The type of safari clothing you decide to pack for your safari will depend on a number of things, including the destination, time of year and what type of safari you’re going on. However, there are some universal principles of what to wear on safari. Click below to go straight to the most relevant section, or scroll to read the whole safari clothing article:
The best colour to wear on safari
The best materials for safari clothes
Think layers for your safari attire
Essential safari clothing items
What not to wear on safari
What’s the best colour to wear on safari?
The basic rule of suitable colours for safari clothes is to go neutral. When trying to spot wildlife you’ll have the best chance if you blend in as much as possible with your surroundings, and bright colours will make you conspicuous to animals – particularly if you’re on a walking safari.
Ideal colours for safari wear are natural, such as:
• Light Browns
Whilst any other neutral colours are fine too, there are a number of colours you should definitely make sure you don’t wear on safari wear:
Camouflage clothing is a big no-no, and in some African countries it’s actually illegal, so leave the camouflage safari clothing at home!
White and very pale coloured clothes show up the dust, so are best kept for evening wear.
Dark blue and black colours attract insects and mosquitos, which can carry malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever – some of the most serious health risks you might encounter on safari.
Ideal safari clothing material
The ideal material for safari clothing is something that’s lightweight & breathable and makes minimal noise whilst you’re moving. Simple cotton works best for safari shirts and trousers, though there are increasing numbers of quality modern man-made materials that work just as well as cotton and are even more durable.
Think layers for safari wear
Packing lightweight safari wear has the benefit of enabling you to layer up or down according to need. Africa is a continent of extremes – it can be extremely cold through the night into the early morning and swelteringly hot by the middle of the day.
As such it’s a good idea to take multiple layers of safari clothing so you can add and remove layers as required – including at least one warm layer like a sweatshirt, fleece, or safari jacket. This is particularly important if you’re going to be doing any early morning safaris in an open-sided vehicle (though your lodge will likely provide blankets for early morning game drives).
Essential safari clothing items
Less is more, and most camps and lodges have same-day laundry services, so bear this in mind before packing a huge suitcase full of safari clothes! At a minimum you will need:
A few comfortable long-sleeved shirts and long-sleeved t-shirts. Long-sleeved safari shirts have the advantage of offering protection from the sun and insects, but also being able to roll the sleeves up if it gets too hot. Shirts with a collar to protect the neck from the harsh sun are advisable, as are shirts with pockets to store your bits and pieces (see our article on top things to take on safariif you’re after useful things to fill your pockets with!).
Trousers & shorts
A pair of comfortable long trousers or two, and a pair of shorts. Combat style trousers and shorts are ideal safari gear as they have several pockets, great for storing compact binoculars, suncream, camera etc. Long trousers have the benefit of keeping you warm and protecting you from the sun in the day and mosquito bites on evening and night game drives.
Safari jacket or fleece
Most game drives set off when wildlife is most active – just before sunrise, or late afternoon/early evening. It can get pretty chilly at these times, so some sort of safari jacket or fleece is advisable as part of your safari wardrobe. A safari jacket has the advantage of offering yet more pockets for storing your safari accessories, whilst fleeces dry very quickly. Read our take here on the different types of safari jackets.
The type of footwear required to wear on safari really depends on what type of safari you’re planning. For a standard game drive or self-drive safaris, special safari footwear isn’t necessary. You’ll be climbing in and out of safari jeeps and maybe a little walking around the bush, so comfortable trainers will work fine.
For more specialist safaris such as gorilla safaris you’ll be trudging through thick, uneven rainforest, so rugged Gortex boots are ideal. For any kind of walking safari, it’s advisable to have some sort of hiking boots that cover your ankles – for protection from both bush and snakes. It’s also worth considering a small investment in some hiking specialist insoles to provide extra comfort.
Whilst not essential safari wear, any hat or cap is better than none at all. It will give you protection from the sun, and also shield your eyes from the glare – meaning potentially better wildlife spotting opportunities. The ideal hat is a wide-brimmed safari hat to offer maximum protection. Read our take here on the very best safari hats.
The African sun can offer a surprising amount of harsh glare, so you won’t want to forget sunglasses as part of your safari attire. A pair of polarized wrap-around sunglasses will give you protection from both the glare and the dust that’s a feature of many game drives, meaning more chance of spotting that hiding leopard!
When considering evening safari wear, bear in mind that the days of jackets and ties at the dinner table are long gone. Most safari lodges have relaxed dress codes for dinner so there’s no need to take any formal safari clothes with you.
You’ll want to wash and change after a hard and dusty day’s game viewing, but a pair of jeans or trousers and a long-sleeved shirt will suffice, perhaps along with a warm fleece or safari jacket to ward off the night-time chill. Light colours are recommended for evenings so you don’t attract mosquitoes.
Be sure to check out whether your lodge has a swimming pool and if so, don’t forget to pack some safari-chic swimwear. A dip between game drives during the middle of the day is a great way to contemplate your wildlife viewings (past and future!) whilst working the tan.
What not to wear on safari
The above information should give you a good overview of what safari clothes to take with you, but just in case you’re still in any doubt, here’s a list of the clothes you should absolutely not take with you on safari:
A camouflage safari outfit. In a number of African countries, you can actually be arrested for wearing army-style camouflage clothes that could be confused with military wear. Best to avoid at all costs.
Overly thick fleeces and jackets. Temperatures on safari change depending on the time of day, where you are and what altitude you’re at… so layered clothing is ideal to add or remove as the temperature requires.
Heavy walking boots. Unless you’re planning to do some serious hiking a pair of trainers will do for walking around camp and hopping in and out of your jeep.
Black and blue clothing. East Africa is home to the tsetse fly which is attracted to dark colors and packs a nasty bite – best avoided by wearing lighter colours.
Bright clothing. Don’t draw attention to yourself if you want the best chance of spotting wildlife.
Tuxedos & ballgowns. Yes, people do! Most safari lodges have a very relaxed dress code for dinner, and whilst you will want to wash and change after a hard day game viewing you won’t need to dress over-formally for any evening activities.
Packing it all in one large suitcase. Limit the risk of all of your luggage going missing or being stolen on the flight by packing some essentials – and one safari outfit – in your hand luggage.