Thank you for using our safari packing list for self-drive clients renting a normal 4x2 car for their safari. We are confident that, by following this list and if you take the time to read our self-drive safari tips below, you will get the most out of your incredible safari experience.
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For more information on this safari packing list for 4x2 self-drive safaris, please use the links below:
⊙ This is a safari packing list for self-drive safaris usually undertaken as a part of a longer self-drive holiday - and usually in South Africa or Namibia. If this is the type of safari you are going on, then you would usually be renting a normal (4x2) hatchback or sedan with the intention of staying on graded or tarred park roads. On this type of holiday, for the safari portion, you will be visiting a national park or game reserve as a part of the itinerary with accommodation just outside of the wildlife reserve in a lodge or within the wildlife reserve in chalets or pre-erected safari tents. You will be taking yourself on game drives in your rental car, without a guide.
⊙ This safari packing list is based on the description above and the following points:
1. You will not be allowed to drive off road, nor leave the demarcated roads in the wildlife reserve. Unlike private reserves and concessions where the guide is able to get you closer to the wildlife you are viewing, you may be viewing game which is some distance away from the roads. This makes packing two things important to enhance your experience: take a pair of high quality binoculars with at least 10 times magnification and, for photography, a lens of about 200 to 300mm focal length if you use SLRs. Alternatively, you could take a product such as the iPhone adaptor for Swarovski binoculars.
As you may be unfamiliar with animal behaviour, we also recommend that you do not try to get too close to larger species of mammals. Here again, using a good pair of binoculars and camera will not only allow you to keep your distance from larger mammals, but also allow you to watch their natural behaviour. Often, you will be sharing sightings with other self-driving safari-goers and here too a good lens for photography will allow you to crop out other vehicles at sightings which, in the larger reserves over busy periods, may become congested.
2. You will be within a car at all times while viewing game, which makes the colour of the clothing you wear less important. While it is always fun to dress for the occasion and wear safari clothing (we do), strictly speaking, it is fine to wear your everyday clothing.
3. For each and every safari, we highly recommend that our clients go walking with a guide and this type of safari is no exception to this advice. Just about all wildlife reserves offer shorter morning walks and you really should do at least one while in Africa. For this experience, we do recommend that you pack one suitable safari-coloured shirt, one pair of safari trousers, and comfortable walking shoes and socks.
4. There will still be strong sun and biting insects too. Pack the best possible sunscreen, hat, and insect repellent. Many camps, hotels, and lodges also have swimming pools and lovely areas to relax in the sun between your self-drive game drives.
5. When self-driving, you will be inside a closed car and so you are able to control the temperature with the air-conditioning (you should definitely rent a car with air-conditioning) much more than on an open Land Rover. Having said that, you still want to have the windows open to smell and hear Africa. You may miss the trumpet of an elephant or rasp of a leopard if your windows are closed and sound is often what gives animals away. As a result, take a warm layer for the chill of early mornings and evenings.
6. In addition to guided walks, we recommend a guided game drive with the wildlife reserve - most have them on offer. For this, the warm layer as above will come in handy. Wearing safari-coloured clothing is a good idea too, as the vehicles are often open to the elements.
7. Self-drive means self-guided, so you will be relying on yourselves to work out which species you are viewing and for interesting information on what you are seeing. It is for this reason that we have included safari books in our list. Select books which are appropriate to the region you are visiting - usually divided into southern and eastern Africa. Take a book on mammals and a book on birds.
⊙ This packing list calculates the total number of items you will require for the number of men, women, and children you have indicated above. Simply divide by the number of men, women, and children should you wish to work out the number of items required on a per person basis or, of course, set the number to one for each in the form above.
⊙ Please also note that, if your safari is longer than 12 days - and if you will have a laundry service available on your safari - you should only take the recommended number of items for a 12-day safari or you will run out of space in your safari luggage.
⊙ To find out what our experts have to say about each recommended item, please simply click on "more info" and following the advice link. We have also included accessories you may need for add-on safari activities such as gorilla safaris, plus everything else you will need to remember to pack in your bag.
2. Safari clothing which offers a built-in insect defence. Insist on seeing proof that the built-in anti-insect treatment has been proven to work by asking to see the laboratory test results;
3. Safari clothing that offers protection from the sun. This will be shown as an SPF rating. 50+ is the highest rating available today;
4. Safari clothing that is lightweight, but which also has built-in ripstop for added strength;
5. As we all prefer to smell fresh, select safari clothing that uses an anti-microbial or anti-bacterial fabric. This also means that you will be able to wear the same safari clothing for longer and so pack less and travel lighter.
6. Add to the protective performance of the safari clothing which you take on safari by packing a wide-brimmed, packable safari hat, an effective sunscreen, and insect repellent which has been proven to work to spray onto your safari clothing, safari hat, and skin.
Use our safari clothing packing advice guide image above for quick, handy tips on what clothing to pack for your safari. Click on the image or click here to view a larger version of the image.
1. Clearance is best. When selecting your rental car, we recommend opting for a car with higher clearance than a normal hatchback or sedan. While it depends on local conditions, you may miss out on sightings in a lower car as you wont be able to see over tall grass and shrubs. The other benefit of increased clearance is that you will be able to go down the rougher tracks and roads on the reserve. Please note that many reserves also have exciting 4x4 trails for you to explore and so, if you are keen for a bit more self-drive adventure, then it may be worth looking into an all-wheel drive car too. We are not saying that you wont have a great self-drive safari in a smaller, lower car. We just think that you will have a better experience in a taller car.
2. In order to really experience the sights, smells, and sounds of the bush, drive with your window down. This also helps when listening out for animals - which we go into more detail about further down this page. In winter, wear a beanie and warm safari gear to stay warm - and use the car's heater too. In summer, wear cooler safari clothing and use the air-conditioning.
3. Take a good flask so that you can make your coffee the night before and so do not delay the start of your morning drive. We use Stanley flasks on our self-drive safaris and expeditions and they keep coffee nice and hot overnight.
4. Pack yummy snacks. For biscuits, we prefer Ouma rusks (these need to be dunked in coffee, tea, or hot chocolate), Romany Creams, and Nuttikrusts. For sweet snacks, South Africa does have Lindt available and lots of varieties in chocolates and sweets. For savoury snacks, the local favourite available from most supermarkets and all butcheries is called 'biltong' and is dried meat, plus there are lots of excellent healthy and not-too-healthy crisps and snacks available from all supermarkets. For drinks, there are lots of great wines and beers available, especially in South Africa, and coffee culture has taken off too, so you will have lots of brands to choose from in the shops. A local favourite for early mornings is the hot chocolate made by Nestle which comes in a red container. Remember to buy a re-usable shopping bag when you first go shopping to avoid using plastic.
1. Aim to view animals behaving naturally. If you drive too close to an animal, then it will start to react to you. Not only will this prevent you viewing natural behaviour (which is what you came all this way to see) but, with larger mammals, you could place yourself in danger (and, by proxy, you will put the animal in danger too if they cause you any damage). Use binoculars to get closer; not your car. Respect all wildlife at all times and give them the space they need to relax. As humans, we do not enjoy people invading our private space and neither do wild animals.
2. Be patient, tread gently. If you are trying to get somewhere and a herd of buffalo are crossing the road in front of you, take out your camera, relax, take photos, and wait for them to pass. Do not try to nudge through them nor chase them away. The same is to be said for photographing animals. Please do not try to get their attention by hitting the side of your car, whistling, or shouting just to get the right photograph. Leave them be and enjoy watching them behaving as they should be behaving - naturally.
3. Elephants are much bigger than you and your car, so treat them with extra respect. Give elephants more space than you would other species (they are big and so you don't need to try get close for a photograph). Be extra careful around breeding herds as they are matriarchal and, while often gentle and beautiful to watch the herd dynamics from a good distance - leaving them undisturbed - hell hath no fury like a matriarch or mother elephant should she feel as though you are disturbing or endangering her herd. Also keep an eye out for teenage elephants (elephants have pretty much the same stages as humans and behave in similar ways at similar stages) and especially young bulls. They are testing their strength and starting to realise just how big and strong they are, so may be a little more restless than the rest of the herd and come forward to challenge you.
Mature bulls are usually on their own or in smaller bachelor herds. Often, you will see a big bull with a younger 'askari' who - so the theory goes - is sticking with the bigger bull to learn the tricks of the elephant bull trade. Generally, bulls are more relaxed than the breeding herds but - and this is an elephant-sized "but" - the bulls go into musth, which is an increase in their reproductive hormones with as high as a six times' increase in testosterone. They are looking to challenge just about anything which crosses their path - including other elephant, other mammals, and you in your small rental car. You will spot these bulls as they are usually urinating on themselves and have a heavier than usual discharge (looks like a big wet patch) from the temporal glands. Give musth bulls a wide berth.
For all elephant sightings, we recommend that you have a clear road in front of you and avoid being hemmed in by a herd or group of bulls. One simple trick is to reverse slowly when you are setting yourself up for a sighting - or, if you see elephant approaching from either side of the road, either stop well before them or, if you have time, drive past them so that they cross behind you.
4. In unfenced camps at night, use a torch. In fact, whether the camp is fenced or not, always use a torch. Always. Shine on the ground in front of where you are walking and around you into the bush. Yes, you should also shine behind you every few steps. This isn't meant to make anyone nervous. It is just good practice to spot any wildlife in camp in good time. Everyone from the gnarliest ranger to wizened old tracker does this and so should you. It is also fun spotting wildlife at night. Remember not to shine on diurnal (daytime) animals and prey species such as antelope.
5. Do not feed wild animals, nor leave food lying around. Fed animals become problem animals and usually have to be destroyed by the staff at the wildlife reserve. They also become dangerous when they associate humans with food and try to get food from you, your car, or your lunchbox - which is not much fun when it is an elephant, big male baboon, or hyena.
6. Tourists behaving badly. Please always be sensitive and use your intuition - guided by our tips - when self-driving on safari. Please do not follow the herd. Many people have no clue as to how to behave in a sensitive manner on game drives and do not pay heed to the space required by animals to feel comfortable. We have been on self-drive safaris in places like Kruger before where, in a hurry, other tourists have sent entire herds of 300 buffalo stampeding and chased hyena and lion off the road in trying to get too close for a better shot. Assume you are a guest of the animals and are in their living room for the first time and show them the respect they deserve. We have no way of knowing what the knock-on effect of a stampeding herd of buffalo may be. A calf could trip and fall and be hurt or opportunistic predators may seek to make use of the sudden break in herd formation. Creating chaos in herds is their bread-and-butter when hunting. Lets not do it for them.
The guide's guide to game drives for your self-drive safari
These tips should improve your enjoyment of your self-drive safari and increase your chances of seeing wildlife.
1. Stop and listen.
- When looking for elephants: Elephants have padded feet (and, in essence, walk on the tips of their toes) and so walk quietly. They do not break branches quietly, however. If you think elephants are close by, listen out for breaking branches. They also emit a long rumbling sound which often you will hear before seeing them. This is the elephant communicating using infra-sound.
- If looking for big cats, in the early mornings, late afternoons, and through the night, listen our for the call of lion and leopard. Lion - as you no doubt know - roar; while leopard make a rasping sound like a saw being pulled through wood back and forth. Cheetah, which are diurnal, hardly make a sound at all, but do have a high-pitched bird-like call when contact calling another cheetah. However, the big key for predators isn't the sounds they make at all, but rather the alarm calls made by other animals when they see predators. Common examples would be impala making a "cha-cha-cha" sound (although they make a similar sound when rutting), baboons, kudu, and nyala barking, and monkeys such as vervet monkeys alarming (we don't know how to write out what the sound sounds like). It is our aim over time to add in these sounds, but you should be able to find examples of all these sounds on social media video sharing sites.
- Watch what other animals are doing. If you have arrived in a scene on safari - complete with dust and the sound of the wheels crunching on the gravel road - and none of the antelope in front of you are looking at you but are all staring in another direction - then there may be a predator about which is hunting. We have spotted wild dog, which is one of the more endangered animals in Africa, in just this way when a lone impala ram, standing right next to the road didn't so much as give us a second look. By working out where he was looking, we used our binoculars and scanned the general area. Sure enough, we saw wild dog trotting along towards us. We then spent the best part of an hour with the dogs as they trotted backwards and forwards as they are prone to do - and then down the road in front of us. If we had ignored the fact that the impala was not looking at us, then we would have missed what was a magical hour completely.
2. Look for tracks.
(DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR CAR - test that fresh by prodding the soil with the end of a stick or the end of your walking stick to compare the track to the mark you have made to see how fresh it is. Think about whether it has been windy or rained recently and that will give you an idea of when the track was placed by the animal.
3. Use higher ground to slowly scan the area around you.
4. Drive slowly so that you do not miss the signs.
5. Animals usually take the path of least resistance, which explains why you will often see them on roads.
If a predator disappears into a thicket, look to see if there are any game trails or drainage lines which the predator is likely to follow to more easily get to where he or she is going. Work out where it comes back towards the road and go there to wait for the predator to (hopefully) re-appear.
6. Look through the bush; not at it.
Seek out paths which lead away from the road you're on and look down them to see deeper into the bush. Often, a flick of a tail or ear can alert you to the presence of otherwise well-camouflaged wildlife.
7. Some birds are associated with larger mammals.
The examples which first come to mind are cattle egrets and red- and yellow-billed ox-peckers which may fly up from the ground or the backs of a large mammals when disturbed. Look to where the bird has flown from (or to where it lands) and you may spot antelope or larger mammals such as rhino, giraffe, and buffalo.
Activities we highly recommend to add to your self-drive safari experience
1. First on our list is always walking. You will have spent many hours in your car getting to the reserve and even more hours viewing wildlife. While this is a fantastic way to experience the bush and you will enjoy setting your own pace, walking is the fifth element on safari and adds to understanding and appreciation of the wonders of the wilds immeasurably. Either hire a guide or join one of the scheduled walks which are usually available in most reserves and national parks. Camp reception should be able to assist with that.
2. Feeling intrepid? Even higher on our list of walking recommendations is to go on a multi-day guided walking safari. These usually last 2 to 4 nights and are available in most South African national parks. Simply put, you will have experiences which you will never have from a car and it is an affordable way to add real depth to your safari. In places such as the Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, these are branded as Wilderness Trails and should be booked well in advance as they are very popular.
3. Night drives and guided game drives. These are usually available from most camps within national parks and game reserves. Our advice, as with the walking, is to chat to the receptionists in the camp as soon as you arrive to find out what is available and to book the activities which appeal to you. As you are not permitted to self-drive after dark in any park in Africa on your own, night drives are a great way to experience the wilds at night and view nocturnal wildlife. A note on this: we would not recommend that you do this as your first game drive as your guide will not be able to shine on diurnal species such as antelope, giraffe, zebra, elephant, and so on. Rather do a full day of self-drive game drives to see these species and then go on a night drive. A quick tip: even though you should take books to assist you with species identification and information while on your self-drive safari, it is a good idea to make a list of species which you are have not been able to identify to ask the guide on the guided walk or game drive.
2 to 3 months before departure
⊙ Visa: If you require a visa and want to get it beforehand, make sure that you apply for the visa as soon as possible.
⊙ Passport: Check that your passport has sufficient pages as most African countries require two blank pages or more, and that your passport does not expire within 6 months. Apply for new passport if needs be.
⊙ Medication: Ensure that you visit your doctor and tell him where you are going. He will then advise you on malaria prophylactics, and other injections or medication that is necessary for your trip
8 Weeks Prior to Departure
⊙ Pay: Make sure that you have settled your balance due for your holiday with your tour operator.
⊙ Safari supplies: This is a good time to also contact The Safari Store for advice on what to pack, and to obtain your safari essentials (as above) in good time.
⊙ Re-confirm: If travelling independently, you must go through your itinerary, check that all flight times (including dates) coincide with your holiday dates, and contact all lodges, camps, hotels, transfer, private guides & car hire companies to re-confirm your holiday details
⊙ Pets, houses etc: Make sure you have made arrangements for your pets, booked a house sitter, and any other arrangements you may need to make for post, services and so forth.
4 Weeks Prior to Departure:
⊙ Departure-day planning: A smooth departure day takes 3/4 of the stress out of your holiday. Make sure that you arrange parking at the airport, start looking into taxis or trains, and book where necessary.
⊙ Travel money: Work out what you are going to do to pay for tips, purchases, extra tours etc while travelling.Arrange cash, credit & debit cards, travellers cheques accordingly (travellers cheques tend to be a pain to use in most parts of Africa - cash and credit cards are best! Take small denominations in cash in US Dollars - US$1, 5, 10 & 20 for tips and sundry purchases).
1 to 2 Weeks Prior to Departure
⊙ Pack: If you are organised, this is a good time to start packing for your trip. Ensure that you have all the correct safari clothing and luggage from The Safari Store. If you require any further supplies, contact The Safari Store or use the links at the top of this page to shop with us online. Also work out what you are taking as hand luggage, and what will go into the hold.
⊙ Check: Check again that you have your passport with visa, correct travel documentation, travel vouchers, confirmed itinerary, tickets, etc
⊙ Tell: Tell your bank & credit card provider that you are going away so they know to expect transactions from outside your home country; Let your mobile phone company know too, and set up your preferred setting for roaming; Remind friends and family that you are going away - passing on your itinerary, with hotel/lodge/camp contact details to people involved in managing your affairs while you are away is also a good idea.
⊙ Confirm: Taxis, train times, pet & house sitters. This may also be a good time to check on exchange rates for the country you are going to.
⊙ Nice & relaxed: With the proper preparation this should be as simple as picking up your luggage and travel documents, locking the front door, jumping into your taxi, or walking to the train station, checking in and taking off. Allowing yourself sufficient time to check in at the airport is vital in reducing the stress of travel. Arrive early, rather than late.
You should, of course, pack shoes and socks for your child's safari but, as children are usually not allowed to walk in the bush on safari until they are 12 years of age, we have not listed these as essentially safari in nature. While it is always best to opt for safari-coloured shoes and socks, it is not essential to make the socks blister-free or the shoes hardy walking shoes as your kids will mostly just wear them around camp and on game drives. We do recommend that you pack closed shoes, however, to keep their feet protected from thorns and any creepy crawlies which they may encounter on your safari.
Packing goods books and maps adds depth and further understanding to your safari experience. While we do take take our phone loaded with apps on safari with us, nothing beats a physical book.
Click here to view our range of Safari Books
Always take spare batteries and make sure you pack chargers for your smartphone, torch, camera, laptop, tablet computers, and any other electronic devices. Our rule of thumb is to always take more batteries than you think you will need - and the same is true for memory cards for your photographic devices. It would be very sad to run out of power and memory on your camera halfway through your safari. Also investigate what power source will be available to you for charging devices while you are on safari.
3 x Anti-chafe tights for walking & active safaris
Should you decide to go on a long walk as part of your self-drive safari then bad chafing - as with bad blisters - may make your walking or active safari very uncomfortable. We recommend that you wear a pair of anti-chafe running tights under your safari trousers or safari shorts just to make sure that your inner thighs do not chafe.
For water-based safaris such as canoe safaris, boating safaris, green-season safaris, and dugout/mekoro safaris, pack your valuables into one of our smaller safari bags and then pack that into a waterproof dry-bag to keep your essential safari gear dry. We recommend that you first test your dry-bag by filling it with tissue paper, closing it, and submerging it under water in your bath or a pool. If the tissue gets wet, then try re-sealing your dry-bag or get a better dry-bag.
3 x Pair of ankle gaiters for walking safaris
9 x Non-safari shirts for travel and around the camp
While safari-coloured clothing is ideal to wear when travelling to your safari and relaxing around camp, sometimes nothing beats a crisp white shirt to wear around camp or to dinner at night. When our founder, Steve, used to work as a safari guide, this is exactly what the guiding team used to do for dinner. After a long hot day in the sun, take a long bath or refreshing shower and put on a crisp white shirt or a stylish blue travel shirt for the evening to look and feel great.
While safari clothing doubles well as everyday clothing to wear when you travel and relax around the camp in the evenings and during the day, pack casual shirts and/or t-shirts if space allows. Also see "non-safari shirts for travel and around the camp" on this packing list.
A safari-coloured kikoy is very useful to pack for your safari simply as they are very versatile. Wear your kikoy as a scarf, on your head, or even as a skirt or dress. They are very useful for around the pool too.
If your safari camp or lodge has a gym, then by all means pack your gym clothing to stay fit on safari - and to counter all that delicious safari food and drink you will be served.
If you enjoy running, then some lodges may be able to take you for a run with one of their fitter guides - at your own risk of course. The way this would usually work is that you would drive in a safari 4x4 game-viewer to a big open plain or to the airstrip and then your guide would run with you while someone drives the safari 4x4 game-viewer close behind you.
Be sure to drink lots of water whenever you exercise in Africa as safari areas are often high above sea level and, if you exercise at midday, then pretty hot too. It is also a good idea to take some rehydration sachets or drink tea before and after exercising.
Seasonal Safari Clothing To Pack
3 x Waterproof Safari Jacket for the rainy season
Read our expert advice on why you may need a waterproof safari layer for your safari, when it rains in Africa. View our range of waterproof safari layers for men, women, and kids.
Pack your health card and travel insurance details for your safari - and let your health insurer know that you are travelling to Africa. They will usually ask you for the dates for your trip too. Double check that you are covered for repatriation and medical expenses should anything go wrong while you are on safari.
We prefer to use credit cards where possible, but taking some smaller denominations of US dollars is always a good idea for tipping and any emergencies. Opt for mostly US$5, $10, and $20 notes with a few $50 notes just in case. Do not travel with large sums of money, however, and note that many countries in Africa have cash points (ATMs) where you will be able to withdraw local currency too. Again, however, don't overdraw as you do not want to be heading home with a wallet full of a currency you cannot use.
Prescription Glasses & Hard Glasses Case
It would be a pity to travel all the way to Africa but forget to pack your glasses. Pack them in a hard suitcase so that they outlast even the roughest safari transfer or game drive - and also pack an extra emergency pair just in case you drop yours.
In our interview with Steve Backshall, he rated super glue as the one thing he won't leave home without: "I always carry superglue. That's my number one tip because it's fantastic for covering up blisters, for covering quite decent sized wounds - it can be used as a really good dressing - and then obviously you can use it to stick your fingers to your face if you feel like it or stick bits of your gear together or stick the sole of your boot back on if it's coming off".
Note: we are not so sure about the advice to use it as a dressing, so please do not do this. Rather get your lodge to assist you with their full medical aid kit.
While some of our safari shirts feature silverplus technology which will keep your shirt smelling fresh for longer - always take deodorant. We usually pack roll-on simply as it lasts so long and is less bulky.
This is something we always take with us as it is surprisingly useful beyond being great from getting stuff out from between your teeth - it can be used as emergency twine too for repairing safari clothing, safari luggage and so on.