Heading to Hawaii soon? Get ready for some incredible adventures- between its lush green mountains, pristine beaches, and incredibly vibrant culture, Hawaii is literally paradise on earth.
But with such a dynamic landscape and endless activities to experience, it can be hard to know exactly what to pack for your adventure. But fear not- after visiting the islands five times, I have a solid grasp on exactly what you need to make the most of your time on this little slice of heaven.
So without further adieu, here’s the quintessential Hawaii packing list, allowing you to explore Hawaii’s stunning mountaintops, perfect beaches, and everything in-between.
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Pssst… heading to Hawaii soon? We have a TON of information-packed posts that can help you plan your trip!
Going to Maui? Check out:
- The Ultimate Maui Itinerary: How to Spend an Incredible 8 Days (or Less!) on the Valley Isle
- Maui Whale Watching Guide- Everything You Need to Know About Seeing the Pacific’s Best Acrobats
- Sliding Sands Trail: Hike into This Massive Volcano (While It’s Still Dormant!)
- Waihe’e Ridge Trail- It’s Like a Helicopter Tour But on Foot!
- 4 Reasons Why Sunset at Haleakala National Park Beats Sunrise (+ Tips for Seeing a Spectacular Sunset)
- Black Sand Beach on Maui: Everything You Need to Know
Going to Oahu? Check out:
- 10 Best Beaches on Oahu: Everything You Need to Know
- Best Snorkeling in Oahu: 6 Not-to-Miss Places to Explore
- Four Actually Easy Hikes on Oahu: The Perfect Trails for Beginners
- Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail: Oahu’s Best Hike
- Koko Crater Trail: The Most Unique Hike on Oahu
What to bring to the beach in Hawaii
A solid portion of your time is probably going to be spent in or near the water, so make sure you have at least a couple of swimsuit options so that one is always dry at any given time. I’d also recommend bringing along at least one that you can comfortably move around in without any body parts accidentally flopping out, given there’s lots of fun and active water sports to partake in, like SUPing, kayaking, or hiking to waterfalls.
For men, I’d recommend bringing along something that can easily double as shorts if you’re running into town or a brewery, like this one or this one. Seemingly all of Hawaii has lots of laidback vibes (as in, like, don’t be surprised to see folks walking around grocery stores barefoot in certain places!), so swim trunks should be perfectly suitable apparel for most establishments.
When in Hawaii, I wind up wearing a swimsuit with jean shorts and a cover-up thrown over it almost every day- where else can you get away with that? I love kimono cover ups, like this one (which comes in perfect prints for Hawaii, like monstera!), because you can easily wear it over a swimsuit or even throw it on over a sundress to elevate your outfit a bit for the evenings (and to battle all of the seemingly overly frosty indoor restaurants!).
What says “I’m on a beach vacation” more than a solid straw sun hat? The brim provides SPF 50+ protection for your face, neck, and chest, while there’s also an adjustable interior band to accommodate folks with bigger or tinier heads (hi, that would be me!).
Thermal rash guard
The water temperature in Hawaii is fairly pleasant year round, ranging from 76°F (24.4°C) to 81°F (27.2°C). But if you’re anything like me (i.e., a total wuss when it comes to coldness), this may still feel pretty chilly if you’re planning on staying in the water for more than a few minutes, like if you’re snorkeling or surfing. To help stay warmer, you can include a thermal wetsuit shirt, like this or this for women and this for men, on your Hawaii packing list. And bonus- it’ll protect your upper torso from sunburn!
Again, the sun in Hawaii is intense and, like, REALLY bright. Protect those eyeballs with some shades with UVA and UVB protection, like these for women or these for men (plus aviators automatically make everyone instantly look like Tom Cruise in Top Gun!).
A lot of the time when I see people posting photos of their vacations to Hawaii, it appears they’ve spent about 99% of it at the beach. And while I’m all for beach time, I personally think these folks may be missing out on one of Hawaii’s most breathtaking activities- hiking!
The islands offer absolutely incredible trails, from ridge hikes along lush green mountains, into volcanic craters, through lush jungles, and along incredible cliffs, like the Napali Coast.
So if you’re interested in letting your feet carry you to some of the most amazing views on the islands, be sure to include the following items on your Hawaii packing list:
So here’s the thing- Hawaii is hot and humid and you’re going to be hiking up a mountain or through a jungle or whatever. And did I mention that the islands, on average, receive up to 30 inches of rainfall per year?
So having breathable, moisture-wicking shorts is basically a necessity here (especially if you want to avoid the dreaded swamp butt while hiking). For each vacation, I bring along at least two pairs of shorts like these and for men, I’d recommend something like these.
As often as we can, Justin and I bring along just one carry-on for our trips, so having clothes that are multifunctional is super important to us. Tank tops are one of my go-to items- they’re cool and airy enough for hikes, but can work just as well for exploring surfer towns or can be simply thrown over a swimsuit.
I’m obsessed with these moisture-wicking tank tops, with a built-in sports bra for support and that show just a hint of tummy to achieve maximum Hot Girl vibes (obviously, very important when hiking).
Unless you’re hiking on volcanic rock, there’s a good chance any hike you take in Hawaii will be on a dirt- or really, more like a mud- trail, with a hearty amount of rocks and roots along the way.
If you’re planning on doing any kind of non-paved trails, I’d strongly recommend bringing along actual hiking boots (like these for men and these for women), as opposed to relying on sneakers or even hiking sandals (and don’t even get me started about hiking in flip-flops).
The boots will offer better protection from all of the random stabby stones and other things waiting to trip you along the trail and will provide better traction against the slippery clay-like mud found throughout Hawaii.
Take it from me, a woman who has permanent scars on her ankles as a result of not wearing socks with hiking boots one time- bring along a few pairs of hiking socks (like these for men and these for women) to wear on the trail and be prepared for at least one of your pairs to get caked with Hawaii’s thick mud.
Nothing is worse than unsupported and sweaty boobs while you’re also, you know, worrying about climbing up a literal mountain. I love sports bras, like this one, that provide support even during higher impact activities, like running, and are cute enough to be worn on their own when you really work up a sweat on the trail.
Between shading your face, wicking sweat off your forehead, and making your hair look less of a hot mess, baseball hats are hikers’ best friends. This one is light-weight and breathable- exactly what you want when you’re hiking up a volcanic crater.
Reusable water bottle
No matter what trail you do in Hawaii, I promise you’re going to get your sweat on. To stay hydrated in such a hot and humid climate, Justin and I both have giant Nalgene bottles that we always fill up and take with us on hikes. They’re better for the planet than buying disposable bottles and much easier on our wallet- win win for everyone!
Sunrise or sunset hikes are one of my favorite things- I can think of few things better than hiking up a mountain with Justin and watching the sun sink beneath the Pacific Ocean, with the sky turning spectacular shades of pink and orange. But it can be scary to hike down a steep descent in the dark- and downright dangerous if you don’t have the right kind of lighting source to help you safely hike down.
If I had a nickel for every time we ran into a hiker in Hawaii who was hiking along a scary cliffside in the complete and utter dark, I would have at least enough money to buy a solid meal at Taco Bell, which is a bit unsettling. So if sunrise or sunset hikes sound like your jam, please be sure to bring along a headlamp, like these rechargeable ones, to keep your hands totally free in case you trip and fall and your eyes able to see if you’re about to step off into an abyss of doom!
While bringing along a warm jacket may only be necessary if you’re planning on doing high elevation hikes in the early morning or in the evening, you should still definitely be aware that there’s certain areas of Hawaii that can get downright chilly (or even freezing), depending on the time of day and year. In fact, you can famously ski or snowboard on Mauna Kea, the Big Island’s volcano that towers 13,500 feet above sea level.
When we watched the sunset at Haleakalā in Maui (which stands at over 10,000 feet), it instantly fell to almost freezing temperatures as soon as the sun eclipsed the horizon.
So if you’re planning on doing any similar kinds of activities, like climbing the Mauna Kea Hike on the Big Island or any of the incredible hikes on Maui at the summit of Haleakalā, be sure to bring along a warm jacket so you can actually enjoy these experiences, like this one for men or this one for women, which conveniently packs into a tiny pouch that’s perfect to just toss in your luggage (plus a cozy beanie for good measure!).
Other Clothing Must-Haves
So we’ve covered the beach, we’ve covered the trails- what other kinds of things do you need to be prepared for while in Hawaii?
One dressy(ish) outfit
As mentioned above, Hawaii is pretty chill- I’d think you’d be hard-pressed to find many establishments with hard-and-fast dresscodes here. That being said, there’s certainly some upscale restaurants and things you may want to get slightly dressed up for (at least more so than literally wearing a swimsuit and jorts), like luaus or dinner cruises.
On each of our trips to Hawaii, I’ve always brought a swing dress, like this one, that you can wear to the beach or dress up a bit with some accessories. And Justin always brings along a few snazzy button-down shirts.
Raincoat and umbrella
One of the things you should know about Hawaii before heading on your trip is that it rains quite a bit (remember, a lot of it is a tropical jungle!), oftentimes, seemingly out of nowhere. Luckily, rain is pretty localized, so you can usually find pockets of the island on any given day that are totally dry (even from November through March, the rainy season) to enjoy your vacation unencumbered by precipitation.
That being said, bringing along a rain jacket (like this one for men or this one for women) should be considered essential- there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get caught in at least one downpour during your trip no matter when you visit. It’s also worth bringing along a small travel umbrella, just in case!
Listen, even if you’re not hiking, you’re going to be doing a fair amount of walking in Hawaii- around cute little towns, across beaches, and around attractions, like museums or national parks. So pack something more comfortable than regular ol’ flip-flops, like Tevas sandals (Justin has these and I have these).
Another bonus of hiking sandals? They double as water shoes and protect your feet when you’re walking in a body of water with a stabby bottom, like volcanic rock or big, heavy river rocks.
True story: While Justin and I were driving along the Road to Hana, I hiked through a river barefoot to see a waterfall and actually lost a toenail after stubbing my toe on an enormous river rock. This was not only mega painful (and gross!), but it frankly ruined the rest of that trip- we had to leave the Road to Hana midway through to treat my foot and I couldn’t go in the water, on the beach, or walk for any meaningful period of time, due to the giant open wound on my foot.
I am NEVER going to hike through a body of water like that again without hiking sandals or water shoes and, if you learn from my dumb mistakes, neither should you!
So you’ll probably have your camera, cell phone, sun screen, rain jacket, water bottle and other odds and ends you need to take with you- but where are you gonna put all that stuff? Let me introduce to you my handy dandy friend, a packable daypack! These handy backpacks are big enough to carry around all your essentials during the day, while packing down into a teeny tiny pouch when you need to throw it in your luggage. Genius!
If you plan on doing any kind of activities in the water (think SUPing, kayaking, taking a tour in a Zodiac), I’d recommend bringing a dry bag with you, which protects your valuables from water (and sand, the ultimate nemesis of electronics).
Drybags are incredibly handy– Justin and I use them when we’re doing water activities, if we don’t feel comfortable leaving our stuff by itself on the sand but want to play in the water, and even as a make-shift cooler to keep our beers cold on the beach!
While your accommodations probably offer towels for taking showers and whatnot, most hotels or AirBnBs don’t offer larger towels that are suitable for taking to the beach. So bring along a beach towel to dry off after a bout of snorkeling or to simply laze on around the beach.
If you’re planning on snorkeling more than once or twice during your time in Hawaii, it’s usually easier and cheaper to bring along your own mask and fins, as opposed to renting some in Hawaii. Most of the beaches don’t have a snorkeling gear rental shop right on site and nothing would be sadder than being ready to jump in the water and not having the right gear on hand.
Justin and I have brought this snorkeling set to each of our trips to Hawaii and love it- the dry-top valve on the snorkel keeps the water out in big waves and the lower purge valve lets you blow out any water that might accidentally get in. Plus the travel bag makes it easy to schlep your snorkeling gear wherever you need to go.
True story: during our first snorkeling excursion, I was convinced the water in Hawaii was just horrendously murky- I could barely see four or so feet in front of me!
Turns out the issue was me- my mask was just super, super foggy the whole time. And while I tried some of the homemade remedies, like spit or the Naupaka leaf (which you’ll find on most Hawaiian beaches), my mask remained fairly foggy throughout the rest of our snorkeling excursions.
So if you’re going to go snorkeling or scuba diving, I’d recommend picking up some anti-fog solution to use on the inside of your snorkeling mask, to allow you to see Hawaii’s beautiful marine life as clearly as possible.
And pssst… if you have a beard, like Justin, I’d recommend bringing along a little pot of Vaseline- he couldn’t get his mask to form a good seal above his lip until he tried smearing a little bit of vaseline under his nose. Worked like a charm!
This one is kind of a no-brainer, cuz, well, Hawaii is less than 1400 miles north of the equator, meaning the sun can be rather intense here- and nothing ruins a vacation quite like a gnarly sunburn!
While bringing along sunscreen may be a “no duh” statement, you do have to be careful about what kind of sunscreen you’re purchasing, as many of the most common types of sunscreens contain nano zinc oxide, which can bleach and damage the DNA of coral reefs and basically contribute to the horror that is climate change.
So, instead, let’s all be friends to our planet and its cute marine life and use reef-safe sunscreen, like this one (plus it basically smells like a tropical vacation in a bottle- you can find me huffing this stuff every time we get back home from a beach vacation, pretending like I’m still in paradise).
If you’re spending any time at all in jungles (like going on hikes or rainforest ziplining tour), you’re definitely going to want to bring along bug spray. The mosquitos can be quite nasty and nothing compliments your photos on the beach quite like your body being covered by giant welt-like insect bites!
If you’re planning on going on a whale-watching or snorkeling tour, it’s a good idea to have some dramamine on hand, especially if you’re prone to motion or sea sickness. It’s a lot harder to enjoy the majesty of humpback whales or the ocean or whatever while you’re fighting back the urge to barf.
Did you even go to Hawaii if you don’t have some sweet footage of yourself swimming with your new best sea turtle friends? The GoPro is amazing- it takes stellar photos and videos both above and below water, offers tons of cool features, like image stabilization, and is tiny enough to fit in your pocket. Amazing!
We also have this accessories kit for our GoPro- we definitely use some of the accessories more than others, like the floating handle grip or car mount, but for what a wide variety of tools you get, it’s a great value.
Between cell phones, cameras, GoPros, and headlamps, there’s LOTS of odds and ends for you to keep charged during your travels. Because of the sheer number of all of our rechargeable gadgets, Justin and I always take our trusty power bank with us wherever we go. We have this baby– it’s been to twenty countries (plus a few trips to Hawaii!) and still going strong! And unlike a lot of other battery packs, it’s flat, thin, and easily packable in even the smallest backpack.
Hawaii is fantastically gorgeous and a photographers’ paradise- from ornate flowers to Jurassic Park-esque landscapes to literal whales jumping out of the water, I’m hard-pressed to think of a place with so much beauty just waiting to be photographed.
Most cell phone cameras these days are fantastic and will do a great job capturing Hawaii’s splendor, but if you’re looking to up your photo game, you can always consider getting a nicer digital camera. Justin and I shoot with a Sony camera and primarily use a wide-angle lens (for landscape photography) and a zoom lens (for wildlife shots).
We recently used our 100-400mm zoom lens to capture some stunning photos while we went on one of the best whale watching tours on Maui.
This gear is certainly on the pricier side (remember- we are professional bloggers, guys!), but if you’re interested in getting awesome photos in Hawaii (and beyond), they’re totally worth the investment.
Even if you’re not interested in upping your camera game, I’d recommend considering bringing along a tripod to help get shots of everyone in your party. Justin and I finally purchased a travel tripod last year and now I kick myself when I think of all of the photos that we missed on our previous travels and adventures, given that we had no way to take them.
We have the Peak Design Travel Tripod, which is super lightweight and so versatile- it even has a little cell-phone mount, hidden in it’s center column. If you’re not looking to fork out a ton of money, these little cell-phone tripods will do the trick just fine.
Phew- I hope that all fits in your suitcase. Is there anything else that you’ve found handy to bring along to Hawaii? If so, sound off in the comments below and I’ll add it to my Hawaii packing list.