How tourists dress when they visit Africa is a source of amusement to me. I figure someone is making a bundle, sending them to the same outdoor adventure outlet to buy the same kit. I Googled a few articles and a couple of them recommended not sticking out like a sore thumb. Well, being part of a gaggle of folk dressed more game rangerish than a game ranger, albeit in brand new Columbia (insert your brand here) gear, won’t work.
Your guide wears heavy duty stuff because he or she does heavy duty stuff, day in and day out. They don’t just drive guests around.
Trust me, unless you are roughing it or going on walking safaris, you really don’t need half the stuff. Most people, visiting lodges, do less exercise than normal. Typically you walk to a central point for a pre-game drive coffee, then sit for hours in a vehicle, disembark, eat, relax, repeat.
You can very quickly put on weight.
What best to wear, bring or buy for your safari
My recommendations? Light, layers, comfy. I pack lightweight cotton clothes (fancy wicking safari gear is ok too I guess). Stuff that can pack small. I read that Africa can be “quite warm”. 30C or so. Think 40, think extreme humidity in many cases- which pushes the “real feel” up by 10 or more degrees.
In summer I’m usually in t-shirt, shorts and slip slops- sturdy ones with a hard, grippy sole. Surfer brands are best in my opinion, not just for slops. The clothing is well designed, stylish, well made- and lasts. And you look normal, so you can wear it back home and on your tropical island vacation, whereas your safari gear- not so much. Shoes? Wear something comfortable, with grippy soles. As mentioned earlier, most people do way less walking than expected. Of course you can bring your entire gym kit (there’s often a gym or mountain bikes).
A cap is essential for me (pretty bald), but wide brimmed hats and others are not- because they are more likely to blow off when your game vehicle or boat picks up speed and they are harder to pack. Sunglasses too- and all sunnies should be polarised in my opinion, though they can be a pain when taking pics. The glare can be intense and, on an all-day outing in an open game vehicle sunnies also keep bugs out of your eyes. Sunblock: I use a spray that dries instantly, is non- greasy and doesn’t stain clothes (as much) when mixed with sweat and dust. Bear in mind that you’re likely to find little sunblock and insect repellent containers in your room at the better lodges.
I have a lightweight windbreaker with hood that goes everywhere with me. It can fit in my camera bag and is a couple of shades of grey- and neutral colours on outer layers are important in the wild. I’ve read it’s so you don’t scare the game. Nah. It’s so you don’t attract unwelcome attention, especially if you are walking and come across lions/ellies/rhinos.
In winter things change. Those early morning game drives? With the wind chill factor, sub-zero temperatures are a thing, even if it’s mid 20’s (Celsius) later. I’ve packed too light and ended up with pneumonia.
Boots/windproof footwear and long socks for me please, plus long pants, t-shirt, light sweater, fleece, windbreaker, beanie. A scarf is good (in summer too) and sometimes I take a snowboard jacket, though it’s bulky. The extra length at the back keeps cold wind out. Most game drive vehicles have blankets or, better, lined ponchos with hoods- and sometimes hot water bottles.
Those layers are important because it warms up (or cools down) so you are likely to be adding and subtracting a fair bit. 3-in-1 jackets are recommended.
Dressing up for dinner is an optional extra. So too is raingear for the most part (once again, unless you’re roughing it or chasing gorillas in rain forests). Any decent lodge will provide umbrellas and ponchos.
Staying shiny and happy
There are few things worse than being in a beautiful place in a foreign country, but being really ill. I’ve had the displeasure on several occasions. Food poisoning, sunstroke for the lily white Caucasians, sub-tropical bugs- there’s plenty to take the wind out of your sails.
I have some travel essentials. Whatever your view on antibiotics, I travel with them. Tavaloxx 500 is what I have at the mo- meant for a Madagascar trip. I’m always dishing out Valoid (anti-nausea) to fellow travellers though I’ve not ever had one myself. I also take charcoal tablets and probiotics, Texa (anti histamine), eyedrops, plasters and antiseptic cream with me. Dental floss is extremely handy too. It’s been keeping my lens cap attached to my camera for years. Lipbalm, lipbalm, lipbalm.
I SCUBA dive and Flonase nasal spray and Texa are a good combo for my sometimes troublesome ears, as is a hit of Iliadin just before a dive. Brand names may differ around the globe.
I also have mild sleeping tablets. Often the first night in a new place can be a restless one. And, if my back or buggered knees are aching after a long journey, a sleeping tablet solves a few things.
Nail clippers come in handy. A universal adaptor plug is a must. A torch, not so much. I use my cellphone. There are always candles and matches in your room and, if you are with a guide, he or she is sure to have lighting.
Something to clean sunnies, spec and camera lenses. Always.
Luggage (safety and security)
In-room safes are almost always provided. I never use them- and have been criticised by many for being careless but theft is rare at resorts or far flung places. I always travel with camera, laptop and cellphone and have only once had anything go missing- my camera on an island off Mozambique. Long story short, it was couriered to me.
Where things do go missing is airports, with OR Tambo in Johannesburg particularly notorious. I have had my luggage broken into and stuff stolen. I have also had my luggage broken. My luggage preference is a hard-shell suitcase with no zips. A bit heavier perhaps but breaking into it would take time and effort. It’s also a four-wheeler, as is my smaller, soft bag. It makes a difference to me, getting around airports, and I hardly ever use a trolley.
A backpack is always required. Waterproof is a nice to have but I make do with my Targus laptop bag after my Bangkok North Face knock off eventually died. Plenty of compartments.
If you are not an overseas tourist, not restricted, don’t skimp. When I drive somewhere I take pillows and, and, and. I have a car. I’ll fill it.
On the subject of vehicles- if you are game viewing I strongly recommend going on a guided game drive. You will see and learn so much more than on a self-guided drive as field guides know how and where to look and have great knowledge- often very localised. Also, you don’t have to watch where you are going/ find your way.
If you are self-driving and headed to a nature reserve, height really does count. The higher your ride height the more you will see.
Whatever you’re driving, whatever you’re wearing, I wish you a comfortable trip and hope you see all (and more) that you wish for.