What to Bring on Safari

-Everything you need to know about what to pack before you go to Tanzania-

Bring the minimum. One thing that many travellers in Tanzania find once they actually get there is that they have far too much gear. This is not only an uncomfortable inconvenience, but it also means that instead of taking back some special reminders of Tanzania you’ll be taking back the same extra pullover and jeans that you set off with. Unless it’s absolutely essential, leave it at home!
A rucksack (backpack) is far more practical than an overnight bag and is essential if you plan to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or do any amount of walking. It is worth buying a good quality bag right at the start — African travel soon sorts out the good stuff from the junk, and if it’s the latter you’ve opted for you’ll be cursing it the whole way.

What type of pack you buy is largely a matter of personal preference. I find that the travel packs with the straps which zip into a compartment in the back are excellent. Although expensive, they are a compromise solution to a number of different problems; however, they are not really suited for specialised activities such as climbing or serious walking. Of the other types of packs, internal frame ones seem to be the best as they have fewer protuberances and straps to catch on things.

A day pack is a worthwhile item, if only for keeping your camera dry and out of the incredible dust which seems to permeate every crack and crevice when you’re on safari. For those reasons and for security, it needs to be one which zips shut. Quite a few travellers use the local kiondos (woven baskets) which are fine if they suit your purpose.

A sleeping bag is more or less essential if you are travelling overland beyond Tanzania or planning to climb mountains, but in the country itself, there are enough hotels for you not to need one. On the other hand, carrying a sleeping bag and closed-cell foam mat does give you a greater degree of flexibility and means that if you take a safari y you’ll have adequate gear. Sleeping bags are the one thing which all camping safari companies require you to provide.

There’s always much discussion about the pros and cons of carrying a tent, and basically, it boils down to what sort of travelling you want to do, and how much weight you’re prepared to carry. As with a sleeping bag, a tent is not necessary if you’re just travelling from town to town, but carrying your own portable shelter opens up a whole stack of exciting possibilities. The same applies to carry a cooking gear, so give some careful thought as to what you want to do, and how. On the other hand, the full range of camping equipment can be hired from various places in Arusha and Moshi.

Quite a few travellers carry a mosquito net, and with the risk of malaria, there is no doubt that this is not a bad idea. Personally, I have found that with judicious use of insect repellent and mosquito coils, I was never unduly discomfited. On the topic of insect repellent, bring a good supply and make sure that whatever you bring has as the active ingredient NN-diethyl-m-toluamide, commonly known as DEET. This has been found to be the most effective against mosquitoes. Brands which have this include Mijex and Rid. Mosquito coils are what the locals use (when they use anything at all, that is) to keep the mozzies at bay, and local brands such as Doom are available in even the smallest stores.

Clothes need to be both practical and take into account local sensibilities. Although Tanzania straddles the equator, the large variations in altitude lead to equally large variations in climate. The coast is hot and steamy year-round, while Arusha and the western highlands get decidedly cool in the evenings in July and August, so you need to carry one decent warm pullover as well as warm-weather gear. A windproof and waterproof jacket also comes in handy, particularly during the rainy seasons. Most travellers seem to get around in T-shirts and shorts which is fine in most areas, but you should be more circumspect on the Muslim-dominated coast, particularly in Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia. Here women should wear tops that keep the shoulders covered and skirts or pants which reach at least to the knees. Shorts on men are likewise not particularly appreciated. Civil servants and embassy staff, likewise, do not appreciate scantily dressed travellers and will treat you with disdain.

Overlooked by many people but absolutely indispensable is a good pair of sunglasses. The amount of glare you experience in the bright tropical light is not only uncomfortable but can damage your eyes. A hat which shades your face and neck is also well worth considering. A water bottle is well worth any slight inconvenience it may cause. It needs to be unbreakable, has a good seal, and hold at least one litre.

Also important are little things which can make life just that little bit more comfortable: a Swiss Army knife, a small sewing kit (including a few metres of fishing line and a large needle for emergency rucksack surgery), a 10-metre length of light nylon cord for a washing line along with a handful of clothes pegs, and half a tennis ball makes a good fits-all washbasin plug.
Most toiletries — soap, shaving cream, shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, tampons — are available throughout the country but also you can bring from home.

The one thing that you’re really going to appreciate in Tanzania is a pair of binoculars, whether they be pocket ones or larger field binoculars. When out in the game parks you can put them to constant use and they are essential for identifying the dozens of species of mammals and birds that you’ll come across. If you don’t plan on going to the game parks they are are still handy just for the scenery.

Lastly, Choose a pack which will take some rough handling — overland travel destroys packs rapidly. Make sure the straps and buckles are well sewn on and strengthened if necessary before you set off. Whether you take a pack with or without a frame is up to you, but there are some excellent packs on the market with internal frames (eg Berghaus, Karrimor). Take a strong plastic bag with you that will completely enclose the pack. Use it on dusty journeys, whether your pack is in the luggage compartment of a bus or strapped onto the roof. If you don’t, you’ll be shaking the dust out of your pack for the next week.

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