Picture this: it’s about a week until your Big Island vacation and you’re starting to put together a list of what to bring to Hawaii. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably planning so many different types of activities to do on your trip that you may be tempted to overpack “just in case.” You’re probably thinking things like:
- “I should bring these heels just in case we go to a nice dinner.”
- “What if I bring a portable cooler just in case we need to keep things cool while on the road?”
- “I need to have a thick jacket just in case it gets unexpectedly cold.”
While it’s true that you may need to bring a few extra things depending on the activities you do, keep in mind that:
- The dress code is casual.
- Even though there are two seasons, the average daily temperature is warm (85° F in the summer, 78°F in the winter).
- Hawaii is a tropical island that oscillates between rain and sun throughout the day.
- There’s always Target (or Costco).
If you want to be prepared, fit everything into a carry-on, and not overpack, here’s the perfect list of essentials you’ll want to bring on your trip to the Big Island.
- Big Island Packing List
- What Not to Bring to Hawaii
Big Island Packing List
What to Bring: Clothing Essentials
- Swimsuits: A Hawaiian vacation essential – no further elaboration required. I’d recommend bringing at least 2 to make sure you’ll always have a dry pair.
- Shorts & t-shirts/tanks: Since Hawaii is hot and humid, you’ll want to bring clothes that are lightweight and breathable. Mix and match cotton tops, linen pants, jean shorts, and the like to have different outfits for your trip.
- Comfortable sneakers or running/hiking shoes: You’ll want to bring comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes if you plan on doing any hiking. Most of the trails are well-paved so you don’t need to bring hiking-specific shoes unless you plan on hiking for long periods of time, on rugged terrain, or regardless of rain.
- Lightweight rainproof jacket: It’s likely you’ll experience intermittent rain while traveling around the island, especially if you plan to spend time on the Hilo side. If you’re like me and hate carrying an umbrella, I’d recommend having a light, rainproof, or water-resistant jacket that you have on hand.
- Thermals (Mauna Kea only): If you plan on visiting the Mauna Kea summit, you’ll want to bring one pair of warm clothes. I’d personally recommend bringing a windbreaker and/or thermal undergarments if you have them. Both are great to have while weathering the colder temperature and chill gusts of wind as you wait for sunrise/sunset.
What to Bring: Beach Essentials
- Flip-flops: Flip-flops are perfect for beach days or walking around downtown. Make sure to break in any shoes before your trip to avoid blisters.
- Sunglasses: UV-protected sunglasses are the best to protect your eyes from the sun. My eyes are quite sensitive to light so I never travel anywhere without my sunglasses. I especially appreciated having them on the day we went kayaking when the sun shone so brightly.
- Baseball cap or sun hat: A hat serves as great sun protection while exploring the island. Picking a hat is based on personal preference – a baseball cap is certainly more practical, but a wide-brimmed sun hat is more stylish.
- Fanny pack or a small day bag: A small bag with all your essentials (mine are keys, wallet, phone, sunglass case, and hand sanitizer) is perfect for daily excursions.
- Beach bag or backpack: A beach bag is perfect for safeguarding all your essentials while at the beach. A backpack is also a suitable option if you’d prefer to bring just one pack that you can take to the beach or on short hikes.
Nice to Have
- Swimsuit coverup: Though not essential, a swimsuit coverup is nice to have and easy to throw on after coming out of the water.
- Exercise clothes: While you’ll likely live in shorts on most days, leggings are nice to have if you plan on doing yoga, horseback riding, or other outdoor activities. You’ll also want to pack a sports bra if you plan on a strenuous hike or a run.
- Sundresses: Sundresses are perfect to wear during the day or if you plan for a nice dinner.
- Water shoes: Flip-flops are generally all you need to be comfortable at the beach. However, water shoes are nice to have if you plan on going to sandless beaches to protect your feet from the sun-soaked lava rocks.
- Microfiber towel: Your resort or Airbnb will have beach towels, which are great to bring to the beach and keep in the car. They can take longer to dry and it’s easy for sand to get into their crevices. While not necessary, I always pack a microfiber towel with me because they are absorbent, quick drying, and compact.
- Seasickness bands: If you’re prone to motion sickness, seasickness bands are great to have for water activities like snorkeling or boat rides.
- GoPro: A GoPro is perfect for capturing underwater footage while swimming. I would highly recommend getting a sturdy extension pole that you can mount your camera onto and hold while snorkeling.
What Not to Bring to Hawaii
Things You Won’t Use
- Jeans: Jeans are one of those “just in case” items you’ll end up regretting bringing. They are bulky, uncomfortable, and will take forever to dry if wet. Some great alternatives are linen pants (which provide sun protection and are lightweight) or hiking pants (which help protect against bugs or scrapes while hiking).
- Dressy clothing: Even for nicer meals, there is no need for formal wear. One or two Dresses, lightweight pants, and nice shirts are suitable for any evening.
- Waterproof phone pouch: This is my personal preference but I personally would not recommend bringing a waterproof phone pouch. To me, it’s not worth the risk of there being an unknown hole in the pouch. I also find that using the phone camera underwater is finicky and I end up paying more attention to my camera settings than actually swimming.
Things You Can Buy or Rent
- Reef-friendly sunscreen: If you’re aiming to bring just a carry-on, you can save bottling up reef-friendly sunscreen and purchase some at Target or other convenience stores on the island. If you’re price conscious, it is cheaper to buy sunscreen on the mainland as prices for common household items are more expensive in Hawaii.
- Snorkel gear: If you plan on bringing a carry-on, you likely won’t have space to bring your own snorkeling gear (assuming you have your own). There are many snorkeling rental options that provide high-quality, snorkeling gear. I would recommend renting from Boss Frog. They are reasonably priced, are centrally located, and can even supply prescription snorkeling masks for those who normally wear glasses (like me!).
- Dry bag: Unless you bring your own kayak, you won’t need to bring your own dry bag as most kayak rentals will supply them as part of your rental.
- Cooler: You can often rent coolers as part of your snorkeling package if you want to have a cooler while driving around the island.
- Snacks: Unless you’re price- or nutrition-conscious, I’d leave your favorite snacks at home and buy local snacks native to the island.