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. I’ve been to the Big Island, Kauai, and Maui so far. So preparing for each trip, 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.
Categories for my Hawaii Packing List
I am also sort of an expert at packing everything into a carry-on. So fear not, this will not be an unmanageable list. I’m going to sort this “what to pack for Hawaii” list into five sections:
If you can’t tell by my packing list categories, my trips to Hawaii have included many different types of activities. Four days on Maui, four days on the Big Island, and a week in Kauai all had different experiences for sure, but this packing list covers it all.
And also as a heads up, I may receive commission if you make a purchase from some of the links in this list. However I promise I would never recommend something to you that I didn’t personally love. So these items are all vetted through yours truly and are legitimately what I packed for my own trip(s) to Hawaii.
Hiking in Hawaii is truly incredible and you definitely need to know what to pack for Hawaii hikes. Whether you’re spending a day in Haleakalā, a day in Volcanoes, or hiking around the NaPali Coast, you’ll CERTAINLY need some combination of the following:
- Hiking boots – I’ve raved about this pair of boots a million times but the Timberland Chocorua Trail Boots are a godsend. I brought these to Kauai as well even hiking through heat just because it gets so muddy and I’m very glad I had them.
- Hiking sandals – anywhere outside of Haleakalā won’t be so chilly, so definitely consider these Chacos hiking sandals as well.
- Trekking socks – Once again, I’m going to sing the praises of these Smartwool trekking socks and these Smartwool Mountaineer socks. My feet love to blister no matter how broken in a pair of boots is and these stay smelling decent no matter how sweaty, wet, or muddy they got.
Tropical Hiking Clothes
When you think of Hawaii you definitely think of lush rainforests and maybe even hiking through some jungle heat, and you’d be right! So any “what to pack for Hawaii” packing list worth its weight should include some comfortable hiking-in-the-heat clothes. These are some of my must-have Hawaii hike items:
- Rain coat – 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.
- 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.
- Hiking pants – Leggings with pockets are a hiking must for me and are a 100% requirement for my Hawaii packing list. I’m a big fan of these ones, anything with pockets that pass the squat test will do.
- Hiking shorts – I have tried many a lined hiking short and these hiking shorts are my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE; they don’t ride up and have pockets and I love them and I consider these an absolute must for any “what to pack for Hawaii” packing list
Haleakalā Hiking List
If you’re hiking in Haleakalā 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 hotter. 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 also mean the following:
- Zip up – I have a long sleeve Under Armour zip up that is my best friend for hiking, but really any light outer layer will work.
- Long sleeve shirt – I used a Nike quarter zip but again anything long sleeve will do.
- Warm hat and gloves – if you’re going to Haleakala specifically, you’ll definitely want these. You don’t need anything crazy heavy duty here, just a beanie and some warm gloves will be just fine.
Swimming and Beach
If you’re going to Hawaii it’s safe to assume you’ll be spending some time at the beach, so this Hawaii packing list will absolutely include some of my favorite beach necessities.
Beach Bag and Accessories
Sunglasses, a Turkish towel, a dry bag, and reef safe sunscreen (which I recommend buying upon arrival) are imperative. For reference, I never pack my own snorkel equipment and simply rent it when I arrive to Hawaii, so you won’t see recommendations on this Hawaii packing list around that.
Swimsuits and Coverups
You’re going to be spending half your trip in a swimsuit, so make sure to bring a couple – as well as coverups – that you love and are comfortable in! These are probably the most important items on this Hawaii packing list.
Outfits & Footwear
I lived in cute, comfortable sandals and a nice flowy dress during all of my trips to Hawaii. These are must-pack items for Hawaii in my opinion, if you’re a fan of dresses in general.
Luggage & Packing
My Signature Carry-On Trio
I never check a bag and the following trio of items is how I do it:
- Roller Bag – the Away Bigger Carry-On as my carry-on item (use this link for $20 off any Away purchase) can fit so much stuff it’s insane.
- Backpack – I have a few backpacks that I’m in love with these days. My favorite backpacks are:
- Peak Design Everyday Backpack – this is a perfect personal item backpack that can fit so much stuff in it and still fit under the seat on the plane
- Brevite Jumper – this is another great personal item that is smaller than the Peak Design one if that feels too big for you
- Mira 32 Hydration Backpack – this is a true hiking backpack
- Packing cubes – These have CHANGED MY LIFE. I swear to you I fit all of the above in a carryon and a personal item so upgrade your packing game and get yourself some packing cubes.
If you’re not a photographer, feel free to skip over this section. But if you do love to take photos, Hawaii is going to be one of the most beautiful subject you’ve ever photographed. Your “things to pack for Hawaii” list MUST include your photo gear. This is what I brought of mine:
- Camera – I’ve taken both my first camera, a Sony a6300, and my current, a Sony a7iii on separate trips to Hawaii and loved my photos from each
- Everyday lens – bring whatever your absolute favorite lens is, ideally one with a decent zoom, mine is the Tamron 28-200
- Wide angle lens – especially if you’re going to either of the national parks, I would bring a wide angle, but if you are trying to keep your kit light feel free to forego this one
- GoPro – for any snorkeling or underwater photography, I love the GoPro HERO9
Random Things You Definitely Need
- Mosquito Bracelets – these bracelets didn’t save us 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.
- 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!
- Collapsible Cooler – if you can fit it (or attach it to your carryon) then a collapsible cooler is a dream. My husband and I discovered the magic of a beer after a long hike in Wyoming, and a beer after a long hike in Hawaii is 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.
- National Parks Pass – I, quite literally, wrote a love letter to the national parks pass. No “what to pack for Hawaii” list would be complete without it if you plan on hitting either of Hawaii’s beautiful national parks.
- Blanket and Chairs – if you go to Haleakala for sunrise or to the beach for sunset, you’ll want to have both of these ready. You can’t exactly pack these, but see if you can get them from your rental!
And there you have it, the answer to all your what to pack for Hawaii questions! Feel free to reach out with any questions, and if you’re looking for more tips on the Aloha State, check out my other Hawaii blogs.