Every visitor who comes to South Africa and is going on safari asks me what to pack . . . and then they obsess, visit an outdoor store ten times, and obsess some more. I have seen guests climbing onto safari vehicles in skinny jeans clutching designer handbags as well as guests in vests covered in pockets, floppy hats, and those hideous pants that zip-off into shorts. Seriously, you are on a vehicle. How much stuff do you need to cram into all those pockets? Not that I am the epitome of safari chic, but I have managed to hit on a combo of clothing that fits into a soft-sided bag, adheres to the weight limitations of small planes (44 lbs), and that makes me look only slightly ridiculous (or, so I think). If you plan on doing any walking in the bush, make sure you bring lots of olive green, brown, and khaki colored clothing.
This list is geared to people going to safari lodges and camps not for people who are self-driving and/or self-catering. Many luxury camps in South Africa will wash laundry so no need to pack a different outfit everyday.
Here is what I packed for my upcoming trip to Phinda.
2 pairs of pants (I just pack everyday khakis)
1 pair of shorts
cotton tank tops/tees
heavy long sleeved shirt(s)
sturdy walking shoes
flip flops or lightweight shoes (for walking around the camp)
malaria meds (I prefer Malarone), if needed
In summer, days will be hot, although comfortable on game drives because you won’t be out when the sun is at its zenith.
swimsuit (if the camp has a pool)
In winter you will need warm clothing. It is chilly, especially on the morning game drive with the wind whipping in your face.
Additional items to pack.
As far as photography equipment, on safari your iPhone will just not cut it. If you have a DSLR, buy or, better yet, rent the biggest lens you can. I use a Canon Ef 100 – 400mm f 4.5-5.6 lens because it offers the greatest flexibility and while heavy is easy enough to manage with a monopod. I recently added a second camera body and I imagine I will alternate between my wide angle and 50mm lens.
Most people will also be packing for a few days in Cape Town and the winelands which can make this even more complicated. Relax. You only need enough clothes to keep you cool or warm and to not look like you stepped out of a luxury ad campaign for safari chic or an outdoor store advert for a seven day bush walk. The animals certainly don’t care what you are wearing.