The Ultimate Safari Packing List for East Africa: What We Packed for 3 Weeks in Africa in a Backpack!

I must confess, I spent far longer thinking about what to pack for our three-week long safari adventure in East Africa than I would like to admit. I was very intentional about every item we packed, because it felt like we had to be. This was my third trip to East Africa and the thing that I love about it is that it is so diverse. There are beaches and mountains and savannahs and everything in between! On this trip, we went gorilla trekking in Uganda, took many safari game drives in parks in both Uganda and Tanzania and spent relaxing beach days in Zanzibar. And we did it all by packing in a backpack since we had several small airplane flights we were told limited bag sizes and weight {more on that!}. I think in the end, with three trips under my belt, that this is the ultimate safari packing list. It will cover everything that you need for your bucket list trip so you will have everything that you need and you will be able to pack in a carry on!


The Ultimate Safari Packing List for East Africa: 
What We Packed for 3 Weeks in Africa in a Backpack!

ultimate safari packing list

Don't miss this post: 5 Ways to Get Over Jet Lag

Packing Tips for East Africa

Before we get into any specifics, here are some tips that I kept in mind while packing and hopefully they will help you too!

Pack Light

Most travel companies will tell you that you should limit your luggage. If you are flying small aircraft for domestic flights, you will be limited to soft-sided luggage with a weight restriction. This weight restriction is usually somewhere around 15kg or 33 pounds or so. This is because many flights on smaller aircraft have weight and balance they need to keep in mind. 

However, we checked into multiple safari link flights and it felt like maybe we were the only ones following this rule. I started asking around, and there is a bit of wiggle room on the weight restrictions. If your bag is overweight, they will often charge you extra. But it's at the discretion of the gate agent. 

I have no regrets about packing light {our bags were around 10 kg}. I felt like we had everything that we needed for three weeks since we packed so strategically. I'm a recovered over packer so it was nice to know that I could pack and travel with a backpack.

These are the 40L packs we purchased. They came with a 15L daypack that detaches
Osprey Farpoint 55L {men's version with day pack}
Osprey Fairview 55L {women's version with day pack}

Create a Neutral Color Palette

Remember Garanimals back in the day? They were basically mix-and-match clothing. One piece could be worn with another and another to create several different outfits. Creating mix-and-match outfits is the way that you will be able to pack light and have everything that you need.

When you think of safari, you automatically think of a color palette don't you? You know, khaki, greens, tans. You want to blend in, not stand out while on safari and it's easy to do if you stick to this neutral color palette.

Avoid white, blues, and blacks.

In East Africa, the Tsetse fly is relentless. Ask me how I know! They bite and are attracted to the colors blue and black. In our safari truck, there was one day that was worse than others. I found that I was getting less bothered and was wearing olive green. The guys were wearing khaki and gray {darker colors!} and were both getting much more bothered. This was obviously a very highly scientific study, but that's what I found. Take that information and do with it what you want.

I did bring a white shirt and a light-colored shirt. Mostly they say not to bring them because they get dirty quickly. That is true. I did a lot of laundry in lodge sinks. There is a lot of dirt on safari! Laundry is often included or offered for about $1 per item, so it's not a huge deal. 

I would say, avoid black items though. This was hard because the majority of my travel items I already own are black. However, in East Africa, black attracts the fly but it also attracts heat and it can get hot!

One last thing to note, in many African countries, camo is illegal for anyone who isn't in the military. You might think it will help you blend in, but honestly, it just makes you stand out. Don't bring your camo clothes on safari or when you visit any country in Africa.

The Ultimate Safari Packing List for Him and Her


Our trip combined several stops and was three weeks long. We started in Uganda and went gorilla trekking, chimp trekking, on a boat safari, and had game drives planned. Then we continued to Tanzania where we went on even more game drives and a hot air balloon ride in the Serengeti. We finished our trip in Zanzibar with some relaxation on the beach. 

If your trip doesn't include all of these activities, there will be a few items you can replace. I'll mention them as I lay out our complete packing list below.

Luggage for Safari

As I mentioned earlier, many of the smaller safari flights have luggage restrictions. Most will tell you that your luggage needs to be soft-sided and you will be limited in weight {usually 15 kgs}. We did a LOT of research for a bag. Mostly because we wanted something we could use for many adventures, not just this one. 

We settled on a backpack style. We found that the Osprey packs were superior to some of the other ones we were looking into. And they had a gender-specific style {men is farpoint, women's is fairview} that are made to fit each body better.

We purchased the 55L Osprey Farpoint and the 55L Osprey Fairview. These are basically the 40L packs with an included 15L day pack that detaches. 

When we checked into our long international flight, we were told we needed to check our bags. Not sure why. I saw plenty of others with much larger bags than ours carrying them on, but it was fine and one less thing to haul around on our long layovers in Doha. We were able to fit everything we needed for an overnight in our day pack with a change of clothes, all of our documents, and our toiletries. 

During our gorilla trekking trip, we took one of our day packs and it held our camera equipment, water, and an extra layer of clothes for each of us. 

If you have a day pack you love, or you want to keep costs down, you could purchase the 40L bag for travel. 
40L Fairview
40L Farpoint

When you are ready, you could purchase the Osprey 13L daypack separately. The day pack actually clips into the backpack, making it really seamless to carry, so I'd recommend getting both, so it's worth the initial splurge so it all comes together.

Day Bag

You're going to want to have a smaller backpack you can easily carry with you on long safari game drives or for hiking days out. Something that can hold water bottles, your camera gear, and any extras you need for the day. As I mentioned, our luggage had day packs that came with them. We used those. 

We also both had belt bags

I have the Lululemon belt bag. This is my go-to bag now, especially for travel. It easily holds a wallet, my passport, sunglasses, and any other smaller items I might need for the day like a charger. 

My husband had this cross-body bag. He usually carries more things, and he found it held more of what he wanted to bring with him {like his RX sunglasses}

Many airlines are sticklers for one personal item, so you want to make sure that any smaller bags can fit inside your personal item as well. The belt bags could easily fit inside our day packs if we needed them to.

Packing Cubes

Packing cubes are essential when packing light. They help you stay organized and make it easy to keep items separated in your duffle or backpack. I've been using packing cubes for years. This was my husband's first trip with them. He might be converted!

They are a nice way to stay organized, especially when you are packing and repacking often.

ultimate safari packing list

Don't miss this: Tips for Surviving a Long-Haul Flight!

Shoes to Pack for Safari

Shoes are often the thing that takes up the most room when you are packing. It's important to only pack what you need. We were gorilla and chimp trekking, so we needed hiking boots. We were glad we had them. However, if you are not hiking, and you only have game drives planned, I don't see hiking boots as a necessity. Save the space and leave those behind!

Hiking Boots

Living in the PNW, we hike a lot. 

For the gals: I did a lot of research and purchased these hiking boots. They are a great entry-level boot that is under $75. A great deal if you can find them on sale around $50 like I did! 
For the guys: These are the hiking boots my husband has

Pro-Tip: Break in your boots before you go! You don't want to pack anything that is going to hurt you and not be comfortable to wear on rotation!

Because my hiking boots were bulky, I planned to wear them on the plane and on travel days. This wasn't always my favorite choice, but it worked.

Note: for trekking {gorilla and chimp}, it's often recommended to bring gaiters. I was under the impression that our travel company had them. They did not. However, we didn't miss them. We simply tucked our pants into our hiking socks and were protected from the stinging ants and other bugs. They don't take up a ton of space, so if you want the extra protection, buy some!

If you are going gorilla trekking, here is everything you need to know before you go!

Closed-Toe Shoes

You'll definitely want to pack a closed-toe shoe. This will likely be an athletic shoe that will match with just about everything you packed. 

For the guys: The Brooks Ghost are my husband's favorite 
For the gals: I like a good white athletic shoe that's easy to clean. 

Pro-Tip: On game drives, you are going to want a closed-toe shoe because those bugs will head straight for your ankles and feet! You can thank me later!

Sandals/Flip Flops

A shoe that you can easily slip on and off is definitely something you are going to want to pack. I'd recommend packing one that you can wear that is "dressy" for when you change out of your safari day clothes and head to dinner at night, but that can double as a beach or pool shoe. 

For the guys: These are a little pricey, but they are the most comfortable sandals out there for the guy who doesn't really like flip-flops! 
For the gals: I packed something similar to these because they looked nice with a dress for dinners, but when we were at the pool or the beach, I wish I had something different that was more waterproof. I was torn on bringing these. I wish I had.

Clothing to Pack for Safari

safari packing list


Packing for anything over a week, and I knew we'd need to do laundry. We had laundry services included during the first half of our trip, and in the second half, laundry was available for a small fee. However, I didn't feel like I needed them to wash my undies, so I often did those in the sink. 

We both packed 5 pairs of underwear. I purchased two pairs of underwear from ExOfficio that are known for their ease of washing and are made for travel. I also brought along my Auden brand from Target, because they wash and dry quickly. They are less expensive. Both brands washed and dried well, so I'd recommend either based on your preference. 

Update: The less expensive Target brand underwear didn't hold up as well after being hand-washed. They were fine on our trip, but since being home, they seem to be all stretched out. 

Pro-Tip: on long international flights, wear a panty liner so you can easily feel fresh when you don't have the opportunity to change your clothes often. 


We packed 2 pairs of hiking socks and 3 pairs of regular quick-drying socks. We both have quickly grown to love the Feetures brand of socks and packed those for our trip because they wash quickly and have a lifetime warranty. These are the socks for hiking, and the athletic socks. 

Pro-Tip: Pack wool! We are slowly transitioning most of our travel items to Merino wool. Not only does it work well in hot or cold climates, it absorbs and wicks away moisture. It also doesn't hold smell like other fabrics, so it's great for travel! We purchased a set of 3 t-shirts for my husband and they are incredibly soft and easy to wear and wash. 

Sports Bras

I didn't pack a single bra on this trip. I did, however, pack 3 sports bras. They wash well and are quite a bit more comfortable on those bumpy African roads.


Pants are a necessity! We wore pants almost every day. There are bugs, and you will want to keep your legs protected.

For the guys: Eddie Bauer Guide Pro Pants were easy to wash in the sink {even super muddy} and they dried in under 12 hours. Mike packed 2 pairs of these in 2 different colors. He also had 1 pair of Lululemon ABC pants {his go-to "nice" pants} to wear to dinner in the evening.
For the gals: I brought 2 pairs of hiking pants, 1 pair of joggers {these also doubled as sleepwear}, 1 pair of wide-leg pants {for dinner}, and 1 jumpsuit. I wore every single one of them multiple times. 

Pro-Tip: pack at least two pairs of waterproof pants and leave the jeans behind! Jeans are heavy and bulky and you aren't going to miss them, even if you do wear jeans every day of your normal life. Trust me.


You'd think that when you travel to a warm climate, that you'd wear shorts quite often. It wasn't necessarily the case, especially for my husband. When he did wear shorts, they were of the swim trunk variety. I had 2 pairs of shorts that I wore, but only in the afternoons and usually only around the lodge at the pool or at the beach.

For the guys: My husband packed 2 pairs and only wore 1 pair once. 
For the gals: I packed a cargo shorts as well as this 2-piece outfit I wore on repeat mostly as a bathing suit cover-up. It was the best purchase I made before our trip.


This is where you will add some diversity to your wardrobe. Shirts don't take up a lot of room and you can pack mix-and-match shirts to wear with the pants and shorts you have packed.

For the guys: These long-sleeve button-ups, have SPF protection and are moisture-wicking. Mike packed 2 of them. He even wore them as sun protection when we were running low on sunscreen and learned that a bottle at the resort was $30!
For the gals: I had 2 long-sleeve button-up shirts. I also had 4 other shirts. I made sure each shirt could be worn with multiple pairs of pants or shorts for added diversity. I purchased this shirt for the trip and it was another good buy that washed up easily and dried quickly.

Pro-Tip: My husband often wears t-shirts under every shirt. He brought several cotton shirts. This is one thing he wanted to change for travel next time. For Christmas this year, he got Unbound Merino t-shirts. They are super soft, dry fast, and are perfect for packing. 

Sweatshirts and Layers

We were told often to bring layers. In the evening and early morning, it could get cold. Any bulky item {like a sweatshirt}, you'll likely need to wear on any travel day, so plan accordingly. 

This is where my husband overpacked a bit. He brought 3 long-sleeve shirts and 1 sweatshirt, and in the end, he would have been fine with 1 long-sleeve shirt and 1 I packed. {I am a superior packer obviously.}

For the guys: 1 sweatshirt and 1 long sleeve shirt
For the gals: 1 sweatshirt and 1 long sleeve shirt

Pro-tip: This is another time when material matters. You likely will be wearing these on repeat without washing them. So high-tech fabrics from companies like Lululemon or merino wool items from companies like Western Rise and Unbound Merino should be high on your list of long-lasting items that will be on strong rotation when you travel.

Coats and Hats

Again, not knowing what the weather would be like, we packed waterproof coats and a beanie as well as a sun hat. I went the traditional route with a safari hat and had zero regrets. It was nice having a large brim hat, especially on those sunny days and also on those days when it rained.

Pro-tip: Pack a waterproof jacket or coat that folds up small and can do double duty. My down coat acted like a blanket for me on a cold airplane and doubled as a pillow when needed.

Dresses and Dress Shirts

This is the one thing I read about and went back and forth on. In the end, I'm glad we had clothes to wear for dinners that weren't the same outfits we would wear on safari game drives. It was nice getting changed out of our dirty dusty clothes and feeling presentable.

For the guys: 2 dress shirts
For the gals: 2 dresses-1 long, 1 short

Pro-tip: I wish I had packed 1 more light dress that could have acted as a beach cover-up as well as something that would have doubled for a dinner dress. 

Note: My travels to Africa in the past have been with the humanitarian group World Vision. If you are doing any type of visiting in a rural location to an NGO or aid group, as is sometimes on the agenda, please consider dressing more conservatively. Africa as a whole is fairly conservative, and women are often expected to wear longer skirts or dresses and to cover their shoulders {no tank tops}. This is something to make note of to be culturally respectful. 

Bathing Suits

We had pools at every lodge we stayed at. Not all of the pools were heated, but it was warm enough to sit by them in the afternoons and enjoy the sun after a game drive.

For the guys: 2 swim suits
For the gals: 3 bathing suits, 2 bikinis that were interchangeable, and 1 one-piece suit

Pro-tip: Safari can be exhausting. We were really glad that we planned in 6 days of relaxation in Zanzibar at the end of our trip. It was a nice way to relax and unwind after a lot of very early mornings and long days on the go.

Extra Items to Consider

Curling Iron-I brought mine and had no regrets! Every location we stayed in had a hair dryer, but I knew I'd feel more put together with my curling iron. I just plugged it into my adapter, no converter needed.
Water Bottle-our travel company actually gave us one when we arrived, so we really didn't need to pack one, but it was nice to have!
Binoculars-I didn't find these necessary. Our guide had a pair that was shared in the safari truck. Otherwise, the zoom lens on our camera often worked just fine!

Pro-tip: There are a lot of open-air drives with your hair flying. I am glad I had hair bands I wore on my wrist like a bracelet. I often would pull my hair back on drives. I also had a scarf I wore in my hair a few times, but also around my neck. It's helpful if you are gorilla or chimp trekking, as those bugs find a way to burrow in when there is any exposed skin. I also had a headband to pull my hair back and keep it out of my face.


Technology and Electronic Items to Pack

It's hard to escape the need for technology and electronics, even in the middle of Africa! These are some items you're going to be glad you had!

Travel Adaptor {UK version works for East Africa} Pack 1 for each person

Power Bank-our safari truck had charging ports, but they didn't always work. It was nice to make sure I always had a full battery in my phone since you are using it often.


I know you've got a camera on your phone, but there is something about being on safari that automatically makes everyone think they are the next National Geographic photographer. We purchased a used DSLR before our trip and I'm so glad we had it. We packed 2 lenses, and we used the zoom lens most often. Don't forget your camera charger and extra memory cards.

Do You Really Need a DSLR on Safari? Can't I Just Use My Phone?


I shoot MOST of my life on my phone. I had a DSLR I used to use for content creation but in the past five years or so, my phone has replaced my need for my "big" camera. I'm not a photographer. For most of life, your phone is fine. But safari is different. We spotted lots of amazing animals that my phone just couldn't capture. Even with the zoom. Photos on my camera when I tried to zoom got grainy and you don't want that!

Your phone is nice to have for immediate access. It's great for animals that are close enough to you. But you won't always see an animal on the road. Most of the National Parks have restrictions and will fine drivers who drive off of the road. So there will be animals that you just won't be able to capture with a phone. You can absolutely just enjoy that memory and not take a photo of it. 

Are there people who go on safari with just their phones? Yes! 

But you might regret not having the opportunity to capture animals the way you want to, and that will likely require a DSLR, even if you are just using it in automatic mode.

Here's a little comparison of what I captured on my iPhone, and what my husband captured on the DSLR. 

We spotted a leopard that was sitting in front of a dead and fallen tree. I attempted to get a photo with my iPhone, but couldn't even capture it because of the distance away. If I zoomed in, the photo got grainy and the object was a blur. You couldn't even tell that it was a leopard. 

This wasn't an isolated instance. There were multiple times this happened. Safari is often a bucket list trip. Don't miss out on having those memories and capturing the experience because you don't have the right equipment. 

do you really need a camera for safari in africa

Pro-tip: Have one person on camera duty, the other capturing phone pictures and video, it really does help alleviate the urgency to get all the shots.  

Tripod-I don't travel without my tripod now. I didn't bring it on game drives often, but I did use it around the lodge and at the resort so we could get pictures of just the two of us together. 

Charging cords for any of your electronics


This was one of the things I stressed out about the most! There aren't as many options to stop at your local drugstore if you run out of anything, so you want to make sure you bring the essentials you will need. Since we were traveling for 3 weeks, I also needed to make sure I had enough of all the items too. 

Shampoo/Conditioner-I always pack my favorites, because you can't be so sure what you will run into at the lodges/resorts. I'm glad I did.

Sink Laundry Detergent-I didn't pack this, but wish I had. I just used soap from the lodge.

Pro-tip: I'm a woman in mid-life, and I knew if I was going to pack minimal makeup, I'd need to bring good skincare with me. I was right. No regrets.

Daily Facial Sunscreen-I used Trader Joe's
Firma-Bright-this is my magic potion for giving a dewy glow {I transferred it to a much smaller sample size bottle I had kept}
Power Lift-This is my other favorite moisturizer that helps my makeup glide on! {I also transferred this to a smaller sample-size bottle I kept}

Makeup-I packed foundation, concealer, powder, blush, eyeshadow, eyeliner, and mascara
Hair ties/bobby pins
Nail file
Lip Balm {with SPF}
Female hygiene items {options are hard to come by in Africa!}

In past years, I've brought travel toilet paper. I also traveled to more remote areas that weren't quite as touristy as a safari is. I found all of the restrooms I used well-stocked. I only used one squat toilet and that was at a ranger station when we were chimp trekking. Otherwise, this was the most pleasant bathroom experience I had while traveling in Africa.

Note: the one thing I would consider bringing if I were to do it again would be a microfiber hand towel. Hear me out. There were sinks with running water and soap {usually}, but if you wanted to dry your hands, they typically offered toilet paper. If you've ever tried to wipe your hands dry with toilet paper, it's not good. Just having a small hand towel in our day pack would have made things more comfortable. But it's not a necessity!

I'm a contact lens wearer, so I also brought my glasses, extra contacts, saline solution, and a case.
Mike is a baldie, so he knew he'd need to shave his head while we were traveling. He brought his hair clippers. There were spa services offered at several of the locations, but I never once saw barber services, so I'm glad we didn't rely on that.



We often travel with a first aid kit. We were very intentional about what items we packed in it for this trip. This is what we brought and used, however, if there is something you use regularly, pack those items. OTC medications are hard to come by! 

Malaria Pills {ask your doctor}
Bug Spray {this one came highly recommended for bugs!}
Citronella Essential Oils {I thought this worked great until I got to Zanzibar!}
Cipro {this is an RX I have brought every time I go out of the country for traveler's diarrhea and thankfully I've never needed it, but the one time I don't get the pills, I'm sure I'll need it!}
Hand sanitizer {this is my favorite one and it smells good!}
Itch Cream {I got the worst bites in Zanzibar and couldn't believe I hadn't packed any!}
Car sickness medication {look for the non-drowsy kind!}
Sunscreen {we packed a small bottle, and rarely used it for the first part of our trip, but we started rationing it while we were in Zanzibar and wish we had packed more because it's hard to find {and very expensive!} in Africa!}

Pro-tip: we went through most of our Tylenol and Ibuprofen. Probably because we are old, but we definitely felt a lot of the bumps and long drives. Sunscreen is VERY hard to come by, so make sure you bring enough. We really only needed it on the beach vacation portion of our trip. Otherwise, we were covered on game drives with our UVF shirts and pants.

Travel Documents

There are travel documents you'll need to have printed and with you. 

Travel Insurance is required by most travel companies in Africa. Make sure you have the information easy to access in case you need it.
Passport {I always keep a photocopy of my passport on my phone as well}
Visa Documents-this was new since my last visit and needs to be completed prior to arriving in the country. Have them printed, you will be asked for them! 
Yellow Fever Card-I slip mine inside my passport-they will ask for it, it is required!
Pen-there will be forms to fill out and there are never pens when you need them!
US Dollars-we didn't change over any of our money. US dollars are accepted everywhere, especially as tips. 
Return Flight Information-this is something that is asked for {you need to submit a copy} when you process your visa. Have the information easy to access just in case. 


Safaris are very casual and you'll find that comfort is key. If you stick close to this ultimate packing list, you'll likely have everything that you need! And you'll be able to pack it all in a carry-on suitcase! Enjoy your trip! It's such an epic experience.

Don't miss this post: Best Tips to Know Before Traveling Out of the Country For the First Time

disclaimer: this post may have affiliate links. By clicking on them and purchasing through them, I may receive a small commission. These small purchases help me to continue to keep writing content and creating at Rachel Teodoro. Thank you!

No comments

Powered by Blogger.