The Ultimate Overland Safari Packing List (And What NOT to Pack!)

botswana-safari-review

Planning for travel to Africa can be challenging. That’s especially true if you’re packing for your first overland safari!

What kind of sleeping bag should you take? How many pairs of long pants should you bring? Should you pack a large DSLR camera? (Spoiler: Yes.) Do you need a mosquito net? (Spoiler: Nope.)

You’ll have a limited amount of space in your pack and on the safari truck, so deciding what to bring is an important task. Companies that run the overland tours, such as Oasis, Dragoman, Acacia, and Absolute Africa, offer safari packing tips, their advice isn’t always accurate.

This guide is your ultimate overland safari packing list for your trip to Africa. Read on for advice on what to pack for safari, and what you can safely leave at home so that you’re not wasting valuable bag space.

Interested in taking an overland safari in Africa? The group tour I took was the Southern Safari, operated by Absolute Africa. It runs for 52 days through 8 countries. Here’s a link to The Southern Safari if you’re curious about booking it.

things to bring overland safari

Here’s my recommended list of safari gear to take. Then scroll down for detailed explanations of each of these items (with links to the items on Amazon), followed by the list of things you shouldn’t bother taking.

Things to Bring on an Overland Safari: The Quick List

Large backpack (65L or similar)
Sleeping bag (not too warm)
Good headlamp
Microfiber towel
Smart phone – unlocked
Camera with telephoto lens
Chargers, extra batteries and memory cards for electronics
Universal travel adapter & South Africa adapter
Documents (passport, yellow fever certificate, visas)

Fleece/sweatshirt
Tshirts, tank tops
Shorts, swim trunks
Hiking pants, jeans
One somewhat formal outfit, such as button-down shirt & khakis for guys and dress for women
Rain jacket
Socks, underwear
Flip flops, casual shoe, hiking/tennis shoe
Gloves/knit hat if traveling during winter
Dirty laundry bag

Headphones
Sunglasses
Bandana or ballcap for sun protection
Ear plugs
Mosquito repellent
Malaria medicine & other prescriptions
Sunscreen
Deodorant
Toiletries bag

Overland Safari Packing List: The Must-Haves

Large backpack

When it comes to safari luggage, you’ll want to bring a large pack rather than a suitcase. Suitcases are just too cumbersome to manage on an overland truck. Large 65L packs can be expensive, but this Mountaintop Adventure 65L comes in at less than $70 and is big enough to transport most of your belongings. It also looks pretty cool, and comes with a rain cover! Bring a smaller, carry-on-size backpack as well for day trips.

packing-list-overland-safar

Everything I took to Africa fit in these two backpacks.

 

Sleeping bag

Some blogs will tell you to get a really warm sleeping bag for Africa, but I disagree. Even in winter – when it can drop to around 40 F – you’re better off with a lightweight bag. You can always throw on a sweatshirt or buy a cheap local blanket if needed. A 40 degree bag like this one from Revelcamp should do the trick. This one only weighs 2 pounds and folds up tight to saves space. You won’t need a mat for padding underneath your sleeping bag; the tour companies provide these.

Good headlamp

One of my safari fails was buying a cheap $5 headlamp on Amazon and expecting it to last two months in Africa. It crapped out by week two. Headlamps are critical on overland safaris, because often you’ll find yourself pitching a tent or cooking dinner in the dark, and you need both hands free for these tasks. Get yourself a really good model, like this Petzl Tikkina headlamp, which only costs $20 and which Outdoor Gear Lab ranks as the #1 headlamp on the market.

Microfiber towel

Space is at a premium in your pack, and you can save a lot of space with a microfiber towel instead of a big fluffy one. I picked up this green Rainleaf microfiber towel and could not have been more happy with it. It’s super-compact and super-absorbent. And I was shocked by how quickly it dries!

what-camera-to-bring-safari

Bring your best camera on your overland safari!

 

Unlocked smart phone

If you want to buy local SIM cards in each country to have texting and mobile internet capability, make sure your cell phone is unlocked. SIM cards are readily available and affordable in most countries.

Tip: Bring lots of music on your phone! Optionally, you can bring a tablet or Amazon Kindle with more music and books. Digital entertainment is a must for an overland trip where you’ll be spending hours at a time on the truck.

Camera with telephoto lens

I hadn’t been planning to buy a telephoto lens for my Nikon DSLR camera. But I kept reading articles that insisted a zoom lens was a necessity for a safari. And they were right. There’s no sense going to incredible areas like Serengeti National Park and the Okavango Delta and not having a camera that can zoom in to capture these incredible animals that you might never see again in your life.

Go for a lens with at least 300mm capability. I found this Tamron 70-300mm lens to be the most affordable lens for my camera, and it worked out great. You’ll regret going to Africa without a telephoto lens, especially if you miss out on wildlife images like these!

dslr-zoom-lens-zebras

Without a telephoto lens, most of your wildlife photos will look like the pic on the left, instead of the one on the right.

 

Chargers, extra batteries and memory cards for electronics

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Your overland truck will have USB and power outlets, so bring your chargers, and have additional camera memory cards. Don’t forget to bring an external USB charger to keep your devices powered up.

Universal travel adapter & South Africa adapter

Most countries in southern and eastern Africa use the UK-style power outlets (called Type-G), so if you’re coming from America, pick up a universal travel adapter so that you can plug into any outlet. South Africa and parts of Namibia, meanwhile, use a completely different type of plug (called Type-M) that is not part of any universal adapter, so you have to buy a separate South Africa travel adapter for those outlets.

Documents

Don’t forget the critical documents you’ll need in this part of the world, such as your passport, yellow fever certificate, travel insurance, any visas you purchased in advance, cash, credit cards, and your backup photocopies of each.

Fleece/sweatshirt, tshirts, tank tops, rain jacket

Now onto the clothing. Bring mostly lightweight shirts, but have one or two fleece or hoodies so you can dress in layers when necessary. If you go on a walking safari outside the vehicle, you’ll be required to wear plain-colored clothing to avoid attracting inquisitive predators, so make sure you have something tan or beige in your safari wardrobe.

Bring a jacket as well, particularly a rain jacket if you’ll be here between March and May, when rains are more likely in Tanzania, Botswana, and other safari countries.

victoria-falls-raincoat

A rain jacket will serve as warmth on chilly days and also keep you dry in places like Victoria Falls!

 

Shorts, swim trunks

Some people go out of their way to buy cheap safari clothing, but the truth is you can just bring what you already own. A few pairs of shorts and at least one bathing suit are essential.

Convertible hiking pants x2

Hiking pants are another must-have in Africa. I suggest bringing two pairs, since you’ll use them all the time on walking safaris and around camp. Hiking pants are great because they’re lightweight and comfortable. Also, hiking pants don’t have to be super-baggy anymore. if you want to stay reasonably fashionable, look for a pant with more of a slim leg.

I suggest bringing hiking pants like the Columbia Silver Ridge that zip off into shorts. Doing so will give you an extra two pairs of shorts! That’s two fewer pairs of regular shorts you need to bring!

Jeans, pajamas, sweatpants, socks, underwear

If you have hiking pants and shorts, you’ll probably just need 1-2 additional pairs of pants. Sweatpants or pajamas are good for sleeping or lounging on the truck. Jeans can be useful when you’re in the cities and want to look more presentable. Take note that in parts of Tanzania and elsewhere, women are expected to dress conservatively, so pants would be advised there. Socks and underwear are no-brainers – bring about a week’s supply of each. You can do laundry at most of your campsites.

Flip flops, casual shoe, hiking/tennis shoe

There’s not a ton of hiking and walking on an overland safari, but you’ll want a comfortable and reliable walking shoe. Flip flops are essential for the beach and for showers. Bring at least one more shoe for regular hanging out around the camp.

chuck-taylors-fish-river-ca

Chuck Taylors are good casual shoes, and they’re thin so they don’t take up much space! They also look cool hanging off Namibia’s Fish River Canyon.

 

Gloves/knit hat

These aren’t necessarily weather-dependent. Because even in summer, some nights and early mornings will get cold. Having a knit hat will help tremendously. Gloves are also useful. Those tent poles can get really cold in the morning when you’re taking them down.

Bandana, buff or ballcap for sun protection

Have some kind of face and head protection from the sun. I went with a ballcap I had purchased in Mexico years ago or $3.

Headphones, sunglasses, ear plugs

These are pretty obvious but it helps to put them on the list so you don’t forget them.

Mosquito repellent

DEET is not a thing in most of Africa. If you want really powerful mosquito repellent – and you do – be sure to bring it from home. I traveled with this Repel 40% DEET repellent. It was highly effective in warding off biting insects, but the bottle wasn’t big enough for the entire two-month journey. If I had to do it again, I’d take two bottles. In addition, Sawyer makes a repellent that you can spray on your clothes, which remains effective for 6 washings.

Malaria pills and prescription medicines

Don’t be like the traveler in our group who decided not to take malaria medication. His plan to go heavy on repellent and hope that he didn’t get bitten by any malaria-carrying mosquitoes backfired. He came down with malaria and had to go to a Zimbabwean hospital. Bring your malaria medication and take it religiously. Malaria is typically not an issue in South Africa and Namibia, but if you continue north or east toward Botswana, Zimbabwe, or Malawi, it will be.

One note: There are pharmacies in most decent-sized African towns and cities, and they carry common medications. I found myself ill in Malawi and was able to get 60 pills of flagyl for a whopping $3 USD at a tiny pharmacy. That same pharmacy had no anti-malaria medication, however.

Sunscreen, deodorant, toiletries bag

You may be able to find these in Africa, but if you have a preferred brand, bring it from home.

Non-Essential Things You May Want to Consider Taking on Your Overland Safari

Clothesline with suction cups

Washing clothes was never a problem on the overland safari. There was plenty of time for that. Drying them was sometimes more difficult, because we didn’t always have the few hours needed for them to fully dry. The most genius solution I saw came from one of our travelers, who had brought a small clothesline with suction cups. He was able to stick this to the truck windows and dry his clothes as we drove between towns. Clever!

hanging-laundry

Most campgrounds do not have laundry hanging contraptions like this, so you may want to bring your own clothesline.

 

Dirty laundry bag

It always helps to keep your old smelly clothes away from the clean ones.

Narrow Padlock

Most overland trucks in Africa have lockers where you can store personal items at your seat or in the back of the vehicle. Unfortunately, the holes on these lockers are so small that a standard combination lock won’t fit. You’ll want to bring a lock with very narrow bars, or even a steel cable. This Lewis N Clark padlock seems ideal because it has a strong steel cable, and it’s also TSA-approved so you can continue using it on your luggage back home after the safari is over.

One somewhat formal outfit

Any overland safari packing list should include one semi-decent outfit for special occasions like birthday dinners, nights out on the town, or the goodbye dinner. A button-down shirt is fine for guys, and a dress works for women. No need to over-complicate things!

Things You Can Buy in Africa

Pillow

I brought an inflatable travel pillow during my overland camp experience, but many of my fellow travelers brought full-size fluffy pillows. I was concerned about space, but there’s plenty of room on the truck for a normal pillow. If I do another safari, I will definitely buy a full-size pillow in Nairobi or Cape Town.

Snacks

There’s no shortage of grocery and convenience stores in Africa, especially in the cities. You’ll have no problem stocking up on snacks like nuts, chips, and granola bars, as well as lunch options like tuna and bread.

grocery-store-botswana

You’ll be surprised at the variety of snacks available throughout Africa, like these quinoa and lentil chips at a Spar grocery in Botswana.

 

Shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, soap

Most basic toiletries can be found in Africa. A few are harder to find, such as body wash. Bring body wash from home if you prefer it to bar soap.

Skip These! Things to Leave at Home During Your Overland Tour

Mosquito net
I was excited to buy a nice mosquito net before my trip, but it turns out I never used it. Most nights during overland travel are spent in tents. The others are in private hotel rooms that have mosquito nets on the beds. Bringing one from home was a waste of valuable space.

Money belt

If you’re on an overland truck with a tour company, a money belt is not necessary. You can store your valuables in the truck’s safe and only take out what you need for a particular day. If you’re walking in a group with your tour-mates, nobody’s going to try to rob you. I brought a money belt with me and found it to be useless. Skip this one, unless you’re traveling by yourself.

Water bottle

If you have a special water bottle you like, feel free to bring it. But I was fine just re-using water bottles from the grocery store. You can’t drink water from the tap here, so your best bet is to buy the big 5-liter water bottles at the store and pour them into 1-liter bottles for daily consumption.

Laptop

There’s no point in bringing a big heavy laptop, especially if you have a smaller tablet you can bring instead. Wifi access in Africa is sparse, and safari trucks get dusty. Your tablet and/or phone can give you all the internet and Facebooking that you need.

Wet wipes

After awhile in the African heat, my wet wipes became just “wipes.” I don’t recommend bringing these from home, but it’s not a bad idea to buy a small package locally when you arrive. Just know that they will dry up after a couple weeks.

And there you have it! Some overland safari packing lists include more items than this, but you’ll be able to find almost anything that’s not on this list once you arrive in Africa. So be smart about your packing, but don’t stress too much about it. An incredible adventure awaits you in Africa!

Do you have any other suggestions for things to bring on an overland safari… or things NOT to bring?

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About Quirky Travel Guy

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based freelance writer & fan of indie rock, road trips, ice cream, squirrels on power lines, runaway shopping carts, and six-way intersections. Looking for a hotel? I always recommend Booking.com where you can easily compare hotel rooms, prices, and availability. Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, which may earn me a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.

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