What to Pack For an Overland Safari – The Real List

What to pack for an overland safari - Featured Images

What to Pack For an Overland Safari – The Real List

Planning an Overland Safari? Preparing to travel to Africa for a long trip can be stressful. Let us help, we have been there before. We have spent more than 2 months in Africa living aboard an overland truck, sleeping under the stars in Africa. Many overland safari companies put together lists of what to pack, but we found them kind of generic. So we put together our what to pack for an overland safari packing list based on our experiences in Africa.

What to Pack for an Overland Safari

The first thing you need to understand about what to pack for an overland safari is the locker situation. No matter what overland company you choose, you will have a single large locker to store all you stuff. This is the only place for your stuff, and they aren’t that big, so pack light. Your overland company will have dimensions on their website and make sure your bag fits inside these dimensions.

What to pack on an overland safari

The lockers are big, but not huge. Besides your clothes, you need to put your sleeping bag, pillow, and anything else you have in the locker. Don’t stretch the limits because things always take up more room when they are unpacked, plus I’m sure you will end up with a few souvenirs along the way.


What Kind of Bag to Pack on an Overland Safari

It’s best to pack a large duffel or soft bag as your main pack. Standard suitcases and bags with frames can be a problem fitting into the lockers. Standard suitcases are impossible to reach into while inside the locker. A duffel you can leave inside the locker and still grab something out of your bag. To stay organized over a long safari we love our packing cubes. Packing into packing cubes lets you take just what you need to your tent for the night. Packing cubes also let you keep all your cold gear in one place so it’s easy to find when you get chilled. Don’t forget to bring a smaller day bag for excursions outside the big overland trucks.

  • One large duffel bag or hiking backpack
  • One small day pack not more than 35-40L
  • 3-4 packing cubes to keep you organized

What Clothes to Pack for an Overland Safari

Clothes is an obvious place to start the overland safari packing list, but for the most part it revolves around practical clothing. Let’s face it, an overland safari isn’t a fashion show. Keep your fancy clothes at home and stick to comfortable quick drying clothes. Hannah and I have several shirts & bottoms from prAna that check all our boxes: quick drying, comfortable, breathable, and still fashionable. Half of our clothes are prAna, we never forget to #packprAna. Every few days on an overland safari there is a slow day between destinations where you will have some down time to do wash if you need to. We did well with about a weeks worth of clothes and washed it 4 times over our 43-day long overland safari with Acacia Africa. We stretched it a little longer than a week. Like I said it’s not a fashion show, but you also don’t want to be that stinky person on the truck either.

  • 4-5 pairs of quick drying quality travel underwear,  for men I suggest ExOffico brand
  • 4-5 pairs of socks (if you pack extra you can trade them in Malawi for some cool wood carvings)
  • 4-5 short sleeve athletic/dry fit shirts
  • 1-2 long sleeve sport shirts
  • 1 Northface type shell jacket
  • 1 Rain jacket with stuff sack
  • 2 Pairs of shorts
  • 1-2 pair of pants – If you only bring one pair avoid jeans because they are slow drying
  • 1 swimsuit – Several campgrounds have pools, and if you are planning water sports

The mornings and nights are cold, but the days are quite warm in Africa and it’s best to layer your clothes you can adjust as the temperatures changes. If you are normally a colder person you may want to adjust with more warm clothes. Also, if your overland safari takes you to Namibia and South Africa it’s best to plan for the seasons (which are opposite of the northern hemisphere). We had a few days in June where the temps dropped to near freezing.


What Toiletries and Medicine to Pack for an Overland Safariwhat to pack on an overland safari

When starting to figure out what to pack for an Overland Safari, keep in mind that there is everything you really need available to be purchased in Africa. Most essential toiletries are available, but if you must have a certain brand then bring it from home because they aren’t going to have it. The stuff we found along the way was fine (Colgate, Vaseline, Dove), but it wasn’t always brands we recognized from home.

  • All soaps, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush and standard common sense stuff
  • Sunscreen – It’s pricey in Africa
  • Lip Balm with SPF
  • Malaria Meds (check with travel doctor which is currently prescribed for the countries you will be in)
  • Bug spray with a good amount of DEET – We had 95% with us last year and that was a bit excessive. The bugs weren’t as bad as we expected except for Tanzania, specifically Dar es Salam. However, it can be seasonal and it best to be prepared.
  • Band-aids, Antibiotic ointment for personal basic first-aid (the truck will have full first-aid kit)
  • Diarrhea Medication – Consider an antibiotic like Ciprofloxacin or similar (check with travel doctor) or at least standard over the counter meds
  • Anti-histamine cream for bites or rashes that can be common in Africa
  • Pain killers to help if you have trouble adjusting to sleeping in a tent
  • Sleep aid like Tylenol PM to help you dose off when you hear rustling outside your tent

What Kind of Sleeping Bag Should I Pack for an Overland Safari?

This was an area we struggled with and ultimately failed in. We were traveling during the ‘winter’ and we knew the second half of our overland safari the temps would be low. We bought sleeping bags rated for 5 degrees C assuming we would need them. We were wrong. We were uncomfortably hot almost every night even when it was 5 degrees outside. The tents keep a lot of heat in and we wished we had thinner sleeping bags. Kenya and Tanzania are very near the equator and don’t see big swings in the temperatures season to season.

On our next overland safari this May we will be buying tropical weight sleeping bags. We again will be traveling in winter on the southern portion of the trip, but we will buy a few cheap blankets to supplement our sleeping bags for nights we might get cold. In many cities in Africa, there are stores called ‘Pep’ and we bought blankets here last year for just $5. At the end, we donated them in South Africa.

  • Tropical weight sleeping bag 20-25 degree C ‘comfortable’ rating
  • A real pillow, especially important for longer safaris
  • A few cheap blankets bought in Africa

What Camera Should I Pack for an Overland Safari?

Well considering this is going to be a trip of a lifetime, I would bring the best one you have or consider buying one for the trip, but that’s me. When you are trying to lighten your bag while figuring out what to pack for an overland safari, I wouldn’t skimp on the camera gear. You are going to see some amazing things and some wildlife up close. If you want to catch the action I would suggest a DSLR or a quality compact mirror-less camera. I carry a Nikon D5300 and Nikon D5100 and a small Sony point and shoot. If your budget always, invest in a telephoto lens. I currently have Sigma 150-500mm, which was specifically for our African safari.

Things to look for when choosing a camera for an overland safari is a large zoom capability. The second factor to consider is having a high number of frames per second that the camera can shoot, aim for 5+ frames per second or a burst mode. I would bring a GoPro, but not for wildlife photos. GoPros are great for action shots and you will use it a lot during the safari, but the camera is too wide angle to get good wildlife shots. You need to be very close to things for a GoPro to get good pictures and I don’t recommend getting that close to a lion or other African wildlife.

If you are planning on bringing a DSLR I would suggest a monopod or tripod to take good shots from the Land Rovers while on game drives. As if you want to take any star photos a tripod is a must. My MeFoto tripod is a really good compact tripod option.

No matter the camera you bring make sure to buy an extra battery or two and a large memory card. If you don’t plan on bringing a computer or other device to take photos off your memory card consider bringing multiple memory cards. For higher end cameras make sure to buy faster cards 600x (90mbps) or faster to get the maximum number of frames per second when you see something cool.

See my guide to taking better photos on an overland safari here

5 Tips for better safari photos- Wildlife Photography - Featured Image


Make sure to bring a day bag

There are several portions of the trip where you will leave the large overland truck and travel in a small Land Rover into the game parks. In the Serengeti, Masi Mara, Zanzibar, and Chobe national parks we traveled in a Land Rover that could handle the terrain, and slept in campsites arranged by a secondary company. For these days, you will leave your main gear in the lockers of the big overland truck and just bring a day bag. In the day bag just pack enough for the time in the park. We didn’t know this when we were trying to figure out what to pack for an overland safari, but luckily we had a bag that worked for a day bag.

  • Clothes for the short trip
  • Basic toiletries
  • Cameras
  • Chargers
  • Headlamps/torches these can be some of the darkest campsites
  • Sometimes your pillow and sleeping bag, your guides will advise you

The rest of your gear will be safe in the truck, it stays in the locker with the crew at a campground (for most companies). I hate leaving my gear anywhere, but I felt pretty good about it being safe, and every time everything was safe. The campground isn’t going to steal your junk and risk losing the business from the overland companies.


Necessary Accessories for an Overland Safari

  • Headlamp/torch
  • 2 combination locks with a thin metal hoop (luggage sized) – The locking holes in the locker are narrow and bring two because the bouncing of the trucks breaks the locks often, 3 people on our last trip had this happen
  • Spare batteries for headlamp and anything else that takes disposable batteries
  • A baseball or brimmed hat to keep the sun out of your eyes
  • A winter hat for cold mornings and nights
  • Gloves if you get cold easy
  • A bandana or Buff – to cover your face on dusty drives (especially in Namibia)
  • Sunglasses
  • Towel – preferably quick drying pack towel
  • Sandals for showering in community showers
  • Sturdy shoes (even though you don’t do much walking at all on an overland tour)

The Stuff you Wouldn’t Know to Bring if this is your First Overland Safari

  • A 1L water bottle – Allows you to buy 1-gallon jugs of water along the way and save money & plastic
  • Clothespins & clothes line – You will do laundry a few times during the trip and these are a huge help
  • A shower bag/caddy – There is usually nowhere to set your stuff while showering in some of the basic campsites, but there are usually hooks so a washable mesh bag would be nice.
  • A 12V car cigarette plug-in for USB charging – Many trucks have usb chargers, but they are in high demand or sometimes broken the bumpy roads are rough on the equipment.
  • Powerbank Keep your phone powered-up from your seat on the bus or charge camera on the go. Most trucks have charging stations at the back of the bus and if you want to charge while using your device you need one of these.
  • Travel power strip – It gives you a few more plug points when they might be at a premium. Try and buy one that has USB ports for even more charging.
  • A bunch of movies/media on your phone or computer – There are a lot of days where you drive for most of the day between destinations. Bring a book, movies, music or whatever your things is, bring a bunch of it. Also, the nights at camp can be slow sometimes and you might need a movie night in your tent.
  • A big pack of baby wipes – Some days this will be your shower, all the other days they come in handy too. Africa can get a little messy and these are a life saver.
  • Hand sanitizer – This will help, but it’s best to wash your hand to kill all germs
  • Small bottle of hand soap – Soap in bathrooms is just about non-existent in Africa if you’re a germaphobe like me, buy a small bottle of Dettol brand soft hand soap in Africa and keep it handy.
  • Ziplock bags – They have a ton of uses on an overland safari, keep your food fresh, or things dry while in the rain, and many more things.

Things you can, and Should by in Africa

  • A real, normal sized pillow – Sleeping on a travel size pillow for a month sucks. Buy one in Africa and donate it to someone in need at the end of your trip.
  • Blankets for cold nights
  • Extra toiletries – If you are worried about running out at near the end of your trip you can buy it there rather than packing two bottles of something. The big cities will have a good selection (good enough)
  • A coffee press – The instant coffee in Africa is pretty bad, and if like me you need your coffee, look for one of these in the stores while your tour leader is shopping for food or if you are a real junkie bring one from home a pack clothes inside of it and around it.
  • A coffee/travel mug – Most mornings start early with a quick breakfast and next thing you know you are on the road. A travel mug lets you grab an extra cup of coffee for the ride.
  • Clothespins – keeps your stuff on the line during wind and monkeys, yes monkeys.
  • Laundry Soap – Some trucks might have some, just make sure they do before you really need it

Best Places to Buy Things Along the Way in Africa:

  • Nairobi, Kenya – The Karen Shopping mall is very close to campgrounds many overland companies use. This is perfect for those starting in Nairobi to pick up a pillow or some supplemental blankets or anything you have forgot.
  • Arusha, Tanzania – The selection here is much less than Nairobi, but there are some larger grocery stores where you can still find many things.
  • Lilongwe, Malawi – There is a decent grocery store here, but that’s about it. Toiletries and general supplies and snacks can be found here.
  • Lusaka, Zambia – The city is one of the largest that you will pass through during your overland tour and our tour stopped in a mall with many options for a wide range of items.
  • Maun, Botswana – The city has a few strip malls with lots of options, this is where we bought our blankets last year on our way down to Namibia.
  • Windhoek, Namibia – This is a big city with full shopping malls, you should be able to find just about anything here.
  • Swakopmund, Namibia – Most tours stop here for a few days and there are plenty of options for just about anything you could need.
  • Cape Town, South Africa – Here you can find just about anything you could need it’s a major city

Things you Can’t Buy in Africa

  • Real Deodorant – This was the one toiletry that we had trouble finding. Most stores only carried roll on which I hate and doesn’t work for me (I don’t want to be that stinky guy on the truck)

Documents

All countries require your passport be valid a minimum of 6 months prior to entry. Yes, your passport expires before it expires.  In the USA, you cannot leave the USA on a passport that is set to expire within 6 months. So just double check your expiration dates. Also, all countries also require a minimum of 2 blank passport pages, and if you depart from Cape Town they have an 8 blank page requirement. We have never seen immigration actually got pages.

Overland safari’s that include Zanzibar, Malawi, Zambia and South Africa have mandatory yellow fever vaccinations.  Zambia & South Africa have an immigration requirement, in order to be allowed into the country you must present your yellow fever vaccination card.  You will receive your vaccination card after your yellow fever shot, it is a single inject needed 10 days prior to travel.

Yellow fever is the only mandatory shot, but the travel doctor will recommend several other as well.  We also have Hepatitis A & B, Typhoid fever, rabies, and tetanus.  Tell your doctor the areas of Africa you will be visiting as Malaria pills will probably be recommended, different areas require different pills. Not all areas are necessarily covered by the same medication, some areas are resistant to some medications.  For example, Chloroquine is not effective in every one of the countries on our route.  On our safari route we will take doxycycline, or mefloquine

All of our visa’s were on arrival, we didn’t have to apply for any in advance. Make sure you bring USD cash as this is the currency used to pay for all your visas.

  • Kenya: $50 USD obtained on arrival
  • Tanzania: $100 USD at border crossing
  • Malawi: $0 stamp on arrival
  • Zambia: $50 USD on arrival
  • Botswana: $0 stamp on arrival
  • Namibia: $0 stamp on arrival
  • South Africa: $0 stamp on arrival

Travel Insurance

Almost all overland safari companies will require you have travel insurance. We have World Nomads, and have had them for years now. For example, a 2-month insurance package will cost you $169, there are 2 types of packages. World Nomads explorer package has higher amount of coverage, we currently have this package due to the value of our electronics we carry.  We have had 2 claims and have had no problem getting it paid out. The first was when we were robbed in Kuala Lumpur, read the story here. The second when we got caught in a sandstorm in Namibia and sand damaged 2 lenses and the camera body.


Don’t stress too much about what to pack for an Overland Safari. Follow this packing guide when getting ready for an Overland Safari. Just remember Packing for an overland safari is just like any other trip, you’ll probably overpack and use only about half of what you brought anyway! Good luck Packing!

Now that you know what to expect on an African safari you have no reason not to go. If you are looking at taking a safari on your own, we cannot recommend Acacia Africa enough. You can book with them on Tour Radar, check price


More on Overland Safaris in Africa:

What to pack for an overland safari - Featured Images  Life on an overland safari - Featured Images

7 weird things to pack for an overland safari   What to expect on an overland safari - Featured Image800 gorillas - Featured Images    Real Life Lion King - Featured Images8 things to do in Victoria Falls - Featured Images   Cheetah Featured Images

Stanley Safari Lodge - featured image 2  Diving in Zanzibar video post - Featured Images

5 Tips for better safari photos- Wildlife Photography - Featured Image  How to take night and star photos in Africa - Featured Image

Sunrise Namibia - Featured Images    Spitzkoppe night photos - Featured Images

11 Comments
  • Christine Dodd
    Posted at 14:29h, 16 March Reply

    This was a good read!

    • Hannah
      Posted at 01:57h, 18 March Reply

      Glad you found it helpful Christine.

  • Patty Comeford Adams
    Posted at 17:14h, 10 May Reply

    Great article! Heading to south africa end of june…..brrrr., right?

    • Hannah
      Posted at 01:00h, 30 September Reply

      June isn’t that bad…we were there last June 15-24 and it was cold at night but comfy during the day. We were there this year 2015 July 9-14 and had GREAT weather. Hope you had a great & safe trip to South Africa.

  • Cross That Box
    Posted at 11:56h, 29 May Reply

    This is really good and spot on.

    Above and beyond I would say a Headlamp and Hand Sanitiser above everything else!

    We also had the same issue with the sleeping bag- However we did just come from Iceland… We roasted every night but had these cool sleeping bag liner things that were absolutely enough.

    I wish this article existed prior to us departing on our RTW trip… Excellent article guys!

    • Hannah
      Posted at 01:03h, 30 September Reply

      Never enough hand sanitizer in Africa…Yeah a silk sleep sheet is great to have for those hot nights. Bummer we hadn’t written this article sooner for you.

      Safe travels!

  • Roger
    Posted at 14:36h, 06 June Reply

    Great stuff guys, a lot of good information doing a 43 day overland to where you are and heading to Cape town be safe and enjoy.
    Cheers,
    Roger

    • Hannah
      Posted at 01:04h, 30 September Reply

      Thanks Roger. We love Cape Town, one of our favorite cities in the world, have you been?

  • Chloe
    Posted at 17:34h, 25 October Reply

    Really informative – wouldn’t have thought to buy a pillow over there but I guess that’s a good idea and saves flying over with it! I’m hoping to book onto something like this next year so it’s been a good source of inspiration / wanderlust!!

  • Mike Orobona
    Posted at 22:20h, 30 October Reply

    A good pair of running shoes. When chased by lions you just need to be faster than the other guy.

  • Sara
    Posted at 15:30h, 10 May Reply

    THANK YOU! This is so super helpful, I am going on a 77 day overland trip in Africa and this has been seriously useful

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