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Packing is usually the thing I hate most about a trip-I mean, how do you ever know exactly what you need? But hindsight is always 20/20 so once you’ve been to a destination you know EXACTLY what you need (or don’t need)! So I’m here to tell you (based on experience) what to wear in Hawaii.
The Weather: “It’s the beach so it’s warm all the time right?” Well, pretty much. If you’re staying down near the beaches and resort areas (pretty much anywhere on Kauai and Oahu), the weather will be pretty nice. Temperatures usually hover in the mid-80s year round. It can get breezy at night so you might want layers, and because you’re on an island and the weather can change in a minute, it’s usually nice to have some sort of lightweight rain jacket (especially in the winter months). If you’ll be visiting (or staying) in the upcountry areas of Maui and the Big Island, you’ll want to pack layers so you can bundle up, especially in the mornings and evenings.
Island Style: As far as the vibe of the island, everything in Hawaii is casual and laid back. Shorts and slippahs (flip flops) are respectable pretty much anywhere. If you’re wearing a swimsuit, most places will want you to have a cover up on. Even the fanciest restaurants will only have a “resort wear” dress code, which basically means “try not to look like you just came from the beach.” Khaki shorts and aloha shirts for men and sundresses for ladies are about as fancy as you’ll ever need to get in Hawaii.
Shopping: The good news is that Hawaii is pretty developed so if you leave anything at home you’ll be able to easily pick it up at Walmart/Target or CVS. While prices are higher in Hawaii, you likely won’t notice much of a difference on vacation basics (sunscreen, bug spray, beach gear, etc.). Each main island (Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island) has a Costco and Walmart, and each island except Kauai has a Target. Long’s is a drug store chain owned by CVS (similar to Walgreens).
What to Pack
Beach Basics: You’ll want to pack all of the beach basics for your Hawaii trip. Think…shorts, tees and blouses, sundresses, bikinis, cover up, flip flops, hat, sunglasses, beach bag, rash guard/sun shirt. In my experience, you’ll want more casual “knock around” clothes and fewer dress up clothes. I like to pack several breezy sundresses that can be worn as beach coverups or out to dinner. Also, keep everything pretty casual. Unless you like getting all dolled up, simple sundresses and sandals are the fanciest you’ll ever need to be and at most places shorts and shirts are fine. I think they most important thing to make sure you have (or buy once you get there) is a good swim suit coverup. When you’re headed out in the morning, you won’t think much about putting shorts and a shirt over your dry suit, but as you’re in and out of the water throughout the day, you’re going to want something that’s light and airy to pull on over your head. Whether you’re at the resort, running from the beach/pool up to the pool bar for drinks, or stopping by a food truck after a morning snorkeling, you’re going to want something that’s easy to throw on over a wet swim suit without having to put clothes on.
Hiking/Adventure Necessities: If you’re planning on doing some hiking or other adventure activities, make sure you pack the right gear. Bring your hiking/athletic shoes, reef/water shoes, lightweight rain jacket, and a backpack. Do some research about the trail conditions before you head out to decide what kind of footwear will be best. A lot of trails in Hawaii can be very muddy so I usually prefer wearing Keen/Tevas that can be washed off (as well as worn through a stream) instead of hiking boots or athletic shoes.
Snorkeling/Water Sport Gear: Whether or not you bring your own snorkel gear (mask, snorkel, fins) or rent/buy once you’re on island, there’s still plenty of other things you’ll want to back. Reef safe/friendly sunscreen is the most important thing, however I suggest wearing a sun shirt/rash guard and foregoing sunscreen altogether when you’re out snorkeling as it’s often first thing in the morning and you’re not out for that long. You’ll may also want a waterproof camera (I love my GoPro) or a case for your phone. If I’m doing a catamaran snorkeling trip where they load from the beach, sometimes I’ll pack my waterproof backpack. And if you don’t have a waterproof case for your phone, you may want to bring a plastic bag to keep it in.
Warm Clothes/Layers: If you’re planning to go up to Haleakala (Maui) or Mauna Kea (Big Island), you’ll need to dress warm, especially if you’re going for star gazing or for sunrise since it’ll still be dark when you go up. And I don’t mean cold for Hawaii. It’s not uncommon for it to be in the 20s and 30s at that elevation (Fahrenheit). So plan to bring along pants, layers, a heavy jacket/coat, a hat/scarf/gloves, and I’d even grab a blanket or towels from the hotel to wrap up in.