Packing Lists for Travel

10 Essentials You Need to Pack for Hawaii

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Paradise is calling – will you answer? If you’re planning a Hawaiian vacation and are curious what to pack for Hawaii, you’re in the right place. While there are some small but important considerations depending on your Hawaii travel plans, it’s not hard to pack for Hawaii – I promise!

I’ve been to the Aloha State for many times, and you might wonder whether it matters what to pack for Hawaii based on different islands. Whether you’re exploring the Big Island or the Garden Island (Kauai) or any in between, this packing list has all the Hawaii essentials you’ll need.

Hawaii Packing List Hero

Here’s a list of what to pack to Hawaii that skips the obvious stuff (duh, you need a swimsuit and pair of shorts) and gets right to those must-bring but might-forget items.

This post was originally published in June 2019, and was updated in May 2021 following my most recent trip to Hawaii.

Quick Hawaii Travel Tips

Before I launch into my list of things to pack for Hawaii, there are a few quick topics to discuss.

The General Climate in Hawaii

Hawaii Packing List - Valerie at the Banyan Tree

Hawaii is tropical. You already know this, right? You’re planning a trip to that tropical paradise, after all!

What this means is that temperatures in Hawaii are warm weather, usually between 70°F-85°F throughout the year. This does vary a bit, but in general, you can plan for hot weather.

You can also plan for humid weather: average humidity ranges between 65-75% all year long. It can get downright muggy during the rainy season (detailed below).

The Best Time of Year to Visit Hawaii

Lucky for all of us, Hawaii’s weather and temperature are pretty consistent throughout the year. That’s what makes it such a great destination! That said, the best months to visit Oahu are April, May, September, and October. During these warmer months, the weather is better, the water is warmer, the crowds are (slightly) lesser, and you can sometimes snag flight deals. The winter months, December through March, is the rainy season.

The Different Hawaiian Islands

Hawaii Packing List - Valerie on Maui

While the Hawaiian Islands are all similar, they do vary a bit in landscape, types of activities, and climate:

  • The Big Island is a pretty mountainous, volcanic island with plenty of adventure activities but limited beaches compared to other islands.
  • Maui is the Valley Isle for its two major mountains and all the valleys they form. It’s a great destination for an adventure getaway with plenty of beach time.
  • Molokai, also known as The Friendly Island, is the least developed and most local. If you’re okay going a bit more rustic to truly escape the crowds, this is the place to relax.
  • Oahu is the most popular island of the five islands, also known as The Gathering Place. You’ll find tons of land and water activities, the most resorts and amenities here, but also the most other travelers.
  • Kauai, the Garden Isle, is the most verdant, with massive rainforests and hiking trails through virtually undeveloped land. You can find laid-back beaches here too, but it’s the hiking and outdoors that really hook visitors.

Based on which island you’re visiting, your itinerary will vary – and your packing list might adjust slightly too. (For example, if you plan to go to the Big Island and never visit a beach, you can skip the towel I recommend.)

What You Actually Need to Pack for Hawaii

Hawaii Packing List - Valerie Looking Away from the Camera

I’ll be honest: I pretty much pack 90% of the same things over and over… and I bet you do too. That’s why I have this separate list of travel essentials I always pack. Also, most packing lists are about 90% of those same things, right?

So instead of telling you what to bring to Hawaii in a list that’s 90% of what you already know or are already planning to pack (yes, you do need 1 pair of underwear for each day…), here’s a packing list that’s 100% of things you need specifically for traveling in Hawaii.

In addition to the items listed below, you might add other things based on the type of activities you plan to enjoy. Unless you have your own snorkeling gear or plan to do a multi-day hike on Kauai’s northern coast, your normal hot-weather clothes and gear will work just fine.

1. Lonely Planet Hawaii Guidebook(s)

As you know, I’m a huge fan of Lonely Planet and their guidebooks are a great help in both planning your Hawaii vacation and once you’re on the islands. They used to have one big Hawaii guidebook, but it’s now separate for each of the major islands: Oahu, Maui, The Big Island, and Kauai. Just grab whichever one(s) you need!

If you’ve never used a guidebook before, check out my helpful post on how to use guidebooks!

Bonus: Get this guidebook for free with a free 30-day trial of Kindle Unlimited. Sign up here!

2. Sunglasses

It’s Hawaii. It’s almost always sunny. You flew to Hawaii to be in the sun… you need sunglasses!

I love these Ray Bans with polarized lenses, because they’re hardy but also give me great visibility in changing light conditions.

3. Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Did you know Hawaii is the first state to ban certain chemicals in sunscreen? These multi-syllabic chemicals have been directly tied to coral reef bleaching, and Hawaii wants to protect their reefs.

Instead, buy reef-safe sunscreen like Thinksport (which smells amazing!) to use as sun protection. Even if you don’t plan to go in the water, you’ll be showering and all that ends up in the water too.

4. Leave-In Conditioner

If you do plan to go in the water – be it the pool or the ocean – your hair is going to pay the price. Salt and chlorine wreak havoc on even healthy hair… so treat after each dip/rinse-off with leave-in conditioner!

I am obsessed with Function of Beauty, a company that personalizes your hair product to your hair. They recently launched a leave-in conditioner I’m all about.

5. Sun Hat

During beach days, protect yourself from the Hawaiian sun with a bright, wide-brimmed sun hat. I dig this one that’s the exact same color of a Rambutan (a Hawaiian fruit!). For other beach gear, don’t forget a beach bag, bathing suit, dry bag, clothes for cover ups, and snorkel gear if you have it!

6. Quick-Dry Sand-Free Towel

Beach towels have come a long way from when I was a kid! You no longer need to settle for damp sandy towels after a day of fun at the beach: quick-dry sand-free towels are the rage!

I love this pineapple-patterned beach blanket/towel that’s also really affordable and comes with a bag you can squeeze it into for travel days.

7. Chacos

I’ve had Chacos for literally years because they never seem to wear out – they’re the perfect water shoes perfect for sandy beaches or tropical forests (aka the two main terrains in Hawaii) as well as over lava rocks and on waterfall hikes. I dig this ‘Scope Royal‘ color (pictured) but the ‘Band Magenta’ is also very Hawaiian.

Chacos also offers hiking sandals and footwear for men, plus they have flip flops if you’re looking for more traditional poolside shoes that won’t break after 10 steps.

8. GoPro

For years, I shot with my phone in a waterproof phone case… but gone are the days! I recently road-tested the GoPro HERO 7 Black in Hawaii, and it was perfect for 100% of the adventures we had.

From using it as an underwater camera snorkeling with manta rays on the Big Island to hiking in Kauai, this waterproof camera is ready for anything – and way easier to use than GoPros of the past.

The Adventure Kit is worth adding to your list too, because it’ll help you’ll be able to secure the GoPro better or use it on a handheld floaty.

9. Water Bottle

Laying out on the beach? You’re gonna get dehydrated under the sun. Hiking Hawaii’s mountains? You’re going to sweat it out. You need water – so be eco-friendly and bring your own water bottle. This one is colorful and lightweight, a good idea for the long plane ride to/from Hawaii and all the adventures you’ll have while there.

Anyway, you don’t want to add any more plastic to landfills or the ocean, do you?

10. Mosquito Bands

Skip the bug spray and insect repellent! Like towels, mosquito bands have really evolved since my childhood. You no longer have to sacrifice fashion for protection by ugly green rubber wrist attire… now you can get colors, patterns, and adjustable sizes – oh my!

These ones come in a 12-pack and look like summer camp rather than super lame.

What Else to Pack for Hawaii

I’ve put together a weekend packing list, which can help you see some of the basics I pack for every single trip. Additionally, here are a couple tips to help you know what to bring to Hawaii:

  1. What to pack for Hawaii could vary a lot based on the season you visit.
  2. Don’t want to pack a guidebook? Snag a digital copy. Lonely Planet offers ebook versions of all their guidebooks, usually at the same price or cheaper. Here’s the link for all of their books; they’re all also available for free with a 30-day trial of Kindle Unlimited!
  3. Adjust your packing list based on how long you’re traveling. Whether you’re only spending 3 days exploring the Big Island, doing a 7-night Hawaii cruise, or island-hopping for 10 days, add one more top for every two days of travel, and one more pair of trousers for every 3 days. Don’t forget extra undergarments and socks!
  4. If you’re looking for travel flats, I always recommend Tieks. While these are an investment at $175 per pair, they are the best shoes for traveling. I put over two million steps into my first pair! Read my review here.

Have other questions things to pack for Hawaii? Let me know in the comments!

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

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