Gear Carry on African Safaris

Gear Carry on African Safaris

Our friends Therese Iknoian and Michael Hodgson from HITravelTales recently took our Retrospective shoulder bags with them to Kenya and came back with some stellar photos and a great write-up on their trip.  Check out some of their tips on what to bring, and how to carry it all, if an African safari is on your bucketlist radar for 2022:


How to carry gear to and on an African safari

By Therese Iknoian /

Your bucket list African photo safari is getting closer. You’ve gotten your immunizations and ordered your cargo pants. Now, the question is, how do you best carry all your camera gear – in transit and then on a game drive?

Michael Hodgson and I, of, enjoyed a photo safari in Kenya recently, and our biggest packing challenge was indeed deciding how best to pack and then carry our various lenses, bodies and accessories.

Assuming you fly into a larger city like Nairobi, the simplest carry solution is:

  • one roller bag or large backpack for getting all your equipment onto a plane and to your destination, and
  • one shoulder bag to take what you need into the 4WD vehicles for your daily photo game drives. Remember, you are not allowed to walk around outside of the camps, so all movement is via vehicle.

Once there, 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 then used – and dare we say LOVED -- the Retrospective shoulder bags (I had the 30L, and Michael had the 20L). The extraordinary number of pockets and durability were lifesaving. For each day’s photo safari, we used the shoulder bags to carry extra gear, batteries, charging cables, or layers into the vehicles, and then carried the cameras with lenses over our shoulders.

Which bag is right for you? Michael and I are different shooters and used two different systems:

Normally not a wildlife photographer, I could fit my longest Sigma 100-400 f/5-6.3 lens (knowing that most wildlife shooting will be in daylight) with a smaller Tamron 70-180 f/2.8 with my two Sony camera bodies (a6600 and a7c), along with a couple of shorter lenses and all those other accessories into the compact Airport Advantage.

Michael, who is a wildlife shooter, has a much larger Sony FE 200-600 f/5.6-6.3 and a Sony FE 70-200 f/2.8 with two Sony camera bodies (a7III and a9). That all fit well into his Backlight Elite 45L, along with a shorter lens, teleconverter, GoPro, and accessories.

One wrinkle comes if you have a super telephoto that really won’t fit into a roller bag or backpack. Solution: One friend carried his huge lens alone, well-padded, in a small lightweight daypack with the rest of his gear in a 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.

We did learn that one longer telephoto lens and one medium telephoto (prime or zoom) is really all you need for daily game drives. Others may come in handy if you tour cities, villages, or try some night photography from the camps.

In the end, carrying your gear to your dream African photo safari is a lot easier than imagined. Now, all you have to think about is getting those awe-inspiring shots of elephants, rhinos, lion cubs or the Great Migration.

  • Beautiful safari photos. Thanks for the information on the bags and what gear and lenses to take along.

    Joel Kleine on
  • Excellent story!

    Thomas Thomson on
  • On our many trips to Southern Africa I find my Airport International is just perfect. I can include 2 nikon pro bodies my 500mm, 70-200 f/2.8, 14-24 f/2.8 and 50mm, and accessories. With room left over for toothbrush and toothpaste, socks and underwear.

    Norman “Punkus” Arnett on
  • Having been on two photo expeditions in Africa the issue is weight and size of the bags due to moving about aboard bush planes. A longer focal length lens and a 70-200mm lens attached to two camera bodies is a perfect solution. Due to dusty conditions, changing lenses in the bush is impossible,

    Jeffrey Littell on

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