Whether you’re overlanding on a shoestring from Cape to Cairo, or flying into the Serengeti for a once-in-a-lifetime stay in a luxury safari lodge, the landscapes and wildlife in sub-Saharan Africa’s National Parks will take your breath away. Seeing the big five - lions, buffalos, elephants, leopards, and rhinos - in the wild is understandably at the top of many people’s bucket lists, but no less captivating are the herds of wildebeest, zebra and giraffe; monkeys hanging out in the trees; and crocodiles and hippos wallowing in the mud by the riverside.
With daytime temperatures well into the 40s, and an expectation of spending much of your day outside, you need to be properly kitted out for a safari. We took a selection of this season’s outdoor clothing to Malawi - the aptly named Warm Heart of Africa - to see how it fared on trial in the Liwonde and Majeti National Parks. From morning walks to nighttime jeep drives, we sought out the best items for every occasion.
During a game drive, or pottering around the camp or lodge, hiking sandals will protect your feet from anything rough underfoot, without your feet overheating. Look for something with a thick rubber sole so that you have grip - you don’t want to slip when you’re scrambling in and out of a 4x4 - and that has wide, comfortable straps which won’t rub your skin when you sweat.
A walking safari is an altogether different affair, and so you’ll need to protect your toes, both from spiky undergrowth and anything which might be inclined to take a bite at your feet. Good ankle support will keep you comfortable, and you should pick a shoe fabric which is breathable.
Women: Columbia Conspiracy Titanium Outdry Trail Shoe (£100; www.columbiasportswear.co.uk)
Men: Columbia Conspiracy III Outdry Waterproof Shoe (£80; www.columbiasportswear.co.uk)
Your usual woollen hiking socks won’t cut the mustard on safari: it’s just too hot and sweaty. You need something light and made of natural fibres - cotton and bamboo fabrics generally work well - or a specially designed synthetic which wicks away moisture and dries quickly. Rohan’s new trail socks (see below) are also treated with Insect Shield® to deter things which bite from snacking.
In the heat of the day, when the sweat is running down the backs of your knees, the last thing you want is to be in long trousers. Well cut shorts - not too short or tight - with ample pockets, in a fabric and colour which doesn’t show the dirt will stand you in good stead.
Men: Royal Robbins Convoy Short (£45; www.royalrobbins.co.uk)
Of course there are times when trousers are essential, or at least highly desirable. In the evening when the mosquitoes come out to play and you need to protect your calves; and when you’re traipsing through long grasses, a wide cut trouser made from a light, breathable fabric will fit the bill. And if the trousers are convertible, with a zip at the knee so you can change them into shorts, even better!
Women: Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers (£60; www.columbiasportswear.co.uk)
Men: Rohan Trailblazers (£79; www.rohan.co.uk)
The single most important piece of clothing you can take on safari is a hat. Heat exhaustion can kill, and at the very least the resulting headache and nausea will ruin your trip. Pick a hat with a wide brim to keep the sun off your face and your neck, and wear it whether you think it’s sunny or not.
Men: Paramo Summer Cap (£30; www.paramo-clothing.com)
With a beating sun for much of the day, sleeveless shirts are not a good idea: even if you don’t usually burn, on safari you risk significant skin damage unless you’re covered up. You’ll likely switch between long and short sleeves depending on your activity and the time of day.
Men: Columbia Cascades Explorer (£45; www.columbiasportswear.co.uk)
Women: Rohan Tian Shirt LS (£57; www.rohan.co.uk)
Men: Royal Robbins Expedition Stretch L/S (£60; www.royalrobbins.co.uk)
After dark, temperatures can fall dramatically, especially if you’re in the desert or another arid environment with few clouds to keep the heat in. To keep warm around the bonfire, or whilst star gazing outside your tent, you’ll need a light jacket which won’t crease easily when you pack. Pockets are a welcome bonus, especially if you’ve camera kit in tow, the the Peter Stom Safari Jacket is treated with insect repellent too.
Women: Peter Storm Women’s Safari Jacket (£50; www.millets.co.uk)
The best kind of luggage will depend on the duration of your trip, and the kind of place you’ll be staying. If you’re going for a week, and staying in a safari lodge or camp, a light, cabin-sized suitcase will do. For longer trips, and particularly those where you’ll need camping gear or clothing for a variety of climates, a water resistant duffle bag with adjustable rucksack straps will be a very good purchase indeed.
Short trip: American Tourister Bon Air 55cm (www.americantourister.co.uk)
Long trip: Arc’teryx Carrier Duffle 75 (£130; www.arcteryx.com)
Eagle Creek’s Pack-it Specter Cube Set (£39.95; www.eaglecreekluggage.co.uk) will fit inside pretty much any suitcase, backpack or holdall, separating out your different items so that you can find exactly what you want, when you need it. They’ll also keep your dirty laundry apart from everything else, which is a godsend when your worn clothes are sweaty and dusty.