Dear Fathom: I'm going on my first safari and I don't want to find myself in the bush wishing I had whatever it is that frequent safari-goers know to bring.
If anyone knows, it's contributing editor Stephanie March, who just returned from safari in Africa with her husband. At the bottom of the story is a link to the FATHOM safari shop where you can find everything Stephanie recommends.
There are a few things in the world that are a total racket: weddings, add-on insurance for the rental car, and safari gear. The last one is particularly galling as it is both expensive and makes the wearer look ridiculous. All that bullshit about shirts that "vent." You know what vents? A button-down from J Crew.
In the last few years, I have traveled to my fair share of destinations requiring loose cotton clothing that can be easily washed in the sink. It doesn't mean I have to dress like a park ranger. Those photos are hard to live down, by the way. Here are some items that are essential for a safari but are in no way laughable. Provided you are not doing actual camping, you need less than you think — fewer khaki shirts, anyway. Bracelets? Now that's another story.
1. Convertible pants.
These are cargo pants that transform from long pants into shorts by unzipping and removing the lower leg. It's not as silly as it sounds. First of all, they are super neutral; they practically repel dirt, blood, or tea; and they look "safari" enough without being dopey. Paired with a real shirt, they're pretty cute, and the pockets mean you can get away with carrying nothing more than a camera if you're on foot all day. My favorites are made by Prana, the Lululemon of outdoor wear.
A baseball cap has a collegiate charm that should not be underestimated, but I like a hat with a wider brim to keep the sun and rain off my neck. JJ Hat Center in New York has a phenomenal selection of summer hats, but my longtime buddy is the Indiana Jones-style Drizzler. (See photo above.)
3. Shirts that Vent
Let's make this easy: Any cotton button-down will do. Long sleeves are nice because you can roll them up in a jaunty fashion until the sun or thorns threaten. J Crew, James Perse, Alexander Wang, Rag&Bone, and Urban Outfitters are great for these.
4. Sunscreen and Bug Spray
Buy it. Put it on EVERY DAY. Heaven help me for saying this, but deet works. If this type of trip is not something you do all the time, you can afford to use it for a few weeks. Think of it this way: It beats malaria. My favorite sunscreens are from Kiehl's and Anthelios.
Major hiking aside, I am perfectly happy with Converse or Havianas. In murkier environments I wear clogs, but they are not necessary for visiting Victoria Falls, for example. Something cute with treads ought to do it. My husband likes Timberland. I am loath to pack anything that does not do double duty, and I have yet to find a pair of serious hiking boots I could wear to dinner. If you like to work out, bring your regular running shoes. Be sure all photos are taken from the knees up.
Tumi makes a great masculine cross-body bag, which is good for carrying sunscreen, binoculars, water, and everything else. My husband loves his. I have a leather carry-on I purchased at the bazaar in Istanbul that I love like a pet. Mulberry makes a similar one.
Imperative! You will be sorry when that leopard streaks by and you don't have them. Nikon makes terrific binocs, so do Leica and Ziess. There are a variety of price points: My friend's Nikon SHE binoculars cost less than $200 and are great.
SAFARI MUST NOT-HAVES
Goofy hats with flaps and pockets. Couples with matching khaki outfits. Cargo shirts worn with cargo pants. Giant bottles of bug repellent or sunscreen (you won't want to carry them). T-shirts from college sporting events.
Remember, you are a guest in someone's country, and this is a nice experience. You are not Bear Grylls and you are not helping your best friend move. Pack a sundress, pack a nice shirt. We're not beasts, after all.
Do you have a burning travel question you can't solve? We're here to help. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We make it easy: Get the gear at Fathom's Safari Shop.