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Sound the alarm! Just as I was fearing I’d become known as the full-time traveller who sucks at packing, I surprised myself in Swaziland. It’s been a bit of an ongoing joke that I seem to get worse at packing the longer I travel, but apparently I’m pretty good at knowing what to wear on safari. Yes, it was my first time on safari, but somehow I kind of nailed it with the packing and now I’m writing this entire post to share my newfound knowledge. (Am I proud? Maybe a little.)
What to wear on safari
If you’ve never been on safari before, let’s clear one thing up. You do NOT need to go out and buy a whole new safari wardrobe, so get rid of those images of beige boiler suits and African safari hats that I know are somewhere in your mind. Nowhere in the hypothetical safari manual does it say you have to look like a cliché Halloween costume or an extra from Jurassic World (unless you really want to, of course).
Chances are, you have everything you’ll want to wear on safari hanging/folded/scrunched up in your wardrobe already. That said, there are definitely some things you’ll want to pack, some clothes you want to avoid and some things you’ll want to think about before deciding what to pack for a safari in Africa.
Recommended reading: Fodor’s the Complete Guide to African Safaris
Here are some things to bear in mind when you’re planning what to wear on safari for the first time:
An African safari is a truly special experience and unnecessary distractions from tight jeans or a fussy jacket are the last thing you want to waste your energy on. Choose clothes that are both physically comfortable and allow you to relax mentally, and leave anything that makes you feel self-conscious or that you wouldn’t want to get dirty behind.
Basically, your safari clothes should make you feel like your best, most relaxed (public) self.
Stick to a fairly neutral palette
Please take this one with a pinch of salt and an acknowledgement that it’s not as important as you may think.
Despite common belief, you won’t scare the animals away if you wear bright colours in your safari jeep and can still get just as close to them, so pack whatever colours you feel good in. You don’t have to wear beige on safari if you never wear beige in your everyday life. And no one’s going to force you to go head-to-toe khaki if khaki is your least favourite colour. That said, it’s still kind of nice let the animals be the centre of attention so maybe leave the rainbow t-shirts and bright accessories at home.
The one time you’ll definitely want to think more carefully about colour is if you’re going out on a walking safari. Earthy colours such as grey, beige, cream, brown and khaki won’t stand out too much in the bush so you’re less likely to spook the animals or scare them away (or the opposite!). Make sure you have at least one neutral top and one neutral pair of full-length trousers to protect your legs from bites and scratches during bush walks.
On that note, you should also avoid camouflage prints. It’s illegal to wear anything military-related in some places!
Temperatures can change dramatically in places like Southern Africa, which doesn’t make choosing what to wear on safari any easier! Like many places, it’s best to go prepared with layers and pack clothes that can be piled up as needed.
It could be quite chilly on a morning game drive, so pack a lightweight jacket and a jumper that you can layer underneath. By midday, it will probably be a lot warmer, so make sure you have layers you can discard easily and aren’t wearing anything too heavy!
It goes without saying, but you should wear trainers, hiking boots or walking shoes on safari. Avoid everything else during the daytime. Even on a jeep safari, your guide may take you off the jeep to show you an animal deep in the bush and nobody wants to walk through bushes in sandals or approach a rhino in clunky clogs. The one time those sandals might come in handy is when you’re walking around camp and want something you can slip on quickly. If you’re planning to also go on some African mountain treks, skip the sandals altogether and take a spare pair of walking shoes – they’ll come in much more useful.
Pack a hat (and scarf)
If there’s one thing you’re definitely going to wear on safari, it’s a hat. And no, you don’t have to wear one of those ugly safari hats or anything that even remotely resembles one. Just like the clothes you pack for safari, you can pretty much wear the same thing as you’d wear back home.
I packed my trusty black Superdry baseball cap and I’ll throw in a confession here: I didn’t really think about what to wear on safari but packed it because I like wearing it on long-haul flights. Hey, it covers that plane hair.
The same goes for scarves: a large, lightweight scarf will become your best friend on safari, keeping the warm African sun off your shoulders during the day and protecting you from hungry mosquitoes once the sun disappears.
These may just be the two most useful items you pack for safari so, by all means, go ahead and pack a few. Give yourself some options.
Think about your possessions
Safari jeeps are made to tackle even the toughest terrain (I totally just wrote that because it’s a tongue-twister) so things can get pretty bumpy!
Having pockets, especially one with zips, or a small bag that won’t get in the way can make things a lot easier. Stash your valuables somewhere safe so you don’t have to worry about them falling out and getting eaten by a rhino (eek!) and keep your camera/phone somewhere that’s easy to access. And if you have a GoPro, I recommend using a head mount so you can record everything you see while keeping your hands free.
What to wear on safari evenings
As we already know, easy-to-layer pieces will make up the bulk of what you wear on safari, but you might need one or two extras for the evening.
If you’re staying overnight in a safari camp, it’s best to pack loose-fitting sleepwear that will protect you from bugs and mosquitoes. Think: comfy yet covered.
When we stayed at the Mkhaya Big Game Park – where the wall-less rooms are completely exposed to nature! – I slept in a pair of super lightweight silky joggers and an oversized t-shirt. I packed both to wear in the daytime but they turned out to be the perfect safari nightwear!
The same comfy yet covered rule goes for pretty much the whole safari, but you’ll want something a little warmer for the evenings. It can get chilly as soon as the soon goes down and there probably won’t be much to keep you warm in the open air!
Try to pack light, but make sure you have at least a sweater, scarf and warm socks to hand if you need them.
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Safari packing checklist
Here’s a list of all the things to pack for safari, so you can focus on ENJOYING it. It includes all the clothes you’ll need for a 2-day safari in Africa, along with a few extras that would be nice to have. You can add extra clothing as needed, depending on the length of your safari trip.
What to wear on safari: clothing packing list
- 1 x cotton t-shirt
- 1 x long-sleeve top or loose-fitting shirt
- 1 x shorts (denim or cotton)
- 1 x loose-fitting trousers, preferably ones such as these that close in at the ankles. You could also wear full-length gym leggings (my go-to travel trousers!) if baggy trousers aren’t your thing
- 1 x dress for the evening, if you wish
- 1 x lightweight waterproof jacket
- 1 x sweater or cardigan for chilly mornings/evenings
- 1 x loose trousers to sleep in
- 1 x loose top to sleep in
- Underwear. I recommend a sports bra or soft bralette for extra comfort and convenience.
- 2 x pairs of sports socks
- 1 x warm socks
- Comfortable walking shoes/trainers
- 1 x large, lightweight scarf
- At least one hat
- Minimal jewellery. If you like to wear jewellery, avoid taking anything to valuable- your accommodation might not have doors and monkeys like shiny objects!
- A watch. If you only wear one piece of jewellery, make it a watch. Some safari camps don’t have electricity so you can’t rely on your phone (plus you’ll want to save the battery for photos!)
- A bag big enough to hold everything but not so bulky it gets in the way
- A good pair of sunglasses
Other things to pack for safari
Okay, these aren’t strictly things you can wear on safari, but you’ll be glad you packed them.
- A head torch for rooms that don’t have electricity
- A waterproof bag for unanticipated showers
- A microfiber towel for overnight excursions
- A bag to put it all in! If you can fit everything in, a duffel bag is the best option
- Packing cubes to keep that duffel bag organised
- Dry shampoo for feeling fresh
I hope this post has helped you plan what to wear on safari! Remember: when in doubt, stick to loose, neutral colours that cover as much skin as possible. And don’t forget to pack the sunscreen!