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Essentials for a South African Winter Safari

Traveling too much of Africa is intimidating. Years of headlines, let alone the complications of getting there, are foreboding enough.

Ben Bowers


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Traveling to much of Africa is intimidating. International headlines, along with advisories posted by national embassies and agencies like the CDC, don’t often paint the rosiest picture. Then there’s the mandatory precautionary vaccinations — some of which you can bet your regular doctor doesn’t have, and those that can require vigilance even after you return (like Malaria). Getting any necessary Visas often involves mailing your passport off to DC, which is rarely a speedy affair, either. Neither is exchanging currency. Virtually no bank maintains stores of African currencies on site, so exchanging your money ahead of time requires a few days of planning, at least for those stateside. And what about the uncertainties around the basic standards of living many of us take for granted, like access to clean water and electricity? Or that minor details like communicating with locals once you’ve arrived?

South Africa’s history is undeniably dark; its decades of racial strife and segregation are well documented. The ramifications of this history are still widely felt, but so is the work of the late Nelson Mandela; since his inauguration in ’94, the country has come to establish itself as a gateway to the larger continent for travelers around the world, minimizing some of these travel concerns. A Visa isn’t required for visitors from the U.S. or the E.U. Vaccines are usually strongly advised, but mainly for cautionary purposes. While there are a whopping 12 official languages in South Africa, English is taught in most schools and spoken to some degree by many there. Clean water isn’t a problem in major cities and tourist destinations. The same goes for power, though plugging in anything does require a unique, hilariously bulky power adaptor used by only a tiny fraction of the planet.

Still, when it comes to packing for a South African safari, smart planning is important, particularly during the winter high season. Getting to most of the popular safari destinations requires a puddle-jumper or two, with strict weight and size restrictions around checked baggage. Most lodges and camps have complimentary laundry service, so you can pack light for long trips. Packing versatile clothes is what’s important. Temperatures vary wildly during this time of year, with days in the mid 80s sandwiched between chilly mornings and evenings. Instead of blowing your vacation budget on the most technically advanced clothes on the market, bring a few well-designed items: a light but warm jacket, clothes that layer well, that boast quick-drying materials and vents. Stick with neutral, natural tones if possible. The dust kicked up in game drives can dirty up lighter clothing fast. It also stands out in the bush; red has been known to signal aggression in animals. Black and blues, meanwhile, attract tsetse flies (luckily they’re not an issue on the Sabi Sands reserve).

Everything you need is on the next page.

Fjallraven Abisko Shirts

Whether you’re into the full safari look or prefer something slightly more contemporary, Fjallraven’s Abisko shirt series has you covered. Both are lightweight, offer UPF 30+ sun protection and include roll-up arms for the heat of the day. The vent shirt also includes details like a ventilated back yolk, mesh gusset underarms and hidden zip-under front pockets for cash or a credit card.

Buy Now: $100 (Abisko Vent Shirt)$100 (Abisko Cool Shirt)

Patagonia Quandry Pants

You’ll find a lot of safari advice pushing for pants that can zip into shorts. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this tip, but most zipper mechanisms are spotty at best. They also look terrible. Patagonia’s quandry pants are lightweight and made for all seasons thanks to a combination of stretch-woven nylon/spandex treated to repel water. Combined with 40-UPF sun protection, articulated knees and a gusseted crotch, it’s a solid adventure pant.

Buy Now: $79

Bushnell Excursion HD Binocular

You’re likely to get far closer to animals than you ever imagined on a safari, but there will still be moments that demand a closer look. These binoculars offer a larger viewing area than competing sets at this size and price range, along with excellent brightness, 100 percent fog- and waterproof construction, and a lockable center focus knob that’s easy to use even with gloves.

Buy Now: $270

Keen Marshall Shoes

There are plenty of great, versatile hiking shoes out there, but the Marshalls’ light weight and durability demand attention. It also laces fast and offers a comfortable, wide footbed, which can come in handy with swelling feet on extended flights.

Buy Now: $110

Mountain Hardwear Cooling Ravi Hat

Open-roof Land Rover drives for up to six hours a day can leave your neck exposed to the sun’s worst. Protect it accordingly. (Sunscreen helps.)

Buy Now: $40

Adventure Medical Kits World Travel Kit

Even if your safari mostly takes place in the lap of luxury, being prepared is always a smart idea, especially when the nearest pharmacy or hospital might be hours away. This Adventure Medical Kit is designed specifically for remote locations and includes all the supplies needed for mild-to-serious wound care, as well as medications for trip-ruining ailments like upset stomachs, dehydration, pain, and allergies. It even includes a pictographic card to help you show what’s wrong to medical personnel in the event of a language barrier.

Buy Now: $70

Vapur Water Bottle

If you’re the type who needs a water bottle close at hand, Vapur offers the best solution to staying hydrated without hogging precious pack space.

Buy Now: $10

All-Terrain Herbal Armor Bug Spray

To be honest, you might not need this much on your trip. But knowing it’s DEET free and effective should comfort those who have to wear it all day, as long as you don’t mind a slight citronella smell.

Buy Now: $5+

Fuji X-E1

Safaris are a photographer’s dream vacation. The Fuji X-E1 is a modest rig in the eyes of most serious shooters, but it packs a remarkable balance of power and its size will serve most well. A telephoto lens is also key in any safari camera setup and Fuji’s 55-200m offers incredible zoom and excellent image stabilization.

Buy Now: $655+ (Camera)Buy Now: $540+ (55-200mm)

Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody

This hybrid between a sweatshirt, sweater and insulating layer is the definition of versatile. It also packs down to next to nothing. Bring a shell along for wind protection and you won’t need another coat.

Buy Now: $249

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