- 1 What is a walking safari?
- 2 Why explore the African bush on foot?
- 3 Different types of walking safaris
- 4 Safety during a walking safari or bush sleep-out
- 5 What to expect
- 6 What to bring for a walking safari
What is a walking safari?
A safari is defined as an overland journey, usually a trip by tourists to Africa. In the past, the trip was often a big-game hunt, but today, safari often refers to trips to observe and photograph wildlife. Where most safaris are conducted by means of a vehicle, walking safaris leave the roads behind and bring you to places off the beaten track. The aim of a walking safari, when it comes to viewing wildlife, is to see without being seen and as such by not altering the behaviour of the encountered animal(s).
Why explore the African bush on foot?
A safari is an exploration to experience the bush and gain insight and understanding. By going on a safari, animals and plants are placed in a context as they all link to one another. If it was merely about seeing wildlife, you would not need to travel too far from home. The fact that we can experience and observe animals in their natural habitat while on a safari is the biggest difference between a safari in the bush and visiting a zoo. A walking safari gives you the opportunity to observe wildlife in its own habitat, undisturbed and sometimes up close and personal. Walking has less of an impact on nature; there are no exhaust fumes or disturbing noises, no roads need to be made and maintained, no damage is done to the vegetation, and the pressure of our feet is only a fraction of the pressure that car tires exert on the soil. When on a walking safari, you step into a completely different world. You venture out in the domain of the animals and take to their pace of life. Now you can go where no vehicle can go, and this gives a feeling of adventure and exploration. It is not only the thrill of exploring and the anticipation of finding wildlife but also walking in silence among giant trees and a beautiful landscape, a domain still ungoverned by our human intervention and rules. You can walk along ancient game paths that have seen generations of elephants roaming past.
Different types of walking safaris
There are several options to consider when it comes to walking safaris. A walking safari can range from a short walk close to camp to a multi-day walking trail.
A hiking trail
Unguided walking routes are available both outside game reserves as well as inside some of the nature reserves, where they lack any potentially dangerous wildlife for you to encounter. Although it may be safe to walk around by yourself, some lodges and camps offer guided hikes as an option, which is a truly valuable experience. A guide is not only there for your safety but their knowledge of the bush and experience will help you understand and experience the bush up close and personal. They often also have more to tell about the reserve and the history of the area. With predators around, you will have to take qualified guides with you if you want to go on a walking safari. It would not be safe to walk alone in the bush. However, this doesn’t mean that walking in the bush with predators around is an unsafe thing to do.
Getting out during a game drive
During a game drive, your guide might want to leave the vehicle behind for a closer look at a specific area or to explore that area with you on foot. In private game reserves, guides are usually allowed to drive off-road through the bush but normally only when they have spotted one of the Big-5, the cheetah, or wild dogs. For other animals like giraffe, zebra, or wildebeest, they are usually not allowed to take you on a drive off-road. Driving off-road has an impact on the bush. It might happen that you are watching giraffe off in the distance and your guide wants to take you there for a closer look. You will disembark, receive a safety briefing, and then set off on foot together with the guide to get a closer look at the giraffe. In most of the National Parks, such as Kruger National Park, you can book a game drive with the Park authorities. During such a drive, your guide won’t take you for a walking safari. A separate walking safari needs to be booked for this. In National Parks, you are also allowed to use your own vehicle for an unguided game drive. In such cases, you are under no circumstance allowed to leave your vehicle or the road to explore the bush on foot!
A short walk from the lodge
In private game reserves or so-called private concessions, you are again usually not allowed to go on safari on your own. The lodge you are staying at will provide a guide and arrange your safaris. It is common to head out on a game drive before the break of dawn and return anywhere from 9 am for breakfast. Getting away from the lodge first to see wildlife on foot is not always a necessity. In my time working at various lodges, I have encountered the Big-5 within close range and in short walking distance from the lodge grounds. In some cases, we hardly made it out of the lodge on our safari drives due to the huge amount of wildlife and interesting things we came across right on the doorsteps of the lodge. If wildlife is spotted near the lodge, a walking safari can be a great way to experience nature.
A morning or afternoon walk
A three to four hour guided walk is an option in some of the National Parks as well as in some of the private game reserves. Whether you leave the lodge on foot or drive somewhere depends on the guides available and the area the lodge or camp is situated at. An extended walk will give you the opportunity to cover some ground on foot and explore the bush away from man-made noises.
A morning walk will often start just before sunrise, when it is just light enough to somehow see around you, allowing you to hear and see how the bush awakens. A walk in the late afternoon will give you an entirely different experience, as the heat is slowly subsiding and animals might come down to waterholes or the river. A sure favourite is to enjoy a sundowner drink somewhere in a riverbed and to then return to the vehicle or lodge before nightfall.
During these morning and afternoon walks your guide might pick up fresh tracks of a cat or perhaps an elephant or rhino and you may have the opportunity to try and track this animal in the hope of finding the animal. At lodges, there is no short supply of good food, and a morning or afternoon walk is a great way to help make some room for more food and to burn off some calories in the process.
A full-day walking safari
Going out on foot for the whole day is a completely different ballgame. In most cases, you leave the lodge or camp already before breakfast and will only return late afternoon. Breakfast and lunch are both served in the bush. Depending on the walking safari guide or operator you are with, this might be set up for you in the bush or you will have to bring it along yourself.
Some lodges provide for a full breakfast and lunch in the bush complete with a table, chairs, and a chef preparing your meal. This means that you walk to a designated spot in the bush for your meals. Although it is quite an experience to walk through the bush and all of a sudden walk up to a beautiful breakfast table, the flip side, in my opinion, is that you have a fixed location set up for the meal you have to walk to. This can be unfortunate when you have picked up on some fresh lion tracks leading you another way.
Bringing your breakfast and lunch along gives you more freedom and is more authentic. You find yourself a little spot to enjoy your meal under the shade of a big sycamore fig tree overlooking the river. You are totally surrounded by nature, away from any form of luxury, exploring the bush or taking a siesta during the heat of the day near a waterhole in the cool shade of a Natal Mahogany. Although it is only a few hours longer than a mere morning or afternoon walk, it truly is an entirely different experience.
A multi-day walking trail
As the name already suggests, the safaris are all done on foot. Depending on the operator, you walk from and back to camp or make use of a vehicle to drive to areas further away from camp before setting out on foot. There are quite a few different ways a trail may be conducted:
- A Fixed Camp
Some walking safari operators, lodges, or guides make use of fixed camps during their trails. This can be a single fixed camp like a (luxury) tented camp or different fixed camps along the route of the trail.
- Single Camp: In this case, you will return to the same camp each day and use it as your base for the duration of the trail. That means you do not have to carry around a tent and sleeping equipment. Other items like toiletries and excess clothing can be left in camp as well. Food is stored at the camp and only for longer walks will food be brought along on the walk. Usually, as you return to camp, the fire will be lit and dinner will be ready to be served.
- Multiple Camps: With this option, you might need to carry a sleeping bag and a pillow with you and in some cases even food. All luggage brought out by you on the trail needs to be taken from camp to camp. Unfortunately, unlike the first option where you can revisit a place of interest, such as a lookout point or perhaps a pride of lions on a kill, you will have to keep walking along the trail. However, you do venture out this way into new territories daily and will set up camp at a different site every night.
- Mobile Camps
A walking trail with mobile camps can be conducted in two main ways. This again depends mainly on the tour operator organising this experience for you.
- Fly Camping: First of all, this way of camping has nothing to do with flying. It refers to the traditional way of camping in the bush, under nothing more than a flysheet. With fly camping, you spend your day on foot and at night you sleep in lightweight tents in makeshift camps which move location daily.
- Backpacking: During this type of trail, you carry everything you need with you on the trail; from your tent to your food, it is all on your back. Due to the fact that there is no staff to bring in supplies, you walk along one of the major rivers in the area. You purify the water from the river to be able to drink it and cook your food in it. In the heat of the day, you can take a refreshing dip in the river before you continue your walk. There is no designated area to put up camp in the afternoon, but when the sun makes her way down, you find a suitable spot and pitch your tent. A shallow spot in the river could be your bathtub for the evening. You will need to gather firewood before you can sit around the fire to spend quality time with the rest of the party. On cold nights you can dig a trench in the riverbed and fill this with coal from the fire, cover it with a layer of sand, and pitch your tent on top.
The above-mentioned types of multi-day walking safaris are meant to give you an intimate experience of the bush, where you step out of your comfort zone, away from the safety of a vehicle, and into an environment you do not control, an environment where you are merely a spectator.
You spend your time in the bush in order to get away from modern technology, watches, mobile phones, emails, deadlines, and stress, where the only thing you will stress about is the fact that time goes by too quickly as you are nearing the end of your adventure.
A bush sleep-out
Although this is technically not a walking safari, this is something very special. Only a few operators and only several places offer a bush sleep-out. Due to the nature of this experience, it is not always easy to organise, especially with the limited number of places where such a sleep-out can be offered. A bush sleep-out means you will be sleeping in the bush under the stars next to a campfire. A place in the bush where the animals roam freely, and ideally the sleep-out is combined with a walking safari or a trail. This is often done in an open clearing in the bush with a great view.
I have been on sleep-outs where we spent the night in a dry riverbed. A fire is made and firewood collected to last throughout the night. Sleeping mats and sleeping bags are put out on the ground around the fire. ‘Camp’ will be set before sunset and dinner will be served around the campfire. To ensure everyone is safe, there will be two people awake at any given time during the night. They will make sure the fire keeps going and check if any wild animals wander too close. After their shift, they wake up the next couple, who will watch over the group and keep the fire going. This is a truly unique and often once in a lifetime experience. You sleep under the African stars in the bush, listening to the nightly sounds; a jackal’s call in the distance, owls proclaiming their territory and with luck, you might hear the roar of a lion. These memories will stay with you for the rest of your life. Something I truly recommend anyone to experience!
Safety during a walking safari or bush sleep-out
It is true that walking safaris involve a somewhat greater risk. However, humans are seen as a danger and we are treated this way by most of the wild animals we find in the African bush. The animals have learned to associate humans in combination with vehicles as harmless unless there is regular poaching or hunting activity in the area involving vehicles. A human walking in the bush is associated with danger. We have been the top of the food-chain for so long and have dominated over animals long enough for them to naturally fear us. Most animals will simply walk away, but in some cases, animals tend to come closer. A startled animal may respond in different ways. The animal may freeze, take flight, or fight. The big game animals like the buffalo or an elephant should not be startled if at all possible.
Due to the nature of the safari, only children from the age of twelve are normally permitted to join a walking safari. It is standard practice that at a minimum one guide will lead the walk when the party is no more than four guests. At least two guides will lead the walk when the group is between four and eight guests. The guides carry a handheld radio and have a first aid kit on hand.
During a walking safari, your guides will be armed with a heavy calibre rifle, powerful enough to stop an elephant in its tracks. This, however, is not the case in National Parks in Botswana, where walking safaris are led by unarmed guides. This raises the debate concerning safety, but as a trail guide, I know that my safety, the safety of the guests, and the animals around us does not depend on me carrying a rifle.
What does keep us safe is an understanding of the bush, the animals involved, and the interpretation of their behaviour, coupled with the fact that animals would rather avoid an encounter with a human altogether.
Walking or trail guides have had rigorous training before they are allowed to take their exam. A theory exam on walking safaris, rifle ballistics, a practical exam on rifle handling, and finally a walking safari exam are all part of the evaluation. And even after passing their exam, they are not allowed to lead a walking safari on their own yet. Only after many hours and encounters with wildlife on foot joined by a mentor are they allowed to take another exam. Then, with sufficient experience and knowledge, they are allowed to take guests out on a walking safari and lead the group.
The biggest safety asset is the knowledge and experience of your guide to avoid tricky situations. As mentioned before, animals are not out to do us harm. Any physical confrontation for them can become a life-threatening situation as they might sustain an injury themselves. In all the years I have been a walking guide, there has not been one instance I had to use my rifle.
What to expect
Up to now, I have covered a bit of what to expect when going on a walking safari. Although I could write a book on the subject, I will only briefly further discuss some associated topics.
A walking safari is not about seeing as many animals as possible. For that, I would recommend using a vehicle in which you can cover a greater distance in a shorter period of time. Instead of finding a lot of wildlife, you might see some wildlife but the sightings you have will be more intimate and sometimes more intense. As we humans are associated with danger, most of the animals will move off when we come closer to them. So, the guides will use their senses, the wind, the sun, and concealment to stay undetected and that way try to bring you in for a closer look.
Off the beaten track
Being on foot enables you to go places where a vehicle cannot go. Walk along an ancient game path, navigate rocky outcrops, or walk among the trees along the river. There probably won’t be any tire tracks where you are going and as you penetrate deeper into the bush you will feel more and more distant from the hustle of daily life. A walking safari truly takes you off the beaten track into the unknown.
What to focus on during a safari walk
During a walk one often focuses on details otherwise unobserved from a vehicle. Footprints and animal droppings are observed more in depth as well as plants, insects, birds, and soil types. You can feel the smooth polished surface of a ‘rubbing-post’ where animals have come after a good mud bath. Or you may learn to tell the tracks from a leopard and hyena apart and learn to use your senses and interpret different animal sounds as you go.
Distance covered during a walking safari
The guides will take the physical condition of their guests into account as well as their interests, the forecasted weather, the terrain, animal movements in the area as well as any other expectations the guests may have. This will give them a good idea of how to plan the walking route. However, once out in the bush plans can change. Adjustments need to be made to the speed of walking, how often to stop along the way, and how many questions to answer. So let me give you some examples from my personal experience as a trail guide to give you a rough indication of what to expect:
- A hiking trail: normally signposted routes which can range anywhere from 1-2 km (0,6-1,2 miles) up to 15 km (9,3miles) in length. You can ask the manager how long they normally take to walk the trail and how difficult the terrain will be.
- Getting out on foot during a game drive: depending on the distance of the animals from the vehicle and the intentions of the guide, a walk like this can range anywhere between a couple of hundred meters up to at most a few kilometres in length.
- A short walk from the lodge: normally not exceeding 5 km (3 miles) in length.
- A morning or afternoon walk: average for a 3-4 hour walk will be between 5 and 10 km (3-6,2 miles) travelled.
- A full-day walking safari: the longer the walks, the harder it is to give an estimate for them, but they can be anywhere between 10-20 km (6,2-12,4 miles) in length.
- Multi-day walking trail: With a setup of multiple camps and the fly camping concept explained above, you know how far you will need to go every single day to reach the next camp or place to stay overnight. With a single fixed camp, it all depends on the duration and intentions of the walk. On trails where you backpack, you are normally dropped off and will walk a few days to a pickup spot. As a generalisation, I would estimate that anywhere between 10-20 km (6,2-12,4 miles) will be covered per day.
Expected terrain during a walking safari
The terrain difficulty is hard to predict as it can be very diverse. Normally, the guides will check the physical condition of their guests before deciding where to walk. Close to the river, the loose sand might make it hard to walk, whilst rocky areas might show you the quality your boots are made of. Generally speaking, you will walk through the bush, not making use of roads and at times a road might be encountered, but not often followed. Where possible game paths will be used to navigate the bush but most often you might find yourself walking through uneven terrain. A short walk around the lodge is normally less tiring and challenging than a full day’s walk. When you have difficulty walking in general, a walking safari is going to be a challenge.
The weather plays an important role in conducting walking safaris. During the dry winter months, walking is easier due to the low temperatures and low humidity at this time of the year in Southern Africa. Temperatures around sunrise will be anywhere from 5C/41F to 15C/59F. During the heat of the day, the temperature can go up to 20C to 35C/95F. During these months, the vegetation in the bush is dry and more open, allowing for better viewing of the animals.
Moving forward towards summertime with its rainy season, the temperatures will rise up to a point where we do not conduct walking safaris anymore. Keep in mind that the winter months in the southern part of Africa are opposite to what we have in the Northern hemisphere. July and August are winter months in Southern Africa, while December and January are hot summer months. Walking responsibly means that we take the effect of the heat on our guests into account. Planning a walking safari in temperatures above 40C/104F with guests is not done. In summer times, the rising temperatures during the day limit the walking times to early mornings and late afternoons, reducing the risk of heat exhaustion or a sunstroke.
During the summer season temperatures can easily go up to above 40C/104F and change depending on the cloud cover, amounts of rainfall, and the level of humidity. After a brief thunderstorm, the humidity will skyrocket. Due to this, the vegetation flourishes and is denser and the grasses grow taller. Walking safaris from the lodge can still be conducted, although depending on the guidelines of each individual lodge, some multi-day trails will be closed from November up to the start of April. Other trails will be available year-round. In general, you will get hot, sweaty and dusty, but that is a small price to pay for such an amazing adventure!
What to bring for a walking safari
It is said that packing less is more, and that surely goes for a walking safari. Hauling a surplus amount of equipment with you will only weigh you down. For your convenience, we provide you with the below checklist, which you can download and install on your smartphone (iOS and Android).
Clothing to wear
- It is really important to wear clothing with a neutral colour on a walk. You want to blend in with the environment, and flashy, white, or very dark colours stand out way too much. You should preferably be wearing shades of khaki or olive green.
- Comfortable clothing. My advice is to wear natural materials like cotton. These absorb moisture well, are not prone to smelling, and are strong enough to withstand the occasional grasp of thorns. Short sleeve shirts are advised unless you need to protect your skin from the sun.
- Trousers could be either long, or shorts. Even in winter, I do prefer shorts over long trousers, because even during a winter morning walk it can warm up quickly. And being able to feel the grasses and wind glide past my legs is so much better than feeling the fabric of my long pants. The fabric too is more prone to catching on vegetation and thorns, making it harder to navigate certain areas.
- Warm clothing. I would suggest that if you do go out on morning walks and you find it really cold outside, to make sure that you only put on one extra layer as the physical exercise and the rising ambient temperature will warm you up quickly. When you are in the bush, you might want to pack warm clothing for the evenings as well. Remember that all that you bring along, needs to be transported in and out, and sometimes to another camp as well.
- Socks and shoes are more of a personal choice. Some people’s feet are more prone to blisters than others so be sure to bring closed shoes that fit well and are worn in. Shoes should give you enough support to be able to navigate through uneven terrain. Class A1 hiking shoes might be a little too light with Class B1 hiking shoes being the highest class I would recommend. Shoes with netting on top of the toes or on the sides are great for ventilation but allow dust and sand to enter your shoes and grass seeds will get caught up in the netting.
Protection against the sun
- A hat or cap is recommended to keep the sun off your head, but maybe more importantly away from your face. I prefer a brimmed hat to keep the sun out of my face and off my ears as well. Coming out on safari without any type of hat is not advisable as the African sun can be ruthless.
- Sun cream to protect bare skin against the harsh African sun. There is no reason why you should risk sunburn at all. I would recommend at least a factor 20.
- Wearing sunglasses is also a personal choice. The first two years of my guiding career I did not use sunglasses at all, but ever since I have them with me on any safari drive or walk. The sunlight can be very harsh, doubled with the reflection of the sunlight into the soil and sand. Walking around squinty-eyed to block the light is not weighing up to bringing a pair of sunglasses along.
- Lip balm or Lipice are products to protect your lips from drying out and cracking. Chapped lips can be caused by the weather and can happen during your time in Africa.
Practical equipment for a walk
I will skip camping equipment on the list for now as there is enough information available on camping and backpacking gear. Only the items that are more specific to walking safaris will be listed below:
- A rucksack or daypack is not essential for walks during a game drive, nor for short walks before breakfast initiating from the lodge or camp. During a short walk on a game drive, there is no need to bring anything along that needs to be carried along in a rucksack or daypack. The same goes for a short walk from the lodge as the guide will normally carry bottled water for you. On longer walks, you might want to bring more along than only a small bottle of water. Keeping your hands free in the process is key to an enjoyable walk.
- A water bottle or water bladder is needed during walks exceeding three hours. The longer the planned walk, the more water you will need to bring. Your guide is only human and will not be able to carry four litres of water for himself and the same for his guests. During a three to four hour walk in winter time, you should be fine with around 1.5L, but during the hot summer months, you will need to bring at least 2L. During a full day walk or a day on a trail in winter time, I would estimate that you need to bring 2-3 litres with you, but during the hotter months you might drink up to 4 litres per day per person. As temperatures rise, you normally tend to return to camp during the hotter hours of the day. Depending on the availability of water and the amount of time you spend out in the bush, you might need to be able to carry up to around 4 litres of water with you. In cases where you know you are going to walk a day or longer during safari trails, I highly recommend getting a water bladder over bottles. Bladders give you an easy and instant access to your water without the need for stopping. On a shorter walk, you can easily do with a water bottle.
- Water purifying filter or water purifying tablets? These are only essential to a backpack walking trail where you need to provide for your own water and food. It is unwise to drink unpurified water from any open water source. You might find that your guide will drink un-purified water from some rivers, but I do not recommend you following his or her example. The tablets and filters from Katadyn have some great reviews. Which filter or tablets you use is an individual choice, but just keep in mind if you are looking at a cumbersome filter, you will need to carry it with you!
- Sachets of powdered cool drinks can be a welcome (but mostly unneeded) source of energy during a long walk. Mix the sachets in with the water in your bottles or bladder. Water in your bottles or bladder won’t stay cold for long, and drinking lukewarm water with some taste to it is just so much better than pure lukewarm water.
- Sachets of ORS can come in handy. ORS stands for Oral Rehydration Salts. Carry just a few with you as dehydration can occur very quickly. During walks, dehydration can occur mainly through perspiration, which will include the loss of essential nutrients and minerals. ORS will help restore the levels of nutrients and minerals lost through sweating. The sachets can be easily purchased and are light to carry around with you.
- Snacks are a great means to save anyone from a foul mood. Although you plan a walk thoroughly, the bush has a habit of disrupting your plans. You can pick up on fresh tracks of a pride of lions that leads you in the opposite direction. Having something small to eat in your bag or pocket might save the walk and the day for you. Having low blood sugar levels can have devastating effects on your mood and ruin your walk. A little snack might mean the difference between another hour of biting the dust in search of pesky lions, or another exciting hour of tracking lions, so a snack can be a real ‘lifesaver’.
- A pair of binoculars is probably just as important as a pair of proper pair of hiking shoes. During walks, we tend not to come very close to animals around us so as not to disturb them. Bringing the animals and birds in for a closer look with your binoculars will add a great deal of pleasure to your experience. When choosing a pair of binoculars, there are a few things to take into account: the size, weight, magnification, and light inlet of the binoculars. The magnification and light inlet (diameter) will contribute hugely to the size and weight of binoculars. A 10×50 binocular has a magnification factor of 10, whereas the 50 stands for the diameter in mm of the largest lens. The last number will have the greatest influence on the size and weight but also determines how much light will enter your eyes; the higher the number the better it will be for low-light conditions. Since most people don’t walk too much at dusk, I would recommend staying well under 50 when going on a walking safari. When walking around you do not want to carry a heavy pair of “telescopes” around. The higher the number of magnification (in this example, 10x), the harder it will be to keep the image you see through the binoculars still and in focus. On the other hand, the higher the magnification number, the closer they will draw in on the subject. Looking at a bird with a 15x binocular will magnify it well, but the bird itself will appear to be bouncing all over the place. Some models have a built-in stabilizer, which is very handy, but again adding weight which you will need to carry around with you. I use an 8,5×42, and it is already fairly cumbersome and heavy. There are many smaller and lighter binoculars on the market, specially designed for hikes. Here is another general rule that applies: the more expensive the lenses, the better the quality of your image.
- Binocular harness straps are designed to provide comfort. They take the weight of your binoculars off from your neck and distribute it evenly over your shoulders. Having a pair of binoculars hanging from a single strap rubbing against the back of your neck is ok for half an hour but definitely not for a couple of hours. There is a wide variety of harnesses on the market, but not all can be combined with a rucksack. I bought a strap with clips, comparable with the picture, but I modified the system a bit. The only thing that I needed was the female clip down to the binoculars. So, I took the female clip and attached it to the shoulder strap of my rucksack. Now I click my binoculars onto my rucksack and use the loosened neck strap as a security measure.
- A compass or GPS is a great tool to have in the bush. There is no necessity for guests to bring one along for a walk. Your guide is responsible for the route and will have sufficient experience in the area to lead you in the right direction. If you are interested, it may be enjoyable to bring one along. A GPS can keep track of your route, the distance you have covered, and the average speed you walked, and you can log waypoints like: ‘Elephant bull’, ‘Buffalo herd’, Lion tracks’, ‘Lunch spot’, etc. This is great fun when you get back home and download the covered track onto your computer. However, you need to take enough batteries with you to keep it running. A compass, on the other hand, is great for practice in navigation and helping you keep your bearings, it is lightweight, and it doesn’t need batteries.
- A headlamp or head torch is recommended if you join a walking trail. Having light at hand during the dark nights is important. I specifically recommend a headlamp/head torch instead of a general flashlight to keep your hands free whilst searching for something, or perhaps eating supper at the campfire. It just makes life more convenient. Headlamps are evolving from being bulky and heavy items strapped to your forehead to lightweight lamps with a small battery pack. The light output is so high that there is no further need to bring another flashlight or torch along with you to scan the surrounding area.
- A multi-tool or pocketknife has never been a bad choice to bring along. I myself prefer a Leatherman Multi-tool to a pocketknife. At some stage, you will drop your multi-tool or knife in the sand, or worse, in dust or mud. A tool that seizes up due to a little sand, dust, or mud is frustrating. I found that my multi-tool always works even after using it in muddy or sandy conditions. Over the years, I have used the knife, saw blade, and screwdrivers countless times, but the pliers probably even more than all other elements on the multi-tool. If you don’t have any knife or multi-tool, you probably will be able to get by without it but if you have one, somehow you will find new uses for it during the walk.
- A camera to capture the magic of walking in the bush. Previously, I have walked with a DSLR and I even took it along on backpack trails. Again, the question here is if you are willing to lug this item around with you. A small digital pocket camera might do the trick as well or even your smartphone with some extra smartphone lenses. The quality of footage from smartphones these days is phenomenal. The main problem with a cellphone is that the battery will run out quickly, and having your smartphone with you can result in you checking for messages while on your walk. One of the great advantages of walking safaris is the fact that you distance yourself from the clutter of daily life, so feeling the urge to keep checking your phone is counterproductive and distracts you from the experience. I speak from experience. On the other hand, it could well be that you will not have any signal in the bush anyway, in which case you could still use the camera.
- A notebook and pen will come in handy to write down facts, stories, names of animals, etc., because there is just too much to remember, and writing down the information or sighting you have had will be a valuable aid in recollecting memories. A hardcover A5 book is what I normally bring along. Although it might feel like excess luggage to bring along, it does add so much value to your memories later on!
- A Spoor Reference Card is a small foldable card; extended the card will reach the size of an A4 piece of paper. Walking safaris are especially interesting for finding and identifying animal tracks during a walk. There will be plenty of opportunities to discover the thrill of spoor (track) identifications. Imagine that you stand in the same spot where only hours earlier a leopard strolled past! This little visual aid makes identifying animal tracks so much more enjoyable. Alternatively, you could download one of the animal tracks apps for your smartphone device.
- A satellite tracker or two-way communicator like the Iridium GO!, Garmin inReach, Spot Messenger (one-way) or a satellite phone. These devices are great tools for when you find yourself in a life-threatening situation. Although there are many areas in Africa where you will have cell phone coverage, there are still uncovered areas. Your guide will carry a hand-held radio with him in case he needs to contact the lodge or staff members. As a trails guide, I have never used any of the mentioned devices before, but if it will make you feel safer, by all means, bring it along.
- A pair of gaiters is great for keeping sand and grass-seeds out of your shoes and socks. Sharp grass-seeds get lodged in your socks easily and during the walk start piercing the soft skin of your ankles. Gaiters also protect your socks from getting caught up in thorns and protect you from ticks. There are many different kinds of gaiters on the market, but the most effective ones are the short leather gaiters as pictured below. There is no need to bring knee-high gaiters along as a protection against snakebites. A snake has never waited long enough for me to get within striking distance. Snakes feel the vibration of our steps and will clear the area long before we get there; therefore, you are very fortunate if you do see a snake at all!