Hawaii is one of the most beautiful and popular travel destinations in the entire world and for good reason! Warm weather, the best beaches, friendly and fascinating culture combine in a great option for families, couples, or single travelers. We always say that the best time to visit Hawaii was yesterday, and today is second best!
The good news is that flights to Hawaii can be surprisingly affordable at times, so Hawaii isn’t just a pipe dream for many vacationers. Whichever of the major islands in the Aloha State you’re planning a trip to – Big Island, Kauai, Maui, or Oahu, you’ll want to make sure you pack correctly to fully enjoy your time in this island paradise.
In this article, our packing checklist covers travel tips for just about everything you need to know to pack like a pro before you travel to Hawaii’s tropical climate.
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For comprehensive information on Hawaii’s islands of Kauai and Maui from PassingThru, check out Kauai Guide to the Garden Island for First Timers, and Maui First Timer’s Guide to Hawaii’s Valley Isle.
What’s the Right Way to Pack for An Island Vacation?
When you’re getting ready for your trip to Hawaii, packing right is a key element. Hawaii’s climate is definitely tropical and one of its biggest draws. When you go to Hawaii, for sure you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors, in the sunshine and on the beach.
When we were moving to Hawaii, we drew upon previous vacation experience when we packed. But once we got there, we realized there were a lot of things about visiting Hawaii that a first-time vacationer may not realize. For instance, leather belts, shoes, and purses developed white mildew so quickly, and certain fabrics never seemed to dry in the humidity.
Even the best Hawaii plans can be derailed by not having the right clothes or gear, which can put a damper on your stay. And if you bring too much, you’ll regret having to schlep and even pay the extra cost airlines charge for heavy or oversized luggage that takes up too much space in your rental car. No matter when you plan to go on your first visit, packing right can make all the difference and help you enjoy your time in Hawaii to the fullest.
What are the Essential Items to Pack for a Hawaiian Vacation?
When packing for Hawaii, there are some things that you simply can’t leave behind, so having a list of Hawaii essentials is the easiest way to make sure you’ve remembered everything. We recommend adding the following items to your checklist:
- Reef-safe Sunscreen: This is a must to protect your skin responsibly on your beach vacation from the Hawaiian sun. Reef-safe sunscreen in Hawaii is the only legally allowed sun protection in the state, and it is specially formulated not to harm ocean life and the fragile coral reef complex off each island. You can definitely purchase this on island in every grocery store, but if you’re coming during the winter months and don’t have a base tan, the tropical sun can burn quickly. Be prepared!
- Light and Packable Jacket: Because it’s usually hot and humid in Hawaii, tropical lows can still feel temperate, but at higher elevations, temperatures can drop into the freezing range and warm clothes are necessary. You’ll need to pack a light jacket or sweater you can layer on cool evenings after the sun goes down. I recently acquired a lightweight packable puffer jacket which is water-resistant and easily compressed, a good option perfect for any potential activity on the islands.
- Umbrella: You want to pack for sun, but It can regularly rain in Hawaii – we called it “liquid sunshine” – so you’ll want to be prepared. Tropical downpours during the rainy season can be intense! As locals, we rarely, if ever, used an umbrella, but you may want one, if only to use as part of your beach gear.
- Hiking shoes: Each of the Hawaiian Islands has breathtaking hiking trails that adventurers must explore. The right footwear is imperative for safety and comfort.
- Swimwear: It goes without saying that you’ll want to dip into the crystal-clear blue waters of Hawaii’s beaches or refresh in the resort or vacation rental pool. Even if you’re packing light, we recommend packing an extra swimsuit or two; a bathing suit doesn’t take up that much room. Nothing’s worse than trying to shimmy into damp swimwear; drying times due to the humidity can be longer than you might expect. Also consider a pareo. These versatile oversize wraps are great as a beach cover-up, casual dresses, and even a beach towel in a pinch. Sensitive skin will thank you for rash guard swimwear options to protect while surfing and doing other water activities.
- Wide-Brimmed Hat and Sunglasses: Every packing list for Hawaii should include these. Protect yourself from the sun while still enjoying the outdoors.
- Waterproof Phone Case: This is an invaluable accessory, particularly if you don’t have a waterproof camera and are using your cell phone for photography. We used a waterproof phone pouch while tubing on Kauai and whale watching off Maui. If you’ve got more sensitive technical gear to carry, add a dry bag.
- Prescription Medications, Motion Sickness Remedies (for boat excursions) Travel Documents including Proof of Travel Insurance, Itineraries, Hotel Confirmations, Preferred Credit Cards and Personal Identification. These most important items should be part of any comprehensive packing list, but you’d be surprised by how easy it is to forget one or more! Don’t rely upon a local store being able to fill your prescription or have the over the counter brands you prefer.
What Are the Items You Don’t Need to Pack for a Vacation to Hawaii?
There are certain other items that we recommend you not take to Hawaii due to space or practical considerations. Just plan to get them after you’ve arrived. These include:
- Snorkel gear: Hawaii is known for its incredible snorkeling spots, but that doesn’t mean you should consider packing bulky snorkeling gear. The resort you’re staying in most likely will have gear available, or can refer you to a rental source. If you’re staying in an independent vacation rental, rest assured there are plenty of places to get the right gear for water sports.
- Insect Repellent: Plan to keep away pesky bugs while exploring Hawaii’s hiking trails, but don’t risk damage to other items in your luggage. Purchase this when you arrive.
- Reusable water bottle: Stay hydrated while enjoying Hawaii’s outdoor activities, for sure! Unless you plan on bringing your own refillable water bottle on the flight, pick up a nice souvenir with a tropical design when you get to Hawaii and you’ll be set.
Wondering What to Pack? Check the FAQs Below!
What Kind of Clothes Should You Pack for Your Hawaii Vacation?
The weather in Hawaii is hot and humid, which means the clothes to pack should help you stay comfortable in the heat. Pack light and airy clothes such as several pairs of shorts, skirts, dresses, tee shirts and tank tops. Don’t pack heavy or tight clothing. If you wear jeans on the mainland, they may not feel comfortable due to being too tight or too heavy (although equestrians will want a pair).
Instead, we recommend bringing fabrics such as linen and rayon. Cotton fabrics can be tricky because they don’t necessarily wick moisture in extreme humidity; instead, cotton can absorb moisture and feel clammy during wear.
What are the best clothes to wear in Hawaii? When it comes to what to wear in Hawaii, opt for clothes that are made with light and breathable fabrics with flowing silhouettes for air circulation. The best island wear consists of light layers that you can take off as the temperature heats up or add as it cools down. You can also consider patterns such as traditional Hawaiian aloha prints – the louder, the better! This attire adds so much to the vacation mood. Light-colored clothes are also ideal as they absorb less heat.
If your plans indicate you need to wear more formal attire, prepare for your vacation by considering the setting of any special events. If you pack high heels, remember that they may not be the best option in sand or grassy areas. Men may want to bring only a light jacket or long sleeve shirt for a more formal look, but even this may not be necessary. Hawaii is full of venues befitting the casual, tropical lifestyle, so assess. Perhaps you won’t need ultra-dressy outfits that may never even be worn.
What Kinds of Footwear Should You Include in Your Hawaii Packing List?
When packing footwear for Hawaii, you’ll need to consider your planned activities. Pack comfortable sandals made out of manmade materials to avoid mold and mildew, water shoes, flip-flops, and closed-toe hiking shoes. You can wear sandals or flip-flops for a casual beach day, while closed-toe shoes or water shoes can come in handy when hiking or swimming off the Hawaii beaches, which can be rocky and uneven.
As previously mentioned, sneakers, sandals, and flip-flops are suitable footwear. Locals rarely wear anything but their “slippahs” (flip flops).
Water shoes are also helpful for swimming, waterfall hikes and reef surfing in rocky areas.
Closed-toed shoes for hiking trails and exploring Hawaii’s mountain areas will be safer and more secure in slippery conditions.
If you’ll be horseback riding, one of the most important things is a good boot with a heel for security in the stirrup.
What are the Things to Pack for Hiking in Hawaii?
Suppose you’re planning on doing some hiking in Hawaii, which is one of the best activities to do on the islands. In that case, you’ll want to make sure to pack the right gear. Hiking boots or shoes are a must-have for any hiking trail in Hawaii.
You also want to bring breathable and comfortable clothes, such as a lightweight jacket like the one mentioned above, long sleeve sun shirts, and tank tops. Don’t forget to bring a backpack to carry belongings like water bottles, snacks, and sunscreen.
Should You Pack a Rain Jacket for Your Hawaii Vacation?
Yes, you certainly can! It’s always a good idea to pack a light rain jacket or a parka, no matter the season. Hawaii can have unexpected rainfalls that can come up suddenly when hiking or exploring. Choose a lightweight rain jacket or poncho option that can fold up and fit in your pocket or pack rather than weigh you down.
What is the Best Way to Pack for Your Hawaii Vacation?
When packing for your island vacation, the best way to pack is to pack light. Bring clothes that you can mix and match to create different outfits so you won’t have to pack too much. Avoid over-packing, as Hawaii has convenience shops where you can pick things up.
Packing cubes and compression bags are also great for organization and saving space. They’re great for unpacking, also. Just take them out of your suitcase intact and put them in drawers or closet to stay organized.
What Kind of Suitcase Should You Use to Pack for Your Hawaii Trip?
When it comes to suitcases, opt for something lightweight and durable that’s easy to transport around. Choose suitcases with wheels and sturdy handles for your convenience. Soft-sided luggage can be easier to carry and is also more prone to fitting into tight spaces, such as car trunks or airplane overhead compartments. Consider a multi-use item that can serve as a beach bag. Consult our posts on Travel Luggage and Packing for a great idea tailored for your needs.
What Backpack Should You Bring to Hawaii?
Backpacks in Hawaii can come in handy for hiking (see above) or beach days. Choose a waterproof one that has different compartments for good organization. Ensure that the straps are padded and comfortable for easy carrying as a day pack throughout your adventures in Hawaii.
What Should You Pack for Your Trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
If you’re planning to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the island of Hawaii, you’ll want to bring comfortable shoes with good support, a jacket, sunscreen, and insect repellent. You can also pack binoculars, a camera, and a backpack to carry your items. Note that public parking lots may or may not be secure, so leave things that you’re not going to use in your hotel room while you’re on this excursion.
What Will You Need for Haleakala National Park on Maui or Mauna Kea on the Big Island?
One of the best things to do in Maui is to see the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala. If you’re on the Big Island, you may want to travel to the Mauna Kea summit for star-gazing. If these activities are in your plans, you will want to be prepared for colder temperatures at their high altitudes. Again, leave extra items in your lodgings as public parking spaces may not be secure.
Conclusion: Know What to Pack for the Best Trip Ever!
In conclusion, packing for a trip can be overwhelming, but by having a great packing strategy with the items you like to pack, you can relax and enjoy your vacation fully. Your Hawaii packing checklist should take into account the activities you plan on doing. Consult your list to determine the essential things to pack for Hawaii: light and breathable clothes, resort wear, and appropriate shoes. Bring essential items like sunscreen, a rain jacket, a hat, and sunglasses. Don’t forget to bring more than one swimsuit and take comfortable hiking shoes to be ready to fully explore the Hawaiian Islands in every kind of condition and weather.
Tips for Trip Success
Book Your Flight
Find an inexpensive flight by using CheapOAir, a favorite of ours because it regularly returns less expensive flight options from a variety of airlines.
Book Your Hotel or Special Accommodation
We are big fans of Booking.com. We like their review system and photos. If we want to see more reviews and additional booking options, we go to TripAdvisor.
You Need Travel Insurance!
Good travel insurance means having total peace of mind. Travel insurance protects you when your medical insurance often will not and better than what you get from your credit card. It will provide comprehensive coverage should you need medical treatment or return to the United States, compensation for trip interruption, baggage loss, and other situations.Find the Perfect Insurance Plan for Your Trip
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Monday 22nd of May 2023
So many great tips!! I would have completely forgot about the binoculars! Your Hawaii packing list is just what I was looking for!
Monday 22nd of May 2023
Hawaii here I come!!! Your guides are always helpful and informative. Thank you.
Monday 22nd of May 2023
I had no idea about what would happen to the leather - great tips and once again you've helped us plan accordingly!
Sunday 21st of May 2023
Great info! I especially appreciate the section on footwear. There's nothing worse than having the wrong shoes for what you want to do!