What to wear on safari: essential clothing & packing tips

A safari holiday is chance to get close to nature and forget the world outside. However, make sure you don’t forget anything important with our guide to what to wear and what essentials to pack.

By Saga team

Published 4 May 2024

Couple on Safari

A good pair of lightweight walking shoes or boots is an essential. Not to protect against snakes, as you’re unlikely to see any, but because they are the most versatile footwear.

They’ll cope with walking on rough ground, climbing in and out of safari trucks, or just pounding the pavements of Nairobi or Mumbai.

Ankle boots are less likely to come off in an emergency – like stumbling into boggy ground– and give better protection on rocky terrain. A leather pair will polish up well if needed for a posh restaurant.

Pair your boots with long trousers/slacks to protect against thorn brushes and the hot seating of a safari truck. Shorts/skirt and long socks are another option.

Cotton is cool but polycotton will dry faster after washing (or sweating) and rips less easily on thorns.

A long-sleeved shirt with a collar makes the best top. T-shirts do not offer any protection against sunburn or the chill of an African night, although a good compromise is to wear a T-shirt with a long-sleeved shirt over it to act as a protective jacket.

Layers are always a good idea when days start and end cold but warm up considerably in between. Bring a fleece and beanie for nights, and perhaps a woollen if at altitude. A light raincoat is also a good windbreak.

Men might need to check if they need a jacket and/or tie for any smart hotels.

Colours should be subdued. Khaki is an old favourite but many animals are colour blind, so that’s not a necessity. Lighter colours reflect the sun and are therefore cooler, which is actually the main consideration. White is best but off-white shows less dirt – hence the popularity of khaki.

Avoid camouflage clothing as it is illegal for civilians in many African countries.

A hat is needed to shade the eyes and keep the sun off. The best is a floppy cotton bush hat, as it won’t get in the way of a camera. You can also soak it in water for a nice cooling effect.

They can jam on your head against the breeze when in the back of an open truck, but carry a spare in case you lose that battle, or buy one with chinstrap. Who needs sunstroke?

A scarf is useful to protect against the red African dust that gets everywhere when you drive on dirt roads.

A Kenyan kikoy or similar sarong can also be wrapped completely around the head or used as a shawl for that cold evening drive back to camp. It has lots of other uses, too, from towel to sleeping robe.

Sunglasses will help keep the dust out of your eyes, as well as their normal function. Bring a retaining cord or even a pair of sun-goggles instead so they can be quickly slipped out of the way when you grab a camera.

Many expensive sunglasses have gone to meet their maker after a photo stop when someone sits back down. Look for a pair that cuts out as much light as possible, including at the sides.

Your daypack will carry a bottle of water, as well as that spare hat and any personal essentials such as medicines. Carry high-factor sunscreen, and some insect repellent.

Tissues and/or handkerchief will clear away dust from mouth, nose and eyes.

A head-torch or flashlight is good for finding your way back to your tent in the dark, or reading at night in camp. Pack spare batteries.

Many safari camps, safari lodges and hotels have swimming pools, so take your swimsuit. Sandals or flip-flops are good for lounging in camp or using communal showers.

Whole articles have been written on the best pair of safari binoculars, which at least proves their importance.

After the initial joy of seeing the bigger animals, many people find delight in the variety of bird life they see on safari. That’s when binoculars come into their own.

Many large animals come out only at dawn or sunset, sensibly preferring to rest up during the heat of the day.

That means you need a pair of lenses that will cope with poor light. Look for something around the 8x40 range.

Damage or loss is common, so don’t spend too much on a pair. You also want them to be quick focusing and lightweight, particularly if you are on a long walk on a hot day.

You can do worse than rely on your phone camera but do bring a vehicle charger to keep it juiced up.

A battery pack is another good option, and a big one will keep Kindles and other such items going in the absence of mains power.

With a bigger DSLR camera, you need a lens of at least 300mm and preferably 500mm for good close-ups of animals.

Swapping lenses is a bad idea given the amount of dust you’ll experience, so many people bring two bodies: one with a wide-angle to show the background and one for a zoom to shoot details.

If you do have to change lenses, consider using a bag or a sarong as a cover. A blower brush will keep lenses clear of dust. A UV filter is also good protection as well as helping with bright sun.

Bring a vehicle mount to help steady the long lens, or a beanbag. Tripods will not make you popular in your safari jeep unless you have it to yourself.

A dry-bag, sold for water sports, is perfect for keeping dust away from electronics and cameras.

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