As I prepared for my safari last fall, it wasn’t so much the hippos and crocodiles that worried me; it was the prospect of fitting everything I’d need (clothing, boots, camera gear, binoculars, etc.) into a single 25-pound duffel bag. That’s the typical (I say cruel and unusual) baggage limit on the tiny planes that deliver you into the African bush. And if you already suffer from chronic overpacking disorder, the whole predicament can send you into flop sweats. After much worrying and winnowing down, I somehow made it work—with 2 pounds to spare, no less. (See below for my packing list.)
My other concern on safari? Looking like a total dork. As any veteran can tell you, there’s not exactly a surfeit of stylish options for safari wear (good lord, the very word). It’s a bland-on-beige world of elastic waistbands, unflattering pleats, and “patented anti-wicking fibers” the texture of Hefty bags. Then again, wearing a J.Crew polo and jeans on a bush walk makes you look (and feel) even sillier. Surely there was some happy medium—comfortable, practical safari clothing without the doofus factor?
Thankfully, the Seattle-based brand ExOfficio makes clothes ideally suited for safari: lightweight, durable, easy-care, quick-drying garments that, wouldn’t you know, are almost sorta kinda stylish to boot. Bonus: clothes are UV-protective and treated with (surprisingly effective) Permethrin insect repellent, which purportedly endures up to 70 washings.
Final Safari Outfit Tips: Don’t wear or carry anything blue, which attracts nasty biting tse-tse flies. Avoid bright colors in general, as well as solid blacks and whites; you’ll blend in better in earth tones or drab greens. (Don’t be the lady in the canary-yellow pantsuit who scared off all the wildlife on our bush walk one day. By lunchtime, we were ready to feed her to the lions.)
Here’s a safari packing list from my two-week trip:
• Gregory 65-liter Stash Duffel — Wheeled luggage isn’t a realistic option on safari, so make sure you can actually carry your bag. This Gregory duffel has padded harness straps built into the handles so it can also be carried backpack-style. It’s well-built, no-frills, lightweight yet durable, with a big zippered opening and compression straps to keep contents in place. The ballistic nylon exterior is fairly water-resistant and easy to wipe down (it’ll be caked in mud in no time, trust me).
• iPhone earbuds
• Bradt Zambia guidebook by Chris McIntyre, 2011 edition — The best guide to the country and its wildlife and one of the finest guidebooks I’ve ever used, period.
• $300 cash (in $1’s, $5’s, and $10’s) for tipping
• 16 GB USB stick (for backing up laptop data)
• 2 x foreign plug adaptors
• 2 x extra AA batteries
• Nikon Monarch 5 8x42 binoculars — Invest in a pair with image-stabilizing.
• LowePro camera bag — It’s tough to find a camera case that isn’t blue or black (colors best avoided on safari). I managed to find this one in earthy brown, ideal for blending in with the landscape.
• Canon T5i digital SLR camera - EF-S 18-55mm IS II Lens
• Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC Macro Lens (for wide-angle shots)
• Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens (for wildlife close-ups)
• Canon S90 Powershot camera (for quick snapshots)
• Extra batteries for both cameras (keep spares charged and carry with you at all times; never get caught without a working camera!)
• Extra 32GB SD memory cards for both cameras
• Chargers for both cameras
• Lens filters (UV; circular polarizer; and color-warming)
• Pearstone “Capkeeper” lens-cap attachment straps (bring extra; they break easily)
• I love these super-comfortable and lightweight hikers.
• 2 x ExOfficio GeoTrek’r Long-Sleeve shirts (in Hemlock and Bone)
• 2x ExOfficio Women's Dryflylite Long Sleeve Shirt (in Walnut and Bone)
• 1 pair ExOfficio BugsAway Ziwa convertible pants Men’s, Women’s — Long ago I swore I’d never buy pants that zip off into shorts, but these made perfect sense on safari. And they weren’t all that silly looking. Okay, maybe they were.
• 2 pair ExOfficio BugsAway socks
• 1 long-sleeved T-shirt (for chillier nights)
• 1 swimsuit
• 1 pair lightweight jeans (for lounging at camp)
• Havaianas flip-flops (ditto)
• Panama hat (not the most practical choice, I admit, but it beat wearing a floppy canvas hat and looking like old Dale from Walking Dead)
• Plenty of bandages and blister pads Anthelios Ultra Light sunscreen for face, 45 SPF
• Neutrogena Ultimate Sport sunblock spray, 70 SPF
• Peaceful Sleep mosquito repellent (buy this when you get to Africa, where it’s widely available)
• Malarone (anti-malarial pills)
• Antibiotics (I brought a 10-day course of Cipro, just in case)
• Purell hand sanitizer
• Advil & Tylenol
• Eyemask (for afternoon siestas)
• Earplugs (hippos are rowdy buggers)
• Ziploc bags
• Cortisone cream (for itches & bites)
What I Wish I'd Packed:
• Nasal spray — The dust and dryness of the bush does a number on your nasal passages. I’d have given anything for some Ayr or Simply Saline.
• Air blower for camera: Speaking of dust, a featherweight rubber air-blower is a must-pack even for amateur photographers, as grit and sand can easily clog up any camera.
• A multi-plug adaptor: Though most safari camps provide at least some outlets for charging batteries etc., they’re few and far between. I wish I’d packed a little three-plug adaptor to charge multiple devices in a sing