What to Pack for Hawaii – The Ultimate Packing List

Woman sitting on the rocks on Ohai Loop Trail

If you’re like me, you do a lot of research going into a trip. Like I’m probably the Monica Gellar of planning trips, but more of a Phoebe when I’m actually on vacation. Since we were going to both Maui and the Big Island, there was a lot of planning going on. I needed to know what to pack for Hawaii, what the best views are on each island, best food, local cocktails, and anything else I could get my hands on. My friends continue to tell me that traveling with me is the best because I plan it all and I take that as the highest compliment. And also maybe a hint that my friends are lazy, but I digress.

My most commonly searched phrase is [destination] packing list, and it doesn’t matter if I know where I’m going or if I’ve been there before. It’s immensely helpful to learn from travelers’ wise choices (and horrible mistakes) before I go somewhere, so I figured I’d go ahead and put together my own “what to pack for Hawaii” list.

I am also sort of an expert at packing everything into a carry-on. We were in Hawaii for nine days and I didn’t need to check a bag but had everything I needed. So fear not, this will not be an unmanageable list. I’m going to sort this “what to pack for Hawaii” list into three sections:

  • Hiking
  • Swimming and Snorkeling
  • Everything Else

If you can’t tell by my packing list categories, my trip to Hawaii included many different types of activities. We were on the island for four days, and my Maui itinerary was just as good as this packing list is about to be.

Hiking

If you’re spending a day in Haleakala, you’ll CERTAINLY need each the following:

  • Hiking boots/shoes
  • Trekking socks
    • Once again, I’m going to sing the praises of these Smartwool trekking socks. My feet love to blister no matter how broken in a pair of shoes is, and these have prevented blisters now on ~40 miles of hiking. These are angels sent to hug my feet.
  • Multiple layers
    • This is always a good idea because you never know what weather will do, but with Haleakala specifically you’ll be surprised by just how COLD it is. You’ll want to be able to pack layers you can easily shed, because as you’re hiking down into the crater it’ll get warmer. And then when you’re heading back up you’ll get cold again. It’s not exactly a shocking thing for it to be colder when you’re at that altitude, but it feels strange because it’s Hawaii. So for any “what to pack for Hawaii” plan that includes Haleakala, when I mean layers I mean all of the following:
      • Light outer layer
        • If you want to pack super smart use a rain coat for this. This rain coat has been my favorite thing ever for at least five years, and is in excellent shape. There are ABSOLUTELY cheaper alternatives, but if you ever feel like splurging, it is certifiably great.
      • Long sleeve shirt
      • Tank top
        • I bought these workout crop tanks and they actually were super versatile. Both for hiking any any intense activity, but also you could rock them with shorts or a skirt and were super cute. Pro tip – size up, particularly if you’re a chesty woman.
      • Warm and gloves
        • You don’t need anything crazy heavy duty here, just a beanie and some warm gloves will be just fine.
  • Hiking pants/leggings
    • Leggings with pockets are a hiking must for me. I’m a big fan of the ones from Fabletics but again, anything with pockets that pass the squat test will do.
    • I also tested out some running shorts I bought… well… for running. I hiked in these for most of the hikes, and they worked great.
  • Backpack
    • The Peak Design Everyday Backpack holds all the things I need. Truly. And it is super easy to open/maneuver to access items in each compartment. I’m a big fan.

Swimming and Snorkeling

Maui is known for its snorkeling, so if you’re going to visit the island you should definitely find some snorkeling. Additionally, it’s a prime whale watching location. Water activities should definitely be on your list. For those, you’ll definitely need the following:

  • Beach bag and accessories
    • Sunglasses, something to read, and reef safe sunscreen are imperative.
  • Multiple swimsuits and coverups
    • If you’re taking any underwater photos, make sure to pack suits with good contrast. You don’t want to go snorkeling in a light pink swimsuit and look naked in all your photos. Not speaking from experience or anything…
    • For coverups, I just packed stuff that contrasted well. Since Maui has so much varying landscape, I just packed options. These take such little space in your carryon so its’ easy to pack a few!
  • Cute sandals but also hiking sandals
    • I had some flip flops for easy beach treks but I also invested in a pair of Chacos for any short coastal hikes. These came in very handy multiple times, including hiking down to the red sand beach during the Road to Hana drive. Do they make my eyeballs sad? A little bit. But do they work? Extremely well.
  • Turkish towels
    • I use Sand Cloud towels and I am obsessed. They’ve got cute patterns, they don’t collect sand, and they take up less space when packing. Highly recommend.

Everything Else

  • Mosquito bracelets
    • These bracelets didn’t save is in every situation, but they did a good job for the most part. Basically these don’t repel all the bugs if you quite literally walk into a dark, creepy looking forest on the side of the road. But for everything else, you’ll be glad you have them.
  • National Parks Pass
  • Reusable water bottle
    • It’s important to be as eco-friendly as possible, and a reusable water bottles is a great way to do so. You’ll need one for beaches, hikes, and long car rides. Hell, buy one in Hawaii and get yourself an awesome souvenir!
  • Blanket and chairs
    • If you go to Haleakala for either sunset or sunrise, I promise you’ll want both of these. If you go to the beach to hang out, you’ll definitely want the chairs at least.
  • Collapsible Cooler
    • If you can fit it (or attach it to your carryon) then a collapsible cooler would have been awesome. My fiancé and I discovered the magic of a beer after a long hike in Wyoming, and a beer after a long hike in Hawaii would be just as satisfying. We bought this one while we were at Yellowstone in the camo color, but I’m sad we don’t have this adorable Jungle Palm pattern.
  • Cute Clothes
    • I mean.. this feels self explanatory. But bring whatever combination of a couple of cute dresses, some tank tops, and some skirts. They don’t take a ton of space in your luggage and it’s fun to have photos in lots of different outfits!
  • Packing Cubes
    • These have CHANGED MY LIFE. I swear to you I fit all of the above in a carryon and a personal item. Upgrade your packing game and get yourself some packing cubes.

And there you have it, the answer to all your what to pack for Hawaii questions! If you’re looking for more tips on the Aloha State, check out my other Hawaii blogs.

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