THE BEST WAY TO DISCOVER HOW TO DRESS FOR EXPLORING THE BUSHVELD IS TO LOOK AT WHAT THE PROFESSIONALS WEAR, RIGHT?
So you would think. Then what do we learn when we find the guide wearing shorts and vellies, and the backup guide in long pants and boots? Two things – guides will wear whatever they can find that is clean and easy to find in the dark. And that there is no absolute rule and we should just wear what’s comfortable for us, especially on the feet.
HERE’S MY PERSONAL TOP TIPS FOR PREPARING FOR A COMFORTABLE WALKING SAFARI.
ASK THE GUIDES
Each evening there is an opportunity to chat to guides about plans for the next morning, and this is a good time to check on the best attire. The plan might be to explore the fever tree forest and pans, which is flat and easy and is fine for walking trail shoes. Or maybe there will be scrambling down into the Lanner Gorge, and boots are recommended. For walking in the Luvhuvhu river, shorts make sense, or if the guides noticed some ticks about they might say to wear longs.
LET IT BREATH
The best fabrics for walking in hot conditions are the light synthetic ones that wick moisture and dry quickly. They also tend to look fine after being packed, are quick to wash and don’t need ironing. Merino wool garments are more expensive but also excellent for the conditions. Avoid jeans and other heavy cotton materials, as they’re just too hot, and if wet get heavier still. I alternate between shorts and leggings as that’s what is most comfortable for me.
Let’s hear it for drab colours, the faded browns, grungy greys, olive greens and their king, the fabulous khaki! That word khaki comes from the Indian subcontinent and means “dust covered”, a relic of 19th century military types who had good reasons for wanting to blend with the background and favoured a shade that has taken over the planet. These natural earth colours are less likely to spook the wildlife – and also don’t show dirt.
BRING A BUFF
A lightweight UV-proof bandana or buff is a handy addition, and can be used to protect the face from dust during a drive, and save the neck from sunburn, or wipe the sweat from your brow.
THINK SUN PROTECTION
Alongside comfort, the highest wardrobe priority must be sun protection, at any time of year. Hats are a must, ideally with a brim. If wearing a peaked hat, don’t forget to zinc cream the ears. Check that clothing has a good UV rating, and long sleeves and pants are the surest protection from sun. If you find that too hot, make sure exposed parts are well covered with sunblock, preferably one that is not scented.
FOCUS ON FEET
Recently I did a walk in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi park in Kwa-Zulu Natal and my guide was barefoot, but I’d not recommend it for everyone! It’s important to bring shoes that fit well as a blister from new shoes can really spoil a trip. As long as they are comfortable and have a sole thick enough to protect against acacia thorns, any trail shoe or light boot is fine. The traditional South African bush footwear are the velskoens, made of soft leather, and sometimes recycled tyres for soles. Avoid open toe sandals and heavy mountain boots. Don’t forget something light to wear around camp too.
Socks can be a nuisance as they tend to pick up grass seeds which are scratchy and hard to remove. I usually wear low cut “no-see” socks, as it’s easier to wash skin than material. To protect against those grass seeds, some like to wear short gaiters. These also help to stop sand, grit and ticks entering the footwear. Don’t get the high type gaiters, which are too hot.
Bring a variety of clothing styles – long and short sleeves, shorts, long pants, leggings. If you have them, pack both boots and trail shoes. I always bring a pair of Hi-Tec boots and Salomon trail shoes (Both from Trappers). But don’t feel the need to splash out on new footwear – if you have a comfortable pair of outdoor shoes, they will be fine.
PREPARE FOR THE COLD
Days are hot in the tropical zone, but it can be surprisingly cold at night, especially in winter. Pack a lightweight fleece for evenings at the boma and if you feel the cold easily, throw in a beanie, scarf and gloves too, as you may appreciate them during a dawn drive.
For all you last-minuters, there’s a small shop at Pafuri which stocks a selection of bush gear (but not footwear). Some have the triple RETURNAfrica logo which represents the interdependence of people, nature and hospitality. At the bottom we see a person with arms extended, the welcoming Makuleke people. On the left is a stem with a leaf representing our natural environment. And on the right is the sheltering thatch roof of the lodge.
Written by resident blogger: Hlengiwe Magagula
All Images: Morgan Trimble