Everyone thinks Africa is ALWAYS hot. Well it is – in summer. But winter temperatures can be cold and there are parts that get very, very cold. And none more so than the Okavango Delta, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Hwange National Park or the Busanga Plains in northern Kafue National Park, Zambia. The temperature variances between dawn and mid-day are as much as 59°F (15°C) and can even be as much as 68°F (20°C), or more. Early mornings are the coldest and it is actually clever to get moving just before dawn – which is usually the time when guests are woken up. As the sun rises, the temperature drops a bit more, so you want to be properly covered up before you even think of venturing out. All the Wilderness Safaris camps’ guest tents are constructed of canvas with shade cloth or clear view windows. In winter, external flaps for your tents will be let down at night, as well as internal flaps to close up the shade cloth windows. And yet I tell you, when a cold snap creeps through the region, it seeps through the pores and will find you in the depths of your blankets, sheets and duvets.
It is very often in this wonderful warm space that I keep my clothes for the next morning. Right at the foot of my bed, IN my bed and next to the hot water bottle. That way they stay warm and toasty and quite acceptable for venturing into early on a crisp morning. I have actually also dressed IN bed too. It is quite difficult and definitely entertaining to watch, but it works for me! Now, what do you pack when you have a weight restriction and it is this cold? There are two parts to the answer, the first is layers and the second is thermals. The camps all do laundry that they pick up from your room in the morning and return beautifully folded and ironed that evening. So worrying about laundry and keeping clothes clean is not a problem.
The next thing is that you don’t want to have hugely bulky thick heavy clothing that means you cannot move, or if someone pushed you over, you would just carry on rolling over until you bumped into a stump or something. There are many excellent lightweight natural fabric thermal clothes that are made from merino wool or silk, or you can choose polyester blends, either way these snug-hugging garments are designed to keep moisture away and you ultra-warm. Think about your ski-kit or any outdoor brand clothing that is not bright red, or bright anything really, but more neutral or even black that will be good as a base layer in the bush. Then keep layering up from there with neutral colors, ending up with a warm jacket that will cut out the wind-chill factor that you will feel as you ride out on the back of the game viewing vehicle into the cold morning. My latest find is a down waistcoat over which I put an anorak, and with both zipped up, and a scarf tucked around my neck, warm woolen gloves, I am braced for the early morning cold.
The thing is, just around mid-morning, on a normal winter’s day, the sun is warm enough and you have to start peeling layers off. Only those cold snaps keep you covered well up to mid-day. Socks and good hiking boots will be your friends when you are sitting in an open vehicle and your feet are so cold you can’t be certain there is any blood circulating to your toes! Footwear is bulky and you want to have something that will make you feel good, feel comfortable, be just right for walking in the bush, over rocks and uneven paths, keep moisture out and keep you warm.
Very importantly, you don’t ever need to ‘dress up’ in camp – not even for dinner. One wardrobe is all that is needed for your safari. Even though every agent and safari operator has a proper packing list, you have to dress for your own style and comfort. Some of us feel the cold more than others – and there is nothing worse than being freezing cold on a four-hour game drive. All Wilderness Safaris vehicles have ponchos, which are canvas on the outside and blanket-lined on the inside, so that is another cozy cuddle-up barrier between you and the elements.
But, you are warned, be prepared to layer off! The coldest morning can turn out to be beautifully warm by the end of your morning game drive. Winters in southern Africa are sunny, and the sun can, and does usually, get very warm by mid-day. Just be prepared for frosty early mornings and cold evenings, and then you will be comfortably prepared. Layer up, layer off, keep it light and thermal, neutral in color and you will be good to go!
Written by Marian Myers. Photographed by Mike Myers. This blog has been reposed in partnership with Wilderness Safaris.
Need help planning a safari? Contact our team and we’d be happy to chat with you about what to wear, best time to go, and which safari experience might be best for you.