What to bring on safari
There should probably be more rules about what not to bring on safari than guidelines on what to pack. The really important point is to travel lightly.
You need to bring personal items only (it’s a good idea to minimise on travel accessories and definitely leave fins, goggles and gadgets at home; check with your consultant before packing your hairdryer in case there's no electricity where you're going).
We tend to 'dress down' and travel 'modestly' everywhere, that way there’s less fuss, more fun and it’s easier to mix with locals. Formal clothing isn’t needed unless you’re doing business before or after your safari. A neat scarf or accessory will add a touch of style for a smart evening in a city hotel or similar without denting the baggage allowance.
Don't pack the library! Most of our camps have a good variety of books for all guests to use.
Generally speaking light, technical, casual clothing works anywhere and a few light layers make more sense than heavy jackets or gear of any description. Most outdoor stores in the UK, Europe and North America tend to cater more for cool northern wilderness climates; bear in mind that our African conditions are generally warm to hot so steer towards lightweight 'quick-dry' materials often available with UV protection.
Footwear can be a baggage problem because of its extra bulk and weight. We find that light trail shoes and hybrid shoe/sandals (Keen, Teva, Merrel, North Face, HiTec, Garmont, Salomon etc) are adequate for regular travel and normal safari conditions. Even fly-camping trips and walking trails on fairly rough terrain don’t warrant hiking boots when conditions are dry.
Footwear needs change with altitude (Ruwenzoris and Mt Kilimanjaro) or when wet and rough forest conditions are anticipated (treks in Gabon, Uganda and Rwanda) in which case light but robust and waterproof hiking boots are a must. For treks and walking trails during the dry season in Mahale and Udzungwas we still recommend regular trail shoes that you’d normally use on safari unless you’d prefer the extra ankle support.
Rain gear can be unnecessarily bulky and isn’t needed in the dry season from June through to October (check with your consultant if you're travelling into Central Africa). During the wet season a light waterproof outer shell or a lightweight poncho will do the trick. (If you take raingear then remember to take extra plastic bags or 'Ziploc' bags for separating wet from dry kit in your luggage.)
Remember that laundry is available in all the camps and lodges so you simply need a few changes of clothes. If you plan on three day’s worth of changes at worst you’ll be fine.
Beach wear guidelines are universal.
One consideration throughout East Africa is the sensitivities of the largely Muslim population which finds it offensive for women to expose knees or shoulders. Whilst this is relaxed on the beach or in the bush please bear it in mind when in transit or staying in the cities.
From our own experiences tracking primates or seeking out forest birds in Gabon, the Central African Republic, Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania the following pointers might be useful:
When preparing for difficult terrain, most people tend to over-prepare.
In the most extreme wet and rough conditions we strongly recommend waterproof boots, leggings and raingear but bear in mind that this all makes the going a bit tougher and even the best gear isn’t perfectly waterproof and fully breathable.
If conditions are dry then stay light - carry camera, water and walking stick.
If bad weather is threatening then keep a light poncho handy and don’t allow any discomfort to detract from the wonder of the experience.
Jungle trekking wrecks clothing don’t wear your newest and most expensive kit.
Don’t over-prepare, keep things simple and sensible.
We recommend that you limit your luggage to the basics a single piece of hand luggage, ideally a day pack plus your main kit bag. If your safari involves any light aircraft flights then please note that a maximum of 15kg/33lbs is allowed per person - this includes camera equipment. Only soft bags will be accepted. The maximum dimensions for soft bags are as follows: 81cm (32) long x 36cm (14) wide.
Some ideas on your packing list:
- Casual personal clothing: shorts and shirts/blouses are sufficient for day time wear on safari - neutral colours preferred (khaki, green, brown). Definitely no camouflage, avoid white (you’ll stand out in the bush), avoid dark colours especially black and blue (if tsetse are around, you’ll attract them).
- As a guideline 2 pairs of longs, 2 pairs of shorts, 2 long sleeved shirts, 1 short sleeve shirt will suffice for a 10 day safari.
- A light waterproof and breathable outer shell or bush jacket is often needed specifically for the international flights and is always handy on safari.
- Sleepwear, underwear and socks.
We recommend long-sleeved shirts and trousers particulary in the evenings as they provide additional protection against insects but also provide protection against the sun during the day.
If your safari includes hotel stopovers then dress codes are only slightly more formal - "smart casual" will suffice wherever you go no matter how much you’ve spent.
Layers are light and effectively deal with cool evenings. Light scarves can add a touch of elegance. A Kenyan 'kikoi' or 'kanga' or 'Maasai' shuka will work well on a hot beach, on a dusty game drive (good for covering camera kit) or cool evening around the fire. Speak to your guide about the best places to get hold of these local wares.
- A jersey or fleece will be needed during cool evenings. Plan on some layers if you’re doing any night drives whilst on safari.
- Swimming or beachwear as appropriate.
- Sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat are recommended.
- Comfortable footwear.
- Personal toiletries and medication.
- A spare sachet of washing powder for personally hand washing 'smalls'.
The sun is the greatest risk to you on safari - good Suntan lotion/barrier cream is extremely important.
- Binoculars and torch (LED head torches are adequate) with spare batteries.
- Camera/video/digital equipment with recharging kit.
Documents: please remember to carry copies of all your important documents such as passports, itineraries, vouchers and travel insurance. Take some note paper, a pen and a few envelopes (good for handing over tips).
- Don’t forget a lock.
Think about how you split your cabin and hold luggage for the flights always carry valuables in hand luggage and consider a small change of clothing in the unlikely event that you’re separated from your main luggage en route.
There is no need to take any but essential personal medication and the most basic medicines. Consider the following: a small pair sharp scissors, tweezers; aspirin or Paracetamol or other pain killer; anti malaria tablets; codeine phosphate or Imodium; antihistamine cream, spray or tablets; zinc oxide powder; antiseptic cream/spray; alcohol swabs; sticking plaster, sterile gauze dressing, micropore tape; lip-salve; lens solution if you wear contact lenses.
Most photographers who join us on safari know precisely what they need but if you’re in any doubt then please let us deal with any technical issues in advance. Weight is usually the biggest consideration, think very carefully about tripods and any bulky specialist kit.
As a rule we ask that you respect the attitudes of the local people towards photography and only use cameras if granted permission. Never try to steal a photo against a locals will. Let your guide help negotiate terms before you start shooting.
It’s a good rule never to take photographs of just about anything of a civil nature including anybody in uniform, border posts, airports, bridges etc.
Recharging digital and other equipment
Voltage is 220-240 AC. Most of the safari vehicles have a cigarette lighter socket operation on a 12-volt system. Please bring sufficient batteries for photographic equipment, many lodges have limited power supply, but all are capable of re-charging batteries.