From deciding which essentials you’ll need to bring to double-checking you’ve got everything before you go, packing is the most important thing you’ll do before heading out on safari. Which means it’s equally important that the bag you choose to bring with you is up to the task. So, when it came time to start thinking about packing for my Tanzania Wildlife Safari, I knew that thorough research and some product testing would be key.
Before you start your own search, it’s important to know what you want out of your duffel. For me, I knew I wanted it to be carry-on compliant (I have the worst luck with airlines losing my bags) and as easy as possible to carry around, since wheeled luggage isn’t permitted on safari. Some other general things to keep in mind when picking out your safari bag? Bringing hard-sided styles is on the “don’t” list, due to storage restrictions in the vehicles. Additionally, the weather can change in an instant on the savanna, so a water-resistant duffel will help keep your things dry. To meet those requirements, as well as the ones I set for myself, I kept an eye out for medium-sized bags with soft-sided designs and backpack straps. After scouring the internet, I narrowed my findings down to five possible options—each with its own set of pros and cons:
Pros: Lightweight. Weighing in at just over one pound, this bag is a good choice for a safari, or any trip that has a weight limit for luggage.
Cons: Placement of the backpack straps. Paired with the way this bag opens (a flap top), these straps turned out to be more of a hindrance than a help as they get in the way of opening the duffel.
Pros: Good storage space. For its size, this bag makes a smart use of space. Not only can you fit a surprising amount of stuff in the main compartment, the interior pockets can also be accessed from the outside.
Cons: Confusing shoulder straps. At first, it isn’t entirely clear how you’re supposed to attach the backpack straps, which makes for some initial frustration. Pro tip: The adjustable ends lock into the two rings at the foot of the bag using a kind of twisting maneuver.
Pros: Ample pocket storage. The first thing I noticed was all the pockets that line the side of this bag. When packing lots of little things like travel-size sunscreen, bug repellant wipes, and most of the contents of your medicine cabinet, compartment space is important.
Cons: The bulk. Sometimes, the things that make a bag great can also be its downfall. These pockets were designed in such a way that made them bulge out, adding to the width. There’s only so much room in the safari vehicles for storage, so the extra inches aren’t ideal.
Pros: Size. While it doesn’t look like it from the outside, this bag has a ton of space for all the essentials you’ll need out in the bush.
Cons: Quality. The construction of this bag wasn’t as sturdy as the others I tried out. Additionally, it didn’t seem to offer too much in the way of water resistance.
Pros: Quality. North Face always puts out a good product, and this was no exception. The build of this bag was substantial and seemed like it could hold up to the kind of wear and tear a safari presents.
Cons: Size and lack of pockets. This turned out to be the biggest bag out of all the ones I ordered, which was worrisome since I was planning to use it as a carry on. As a checked bag, this would be perfect. With only one end pocket, options for extra storage were minimal.
While any of these bags would have been excellent choices, in the end I wound up choosing the Black Hole Duffel Bag. Not only did it have all the features I wanted, but it improved on them with its smart design. Another contributing factor for me was that this bag was made by Patagonia, which is in and of itself a strong pro. Their dedication to environmental preservation (at least one percent of sales are donated to causes working toward a cleaner planet) makes this a good purchase in more ways than one.