Stylish outfits for an African safari adventure, using versatile basics
When I booked a dream trip to Africa, the thought of planning what to wear on safari was daunting. It was my first trip to Africa and I’d be flying between safari camps in Botswana on little bush planes. That meant strict luggage limits; I had no choice but to pack light.
In the past, I’ve traveled light by creating capsule wardrobes — picking clothes in colors that mix and match to create many outfits, but fit in a carry-on. So I decided to use the same approach for my African safari trip.
A safari packing list will vary depending on the destination and time of year. East Africa is closer to the equator, so it is warmer year-round, while temperatures vary more widely in Southern Africa. Winter brings cold nights. The length of your trip is less of an issue, as most safari lodges have laundry facilities. Before the trip, inquire about this with your travel agent or safari outfitter. I had laundry done once while on my safari.
What to Wear on an African Safari
My safari was a 6-day adventure in Botswana; I visited in March, toward the end of the Southern Africa summer, also known as green season. At this time of year, the nights weren’t as cold as during winter, but still chilly. And daytime temps went as high as 100 Fahrenheit! So I had to dress for hot and chilly temps.
Deciding what to pack was also dictated by luggage limits — mine was 20 kg. In East Africa the weight limit can be as low as 15 kg; check that with your safari outfitter. Also, luggage should be in a soft-sided bag. More on that below.
African Safari Outfits - Creating a Capsule Wardrobe
Layering & a Color Palette
I chose a color palette of neutrals — green, tan, beige and brown. That made it simple to combine pieces because most everything worked with everything else. If you’re like me, the 5:30 am wake-up for the morning game drive will feel very early. You’ll want getting dressed to be as simple as possible. A daypack allows you to bring an extra layer in the jeep, as well as your sunscreen and camera equipment.
I created my safari packing list by starting with tops and bottoms that mixed well with each other, and were comfortable and stylish. Then I added in layers: a versatile utility jacket, a wool wrap for evening, a raincoat and a puffer jacket. Mornings were cold and we did have some rain so I was grateful I had them.
For footwear, I took boots and sandals. I wasn’t sure I needed ankle boots but loved having them, they offered protection and kept bugs away. I also debated the sandals, but they were ideal for hot afternoons and I wore them on game drives a couple of afternoons. Sunglasses, a hat, and a daypack were my other safari essentials.
My African Safari Packing List
Is There a Safari Dress Code?
- Although game lodges don’t tend to have official dress codes, many lodges prohibit any clothing with a camouflage pattern. Also, avoid blue as it can attract tsetse flies.
- Neutrals are ideal; they are easy to mix, match, and you’ll blend with the landscape. Bright colors can scare animals away, so leave it to the zebras and giraffes to make the design statement.
- With temperatures fluctuating dramatically, you will need layers, including warm layers. This is more the case in Southern Africa in winter. I brought a down jacket and I needed it. Don’t think Africa will only be hot.
- Safari lodges typically have rain ponchos for all guests, but I suggest you bring your own lightweight raincoat. It’s a convenient layer to have.
- Bring long pants! They are ideal for early morning drives and to protect against bugs. I also wore pants to dinner.
- Some vehicles have open tops so you will want a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. A chin strap is helpful to keep hats from blowing off.
- Most safari lodges have a swimming pool, so bring a swimsuit and coverup.
- There is no need to bring anything fancy for evenings as African safari lodges tend to be casual. That said, it’s nice to change out of what you’ve worn all day.
- Suggested safari footwear: Boots or closed-toe shoes for protecting your feet, and sandals for when it’s hot.
African Safari Outfits- Daytime
During my 6-days on safari, I wore pants and at least two layers on top for the morning game drive then changed into shorts in the afternoon when temps jumped into the high 90’s Fahrenheit. Especially if you are lounging in a swimsuit during your downtime, count on the possibility you’ll change a few times during the day.
For this reason, I traveled with packing cubes which I loved. They act like drawers to keep things organized, which is especially helpful if you stay at multiple game lodges, as I did. You won’t have to unpack and pack up everything with each new lodge.
What to Wear on Safari in Evenings
Safaris are casual, so bringing fancy items to wear to dinner is unnecessary. Still, I like to change into something a little nicer for the evening. Because it was chilly and I was trying to avoid bug bites, I always wore long pants in the evening, typically pairing those with a long-sleeved shirt and my sweater wrap. I also had a cute linen utility jacket that I wore to dinner. I simply added a necklace to jazz up my outfit.
Everything I brought had to work well with multiple pieces. A long-sleeved cashmere sweater would also be a nice option for the evening, especially if you are on safari in the Southern Africa winter.
African Safari Wardrobe: Start With What You Have
My number one tip for creating any capsule wardrobe is to try everything on ahead of time. That’s the only way to know what works with what. And start with what you already have. With the pieces I already had in my closet, I bought just a few new items for my safari wardrobe. Below, I include all the key clothing items I brought. If they are no longer available, I’ve listed something similar from a brand I own, even if I don’t have that exact piece.
I try to focus on brands that are striving toward sustainability and prefer to buy clothes that will last and I’ll enjoy for years to come. Because I travel often, things need to hold up well and easily mix and match in capsule wardrobes. I focus on well-made essentials rather than trendy items. I’d rather spend a little more and purchase less.
Pants to Wear on Safari
I recommend choosing two neutral-colored pants for a safari wardrobe — beige, tan, and khaki green are all great choices. I brought three pairs of pants and in hindsight, could have managed with two, especially given I had access to laundry services. I took quick-dry travel pants from Athleta which I love (pictured above). They are very lightweight and don’t wrinkle — ideal when it was hot, but I wanted my legs covered. Mine are from a few years ago; the Brooklyn Heights Pants are a similar option from Athleta. The Freeflex Roll-Up Pant by Kuhl are another option — very highly reviewed and can be rolled up to a capri pant.
As I said, it was very hot. I was grateful to have a pair of shorts. I wore them on an afternoon game drive and lounging around the safari lodge between outings, when I was relaxing on my verandah or taking photos. Mine are several years old. Since comfort is crucial on safari, these relaxed fit options would be great: Organic Pull-On Short by Everlane. I also like this one from REI for something that’s quick-dry, the Sahara Bermuda Shorts.
I had looked for a one-piece romper at home because it seemed easy and cool – perfect for a hot afternoon. I didn’t find one. Then, in South Africa just before I left for Botswana, a cute romper appeared at a little boutique, so I bought it. It was great for hot weather — easy and lightweight. You could choose this instead of the shorts if you want to take less.
Athleta’s Brooklyn Romper in olive is cute or Lulus Everyday Energy Romper in beige (limited sizes). And if you are comfortable showing the lions a little skin 😉 and want something adorable to wear after your safari, I love this Harper Linen Romper by Reformation.
Safari Style Shirtdress
Yes, I could have gotten by without this shirtdress, but it was nice to have. I wore it on two very hot travel days in Africa. And its classic safari style was nice for the photos we took while enjoying our sundowners. Sundowners are a highlight of any day on safari; a classic refreshment such as a gin and tonic is enjoyed while marveling at the beauty of the landscape, and reflecting on the day’s adventures.
I already had this one; it’s from Banana Republic. I am trying to support more diverse brands that prioritize responsible manufacturing, and Banana Republic isn’t there yet. But they do an excellent job of safari style; it’s actually the style they started out with. Here’s their Linen Blend Mini Shirtdress; I especially love it in the tan (whiskey). And here’s an option from Orvis: the Explorer Camp Dress. I find Orvis’s items to be classic and well-made. I am unsure about their record with responsible manufacturing. I’ll update this when I know more.
A lightweight long-sleeved shirt is a cornerstone of your African safari outfits. I wore mine day and night, on its own and layered. I chose a dark brown linen shirt, but a khaki green or tan would also be great on safari. Either cotton or linen work well. I wanted to avoid a light-colored long-sleeved shirt because it would show spots more easily.
This is a classic piece you will wear again and again, not just on safari. You may well already have one in your closet. If you don’t, some similar options I like: the affordable Quince European Linen, (the color “washed olive” is lovely), or Everlane’s Relaxed Linen Shirt in color Kalamata.
Some people will say to avoid wearing white on safari as it can appear bright to animals. But I already owned a short-sleeved utility shirt in white, so I decided to bring it rather than buy another one. Mine is a few years old but any comfortable cotton short-sleeved shirt will work well to create your safari outfits. This one is similar and comes in a lovely seagrass green: Everlane’s Box-Cut Shirt.
Safari Style Utility Jacket
I bought a cute linen utility jacket fifteen years ago, but got out of the habit of reaching for it, so it had sat quietly at the back of my closet. When I went through everything I had, to see what might work for a safari wardrobe, I re-discovered it. That’s why I always recommend looking through your closet, before you buy anything new. Using what you have will allow you to invest in a few quality pieces, instead of having to spread your budget across an entirely new wardrobe of mediocre items.
I love utility jackets; they can be styled with jeans, trousers, and skirts, long after you return home from your safari. LL Bean has a nice selection of women’s jackets that could work to create African safari outfits. In particular, you might consider the BeanFlex Short Utility Jacket.
Another cute option would be a bomber-style jacket.
Lightweight Wool Scarf/Wrap
A wool wrap is one of my favorite travel essentials. Even if I am going somewhere warm, you never know when you might need a layer on a chilly evening, or in air conditioning. And they are perfect to carry on the plane which is usually, brrrr. Mine is several years old, but this wardrobe staple is available from many brands at various price points. This Cardigan Cashmere Wrap by Maison Cashmere is similar to mine but has arms, mine is a poncho style. It comes in several colors; of course, I like the camel for wearing on safari.
I also love the Mongolian Cashmere Wrap by Quince and it’s well-priced. I own their cashmere crewneck sweater and the quality is great. It comes in eight colors.
I’d say a rain jacket is not entirely necessary; lodges will have ponchos available for your use, as I mentioned. That said I was happy that I brought a rain jacket. It was the perfect lightweight layer on an early morning walking safari (pictured above) and was less cumbersome than a poncho. My raincoat was light enough to pack in my daypack, so I had it if needed. Mine is by Sierra Designs and several years old. This one is similar, and REI is my favorite place to buy functional outdoor wear: Fjallraven Wind Jacket.
I both own and wear many hats 😉 but I did purchase a new hat to wear on safari. I chose the Laguna Drover Hat from Tommy Bahama. (The brand is Kooringle of Australia.) It was perfect. Our safari jeeps always had a roof that offered some sun protection — note, this is not always the case. Because I was using a large DSLR camera, a slightly smaller brim was more practical. Technically this is a men’s hat, but the smaller of the two sizes (M/L) fit perfectly. Tommy Bahama has a great online selection of women’s hats.
If you wear corrective lenses, I recommend investing in prescription sunglasses for your African safari. Not having to put my contact lenses in at 5 am was a dream. My go-to for prescription glasses is Warby Parker and the style I purchased is The Beale, in the color Rosemary Crystal — it’s a very pretty green.
My sunglasses are single-vision, but you can also get them with progressive lenses.
If you don’t have a Warby Parker near you, the website has virtual try-on technology using your computer camera, or you can order several pairs online to be shipped to you, and decide which you like. I own three pairs of prescription glasses from Warby Parker, two eyeglasses, and now my “safari sunglasses”. I highly recommend them — great products and service.
Boots for an African Safari
I almost didn’t bring these boots and they turned out to be the most essential thing I wore in Africa. Keeping my feet protected and dry was crucial. We had rain, and mud. Mine are by Born, purchased last year, and the Born Betsy style is almost identical. They are light, comfortable, and held up really well. The price is also great. I highly recommend them.
My sandals are by Nisolo, they are the Go-To Flatform Sandal in almond and come in many other colors. They were perfect to wear on safari — comfy and lightweight to pack. And I liked that the platform kept my feet a little from the ground. They work equally well with shorts and a sundress. Note, these run small, I sized up half a size.
Nisolo is an environmentally conscious brand and a Certified B Corp. Their artisanal shoemakers in Peru are paid a living wage.
Soft-Sided Luggage for Safari
For my safari, I borrowed a soft-sided bag that dates to the 80’s; I can’t even find the brand. But I own another bag by Eagle Creek and it’s terrific, so I can recommend them if you need soft-sided luggage. The Eagle Creek No Matter What Duffle would be great for a safari. It’s lightweight and water-resistant. Choose between the 60 and 90-liter capacity, depending on your weight limit and how much you intend to bring. Available in several colors.
And just like that, we are all packed for an African safari. Well, at least we have a better idea what to wear on safari — from there, packing should be a snap. I hope you have a truly magical time on your African adventure. You might enjoy reading about my Botswana Safari Adventure in Leroo La Tau Safari Lodge.