What to take
This is an impossible question to answer fully, as it depends on how you intend to travel and exactly where you are going. If you are flying in for a short safari holiday then you need not pack too ruthlessly – provided that you stay within your weight allowance. However, note that smaller, privately chartered planes may specify a maximum weight of 10–12kg for hold luggage, which must be packed in a soft, squashable bag. Once you see the stowage spaces in a small charter plane, you'll understand the importance of not bringing along large or solid suitcases.
If you are backpacking then weight becomes much more important, and minimising it becomes an art form. Each extra item must be questioned: is its benefit worth its weight?
If you have your own vehicle then neither weight nor bulk will be so vital, and you will have a lot more freedom to bring what you like. Here are some general guidelines:
For most days all you will want is light, loose-fitting cotton clothing. Pure cotton, or at least a cotton-rich mix, is cooler and more absorbent than synthetic materials, making it more comfortable in the heat.
For men shorts (not too short) are fine in the bush, but long trousers are more socially acceptable in the towns and rural villages. (You will rarely see a respectable black man in Botswana wearing shorts outside a safari camp.) For women a knee-length skirt or culottes is ideal. Botswana's dress code is generally conservative: a woman wearing revealing clothing in town implies that she is a woman of ill repute, whilst untidy clothing suggests a poor person, of low social standing.
These rules are redundant at safari camps, where dress is casual, and designed to keep you cool and protect skin from the sun. Green, khaki and dust-brown cotton is de rigueur amongst visitors at the more serious camps. Wardrobes full of shiny, new safari gear will generally earn less respect than battered old green shirts and khaki shorts.
At the less serious camps you'll see a smattering of brighter coloured clothes amongst many dull bush colours, the former usually worn by first-time visitors who are less familiar with the bush. Note that washing is done daily at virtually all camps, so few changes of clothes are necessary. A squashable hat and a robust pair of sunglasses with a high UV-absorption are essential.
Finally avoid anything which looks military. Leave all your camouflage patterns at home. Wearing camouflage is asking for trouble anywhere in Africa. You are very likely to be stopped and questioned by the genuine military, or at least the police, who will assume that you are a member of some militia – and question exactly what you are doing in Botswana. Few will believe that this is a fashion statement elsewhere in the world.
If you plan to do much walking, either on safari or with a backpack, then lightweight walking boots (with ankle support if possible) are sensible. This is mainly because the bush is not always smooth and even, and anything that minimises the chance of a twisted ankle is worthwhile. Secondly, for the nervous, it will reduce still further the minute chance of being bitten by a snake, scorpion or other creepy-crawly, whilst walking.
Because of the heat, bring the lightest pair of boots you can find – preferably go for canvas, or a breathable Gore-tex-type material. Leather boots are too hot for wearing in October, but thin single-skin leather is bearable for walking in July and August. Never bring a new pair, or boots that aren't completely worn in. Always bring several pairs of thin socks – two thin pairs of socks are more comfortable than one thick pair, and will help to prevent blisters.
For mokoro trips, or generally relaxing at camp during the day, rafting sandals are ideal. These are sandals with a strong sole and firmly fitting straps which are waterproof. At night around camp you'll need to cover your feet/ankles against mosquitoes, and so lightweight boots of some sort are ideal.
If you are coming on an organised safari, then even the most simple bushcamp will mean tents with linen, mosquito nets and probably an en-suite shower and toilet. However, if you're planning on doing any camping, then note that equipment is easier to buy in Europe or North America.
Other useful items
Obviously no list is comprehensive, and only travelling can teach you what you need, and what you can do without. Here are a few of my own favourites and essentials, just to jog your memory. For visitors embarking on an organised safari, camps will have most things but useful items include:
• Sunblock and lipsalve – for vital protection from the sun
• Binoculars – totally essential for game viewing
• A small pocket torch
• 'Leatherman' tool – never go into the bush without one
• A small water bottle, especially on flights (see Camping equipment)
• Electrical insulating tape – remarkably useful for general repairs
• Camera – long lenses are vital for good shots of animals
• Basic sewing kit – with some really strong thread for repairs
• Cheap waterproof watch (leave expensive ones, and jewellery, at home)
• Couple of paperback novels
• Large plastic 'bin-liner' (garbage) bags, for protecting luggage from dust
• Simple medical kit and insect repellent
And for those driving or backpacking, useful extras are:
• Concentrated, biodegradable washing powder
• Long-life candles – African candles are often soft, and burn quickly
• Nylon 'paracord' – bring at least 20m for emergencies and washing lines
• Hand-held GPS navigation system, for expeditions to remote areas
• Good compass and a whistle
• More comprehensive medical kit