So you are going on a safari! The feeling of awe as a bull elephant lumbers up to your vehicle or the momentary shot of terror when a lion roars nearby your campfire instill memories that will never fade. However, there is gear that you will definitely want to bring to ensure that the memories are all good. The gear guide below lists what and why. Equipment that is only necessary for the self-guided safari is marked with a bold ‘SG’.
1. Water and Water Bottle
- A filled water bottle (or two) is essential for any safari trip, especially in the hot African summers. Don’t let the air conditioning of a vehicle fool you, dehydration can become alarmingly real and it is best to be prepared, especially if the vehicle experiences mechanical trouble.
- Buy quality water containers, ones that will not puncture or damage easily.
- SG – If traveling through a national park for multiple days (such as Emily Lamb did in the Namibian Desert) be sure that your vehicle is carrying enough water to get you a few days past your next assigned stop. Leftover and excess water is a blessing, not a burden.
- Consider purchasing a military canteen or check out Camelbak’s hydration bladders and water bottles.
2. Naturally Colored Clothing
- Stick to khaki and olive drab colored clothing. Dark colors like brown, black and tans work best. Avoid white and bright colored clothing.
- Consider Ripstop pants. There are many thorns and thistles in the bush that can shred clothing.
3. Bring Winter and Summer Clothes
- Even in summer, the African bush can be quite chilly in the early morning and evening hours. Most game drives occur at these times and exposure to the frosty air at any speed can be bone-chilling. In the summer, wear a light long sleeve shirt that can be covered by a warm fleece. When it heats up, simply delayer.
- The winters can be especially chilly at times so consider several layers, long sleeve pants, gloves and a wool watch cap. Remember, if you are too warm, you can simply remove a layer. It is better to be cozy than cool. Check out this article for advice on how to dress warm for every season.
- If you are staying at a lodge with a pool, don’t forget the swimwear.
4. Consider Long Sleeve Shirts and Pants
- If you participate in a walking (or horseback) safari, consider wearing clothes that cover your skin. If it is hot, opt for light materials and pants that can zip off into shorts. The African bush is full of scratchy plants and dangerous ticks and long sleeves can help deter both. Of course, short sleeves and pants are fine, just be sure to check for ticks later.
- Great for blocking out the hot and blinding sun. Most people channel their inner Ernest Hemingway with the ‘traditional’ wide brim ‘safari hats‘. However, a baseball cap will suffice.
- Unless you are participating in a multiple day and difficult hike, avoid wearing heavy-duty boots. Also avoid lightweight tennis shoes and only wear sandals around camp.
- Wear strong soled hybrid boots that provide ankle support and comfort. The strong soles will prevent thorns and other sharp objects from penetrating. Underneath, wear a reliable pair of socks; or two, to help combat blisters.
- These traditionally Middle Eastern headscarves have many uses. When tied properly, they can provide warmth, block out the sun, keep dust away from the eyes and mouth, or keep you cool on a blistering day. They are cheap, versatile and well worth the money. Check out the dozens of Youtube tutorials on how to tie a shemagh for proper protection.
8. An LED Flashlight and a Headlamp
- Ok, these are two items but they are not substitutes for each other. You should bring both.
- Tactical LED flashlights are lightweight and small, making them ideal to be carried at all times. These lights emit powerful beams and often have many modes. The light is more penetrating and wider than that of a headlamp and can help you spot a potentially dangerous animal when you are walking across camp to the bathroom at night. The last thing you want is to stumble upon a hippo, buffalo, leopard or even an impala in the dead of night (which can happen, especially in an un-fenced camp). A good flashlight can prevent this. Do not rely on a headlamp.
- Quality LED flashlights are made by Simon Cree, Vizeri and Supernova.
- Headlamps are ideal for any task where your hands are occupied. These can include: starting a fire in the dark, reading in your camp after lights out, or finding your way around the safari vehicle in the early morning hours. Try to find a headlamp with different modes including: pinpoint, flood and tactical (low light red).
- Do not skimp on quality here either, a good headlamp will last many years if treated well. Buy a Petzl or an LE.
9. Pocket Knife
- Carrying a sharp, quality pocketknife is a must for any avid outdoorsman. Knives can be employed for many tasks, from opening cans of food to starting a fire. It is always a good idea to carry one whether on safari or not. Click here to read about how to pick a quality knife.
- Brands to consider: Ka-Bar, Gerber, Smith&Wesson, Coldsteel and Benchmade.
- Depending on your trip details, a multitool may come in handy. If you are volunteering with an organization like Wildlife ACT, your multitool could help save the life of an ensnared animal.
- Multitools are essential for any self-guided safari for they can help repair damaged vehicles.
- Consider purchasing a Stanley or Leatherman.
11. iPod and Charging Equipment
- Perfect for long rides in the safari vehicle, or just when you want the perfect background music for a beautiful moment.
- Leave the laptop at home unless you MUST bring it. They are a cumbersome burden and likely to get stolen if you let it lay in the open too long.
12. Games or a Book
- Bring a small chess set, deck of cards, football or your favorite book. Without a computer and often limited access to power and internet, boredom will have to be remedied ‘the old fashioned way’.
- Unfortunately the animals will not always be bold enough to approach the vehicle. A pair of good binoculars comes in handy here. Don’t settle for cheap ones either, buy quality glass and you will be able to experience the wildlife to a much fuller extent.
- Check out binoculars in the 8×32 range. Avoid ones that have zooming mechanisms or that are made predominately from plastic.
- Consider the brands Nikon and Bushnell.
14. Insect Repellent
- Mosquitoes are not your only worry, ticks are just as numerous. Buy a quality spray that guarantees protection from ticks.
- You may also consider tick-repelling socks.
- Bring it! However, don’t spend the entire trip behind the lens. Put the camera down at times and just take in the beautiful moments, they will feel much more special and be only yours.
- Avoid large, cumbersome cameras. They make noise that can startle wildlife and are a distraction.
- However, do bring extra batteries, lens cloths and a reliable case.
16. A Good Backpack
- Invest in a comfortable and roomy backpack. Don’t buy a massive hiking backpack (unless you are hiking) but instead settle on a nice ‘day pack’. Military-style packs are often the right color for the field, offer great organization and are roomy.
- Check out the brands: Maxpedition, Teton and Paladineer.
17. A Waterproof Rain Jacket
- Getting drenched can ruin an otherwise great day. Buy a compressible rain jacket and leave it in the bottom of your day pack.
- Try this poncho, designed after the ponchos issued to sailors by the U.S. Navy. They fold down into a small, zipping pack, dry quickly and weigh 150 grams.
- For extra protection, spray clothing (the poncho too) with a waterproofing solution.
- While most safari companies provide their guests with a quality lodge and great food, they may not carry your favorite snack. Bring a few packages of your favorite biscuit and chocolate or a bottle of soda to help you enjoy the days even more. Always be sure to pack out what you pack in. Do not leave any litter behind.
- SG – On a prolonged self-guided trip be sure to pack enough food. Avoid having fancy meal plans and instead opt for simple foods that will keep: peanut butter, canned foods, bread, rice and oats. While the meals may be bland, you will not have to worry about all of your food spoiling.
19. Personal Grooming Kit
- Nothing fancy. Just a small kit or baggie filled with sunscreen, tweezers, nail trimmers, bandages, lip balm, eye drops and the like.
If you are headed on a self-guided expedition, be sure to check out our article on 15 items that could save your trip or your life. If you are on a guided trip, your guiding company will have already addressed these items. However, there is nothing wrong with buying them for future solo adventures.
20. Bedding and a Way to Live Comfortably SG
- When on a multiple day trip, consider your living arrangements. Either plan to stay at lodges along your route, or prepare to live inside your vehicle or outside in a tent.
- Be sure the park you are in allows camping outside of designated sites. Be sure it is safe to use tents in the region you are in. Do not camp on game trails or near large sources of water.
- Check out this article for information on the Ford Ranger Camper, a brilliant safari vehicle.
21. A Map and Compass SG
- Always enter the bush prepared. Know how to use the map and compass and preplan your route. Get to know landmarks along the way to ensure smooth travel. Confidence in your ability to navigate will also ease the stress of heading into the wild unguided.
- Consider purchasing a military-quality tritium compass; they can be read in complete darkness, are extremely durable and have been used as orienteering compasses by the most elite explorers and soldiers.
- Be sure to store your map, even if it is waterproof, in a sealing, waterproof bag.
22. A Spare Tire (Or a Few) SG
- Nothing could be worse then trekking miles into the Central Kalahari Wilderness only to experience a flat tire and have no equipment to remedy the problem. Help can often be far away, across miles of the most inhospitable wilderness in the world. Don’t become stranded.
- Bring a spare tire.
- Bring a heavy-duty jack.
- Bring a multiple-head tire iron.
- Bring a tire repair kit.
- Bring an air compressor that can run off your vehicle’s battery.
23. Jumper Cables and an Emergency Battery SG
- Just as a tire can go flat, so can the vehicle’s battery. Be sure you can get where you need to go.
24. A Shovel SG
- Bring a sharp, durable shovel (or two). These will help you free the vehicle should it become stuck.
Did we forget something? Leave it in the comments below and we’ll add it to the list!