever I may be going out in a city, et cetera.

- 2 pairs of leggings. I love packing these Lululemon leggings along. They're comfortable, light, and don't take up much space packing. Plus, they don't wrinkle, unlike a lot of other pant options. I never leave on a trip without them. 

- 2 pairs of shorts. I always bring this pair of Patagonia shorts, as well as this pair of Lululemon shorts. My goal is always comfort, and these are both great for lounging around, hot weather, and a plethora of other situations you will likely find yourself in while on safari. I don't own many "cute" shorts, so don't typically pack them along, but they're great for a photo op. Definitely pack those along too if you have them. No shame. You likely traveled hours, maybe even days to get there, you should definitely get the shot you want. 

- At least a week's worth of socks and underwear. I think this amount can either be detracted from, or added to, depending on whether you plan to do laundry or not. Unless you're staying in luxury lodges and some mid-high range accommodations on your trip, you won't likely encounter places to do laundry on safari which is why I say pack for the amount of days you'll need new underwear and socks. 

 Sunset at Lake Natron, Tanzania. Photo: Zack Fackrell.

Sunset at Lake Natron, Tanzania. Photo: Zack Fackrell.

So we've gone through the pre-pack checklist, and we've gone through the clothes, so what's next?

CAMERA / ELECTRONICS GEAR:

To be clear, the old adage is true -- "The best camera is the one that's with you." And this is perhaps truer than ever as the quality of imagery our phones produce continues to increase. Therefore, don't stress if you don't have the "best" camera gear out there. No matter what you're shooting and what you have on hand to capture it with, it is going to be beautiful. That said -- I have personally invested a lot of money in my camera gear over the course of several years because photography is something I do not only recreationally, but in a professional capacity. I felt a need to upgrade once I'd learned from more "inferior" camera models. So without dragging on forever, here is what I bring with me on my trips these days.

Yes, it is a lot. And yes, it can be overkill at times. But I've yet to regret bringing it all along.

Here goes!

- EOS Canon 5D Mark IV body

- Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens (I will sometimes rent a 2x converter to achieve a greater focal length.)

- Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

- Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L ll USM Zoom Lens

GoPro Karma Core Quadcopter

- GoPro Karma Grip

- GoPro Hero 6

- GoPro Hero 5

- WD Elements + WD Passport hard drives

- SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB Compact Flash Drive x2

- SanDisk Extreme Pro 64GB x2

- Travel Smart All-in-One Adapter

- iPhone 8 Plus

- 15-inch MacBook Pro

- GoPro Accessories

- Chargers

- F-stop Camera Backpack

I hope this guide has been helpful to you as you prepare for what will surely be one of the more incredible experiences of  your life to date. Each safari I have been on has blown my mind in more than one way. Whether you're heading to Kenya, South Africa, or even Asia for this next adventure of yours, I hope you stay safe, have a blast, and enjoy the beauty you witness.

Happy shooting!

 On safari in Tanzania. Photo: Zach Fackrell.

On safari in Tanzania. Photo: Zach Fackrell.