How to pack for a photo safari: tips for carrying camera gear

by Dec 20, 2021Photography

How To Pack For A Photo Safari Michael

How to pack for a photo safari becomes a big question when preparing for your African safari. It’s not really as difficult as you think to travel with your photography gear and then carry it once in Africa. Our photo safari packing tips for camera gear will explain how.

Your bucket list African photo safari is getting closer. You’ve gotten your immunizations, ordered your cargo pants, and stashed mosquito repellent. Now, the question is, how do you pack for a photo safari with all your camera gear?

Since you can’t pack all your photography equipment, the big question for many planning for a safari is how to pick, pack and carry equipment, both in transit and then on daily game drives.

We enjoyed a photo safari in Kenya recently and, like others, we struggled with what to take as our carry-on for equipment and then how to translate that into efficiently carrying gear once in Africa.

As avid photographers, we of course have no shortage of lenses, camera bodies, and all kinds of accessories. So how to decide what goes and how to manage it all? We discovered that the answer to how to pack for a photo safari – then how to carry photography gear once there – is really not that difficult.

Leopard In A Tree in Kenya

Getting to Africa with your photography equipment

Assuming you fly into a city like Nairobi on a larger plane, the simplest carry solution for getting there is:

  • one roller bag or large backpack per person for getting all your equipment onto a plane and to your destinations, and
  • one shoulder bag or small backpack to take what you need into the 4WD vehicles for your daily photo game drives.

Yes, it’s that easy to pack your cameras and equipment for an African safari. Why? Remember, you are not allowed to walk around outside of the camps – due to risks from wildlife — so much of your movement will be via vehicle. And during the day you only rarely get out of the vehicle (usually a short natural break or well-staged lunch stop), and you never get out and walk around for photos – unless you want to become a statistic. That means you don’t have to worry about strapping everything you need to your body, back or shoulders. Once there, it simply sits in the jeep ready to be grabbed for photos.

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In fact, that shoulder bag or small backpack mentioned above could even be folded up and packed into your checked luggage if you don’t need it to carry gear on the plane.

African Safari Therese Airport No Sig

Which type of photo bag fits your needs to get to Africa?

Which carry-on bags are right for you? Michael and I are different shooters and used two different systems to pack our gear and get to Africa:

One wrinkle comes if you have a super telephoto that really won’t fit into a roller bag or small backpack or bag. Solution: One friend carried his huge lens alone, well-padded, in a small lightweight Think Tank Backlight 18L daypack with the rest of his gear in a Think Tank Airport International roller bag, then he used that daypack to carry miscellaneous gear onto the day’s vehicle and carried the camera with lens attached over his shoulder.

Carrying your cameras on a photo safari

Once at your African destination, the gear carry for a game drive gets easier since all you need to do is get the day’s gear into the jeep. We both used the Retrospective shoulder bags from Think Tank Photo (I had the 30L, and Michael had the 20L). The extraordinary number of pockets and durability were lifesaving (They look pretty cool, too). If you have less equipment, certainly a smaller bag will also do, perhaps more like 10-15L.

How To Pack For Photo Safari Jeep

For each day’s photo safari, we used the shoulder bags to carry extra gear, batteries, charging cables, snacks, or layers into the vehicles, and then carried at least one of our two cameras with lenses over our shoulders. A second camera body with a shorter lens could then usually fit into our bags. A large water bottle was also part of the daily gear carry, but it could go directly into a bottle holder in the jeep.

Safari Gear Carry In Camp Therese

We also learned that one longer telephoto lens and one medium telephoto (prime or zoom) is really all you need for daily game drives.

Moraine View Toilet

Other types of lenses may come in handy if you tour cities, a Maasai village, take a hot air balloon ride, enjoy street photography, or try some night photography from the camps. For example, we spent a couple of hours on an organized tour to a Maasai village, and both of us switched to a wide-angle zoom combined with a medium zoom. At a village, you get up close to people and demonstrations, as well as get to go into the small huts, so wider is necessary.

Maasai Village Portrait In Hut

In the end, how to pack for your dream African photo safari is a lot easier than imagined: A roller bag (unless you prefer a large backpack) to carry all the gear to Africa, and a small shoulder bag or daypack for each day’s game drives. And you won’t need as many lenses as you think but be sure to have plenty of batteries, dust protection, and cleaning gear.

Now, all you have to think about is getting those awe-inspiring shots of elephants, rhinos, lion cubs, or the Great Migration.

A shorter version of this story originally appeared on the Think Tank Photo blog.

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