The Best Gear And Clothing To Make Your Safari The Perfect Vacation
Earlier this week I covered the ins and outs of packing for safaris,covering weight limits and laundry information first timers might be surprised by, as well as tips on electronics and cameras. Today I examine the most important things you can pack for safari – clothing.
Regarding safari clothes, though not required, I definitely outfit myself in olive green, tan, khaki and light brown. First, it’s fun to dress the part – and looks great in pictures. Secondly, it’s highly functional. These colors act as camouflage in most landscapes and as such are less likely to attract attention from (or annoy) the animals, increasing the chances of close encounters with wildlife. This advice is even more important for walking excursions, offered at many better lodges, when you’re out of the vehicle and observing the flora and fauna on foot. I saw a guest sent back to his room to change for wearing a white shirt, which the guide deemed too bright and bothersome to the animals. This is why you should avoid bright colors, including white and red. There’s another reason to leave dark colors, such as blue, purple, black and your jeans at home: they attract insects, and mosquito borne diseases including malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever are among the most serious health risks you will encounter on safari. Both experienced safari veterans and travel doctors here in the States dispense the same advice about dark colors – don’t wear them.
In addition to color, pay attention to the weight and comfort of the clothes, as well as sleeve and pant leg length; wicking fabrics are a good choice – they keep you comfortable in hot (or cold) weather. Long sleeve shirts and pants will provide more sun and bug protection than short sleeves and shorts or skirts, but I know that not everyone (myself included) is always going to follow this good guidance. When opting for less clothing coverage, be especial vigilant about applying sunscreen (first) and after waiting, bug repellant with DEET (approximately 30%), to bare skin. Many travelers do not realize it, but DEET does not work when sprayed on your clothes, only your skin. For clothing you need permethrin, which is sold at outdoor stores as a spray you can use to treat your clothing and make it bug repellant, and this will last through multiple washings – more than enough to get you through the trip. The ideal solution is a combination of permethrin treated clothing and DEET-based repellant on skin.
Another treatment solution is Insect Shield, clothes and accessories that have been treated to bind permethrin to the fabric – instead of spraying your own garments you buy ones made with Insect Shield. It was the first EPA-registered insect repellant clothing, introduced in 2003 after seven years of research and development. The company makes its own branded items as well as for other travel and outdoor clothing outfitters such as ExOfficio. The treatment is odorless, invisible and should last through 70 launderings.
Because I have several items from Eddie Bauer’s Travex line, geared toward hiking and travel, I sprayed these myself before my last trip, a pretty easy process. The Travex lineincludes performance clothes that are very well suited to the rigors of safari. Different pieces offer varying technical features including moisture wicking properties, built-in high UPF sun protection, water-repellent finishes and comfy stretch fabrics, and they are offered in many safari-friendly colors. The women’s Horizon Roll-Up Pants are a great choice: they are lightweight, stretchy and comfortable, with sun protection and water-repellent finishes. They are full-length, great for cooler times of day and bug protection, but also have tabs to roll-up into a cute capri length. I cannot get behind zip-off pants that convert to shorts, with the very visible seam around the thigh, but these look good in both full and capri length. For women who want to go short, but prefer skirts to shorts, the Horizon Skort is a good option. It’s not your grandmother’s skort – it looks like a short-ish skirt but has the benefit of attached thin liner shorts, making them a good alternative to skirts for climbing in and out of the safari vehicle – which sit high off the ground and usually require steps and hand grips – without giving a free show. There are lots of great safari choices for tops, bottoms and jackets in the Travex line, and thanks to all the technical features, comfort and good looks, they are also ready for plenty of non-safari pursuits.
Do not underestimate how cool it can get. Look at average and predicted temperature for where you will be traveling. Although Kenya’s most famous safari destination, the Maasai Mara, sits on the equator, it’s no Hawaii – the elevation is between 4,875 – 7,052 feet. You’ll be out, likely in open vehicles that get quite windy when moving, in the evening and early morning, so layering is key, sweaters, fleeces or jackets are warranted, and it does rain (especially at certain times of year). You’ll need a hat for the sun, one that will stay on in breezy conditions and open Land Rover rides. If you opt for a brimmed hat, a better choice than baseball hat, look for one with ties for those windy open-air rides. I also opted for sunglass retainers, something I can’t recall using since I stopped skiing in sunglasses. They’re helpful when you quickly whip your sunglasses off your face to take a picture of the leopard that just appeared on a rock.
I use Eagle Creek Pack-It organizer bags when traveling as they are always great for organizing clothing, shoes and accessories, but are now even more important for some prime safari destinations. In 2008 Rwanda banned all plastic bags, and Kenya just followed suit in late August 2017. Do not bring plastic bags into either country, period – fines are astronomically high and in Kenya even zip lock bags you normally put your carry-on toiletries in are forbidden. Without being able to use plastic bags for separating dirty shoes or laundry, Pack-It bags, which are available for many different uses and in many sizes and varieties, including ultra-lightweight and water-resistant, are invaluable.
Another must-pack “accessory” for me is Reliefband. I typically don’t get sick in planes or cars, even small planes. But on my second safari trip, it was hot – very hot, and the rides in the very small planes were very bumpy. I didn’t get sick, but it was unpleasant. Inter-lodge flights stop at different private airstrips based on who is moving where that day, and your flight may make two, three or even four unexpected take offs and landing before you get to your planned destination. If you are prone to motion sickness, wear a Reliefband. The band, which looks a bit like a watch, goes on your wrist and delivers gentle, electrically stimulated pulses to a nerve on the underside of the wrist, which travel to the brain and then the stomach. The band is simple to put on and use, and comes with a watch battery already installed and a tube of gel to apply to the wrist before using. This time, my flights, which were on small one and two propeller planes, were, luckily, all smooth. I had the Reliefband on for each flight, just in case, and turned it on a few times just to feel the pulses, which are adjustable through five settings. I’ve left it in my carry-on for my next trip, which will involve boats.
One last tip: pack an empty bag (not plastic), like a lightweight duffel, in your luggage for bringing home whatever local crafts, jewelry and souvenirs you will buy. Safari njema! (Have a good trip!)