Wondering what to pack for Hawaii? Swim, snorkel, hike and bike your way through tropical paradise with this practical Hawaii packing list for women and men. Be prepared for all sorts of fun adventures across the Pacific Ocean archipelago by using this guide combined with the printable download at the end of this post to check off items as you pack.
If you are looking for Hawaii vacation inspiration – see our 10-day Maui and Oahu itinerary here.
General notes on what to pack for Hawaii
First up, some general background notes that will help you pack-smart for Hawaii. I’ve compiled the need-to-know on climate, health, security, electronics and more to help inform decisions about what you put in your suitcase, and what you leave behind.
Hawaii has a tropical climate with warm temperatures year-round. Consistent trade winds from the east regulate the humidity and moderate heat to create a more moderate climate than other tropical locations. Seasons are expressed in terms of precipitation – wet and dry.
There are more than 100 islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, of which the most commonly visited are: Hawaii (aka The Big Island), Maui, Oahu and Kauai. Check the average temperature and rainfall for your particular destination/s as they do vary by island. Also, consult the weather forecast for your specific dates as your trip gets closer.
There are also climate variances (i.e. microclimates) within Islands to consider. Temperatures and rainfall vary according to altitude and between the Island’s windward and leeward sides:
Altitude – If you plan on visiting Haleakalā National Park, or driving across The Big Island then expect cooler temperatures, especially in the evening and early morning.
Windward – The trade winds (referred to as “the trades” by locals) blow from the northeast, so the windward sides of the Islands is generally the north and/or east. The windward side of each island will experience more cloud cover and therefore rain.
Leeward – The leeward sides of the Islands, generally the south/west, are drier and hotter because of the rain shadow cast by the volcanoes/mountains.
Clothing and etiquette
Hawaii’s tropical climate calls for lightweight, breathable fabrics – think cotton, hemp and linen with silk and merino wool for evenings or cooler locations. Synthetics such as polyester and nylon will make you sweat and will quickly become smelly.
Due to the tropical heat, Hawaiians tend to dress more casually. Locals get around in “Hawaiian shirts” aka Aloha shirts, shorts, loose-fitting dresses and long pants, sandals and flip flops. Unless you are travelling for business, a special event or visiting certain golf clubs, you’re pretty safe to assume a casual dress code.
Not only are mosquito bites uncomfortable but those pesky blood-suckers can also transmit diseases such as Dengue Fever, Zika Virus and Malaria. Pack an insect repellent that is recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organisation (WHO).
In addition, cover up exposed skin at sunrise and sunset when mosquitoes are most busy looking for a meal; and try to wear light-coloured clothing as there is some evidence that mosquitoes are attracted to darker tones.
See current Covid-19 information from the State of Hawaii here. This site details entry requirements and explains how to apply for your quarantine exception. Last but definitely not least, make sure you use adequate sun protection: sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, rash vest in the water, and collared shirt while on land. As per World Health Organisation recommendations: “apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15+ liberally and re-apply every two hours, or after swimming, playing or exercising outdoors.”
On the subject of sunscreen, Hawaii has banned use of active sunscreen ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate, due to their potential impact on coral reefs. Make sure you pack a reef-safe sunscreen. Though appropriate sunscreens are available to purchase on the Islands, you will find they are more expensive so best to BYO and save the extra dollars for cocktails.
Buyer beware! A “reef-safe” claim does not equate to water resistance – we made this mistake when packing for Fiji. I bought a “reef-safe” bottle of sunscreen assuming that if it was making that claim it was made to wear in the water. Nope, it washed right off when we started snorkelling the first day. Here are a few examples of sunscreens we have used and that are both reef-safe AND water resistant:
- Thinksport SPF 50+
- Banana Boat UltraSport SPF 50+
- Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen
- Stream2Sea SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen
You may also like to read 5 Steps to More Sustainable Travel for tips on reducing your environmental impact while exploring Hawaii.
As per the rest of the USA, electricity in Hawaii is delivered at 120 volts, 60Hz with type A and B plugs/sockets. Depending on where you are travelling from and what kind of appliances you are bringing, you may need an international adapter and or converter. Generally, modern phones, tablets and laptops are made for both 110V and 220-240V, but it pays to check this detail.
Hawaii is generally considered safe, though, like most places there are petty crimes and theft issues. Here are a few personal security tips to keep in mind:
Keep watch of your belongings while on the beach.
Store valuables in your hotel safe while not in use.
Don’t leave valuable items in your rental car.
Do not leave balcony/terrace doors open at your hotel.
For more travel security tips, see my complete guide here.
Being a US State, US dollars (USD) are the official currency of Hawaii. Automatic teller machines (ATMs) are easy to find for cash withdrawal. Credit cards and debits cards are also readily accepted.
Hawaii packing list
Passport, driver’s license or other approved ID – You can find details on what kind of ID you need for air travel in the US here.
Covid-19 vaccine card or test results
US visa – If required for international visitors – you can check visa requirements here.
National parks pass – Hawaii has almost ten national parks, historic sites and monuments, so make sure you pack your America the Beautiful or another pass should you already have one.
Travel insurance details – Take a copy of your travel insurance including an emergency phone number. Itinerary, reservations and pre-purchased tickets – Take print copies of any reservations and pre-purchased tickets as well as having all your documentation somewhere accessible online such as Google Drive or another cloud service.
Underwear, bras and socks – Generally I work on packing one set of underwear/bra/socks per day up to 7-days. If I am travelling for longer, then I’ll give them a wash in the hotel bath/sink which is why I also pack a bar of laundry soap which I mention further down this post.
Shirts – 1 shirt for every 2 days will suffice. Men should pack at least 1 collared/polo shirt for the evening also.
Shorts – 1 pair for every 2 days. I recommend shorts that will be cool, provide sun protection, and are comfortable for light walking.
Activewear – If you are planning to hike, leggings or running shorts are recommended. I also threw in a pair of padded bike shorts for our Haleakalā downhill ride, because bicycle seats don’t agree with my bum.
Sundresses – Though Hawaii seems like the perfect place to break out your sundresses, in theory, consider the fairly constant trade winds. Unless it is a heavier, maxi-length or slim-fitting style dress, you’ll spend a lot of time holding it down.
Full-length pieces – 1-2 pairs of lightweight pants/maxi-skirt or a maxi dress to wear in the evening when mosquitos are biting. Something smart casual but not over the top.
Light jumper (sweater) – Mostly for the cooler months (November-March).
Rain jacket or poncho, especially for wet season (November-March)
Shoes – Depending on the activities you have planned, a pair of sturdy shoes for light hiking and water shoe for waterfalls, tidal pools etc. Pack sandals or flip-flops for beach time and evenings.
Wide brim hat or visor – Something with a firm fit (and maybe a chin strap) that won’t blow off with a strong breeze or movement of a boat.
Sunglasses – Preferably UV rated to protect your eyes and polarized to cut glare.
Swimsuit – In the tropical humidity everything takes a long time to dry out, so if you prefer to put on a dry suit in the morning, pack two and alternate. You may also want a one-piece or more sturdy swimsuit for activities versus something more fashionable for lazing on the beach or by the pool. It all depends how you are spending your time.
Rash guard – Good for added sun protection during long stints in and on the water e.g. snorkelling, stand-up paddleboarding etc. A rash guard will also provide a little additional warmth in the cooler Pacific waters around Hawaii.
Sarong or cover-up – To keep you sun protected and modest between swims.
Toothpaste and toothbrush
Shampoo and conditioner
Aloe Vera after sun gel – I also like to apply Vitamin E to my face before bed after a day in the sunburnt or not. In my experience, it has helped with sun damage like discolouration on my cheeks after our trip to the Maldives.
Body and face wash/soap
Hair accessories (ties and pins)
Menstrual cup/ tampons
Shaving cream and razor
Light makeup and perfume
Brush/comb and hair ties/pins
Laundry soap – One of my travel essentials! As mentioned previously, I pack a bar of laundry soap like this one, so I can wash underwear and socks in the hotel basin or even spot clean spills if needed.
Camera and accessories – Include charger, spare batteries; SD cards; and tripod. Polarizing and neutral density filters for your DSLR would also be helpful for tempering harsh tropical light.
Waterproof camera or waterproof case – this a must for diving, snorkelling, kayaking, waterfalls etc.
Phone and charger – An external battery/power pack can be useful for recharging on the go, especially if you use your phone for navigating and/or camera and video. Also, most rental cars these days have a USB plug that you can use to give your devices a quick boost.
Day bag/ beach bag
Refillable water bottle – It’s important to stay hydrated, especially during long days in the sun but, try to avoid single-use plastic bottles. If you haven’t heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, then get a load of this. Plus, you can save yourself a tonne of money on bottled water by using a refillable drink bottle.
Hand sanitiser and mask – You’ve been on planet earth the last 18 months right? You know the drill.
Bandana/cloth napkin/handkerchief – It is always handy to have a light, washable cloth on hand. Mop up sweat or a spill, use as a napkin, blow your nose, clean your sunglasses… that small swatch of cotton has soooo many uses. I love an old-fashioned hanky, as I can wash it in the shower/sink and its so light, it dries by the next morning to use again.
First aid kit
Medications and prescriptions
Dry bag – Great for keeping your phone and other water-sensitive valuables dry, during water activities or just a rain shower.
Sunscreen and Lip balm with SPF 15+ – As previously mentioned, ensure you use sunscreen within Hawai`ian reef-safe guidelines. Also, try not to use spray sunscreens. Our snorkelling boat tour and downhill biking tour asked us not to use spray sunscreens because some aerosol sunscreen ingredients are corrosive. This means, for instance, you don’t want overspray ending up on the disc brakes of your bike!
Foldable tote – Pick up some groceries, souvenirs or other shopping or use it as a beach bag. I find calico or canvas bags to be great for travel because they are hardy and generally machine washable.
Making memories, getting creative and filling spare time
Notebook and/or diary
Sketch pad and pencils/paint
Download a printable Hawaii packing list here:
Enjoy your tropical island getaway and remember to take only photos, leave only footprints.
Peace, love and inspiring travel,