If you’re reading this, then chances are that you are contemplating an African safari which will probably include a flight in a light aircraft, at some point. That means you face the rather daunting task of trying to pack everything you need for a two-week safari into the correct size piece of luggage. If this seems an impossible task, you’re not alone! Probably one of the most common complaints that I hear from people coming on safari that they really struggled with the packing restrictions. Recently had the very frustrating experience of taking someone on safari who had decided, in the face of this seemingly impossible task, to leave their DSLR camera and 300 mm lens at home and that is what prompted me to write this article. Your agent will have given you a guideline on what size and weight of luggage is permitted and you need to stick to this but you should have no problem coming in underweight and the more important consideration is making sure that your bag is “squashable” Do not, on pain of death, bring your favorite Samsonite or you may well find yourself boarding the plane with your belongings hastily repacked into a bin liner and waving farewell to your suitcase which will remain behind! The luggage has to fit into the belly pod of the aircraft and if your bag does not fit through the small opening then it will be left behind. The best safari bag on the market at the moment is the North Face “Base Camp duffel” which is virtually completely waterproof, dustproof and bulletproof and has the added advantage of only being available in hideously bright colors so it’s impossible to lose! If you prefer a bag with wheels check out the Eagle Creek “No Matter What” Rolling Duffle.
So now we have a “squashable” bag but what should be in it? The first thing you need to know is that most safari camps, even in the remotest areas, have a free (or fairly cheap), same day laundry service. It is unnecessary to have more than three or four changes of clothing and bear in mind that a safari is not supposed to be a fashion parade – the Lions are not going to care about your sartorial elegance or lack thereof! Typically I pack 4 changes of shirts and shorts- you can get by on three but on travel days you can’t get laundry done so I always pack an extra change. You may prefer trousers rather than shorts- trousers with zip off bottoms offer the best of both worlds. Modern, nylon fabrics are perfect for trousers and shorts but I prefer cotton shirts for their breathability in the heat and these days I wear long-sleeved shirts for the extra sun protection they afford. In winter, against the cold, I carry a warm jacket with a fleece liner that I can zip out and in the summertime, I substitute a fleece and a waterproof, light jacket for the heavy jacket. In winter I always carry a beanie (I don’t have much natural insulation on top these days) and a pair of gloves – don’t underestimate the cold in Africa. If I had a nickel for every time I warned people about cold only to hear the age-old response “ Oh we’re from Nebraska- we know all about cold!” Now there’s not a shadow of doubt in my mind, that Nebraska is much colder than Africa but I’m also fairly certain that the good people of that fine State do not get onto the back of an open truck, at five o’clock in the morning and go driving around in subzero temperatures! If you plan to be here during the cold season you need to bring warm clothing and the best way to add warmth without adding too much weight or bulk is to bring a set of thermal underwear- you might not need it but if you have a cold snap while you are here you will be mighty glad you brought them. The good news is that usually by 9 or 10 o’clock it’s warmed up to the point where you’ll be comfortable in shirt sleeves and shorts. I usually pack two pairs of shoes, one pair of sandals such as Tevas or Keens to wear around camp and a pair of trail shoes/boots to wear in the Bush. A couple pairs of socks, a couple of changes of underwear, something to sleep in and a good hat and the list is complete. There is really no need to bring much more than this; it is seldom that I find myself wishing that I bought anything else. I have never bothered to weigh this, but I would doubt that it came to even half of what the standard weight allocation would be aboard a light aircraft. In addition to this, I carry a daypack which I take with me on game drives and this contains an assortment of the things that I need to have on hand while out on Safari. Apart from my camera equipment and binoculars I carry sunscreen, a small medical kit, a head torch, nylon poncho in case of rain, cleaning equipment for the camera, spare batteries for the camera, spare memory card for the camera, water bottle and I always have cotton kikoy handy in case the sun becomes a bit too much! Apart from a good pair of Polaroid sunglasses I also carry a second set of clear glasses, to wear after dark, on the way home. There is often a lot of dust and insects flying around after dark- you can keep your sunglasses on and protect your eyes, but then you don’t see much! I also carry a small roll of duct tape and a bunch of cable ties which are handy for securing the zip on your bag on moving days, especially if we’re going through a large airport. I carry an ultraportable laptop for photo editing along the way, which is an optional extra, personal toiletries and med’s round out the list and with a good book and an mp3 player for long flights you should be good to go!