22 Essential Things to Pack for Hawaii (& What Not to Bring)
Whether a seasoned globetrotter or a first-time traveler, you can always use some guidance to pack travel essentials. If you are heading to Hawaii for the first time, here is the rundown of things to pack for Hawaii.
Consider this your Hawaii Vacation Packing List! Also, save this as your handy beach vacation checklist, as it overwraps quite a bit.
There is a lot to consider before you decide what goes in your suitcase. How is the weather in Hawaii for the month you are traveling? What types of activities and excursions do you plan to do? How many days are you staying in Hawaii? What does your hotel or Airbnb provide for you?
So the first step is to plan your Hawaii itinerary (See my Oahu 5-Day Itinerary >>). Then, write down everything you need for the trip. Decide the essentials you want to bring and things to buy locally. Shop as soon as possible, so you have time to return/exchange in case of any errors or remorse. And start packing!
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#1. Reef-Safe Sunscreens
Taking sunscreen is a no-brainer for your tropical vacation to Hawaii. However, read the labels closely before grabbing a bottle from your local grocery store.
The use and sale of any sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate are banned in Hawaii. These toxic chemicals are known to damage and kill coral reefs. Instead, opt for reef-safe sunscreens to preserve marine lives and the ecosystem. And they are good for you, too!
The head is one of the most highly exposed body parts for outdoor activities. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of wearing a hat to block UV rays and thermal stress. It is not fun to have a heatstroke!
Hawaii vacation is all about outdoor activities, whether you want to chill at the beach or go snorkeling or hiking. You will appreciate the beautiful island much better with adequate protection.
While shading yourself with a foldable wide-brim hat, why not make a fashion statement? This foldable straw hat and packable ponytail-friendly design are super easy to pack and have excellent ventilation to allow your sweat to evaporate quickly.
You might be surprised that it is hard to seek shades even along the trails in Hawaii. I prefer a ponytail-friendly baseball cap for hiking. I use it for all my summer sports activities and love, love it!
Pro Tips: Wow, was Hawaii windy?! After all, it is an island! If your hat does not have a strap, get this adjustable hat strap to keep it from blowing away.
You can’t hit the beach without sunglasses to protect your eyes. Need to say more? Well, believe it or not, sunglasses are one of the items travelers most often forget to bring to their vacation. So remember to bring a pair with you!
#4. Aloe Gel
I learned my lesson when I got a bad sunburn on my back after 2 hours of snorkeling in Saipan years ago. I was wearing sunscreen SPF 50, but I guess it got washed off. My back was so reddened and burning that I couldn’t sleep at night.
Since then, on top of thoroughly re-applying sunscreens, I always bring aloe vera to cool off and hydrate my skin in the evening.
Put this super-hydrating and gentle Aromatica Soothing Aloe Vera Gel in the refrigerator. Apply on your face and body after the shower. I would opt for a bigger size because you will need it!
#5. Hydrating Masks
The worst damage you can do to the skin is sun exposure. Your skin gets dehydrated and sensitive after getting exposed to the sun. In the long term, you can get discolored spots and wrinkles. Yikes!
Even slightly abrasive or harsh ingredients will make things worse and even more painful. To accelerate the healing process, use gentle, moisturizing treatments that soothe sun-damaged skin.
Pack a few hydrating sheet masks like BEPLAIN Bamboo Healing Mask for easy care of your face. In case you are not familiar, BEPLAIN is a high-quality Korean beauty brand with nature-derived ingredients. I swear by the healing power and deep hydration of bamboo water!
Interested in clean beauty trends? K-beauty is all about using good, non-toxic ingredients for glowing skin! Check out my favorite Korean serums that really work >>
For the Beach
#6. Swimsuit & Cover-ups
Bikinis, tanktini or one-piece? Choose your style of swimwear. What to wear on the beach is totally up to you. But ensure you have good protection in and out of the water.
Whichever style you choose, you can wear this long sleeve rash guard shirt with SPF 50+ on top of your bikini in and out of the water (this for men). The choke-free zipper makes it super easy to put on and breathe. The side string is figure flattering and prevents it from rolling up while in water. It is also a great cover-up out of the water, whether on a boat or the beach. I love it so much that I own four in different colors!
Another awesome benefit? No need to wear sunscreen! A rash guard protects your skin from painful sunburn and is environmentally friendly.
For Hawaii, I chose to wear a long sleeve rash guard swimsuit. I don’t need to apply/re-apply sunscreens as it covers up my upper body. It is more UV protection for the body and less pollution to the ocean. And no worries about a wardrobe malfunction for any water sport like surfing. I bought and loved three pairs of rash guard swimsuits for their comfort and style: this, this, and this.
If a rash guard is not for you, consider bringing cover-ups to wear over your swimsuit for when you are out of the water.
#7. Board Shorts
Board shorts are the most versatile and convenient item to have. I like to wear these board shorts for women (Deep pink is a lovely color) on top of a bikini when I hit the beach. You can even wear it in the water, but if you don’t want to, the only thing you need to do is take it off and shove it in the beach bag. And throw it back on when you are out of the water.
Many beaches in Hawaii had a few shower heads to wash off the sand, but a full shower facility was nowhere to be found. So I had to wear a swimsuit back home. Quick drying board shorts came in handy for a ride home and even to swing by a restaurant to grab a bite.
#8. Water Shoes
Protect your feet with water shoes. I used these water shoes for 4 years until I replaced them with another pair (for men) this time. Unlike other flimsy ones in the market, its sturdy rubber sole protects my feet on rocky Italian beaches, coarse coral beaches, and even for river tracing. No more burning feet on the sand, either. And it fits like gloves!
#9. Snorkeling gear
I never liked to share the mouthpiece with a million other tourists, but to save space in a suitcase, I used to rent one during the excursion. But let’s not forget we are still living with Covid-19. For that, I recommend packing your snorkeling gear.
Once I decided to bring my own, I ditched a cheap set that constantly fogged up and made me drink a stomach full of water. I did not want to ruin my snorkeling experience in Hawaii. So I did hours of research to find the highly-quality mask and snorkel set (mini for women and regular for men per mouthpiece size) that checked off the essential criteria, including:
- Anti-fog coated temper glass lens (scratch resistant than plastics)
- High peripheral visibility with a frameless lens
- Wide, silicon skirt for durability and comfort
- Dry snorkel to quickly drain water out of the snorkel
For masks, the proper fit is the most crucial factor in preventing fogging. I made sure that there was no excessive space on my nose, so I could easily squeeze water out over the mask, which is necessary in the water.
Since I am not a professional diver, I went for highly-rated mid-range brands. Below are all reputable brands that will work great for most leisure snorkelers and divers:
- Cressi F1 Mask and Supernova Dry Snorkel set (Italian brand made in Taiwan)
- Beuchat Maxlux S and Spy Snorkel (made in France)
- Gull Vader Mask and Super Bullet Snorkel Mini (made in Japan) – This is the one I chose for myself based on the fit.
- Tusa Freedom Mask and Hyperdry Elite Snorkel (Japanese brand made in Taiwan) – Big O chose this brand.
- If you want more affordable yet highly-rated snorkeling gear, check this one out.
Pro Tips: Although these high-quality masks are already treated with anti-fog coating. In my experience, anti-fog glasses don’t stay fog-free forever. Professionals recommend rubbing with toothpaste, dish detergent, or baby shampoos before the first use. But you will eventually need an anti-fog spray or gel to clean your mask. Trust me, it works much better than spitting!
Pro Tips: some may prefer full-face snorkeling masks. However, I heard that there is a risk of fainting, which occasionally happens. Some excursions in Hawaii don’t allow you to use them. I want you to be aware of it when you choose the design.
#10. Dry bag
It is wise to avoid bringing any valuables to the beach. But if you must bring (and you know you will!), protect your belongings in a dry bag. It is helpful to have one for beach, rafting, kayaking and other water activities. You can also throw in wet swimsuits and towels after changing clothes. I recommend buying an orange color; the contrasting color to the ocean makes it easy to spot.
#11. Quick-dry Travel Towel
Don’t forget to bring a towel. Most hotels do not allow you to take their towels to the beach. This microfiber towel is a best seller on Amazon. It is lightweight, quick-drying and easy to pack for travel or camping.
#12. Beach Blanket
A beach blanket is not a must because you can buy it in Hawaii to use and bring it back as a souvenir. But if you want a more functional one, this waterproof, sand-proof beach blanket is a family-size, colorful one that can be packed in a small pocket.
#13. Underwater Camera
I highly recommend investing in Go Pro Hero 10 Black and Floating Hand Grip for your Hawaii vacation. It is the best action camera on the market that is fully waterproof right out of the box. The updated version automatically adjusts colors to compensate for the lack of red hues under the water.
Some snorkeling and diving excursions offer underwater photography. But those are expensive to buy. And you cannot always catch what you see and want to capture on your term.
Go Pro is pretty intuitive, so you don’t need to practice for beach use. Just adjust the settings before you jump into the water.
#14. Waterproof Phone Case
I don’t recommend bringing your cell phone into the water. Although the newest smartphones are waterproof, you don’t want to lose them in the ocean.
But even if you don’t plan to bring your cell phone underwater, protecting it from water and sand on the beach is still a good idea. I have used this waterproof phone case since the Songkran Festival. It is still good for mild water exposure in the pool.
The good news is that, since then, even better products have come out. This affordable phone case fits the new iPhones and other smartphones, and they claim that you can bring it to snorkel, surf, and even dive! (But please test it at home first.)
#15. Water bottle
Bringing a reusable water bottle is a must! You will need to dehydrate yourself on the beach or the trails. A reusable bottle is not only environmentally friendly but also saves you money. This collapsible bottle is also easy to carry.
You can also refill your water at the airport if you have an empty bottle. No need to pay for an overcharged bottle of water after the security.
#16. Hiking Shoes
Hiking shoes or not? I’d say you would probably not need professional hiking shoes for most trails in Hawaii.
For walking and light hiking, bring comfortable footwear. I meant proper tennis or training shoes you would wear for exercise, not your comfy flats. Some hiking trails can be muddy and slippery after the rain. That said, do not plan to wear flip-flops or open-toe shoes, either.
I love Adidas Ultraboost. I feel like walking on a cloud. Since my first pair, I have bought a wide variety of Ultraboost for jogging, gym and travel. Adidas even makes a trek version if you want to invest in comfortable, water-resistant hiking shoes with the tennis shoe aesthetic.
What do you usually wear for hiking? Me? I like to wear activewear. For sun protection, I usually opt for a quick-dry shirt and long leggings. A long sleeve rash guard shirt with SPF 50+ can also be worn (super versatile!). I wear long leggings to protect my legs from sun, cuts or bug bites. Check out one of my favorite leggings brands for its comfortable and slimming waistband.
#18. Bug Repellent
If you are a mosquito magnet like me, don’t forget to bring bug repellent to your hike. Mosquitoes are the arch enemy that I can’t seem to get rid of. No matter where I am, they always find me. I hate using chemicals with an unpleasant smell like DEET; unfortunately, nothing else seems to work. (I used organic bug repellent at a golf range and got 30+ bites on one leg; I had to see a dermatologist!)
#19. Maxi Dress
I love maxi dresses for beach vacations. A light and airy maxi dress is a stylish choice to make you look classy. You don’t have to think much to coordinate the look. For a romantic dinner at an oceanfront restaurant, dress up with stylish espadrille sandals and a clutch. Or, dress down with a wide-brim floppy hat and flip-flops for the beach.
Pro Tip: A maxi dress is also easy to pack and doesn’t take up much space. Just lay all of them and roll them up together.
#20. Shoes: Sandals and Flip Flops
For excursions and non-water activities, you will want to bring some t-shirts and tank tops. I love James Perse t-shirts for casual looks. They may look like other basic t-shirts but are made with high-quality breathable cotton. They match well with jeans and shorts. They are classic investment pieces that stand the test of time.
What Not to Bring to Hawaii
Of course, what you take in your suitcase is your choice. So you may disagree, but I would leave out high heels, overly dressy clothing and any bulky jackets. It is unlikely you get to wear them.
For snorkeling, I chose not to bring fins, which take up much luggage space. Also, many excursions provide fins for you to rent for free or at small extra fees. But if you must bring yours, check out this complete snorkeling set. Or, see Cressi free diving fins, Tusa open-heel fins, and Gull coco fins.