Shopping and packing for an African camping/safari adventure!

Please see the main page of my African camping/safari adventure for some background on this trip.

Here's some info about what to pack for a safari and camping trip in Africa; things you'll need, things I wish I'd brought, things I brought that I didn't need, etc. In shopping for this trip, I did tons of research online and talked to a few friends who'd been to Africa, and then I did lots of shopping online and in stores. I ended up buying almost everything I needed right on Amazon, and thanks to all the research I did I only returned and exchanged a couple items. The links and pics below are the exact items I brought for my trip, and I'm featuring them because they were perfect! I wholeheartedly recommend any of these things if you're shopping for a similar trip.

Obviously this list is a little bit man-centric, but really other than the specific shirts and trousers I bought, most of this list could apply to anyone...

Absolute essentials:

  • Wide-brimmed hat! See my section about being very pale and avoiding sunburn in Africa. A hat is the main thing you'll see mentioned in any article about packing for a safari trip, and I bought mine super early as a way to kick off the planning and excitement leading up to our trip! I chose this Dorfman Pacific men's outback hat (size Large for my fat head) and tried it on at home a million times before our trip. It's cotton but looks a bit like leather, and it's relatively lightweight and very comfortable, and it has a soft wire in the brim so you can adjust the shape however you like. My wife ended up buying the exact same one! (Although hers is a small.)
  • Sunscreen — 2 bottles. I bought a two-pack of Neutrogena Ultra Sheer dry-touch sunscreen, SPF 45, and in two weeks of traveling and camping, applying sunscreen on my face/neck/forearms/hands once or twice a day, I finished off one 3-ounce bottle and got started on the second one in the last few days of the trip. I always wear long sleeves and pants, but if you're wearing short sleeves and shorts and applying sunscreen on your arms and legs as well, you might need more than one 3-ounce bottle per week!
  • Scarf — I brought two lightweight scarves for my trip, not so much for warmth but more for helping me avoid a sunburn! See my section about being very pale and avoiding sunburn in Africa. I ordered two of these Jeelow cotton scarves, one in light gray stripes and one in beige stripes, and I alternated them and washed them in the campsite sink every few days as needed. Even though I bought them for sun protection they did come in handy for warmth on a few very chilly mornings in the bush before the sun heated everything up.
  • Sunglasses — it was important to me that these be as comfortable and lightweight as possible, as I knew I'd be wearing them for very long stretches of time every day. I ordered these ACBLUCE men's polarized aviator sunglasses (silver frame, gray lens) and they were perfect! These are the one item I ordered for the safari trip that I'm now wearing all the time in real life. The polarization helps keep the sun from hurting your eyes and makes everything look amazingly crystal-clear. I love the straight-back ear pieces; I was worried they'd wanna slip off, but they hold on perfectly without squishing your head.
  • Water bottle — my group and I all brought refillable bottles, and we bought big 20-liter (I think) bottles of water every time we passed through a town, and we all filled our bottles from those every day. I brought this Nalgene Tritan narrow mouth BPA-free water bottle, 32-oz. and it was the perfect size, and the loop on the lid made it super easy to carry or attach to a belt or packpack. Much better than buying bottled water/drinks all the time!
  • Small flashlights — these seemed like a good idea but ended up being much more important than I'd anticipated! I bought this set of two small flashlights — GearLight M10 LED tactical flashlight — one for me and one for my wife. They use three AAA batteries each, and with new batteries they both lasted throughout the whole two-week trip of late-night walks to restrooms and looking for things we dropped near the campsite at night. They were super bright and had several different settings; they were perfect for our trip.
  • Bug spray — 2 bottles. Some of the places where we camped had no mosquitoes at all, and some had zillions. As soon as I saw the sign for Sepopa Swamp Stop I was glad I packed two whole bottles!

Things I was glad I brought:

  • Earth-toned and light-colored shirts and pants — enough outfits for about a third of the trip. Most but not all the places we stayed offered overnight laundry services. It was pretty easy to strategize around doing laundry every few days and always have nice clean clothes. Here some of the clothes I brought...

    • Long-sleeved shirts: A couple in durable materials — my favorite was this Goodthreads men's long-sleeve ripstop dobby shirt in "Deep Depth"/Olive (it looks a little more green in real life than in this pic; I love the color) — and a couple in lightweight synthetic materials — my favorite of these was this Magcomsen men's quick dry breathable long sleeve shirt, in Brown, although it looks a little lighter in real life than how it looks in this pic. Both of these shirts look great and fit great, and they're nice and comfortable.
    • Pants: I wore long pants during the whole trip; no shorts for me! I brought a couple pairs of durable cargo pants for outdoor activities — I ordered two pairs of these Wrangler Authentics men's straight leg cargo pant in Acorn Twill and Anthracite Twill, and they were absolutely perfect. I also brought two pairs of pants in lightweight synthetic materials — these Columbia men's Silver Ridge cargo pants, one in light gray and one in dark gray. The heavier Wrangler pants were great for physical activities like setting up the Cheetah, hiking in the desert/hills, etc, they blocked the sun 110%, and they actually look really nice for outdoor gear. The lightweight pants were great for the hottest days in the shade, and when I got soaked at Victoria Falls they dried in no time! I don't love the look of these synthetic materials so I strategized wearing these around our very-hot very-outdoors days. I avoided wearing these when we were going to dinner or whatever, but it really wouldn't have mattered either way.
  • Thick cotton t-shirts — I ordered two Hanes 5250 men's tagless t-shirts in "Natural" (basically beige/off-white) and Smoke Grey. I wore these under my long-sleeved shirts when it was chilly out in the mornings/evenings, and I made sure to keep one clean at all times so I could wear it to bed.
  • Short-sleeved shirts for after sundown — my favorite of these was this Wrangler Authentics men's short sleeve classic woven shirt in "Sea Spray Chambray", which looks a little lighter and a little more green in person than it does in this pic. This shirt was great because it was a little nicer than the other things I brought and I felt comfortable going out to dinner in restaurants wearing it (not that you have to dress up for a campground bar or restaurant, but I prefer to). It also came out of the laundry looking pretty wrinkle-free, which was a nice bonus.
  • Socks and underwear — enough for every day of the trip. See above about laundry, but I want to note, some of the camps where we had our laundry done gave us back clothes that looked and smelled absolutely wonderful, whereas a few places gave us back our clothes smelling a little mildew-y; possibly a difference of machine washing/drying versus the hand washing and hanging on an old clothesline. Seriously no big deal, and I really didn't mind putting on a shirt or pants that felt a little scratchy and smelled every so slightly off — after all, we're camping, not going to the prom — but I really wanted to have perfectly clean socks and underwear every day, so I'm glad I brought enough. Anyway, two 6-packs of these Fruit of the Loom men's heavy duty reinforced cushion crew socks did the trick; they were ideal for the kind of traveling and activities we were doing.
  • Durable tennis shoes — every website I read stressed that you don't need hiking boots unless you're going gorilla watching in the mountains, and that you'll be fine with durable walking shoes or tennis shoes, and they were more or less totally right. (However, my father-in-law insisted over and over again that we'd need hiking boots, so we brought them. See below under Things I brought that I didn't need.) I just wore a pair of old walking shoes for most of my trip, so I don't have a link to share!
  • Flip flops — very useful for the shower rooms and hanging around the campsite in the evening. I bought these OneHoo men's striped flip flops and they were great. If you're going to be wading into Victoria Falls I recommend you get some water shoes!
  • Antibacterial wipes — for times when you can't easily wash your hands. My wife and I bought this 5-pack of Wet Ones antibacterial wipes, 24-Count and brought about three of the small boxes with us; this was more than enough for the duration of our two-week trip.
  • Toiletries in a durable clear plastic case — this two-pack of Lermende clear 1-quart toiletry bags was perfect for me and my wife, both for easily getting through airport security with our liquids, and also for bringing with us into the restroom/shower buildings at all the various campgrounds we visited.
  • Hanging toiletries bag — I also brought this Wayfarer Supply hanging toiletry bag, to transport my larger toiletries in my checked luggage and also to hang on the hook in shower stalls; some of the showers had shelves and some had hooks, so I was covered either way with these two bags.
  • Tiny plastic jars for hair products/etc — I use a few of these Beauticom 10-ml frosted container jars on every big trip I take. For any products where I only use a tiny amount, like facial moisturizer or hair styling cream, they're much more convenient than bringing the whole big bottle. I bought this 12-pack a while back and use two or three of these for every trip. They also work great if you need to bring a couple pills with you for a day-trip or a long walk/hike.
  • Noise-canceling headphones — this is for the flights, not the camping! I bought these Bose QuietComfort 35 II wireless noise-cancelling headphones a couple years ago, and they're my number one travel essential every time I fly. I've tried a lot of noise-canceling headphones over the years and these are the best I've ever had. These don't take batteries; you charge 'em through your USB port in your computer, so make sure they're fully charged before your trip! I realized when I was in Africa there was no easy way for me to charge them up if I'd needed to, but it was no problem since I started out at 100%. With all four long flights I ended up at 70% when I got home; they hold a charge for a good long time.
  • Small backpack — my father-in-law told me I'd need this for short hikes and walks that we'd be doing, but I totally didn't. But this Venture Pal lightweight water resistant backpack came in very handy, as 95% of my stuff was packed away in the camper during all our long drives every day, and it was great to have this small bag with me in the car. I kept stuff like my sunscreen and bug spray in the backpack, as well as my water bottle, gum, chapstick, antibacterial wipes, etc. I'm not a backpack guy in real life, so I seriously just searched for the cheapest small backpack I could find, checked the reviews, and went for it. This thing worked out beautifully. It also folds up into a tiny pouch, so it took up practically no room in my suitcase.
  • Bandanas — I bought this 10-pack ('cuz they were cheap) of T&Z 100% cotton bandanas, brought two for myself, and gave one to my wife to bring. These things came in very handy after long hot days where I was covered in tons of gross sunblock. As soon as the sun went down I'd pour some water from my bottle onto the bandana and then wipe off my face, neck, and arms. Later when we were near running water I'd wash the bandanas with a drop of laundry detergent and hang 'em up to dry. I kept one of the bandanas in my pocket at all times, and they proved to be useful for a lot of things, like, you'd be surprised how often you touch gross stuff when you're camping and want to wipe your hands off (or maybe I'm just a little OCD!).
  • Small packets of laundry detergent — these Tide packets could really come in very handy if you need to wash clothes, and almost all our campsites had sinks available either right in the campsite or outside a general restroom/shower room. I ended up not needing to wash my clothes since we were able to drop off clothes for laundry services at a few campgrounds just the right amount of times, but I did end up washing my scarves and bandanas by hand a few times.
  • Chewing gum — for times in the desert when my mouth felt dry, and or times I couldn't easily brush my teeth. Luckily we had a sink at almost every campsite, but gum was great for our longer car rides.
  • Chapstick — for times in the desert when my lips felt dry.
  • Notepad and pen — I bring these for every trip and they always end up being useful. Some of the many border crossings we had to do required us to fill out a form, so it was great to have my own pen in my pocket and be able to use the pad as a surface to write on.
  • Passport, and photocopies — Another thing I do for every trip; I put a photocopy of my passport in each of my bags, and another folded up in my wallet. If somehow you end up losing your real passport it'll be a lot easier to establish your identity with a photocopy on hand. I also recommend memorizing your passport number, but that's really going above and beyond!
  • Empty plastic bags — I always bring three or four extra plastic bags on any big trip, and they always prove useful, for things like keeping trash to throw out later, separating clean and dirty clothes, etc.
  • Bag with clean clothes for return trip — much easier to keep this separate from my camping clothes and not have to worry about it when arranging laundry days and stuff. I wasn't sure what the laundry situation would be at our campgrounds, and I wanted to make sure I had nice-smelling clean clothes for the long flights home.

Things I wish I'd brought:

I was sure I'd have things to put in a list here, but unbelievably I can't think of anything! Thanks to my obsessive planning and researching, and thanks to David having already anticipated our group's every need, I ended up having just about the exact right assortment of stuff for the whole trip. However, I may have overpacked a bit! Even though I ended up not needing the following things, you're definitely better safe than sorry...

Things I brought that I didn't need, but you might!

  • Books — I imagined I'd have plenty of time to read while camping, but I totally didn't! With our schedule of switching campsites almost every day, there was practically zero time that wasn't filled with activities, driving, eating, setting up camp, and breaking down camp. I'm not sure how I feel about that! I'm glad we maximized our time and visited as many places as possible, but I also love building in a free day or two to relax. You might want to plan your trip with some time to chill.
  • Adaptors for all the countries I was visiting — David had this all covered, and I was able to charge my phone every day in the SUV through a USB port. I'd done some research and brought adaptors of Type M, Type C, and Type G to cover all the countries we'd be visting. For your reference, South Africa uses Type M (sometimes C and G), Botswana uses Type M (sometimes Type G), Zimbabwe uses Types D and G, and Namibia uses Type M.
  • Rain jacket — the websites you'll read recommend bringing a lightweight rain jacket or poncho for Victoria Falls, so I brought this one: 4ucycling easy carry rain jacket; it's great because it folds up into a tiny pouch. However, the day we were there it was extremely hot and sunny, and the cold mist from the falls felt wonderful; I never felt the need to put the rain jacket on. In some spots the mist was really light, and in others it felt like a heavy rainfall, but I welcomed all of it. I was strategically wearing lightweight synthetic-material clothes and they dried out very quickly afterward from just walking back to the car. However, I'm glad I had the rain jacket just in case; if it had been cooler out I wouldn't have wanted to get soaked like that.
  • Imodium — I'm delighted to report that my group and I experienced no tummy troubles during the whole trip, and I know a handful of other people who've traveled in Africa with no problem — I think I might be paranoid after getting really sick on my first big hitchhiking trip through eastern Europe. Still, I'm glad I brought Imodium with me just in case! I only drank bottled water during the trip, but every day we brushed our teeth with water that was pumped from wells or rivers, and I was careful not to swallow any, but I knew there was still some risk of getting sick. I'm glad I brought a pack of Imodium anti-diarrheal capsules (48-count) anyway.
  • Advil/painkillers — Same as above; I didn't need any, but probably a good idea to have some on hand.
  • Hiking shoes/boots — At my father-in-law's insistence, I bought this nice pair of hiking shoes for our trip: Camel Crown men's hiking low cut boots — and I even spent a couple weeks in Brooklyn breaking them in. During the actual trip I only put them on my feet twice, for less than two hours each time, and each time it turned out I totally didn't need 'em. Sneakers would've been completely fine for everything we did, including the game walk in the bush, or scaling up a big rocky hill on Kubu Island. However, I really like these boots and plan to use them for future hiking trips in the U.S.; it was time to replace my old ones anyway. I'm very happy with this purchase even though I didn't neem 'em for Africa. They're very lightweight and comfortable for hiking boots.
  • Swimsuit and water shoes — I wasn't sure if we'd be taking that iconic picture at Victoria Falls where you wade in the shallow water right up to the edge of the falls. I'm kind of glad we did not! So these items weren't necessary. Which is kind of a drag, because I love these Zhuanglin men's quick drying water shoes I bought! I've used them for tubing and whitewater rafting here in the U.S. and they worked out just great. Ooh, I should mention, a few of our campgrounds in Africa had swimming pools! So you might want to pack a swimsuit just in case!
  • Warm pajamas — the coldest night we had went down into the 50s (that's Fahrenheit, so maybe around 10-13 degrees Celsius), and I never had the need to put on the warm pajamas (well, actually long underwear) I'd bought for the trip: this set of Ekouaer men's long thermal fleece lined underwear. I was totally fine sleeping in the Cheetah in just shorts and t-shirt. With all the windows zipped up and sleeping under covers we were nice and cozy in there. Better safe than sorry, though! I love these long underwear for winter nights in the U.S.; I've got two pairs.
  • String, scissors, pocket knife, lighter — I always bring these things when I'm camping, and they often come in very handy, but David had every possible item covered already.

Things I didn't need to bring, but you might:

  • A big over-the-shoulder bag for travel — Suitcases aren't ideal for this kind of traveling/camping, but we were told ahead of time we'd be able to arrive in Johannesburg with our suitcases and immediately pack all our stuff right into the storage compartments in the Cheetah camper — we left our empty suitcases at David's apartment in Johannesburg. If we didn't have this luxury, I would've traveled with a big canvas bag with lots of pockets and compartments; probably one that doubles as a backpack and duffel bag. Pockets and compartments are better than one big open space (like in a suitcase) so you can always reach into the right space and easily find the item you're looking for, rather than have to dig through your entire pile of junk every time.
  • Pillow/blanket/towels — I wondered if we'd need to bring these, but they were provided by David in the Cheetah.
  • Umbrella — Some people brought umbrellas to Victoria Falls, but we didn't need them. I checked the weather in all our locations before the trip and saw no risk of rain at the time, but you might want to check just in case.
  • Camera — I'm not a big picture-taker, so I just used my iPhone.
  • Binoculars — This might sound weird, but I'd rather look at things with my eyes and not through a camera or binoculars; I try to experient the moment as much as possible and just burn it into my memory. Of course, you might want to bring these things!
  • First aid kit — I asked ahead of time and confirmed that David had this covered. However, I always bring one — as well as a snake bite kit! — when I'm planning my own camping/hiking trips.
  • Snacks — I knew we were scheduling our travel to definitely include three good meals a day, so I didn't worry about having snacks on-hand.
  • Certificates of vaccination — not required for the countries I visited, but of course you should check!
  • Cash in local currencies — Since this was a camping trip, there weren't many times when I needed to spend money. I was able to change cash as needed in any town, and even in some supermarkets. I imagine some of the nicer campgrounds might offer this as well.


Next: Pale person success story: I went camping in Africa for two weeks and didn't get sunburned! Here's how I did it...

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