After spending time on around 30 safaris in east and southern Africa this is what I recommend for a safari packing list, after experimenting myself with all the essentials plus other gear.
Safari Packing List
Some people seem to think they have to get proper clothing for a safari, but the reality is you don’t need to worry.
Clothing can be expensive, so you want to avoid buying new stuff if you can help it.
You can easily just show up in the clothes you have and go on safari, simple as that.
It’s best to try and wear darker coloured clothes that you have, as animals could be alarmed at the very bright colours, especially red.
You don’t need all green and khaki clothes though.
If your entire collection off clothes only consists of bright red colours, I would first question your fashion taste, and second, suggest at that point at least buying a green t-shirt.
Definitely take a sunhat with you to protect your head from the fierce African sun.
I just wear a baseball cap myself and put sun lotion on my the neck, but those who burn easily should get a wide-brimmed sunhat.
For shoes don’t bother with heavy and sweaty boots, just wear running trainers, much more comfortable.
You could even just wear sandals or flip-flops, as you will often be standing up on the seats in the vehicle to view the wildlife.
The only time you may want boots to protect your feet is if you go on walking safaris a lot or were to spend weeks and weeks out in the bush.
But for most people on safari that won’t be the case.
Bringing a pair of binoculars is a very good idea.
If you don’t do many safaris then a cheap pairwill be fine, but invest in a decent pair of binoculars if you think you will do a lot of wildlife watching in the future.
$100 can get you a decent enough pair for those on a budget.
The drivers that take you on safari will normally have a pair of binoculars with them, but it’s best they keep that for themselves to help spot the wildlife for you.
Your fellow passengers may have some binoculars but it could get messy with just one pair to share.
You will want to have a camera with a good zoom lens, as the animals will often be far away.
Most compact cameras have a good zoom lens these days, and if you have a DSLR there will be options for telephoto lenses.
If you are a long term traveller not planning on many wildlife experiences, then lugging around a huge telephoto lens is just not worth it.
Instead of the large telephoto lens, get a cheaper compact camera with a good zoom as a backup for those moments, unless you really want the best photos you can get.
I personally use a Sony Alpha a7II.
This is the perfect travel camera, as it’s not to be big and heavy, and the zoom lensesare quite lightweight in comparison to a bulky and heavy DSLR’s lenses, while still allowing for good image quality.
Going into more detail for a safari packing list.
These items are all you will need for a safari in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and Botswana, and any other safari destinations in Africa you may do.
Use existing items where you can, otherwise, you can purchase them on Amazon through the links included here (affiliate) if necessary, or your local outdoor shop.
These are just suggestions and most of the items I have used myself.
The Tilley Endurables range of wide-brimmed cotton hats is some of the best you can get for the outdoors.
It makes for the perfect hat for a safari in East Africa (or anywhere hot and sunny for that matter).
Otherwise like myself take a sun cap like the Outdoor Research one, and use strong 50 strength sun lotion on any exposed skin.
Whatever you do make sure you have head protection with you.
It’s very important to protect from the strong African sun.
These are some good African Safari clothing tips.
Just take a regular t-shirt, or shirt for wearing, as long as it’s neutral coloured (no bright colours as mentioned before).
In the evenings and early morning when you will mostly be on safari it can be cool, so bring a lightweight fleece with you like the north face one.
Or take an excellent outdoor wool shirt like the Swanndri for the ultimate outdoor shirt, warm and durable.
You need to feel comfortable on safari as you will be sitting and standing a lot. Again wear neutral coloured trousers/shorts.
Fjallraven is a Swedish brand that makes some of the best outdoor clothing in the world.
Their Vidda trousers and Abisko shorts are extremely durable for being outdoors and have mosquito resistant fabric.
Otherwise whatever comfortable lightweight trousers you have already will do.
The Brooks shorts are just an example of wearing light running shorts for around camp and into your sleeping bag at night.
Karrimor is an excellent brand that makes rugged outdoor gear.
The Predator 30 backpack is an ideal one for an African safari. Durable and strong fabric will protect from the rough bush.
30 litres will be enough space to carry the clothes you need and accessories.
I used a Karrimor Sabre 35 backpack for my journey through Africa but would most likely get the Predator 30 for the next trip.
Take a backpack for the ease of carrying.
Wheeled cases have no place in the African bush!
Which binoculars to take on safari? Too many choices! This just gives you an idea.
As mentioned before the guides normally have binoculars with them to spot wildlife for you.
But it’s much, much better that you bring your own binoculars for a safari to allow the guides to keep a constant lookout for the animals.
You seriously need binoculars to get the best out of an East Africa safari as many times the animals will be further away to see.
I have the Bushnell ones listed here and they are a good budget choice, averaging around $100.
The Nikon ones are more expensive (around $300) but definitely worth it from the reviews for its excellent optics (Nikon being a camera manufacturer), and getting a good pair for life.
These are two good models I recommend to take, but if you want more of an idea on what binoculars to take on safari then have a look at this post from on binocular reviews.
This is to give you a rough idea of the kind of footwear to bring on a safari in East Africa.
The boots are an example of the kind of rough boots suitable for long periods of walking out in the African bush to protect from thorns, etc.
Flip flops are perfect for inside the safari vehicle and just lounging around camp. Any will do but I personally love Teva flip flops.
But for most people using a pair of trainers/running shoes that you have at home already, or buy before going, will do.
The inov8 ones here are just an example. I use inov8 (u.k. brand) for my journeys.
Darn tough are very durable socks with a lifetime warranty. Enough said.
On any safari, water is included in the package cost. However, it’s all generally in plastic bottles.
There is way too much plastic polluting the world as it is, so to help counter my own impact on plastic waste, whenever I travel I purify local water as much as possible.
The Steripen is a UV pen that you put in water for around one minute and the UV light kills any bacteria in the water.
The initial cost is high (around $80) but if you get many years of use from it pays for itself in the money saved from having to buy water in bottles.
It also helps the environment.
A cheaper option is the Sawyer mini water filtration system (around $25). This attaches to an included water pouch and you squeeze the water through it into another bottle.
Take a 38 oz (1 litre) water bottle to hold the water in. Nalgene are well known for their water bottles and the stainless steel one mentioned here is the one I use.
Being out on safari in East Africa you will want some protection for any exposed skin from mosquito/insect bites.
The repellant mentioned here is just a recommendation but in general, any repellant with DEET in it will do from any outdoor shop.
If you don’t like the idea of chemical in the repellant (DEET) then you can use more natural repellants for a safari that may include eucalyptus oil or others.
Be aware though the protection will not last as long, or maybe less effective, then the DEET one.
Next is an excellent outdoor knife.
In reality, you don’t really need a knife if you’re doing these package safaris, as they have cookware with them, and you’re not going to be out in survival situations.
However, there’s just something comforting about having a decent outdoor knife with you in the bush of Africa when on safari.
The one I absolutely love and have used for over a decade is the Morakniv companion.
It’s cheap (around $20) but very good quality for the price and used by outdoor experts around the world as a beginner knife for learners.
Don’t spend loads on an expensive knife that wouldn’t get used much, just get this one. It’s awesome!
As for toiletries for a safari just bring what you would normally use, as in toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, etc.
But having a useful handwashing pocket gel with you is good to keep your hands clean at all times before eating, as you can just keep it in your pocket.
Safaris in Africa
For more information on safaris in Africa take a look at my in-depth guide to safaris in East Africa.
Be sure to take travel insurance for any safari just in case. I use World Nomads Travel Insurance and have found them to be excellent.