We are often asked by our clients what to wear on safari – it’s a real talking point and one more important than you might think. For the do’s and don’ts of your safari fashion choices we went straight to the source and asked Steve Adams of The Safari Store his opinions. While we have plenty of experience to offer with our packing list, the advice of an expert in the field is not to be ignored, so for the low down in wilderness wear check out our Q&A with the man himself.

Mahlatini:  What is it that qualifies you to be an expert in clothing needed for safaris?

Steve Adams: My ‘qualification’ comes less from my time working as a guide for CC Africa (now AndBeyond), but more from my obsession with providing the clients of my business, The Safari Store, with only the best in safari & travel clothing and gear. This obsessive streak has led to some interesting experiences and fact finding missions. This ranges from a very insightful stint, if a bit tame and tea-fuelled, with the R&D team at the company who manufactures our MaraTech and BugTech fabrics, to poling a mekoro the length of the Okavango Delta to really sweat it out in our Rufiji clothing under extreme conditions.  I wanted to get to the crux of what makes outdoor clothing great, and then try to push the boundaries of garment engineering. Our Rufiji water and insect-proof zip-off trouser-legs are an example of this, keeping clients dry in morning dew on walking safaris and fishing trips. This idea was born out of numerous walking safaris where wet socks, ticks and prickly grass seeds poking into wet socks can be uncomfortable.

M: Lots of people say that cotton is a good fabric to wear if you’re travelling somewhere hot. What do you suggest?

SA: There is nothing wrong with cotton, in the same way as there is nothing wrong with using a typewriter to write a letter or the text for this blog. But as with the world of word processing where computers now rule the roost, fabric technology has moved beyond cotton to even better things: manmade fabrics. In the early days of The Safari Store we used to stock cotton only, but ever since launching our Rufiji range I have been intimately involved in developing fabrics for our range, and understanding how yarns (the building block) and fabrics work. The first thing I need to point out is that no garment will ever be as efficient at keeping you cool as the human body. Unfortunately we can’t run around naked though lathered in sunscreen. But the key to a great garment is the way in which that garment reacts to your body’s cooling (and heating) processes.

Let’s take perspiration as an example. Your body perspires to keep you cool – essentially through evaporation off your skin. An all-cotton garment retains approximately 20% of the water (sweat) it absorbs before allowing it to be released to your immediate environment. This is why you will often see dark sweat patches under the arms and down the back of a person wearing a cotton garment. Our MaraTech fabric on the other hand only retains 4% of the water it absorbs before releasing it into your immediate environment. Therefore water is moved away from your skin much faster, keeping you cooler. This movement of water is known as wicking.

There have also been tremendous advances made in the finishes which we are able to add to manmade fabrics. And so for our Maratech fabric we are able to offer not only the wicking performance, but also an SPF of 50+. This is a silver finish which fights bacteria and, as result, odour. It also has the ability to add an insect repellent finish or water repellent finish, depending on where the fabric is being used on our garments.

As an aside, the research we have done into insect repellent finishes offered by many other clothing companies has shown that the key characteristic of wicking is negatively affected by the insect repellent finish. I withdrew our first attempt at insect repellent clothing (called BugTech) as on a cycling expedition in Zambia I lost a lot of water as the shirt fabric against my body and did not effectively wick moisture away from my skin. This is the reality with many brands of insect repellent clothing today. It has taken us about 2 years to get to the point where we are not only able to prove the efficacy of the insect repellent formula within our new BugTech range, but also we are able to prove that the wicking function has not been negatively affected.

M: I’m heading to Africa and will be travelling overland from Nairobi to Cape Town. What five items (not necessarily clothing specific) should be top of my packing list?

SA: I would take:

  1. RID Insect Repellent
  2. SafariSUN sunscreen (bites and bad sunburn can really ruin your African holiday)
  3. A good pair of 10×42 binoculars. I would not scrimp and I would definitely invest in a pair such as the Vortex Diamondback 10×42’s which also offer an industry first: an unlimited lifetime warranty. It is also worth noting that if you really push the boat out and get a much more expensive pair such as the Swarovski SWAROVISION EL 10 x 42’s then not only will your viewing experience of Africa be heightened, but by adding a Meopta adaptor you are able to attach your iPhone (see point 5) to your Swarovski’s and with some practice take very good photos on your way.
  4. I am going to cheat slightly here and say two things for number 4: Our Rufiji MaraTech SafariElite Long Sleeve Shirt and Rufiji Zip-Off Safari Trousers. I literally live in the shorts section of my Rufiji trousers and the option to wear them as trousers when it gets chilly is very handy. The same for the SafariElite shirt – simply roll your sleeves up or down depending on the temperature or to protect your arms from the sun
  5. The iPhone only safari: I would also leave all my books and heavy camera gear behind and take an iPhone. Not only would I use it in the way described in point 3, but I would also use it as a standalone camera for scenic shots. There are some very good camera apps too which enhance the capabilities of your iPhone. In addition to this, I also have all the reference books I use in the bush saved on my phone as apps. An example of this would be the Sasol Birds app, and there are many more to choose from. You could even download an app and learn some Swahili and Tswana on the way down from Nairobi.
  6. There are many other bits and bobs which I would take. For example, with the height of East Africa (above sea level) I would also take a fleece as it does get cold at nights in Africa!

M:  I’ve heard that you shouldn’t wear cammo clothing in some African countries. Is this true?

SA: This is true. Fashion aside, it is illegal to wear camouflage clothing in many African countries.

M: Is it okay to wear a brightly coloured T-shirt when I go on a walking safari?

SA: I am often asked this question, and usually the person asking me phrases it as follows: “I have been to Kenya on safari. Why do you suggest that we wear neutral or natural tones, when every single Maasai tribesman wears bright red shukas?” The answer is pretty simply. The Maasai are pastoralists whose main concern in the bush is to protect themselves and their herds of cattle from predators. They are not therefore wanting to blend in, but rather be as conspicuous as possible in the bush. When on safari however, you are really there to watch animals behaving, well, as animals – and not reacting to you every time you step into the bush. When I did my big game walking safari training the main aim of our training was to watch elephant, rhino and buffalo doing what elephant, rhino and buffalo do when humans are not around. The key to this is to remain unseen, and in fact we were failed on our walks if one pair of eyes in a herd of buffalo spotted us. The clothing you select helps you to remain unseen and increases the chance that you will view natural behaviour and not the backside of an elephant as it charges away from you in a cloud of dust, into a thicket never to be seen again.

The answer therefore lies in what animals see. I stand to be corrected but I believe that some animals see in pastel shades and others in black and white. Therefore the tone of a red shirt may not stand out if the animal you are viewing sees in black and white. The two no-no colours are in actual fact black and white, with white being the worst colour to wear in the bush. Think of the colour prey species display when they alarm call or are running away from predators and are trying to stay in a herd – it is white. Look at the backside of most antelope – springbok are a great example of this. White stands out the most.

M: Okay, so what about wearing perfume, scented deodorant or body lotion when I go walking in the bush?

SA: If it is Ralph Lauren Safari then it must be ok, surely? I think our ‘human smell’ is strong enough to be picked up by most animals. We have been hunting them for centuries. To be honest I am not sure whether a cologne or strong smelling perfume increases the chances of being smelled, or hides the human odour. I think I may just have to do some more field testing. Perhaps back to Botswana for me then.

Who is the Safari Store: We are the specialist supplier of Safari Clothing, Safari Luggage, Binoculars, Safari Books and Safari Accessories. Our Expert, Honest Safari Packing Advice, and Safari Clothing & Gear Packing Lists are relied upon by specialist safari tour operators, safari travellers, and the BBC. Our role, as travel & safari clothing packing specialists, is to ensure that you make the most of your journey to Africa or beyond by supplying you with essential safari clothing and travel supplies. These are all items that no traveller to warm climates should be without & will enhance the enjoyment of your safari or adventure travel. All our safari clothing and gear is rigorously tested in Africa. If you are unsure about what to pack, please contact one of our packing specialists for expert advice on service@thesafaristore.co.uk