A Travellerspoint blog

What Women REALLY need on Safari

What to Pack and Why

all seasons in one day 85 °F

Ladies throw away the travel agent’s "What to Pack for a Safari" list - most mean diddly-squat. While I can’t aspire to be the woman who has travelled most widely in Africa I have given it a bit of a go in recent years. I hope this list (and reasons for its various inclusions) helps.

But be aware, this blog post is not for those of you into DIY camping. I haven’t done that since the Lake District when I was 20 with three girlfriends when we had to bribe three unlikely looking lads with chocolate biscuits to put our tents up resulting in my tent-mate Carol sleeping with the tent-peg mallet in her hand all night. Debs and Sue had their tent demolished by cows at 5am and it never stopped raining.

But maybe it was Debs who slept in her velcro rollers and had her frilly negligee with her who had the right idea? Read on...

This list covers three/four days under 4-5* canvas but would be the same if, like my last trip, you have nine days (or more) in three different camps.

  • Contact the camps on your itinerary as to likely weather conditions; they are on the ground and by far the most likely to really know. You will need to adapt this list accordingly, i.e. no jacket, hat, gloves if it’s going to be hot, hot, hot all day and night (typically Oct-March).
  • Bags: You MUST take small squashy bags if travelling by bush plane. Use more than one if necessary and remember they can receive some pretty rough treatment. Make sure they lock and are water resistant.
  • Packing: Practice. If you are going to be moving from camp to camp you want to be able to pack with minimum fuss/time. N.B. wear walking boots on the plane to save space.
  • Clothes: Natural colours – brown, khaki, sage green. You will upset the animals (especially your Guide) if you wear bright blue, red, yellow, white etc and stick out like a sore thumb in the bush.
  • Fabrics that breathe and dry quickly – cotton, silk, linen, wool.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY...it’s all about layering, layering, layering.
  • Trousers: two long pairs. Not tight – you must be able to move around freely, climb up and down into vehicles, pull down easily for a pee al fresco. One pocket should be secure for tissues, lip salve, sweets etc. (don’t drop anything in the bush). The Gap periodically do great pairs but keep an eye out wherever you are shopping. My favourites are an old pair by J Brand with legs that narrow at the bottom so I can pull socks over the top to stop bugs and thorns. Plus they are stylish, which makes you feel good. Remember – you will probably be wearing them all day. Jeans are too heavy and take up too much space. If you are walking your guide won’t let you wear them anyway.
  • Shorts: one pair relatively close fitting down the leg and stopping just above the knee. If they are short and baggy you will have to watch what you are flashing and what’s crawling where.
  • Skirt: I do have one khaki Top Shop skirt with lots of pockets I sometimes take if I think there will be ‘time-off’ and it’s hot.
  • ‘Safari’ shirts x three: My favourites come from Safari Gear. You need a collar for sun protection and long, loose roll up sleeves. A good length to tuck in when it’s cold and possibly tie up when it’s hot. ‘Proper’ safari shirts are lightweight (the ones with mesh backs are fabulous), can be washed through at night, have drying hooks and will be wearable again by morning. They are also sort of sexy; don’t ask me why, they just are. (I’ve also found great ones for cooler days in H&M, Zara and Massimo Dutti; not as ‘custom-built’ but stylish)
  • Long sleeved thermal t-shirt x 1: (Woolies in SA do a perfect pink-beige colour) These provide a vital extra layer on freezing cold mornings (I’ve slept in mine too) or late night drives, take up no space, are silky to wear, wash and dry in a couple of hours.
  • Woollens x 1: I have a dark brown cashmere cardi from Brora http://www.brora.co.uk It’s always the first thing to go in my Africa bag, even if I know it's going to be hot. It’s stylish, feels luxurious but is totally practical being hip length and baggy in the sleeve to accommodate all my layers.
  • Jacket x 1: The absolute best is a water/windproof jacket with a detachable fleece lining. Try Peter Storm, North Face or American ‘outdoors’ websites such as http://www.cabelas.com Camps provide massive waterproof ponchos with rug-type linings, which are fabulously warm and cosy but pretty cumbersome. I find it’s the wind that’s the problem on vehicles early in the morning and at night. If you really don't want to bother taking a jacket do take a fleece.
  • Scarf x 2...at least: These are ESSENTIAL. Have a long one that wraps around a few times plus a regular sized silk; lovely round your neck. A touch of luxury is a good thing!
  • Lingerie/sleepwear: For my relatively small boobs I take one bra, plus two bra/vest tops (M&S, Uniqlo) which I wear under everything unless it’s very hot when I wear just a bra and shirt. If you are blessed with big bazookas make sure they are well supported – safari vehicles can really bounce you around and you might need both hands to hold on! You all know the “one on, one in the wash and one clean” knicker mantra and pj’s are ok (and a good idea if you spend a night sleeping out under the stars when privacy might be a bit of an issue), so I always pack my ‘sensibles’ plus a couple of frilly panties and a pretty nightie too for a touch of girlie’ness amongst all the khaki.
  • Hat: This must have a brim all the way round. Mine’s called Kenya £99 from Lock & Co. http://www.lockhatters.co.uk but my daughter bought a fabulous one from Zara this year. Don’t ever be tempted to go hatless. Forget about your hair. Guides get nervous if you do not wear a hat. You will notice everyone who works in the bush wears one; there’s a good reason... sunstroke happens fast and makes you horrendously sick. A woolly hat/beanie is a good idea too if it’s going to be very chilly.
  • Gloves: Another well-worth-it ‘extra’. Push them into the corner of a bag and watch others be envious!
  • Boots: A pair of leather sturdy walking boots . Mine are ancient, gortex lined and shabby but I can walk all day in any weather and not suffer. DO NOT TAKE A VIRGIN PAIR ‘SPECIALLY’ FOR YOUR TRIP. I see lots of people in dark coloured trainers but wonder if they would be supportive enough for a long day’s walking?
  • Rubber flip flops x 1: or khaki crocs (hideous & available at J’burg airport. I haven’t been able to face buying any but ‘others’ swear by them) are useful for outdoor showers or lounging ‘in tent’. Many camps do not like guests wearing anything other than closed in shoes when walking around due to biting beasties such as spiders, snakes (which like toes) etc.
  • Socks x 3: THESE ARE VITAL TO GET RIGHT. I swear by pure cashmere. Brora's (www.brora.co.uk) are the strongest and do good colours. They don’t rub as have no hard seams. Others include Smart Wool Hiking Socks from USA (available on Amazon). These are worn by many a guide...but I can’t get them small enough for my size 3 feet. My other half swears by R.M. Williams too. Make sure they are long enough to go over your trousers in case you are walking through really prickly or buggy country.
  • Yoga pants x 1: I always change into these on the plane. In camp I find them perfect in the afternoons after a shower and I even wore them for dinner some nights when I just wanted to be cosy after a long day’s walking.
  • Swimwear: lots of permanent camps have swimming pools so pack your favourite with a little wrap or dress to pop over the top.
  • Do you need anything fancy? No, but remember I am talking about safaris under canvas. At permanent camps where private jets land on tarmac runways, suites have Sky TV and you sometimes wonder if animals are remote controlled, you will see ladies dressed to the nines with cocktails in perfectly manicured hand. Tented camps, whether they are mobile or in a permanent position, are different; everything is more relaxed and guests eat together at the same time. However, sometimes it does feel good to put on something that doesn’t scream ‘safari’. At some camps (eg Mana Pools, Zimbabwe) there are no drives/walks after sunset so you do have time for your bucket shower and a quick change. In those cases I might fling on a fresh shirt and maybe a slick of lipstick. In other camps, where night-drives get back way after dark, camp staff will want you heading straight for the boma (campfire), drinks and dinner. Walking around camp in the dark is 100% verboten unless accompanied by a guide and if everyone wanted to ‘glam-up’ dinner would never happen.


  • Glasses/Contact lenses/sunglasses: take extra pairs. One weird thing I discovered in Zimbabwe this year; I could see much more clearly in the bush without sunglasses.
  • Sanitary Wear: There is no subtle way to say this: Africans quite understandably have a fear of blood. As HiV education increases so does awareness. Be considerate. Take nappy sacks for towels/tampons and place in the bins provided. Realise that even if your camp has a flushing loo its contents are not going into a Western World sanitation plant. With drop loos (hole in the ground and a bucket of earth/sand with small spade – not as bad as it sounds!) make sure you shovel in three times what you think you need. If you have a nose bleed please burn tissues on the campfire if you can.
  • Toiletries: Stock up on mini everything; hotel sizes are brilliant and ask your beauty therapist for free samples...especially hydrating face masks which are perfect during your afternoon rest time. A recent discovery; a wipe down with one of those airline freshen-up wipes during a long trek is cleansing and cooling and readies you for another few miles. Camps will provide shampoo and soap but often not hair conditioner or sufficient body lotion. Decant – don’t be weighed down with big bottles of anything. My necessities include Fem Fresh wipes, ear-plugs, Elizabeth Arden 8-hour protection cream as it’s brilliant for everything from chapped lips to sore bits and pieces, handcream and body lotion. I use SkinCeuticals Sheer Mineral UVDefense SPF50 sunscreen on my face, hands, neck and chest – it comes in a small bottle, has no parabens etc and doesn’t make my face erupt like most other makes.
  • Medication: PACK IN YOUR HAND LUGGAGE. However entertaining you think it might be you really don’t want to consult the local witch doctor during your trip. So, if you know you are prone to; cystitis, thrush, migraine etc pack enough medication. Camps will have comprehensive First Aid kits to deal with cuts, diarrhoea, colds etc but if you like particular brands take them with you. Malaria pills go without saying and I will write a short post about that specifically (read it here). Bite cream – hydrocortisone (the strongest you can get) is best. Camps provide bug spray for you and your tent. Detol mixed with water is brilliant for keeping tsetse flies at bay.
  • Laundry: I have never been to a camp that didn’t do laundry within 24 hours and (generally) do it beautifully. Some don’t like to launder ladies panties (or chap’s underpants) but provide solution/powder for DIY. Things dry so quickly in the bush I often rinse my own shirts and socks out too.
  • Torch: You will be provided with one but I always take my small maglite for reading in bed or taking to the loo at night.
  • Binoculars: This is another essential; when something truly amazing appears you don’t want to wait for someone else’s.
  • Camera/Kindle/Ipads: DON’T FORGET YOUR CHARGERS! N.B. A Blackberry charger will also charge a Kindle. Although many tented and mobile camps don't have electricity they will (usually) have a charging facility available at some point during your stay.
  • Creature Comforts: If there are things you know will make your trip more pleasurable take them. I can’t travel without my small feather pillow, Velcro rollers or big cashmere pashmina ‘blankie’. I would rather do without clothing than leave them behind.
  • Forgot something?: Almost every airport in Africa will stock safari clothing – it might not be the best or your style but it will do if you are in a mess. J’burg airport is probably the best but even little Victoria Falls airport sold pretty good safari shirts.
  • Tight on space?: If it’s a toss-up between a pair of trousers or a shirt choose the trousers...shirts dry faster.


Posted by haveyoubeenyet 09:43 Archived in South Africa Tagged tent pool hat yoga swimming_pool packing_list shirt shorts list bushplane tented_camp safari_guide what-to-really-take-on-safari trousers chargers sanitory_wear tampons

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Fabulous info with great descriptions. I feel I know exactly what to bring to Safari.

by Dorothy McGuinness

Thank you for my FIRST comment and such a lovely one too!

by haveyoubeenyet


by Tasos81

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