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Safari guide Henrik Hult.
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Safari Patrol:
Dress for safari
July 2009
All of us probably know that there are safari costumes. We have seen them in pictures and movies, and we associate certain styles and colours of clothes with safaris. It's mainly khaki with an old-fashioned military touch, including shoulder straps, breast pockets etc. There are even sun helmets, topees.

Do you need such an outfit to go on a safari? No, you don't.

Safari luggage and what to wear on safaris is mainly treated elsewhere on Safari Patrol (see Luggage and Luggage list for safaris), but I thought it a good idea to expand on this topic. Many safari-goers are first-timers, have no previous experience from this kind of activity and don't know exactly what to expect from weather, environment and surroundings.

General on luggage
There is a point in limiting the amount of luggage, including clothes, that you bring. Mainly: Most safari vehicles used in East Africa have limited space for luggage.

Professional safari guide Henrik Hult in Serengeti, Tanzania.
Safari guide Henrik Hult on
dressing for safaris
If you and everyone else in your party bring a couple of bags, or bring large suitcases, they won't fit into the luggage compartment of your vehicle. Most vehicles have only a small or no roof rack (as most of the roof is used for a pop-up sunroof or roof hatches), so excess luggage has to go inside the vehicle, stealing space and comfort from you.

You have another reason to travel light if you travel part or all of your safari route by air. Many safari flights in East Africa have a 15 kg/33 lb main luggage limit, compared to the 20 kg/44 lb or more allowed on international flights. You may have to pay extra for excess luggage.

General on dress style
Most visitors to East Africa are normal tourists and travel tourist fashion. The local tourist industry is used to this, and for most safari-goers dressing up is never required. There are upmarket hotels, lodges and tented camps, though, where you are expected to dress up, especially for dinner. You may ask your travel agent or travel company about such requirements.

For most of us, some degree of dressing up for dinner is practical, even if not required. Long trousers and long sleeves keep mosquitoes off your skin, and is a clever part of your protection against malaria.

As to special safari style clothes, safari costumes etc, they are never required. Pack the clothes that you already have in your wardrobe at home, as long as they are practical for safaris – comfortable, layerable, not too dark (may attract tse-tse flies), and not too light in colour (dust and dirt shows quickly).

Now, if you like the idea of shopping for and wearing safari style clothes, there's nothing stopping you. Khaki is actually a practical colour, as dirt and dust doesn't show very well on it, and it's said to be the least attractive colour to tse-tes flies. The pockets seen on many safari style garments may come in handy, for example for cameras, sunglasses etc. A safari vest may be a poor choice, though, unless you really need all those pockets. The vest means another layer, which may turn out too warm for you, especially when spending long hot days in a car seat.

Basic conditions
East Africa is in the tropics, so you may face temperatures exceeding 30ºC/85ºF. This is not the full story, though. Many of the safari parks (including prime parks such as Serengeti and Masai Mara) are situated at some altitude, which means cool nights and early mornings. Some places are even higher, such as the rim (where the lodges are) of the Ngorongoro Crater, and may be not only cold at night but also windy. Overcast and especially rainy days mean lower temperatures.

So in addition to your light clothes suitable for the tropical heat, you need garments that can keep you warm.

Footwear
Sandals are practical, as they are airy and easy to take off and put on, for example in the safari vehicle. They aren't very dressy, though, and some restaurants (mainly in city hotels) expect you not to wear sandals. To keep your feet clean, you may need to wash the sandals now and then – make sure they don't take ages to dry.

Light shoes, such as canvas shoes, may be an alternative, or a complement, to sandals. Bring dressy shoes, including heels, only if you're staying in hotels and lodges where you're expected to dress up for dinner.

You don't need boots unless you're going to spend part of your safari walking the bush.

Long-haul flights to Africa
Flights to East Africa are long (eight hours or more from Europe), and you spend most of the time in a narrow seat. Comfortable clothes are recommended, as is layering – the cabin temperature is unpredictable. You probably want to take a layer or two off on arrival, as the temperature on the destination may be 20–25ºC/68–77ºF at night and higher during the day.

Bring a pair of socks for the flight, should the cabin be too cold for you.

Stays in city hotels
Many safari-goers spend at least one night in a hotel in a city like Nairobi, Arusha or Dar es Salaam in connection with international flights. Your main activities during such overnight stays typically include one or two meals, sleeping and relaxing, for example by the pool.

Most of these hotels are tourist class and have no dress code. If they do, it's usually about gents wearing long trousers for dinner. I've seen signs saying sandals are not welcome in restaurants, but have never seen it being implemented.

Suits or jackets may be seen in more upmarket hotels, but are mainly worn by businessmen. You may of course wear one if you prefer to dress that way, but they are not very practical garments to bring on safaris, as they don't pack well in soft bags, for example.

Stays in lodges and tented camps
Lodges and tented camps are hotels in the bush, where much is centred on game viewing – game drives, bush walks, balloon safaris etc. Formal wear is uncommon. On the contrary, all sorts of leisurewear may be seen.

Leisurewear is fine for breakfast and lunch. For dinner, long trousers and long sleeves add to your malaria protection. If you prefer shorts or a skirt, cover the exposed skin with a mosquito repellent.

Game drives
Early morning game drives may be quite cool, as the temperatures drop during the nights. Add the rush of wind when driving with windows and roof hatches open, and you'll want to wear at least a warm sweater or a windproof jacket for a second layer. I personally like to wear a hoodie to protect my ears from the rush. By the time you return to your lodge or camp for breakfast, it's warm enough to drop a layer or two.

Game drives during the day or late afternoon may be hot, and light dress is suitable. Rainy or overcast days may require additional layers.

Sunny days mean exposure to much sun, even if you spend most of the time in the shade – there's much reflection from the surroundings, not least when game driving across grassy savannas. Sunburn on arms in not uncommon – even though most of you is shaded by the sunroof during game drives, arms holding on to the vehicle to keep your balance may get much exposure to the sun. Long sleeves may be needed in addition to sunblock.

Bush walks
If there are bush walks in your itinerary, you're going to venture out of the shade and into the terrain. Long trousers help you fight thickets and ticks. A hat protecting you from the sun is necessary.

The grounds you'll walk may be uneven or stony, and a pair of good walking boots are a good help (as long as they are broken in – don't bring new boots). If you don't want to carry boots in your luggage, you may do single day-tours on foot in a pair of sneakers or even in sport sandals. You don't get the same stability and protection against thorns etc, though, and need to be more careful.

Beach holidays
Bring the same clothes and shoes that you'd bring to any beach holiday destination. Because of the mainly Muslim local population on the coast, ladies should bring enough fabric to cover legs and shoulders when venturing outside resort grounds.

 
 
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Page updated 15 July 2009