When I’m packing for Hawaii, my waterproof phone case is on my list of Hawaii essentials!
I also love having my open water swim buoy in the ocean when swimming in Hawaii so I can rest when the water is deep!
First, some things to think about when it comes to packing light(er) for Hawaii.
Then, the list of a few things that you should absolutely consider packing for a trip to Hawaii!
What not to forget when packing for Hawaii?
When packing for Hawaii, don’t forget the snorkeling essentials, the hiking essentials, and the everyday essentials for when you’re out and about in Hawaii! This can include different types of shoes and different types of clothes!
Whether you are packing for a week in Hawaii or a month in Hawaii, you should bring snorkeling gear, a waterproof camera or phone case, and sturdy shoes so that you can enjoy the best of Hawaii… and that includes snorkeling and hiking!
Or, when it comes to the snorkeling gear, you do also have the option to wait until you get to Hawaii! It’s easy to buy snorkeling gear in Hawaii.
What do you need to take on a trip to Hawaii?
Well, a snorkeling shirt isn’t absolutely necessary to wear in Hawaii, but it is a good way to avoid the need for so much sunscreen!
Hawaii-approved reef-safe sunscreen is another thing you need to take on a trip to Hawaii!
This list of Hawaii essentials are things to consider bringing if you want to do classic Hawaii activities!
For a more specific list for the outdoor activities to do in Hawaii:
- Snorkeling essentials for Hawaii (+ what to wear snorkeling in Hawaii)
- Hiking essentials for Hawaii (+ what to wear hiking in Hawaii)
- Everyday essentials for Hawaii (what to ALWAYS have for a day out and about in Hawaii!)
Otherwise, for a more general list of the top things to pack for Hawaii, see below!
Packing for Hawaii in a carry-on
When you’ve already paid a lot for your flight to Hawaii and your hotel in Hawaii, you may feel like you want to save on costs on your trip to Hawaii in any little way for (almost) everything else!
In that case, one area you can save money is by packing light for Hawaii and going carry-on only.
Most domestic airlines that fly to Hawaii will charge you for checking in a bag.
Southwest is the only airline with flights to Hawaii that offers free checked bags on domestic flights.
So this is another thing to think about as you’re deciding whether or not your packing will require you to check a bag.
If you’ll be island hopping in Hawaii NOT with Southwest, you’ll probably have an added cost to your flight for a checked suitcase.
The main thing you’ll want to watch out for is the liquids – when you’re taking a carry-on suitcase onto the plane with you, you don’t want to bring the bigger bottles of liquids as they aren’t allowed.
There’s a limit as to how much you can take through the security check with you.
For a trip to Hawaii, this can notably include sunscreen.
You can still pack sunscreen in your carry-on, you will just need to make sure you don’t buy the big bottle, and instead buy the smaller bottle(s).
There are also sunscreen sticks that you can buy instead of sunscreen lotion or spray.
You can find these things at your local walmart or other local grocery store that carries these types of items.
Walmart even has little sunscreen lotion bottles that you can clip to a backpack!
And, when I went into a walmart in January 2023, I noticed that the walmart brand of sunscreen (equate) passes the test for reef-safe sunscreen… at least by State of Hawaii sunscreen standards, not Maui County sunscreen standards though. (The State of Hawaii has banned “only” 2 sunscreen ingredients, while Maui wants you to use completely mineral sunscreen… in the name of saving the coral reef!)
And then other normal travel items for a beach vacation and any vacation might include things like shampoo and toothpaste.
Make sure they are small enough if you want to save on the airline baggage fees on a flight to Hawaii.
Walmart also has a nice little travel item section, so check it out!
This is where I found the clip-on 1.5 oz reef-safe sunscreen. I bought 2 so can can fly carry-on with sunscreen!
You can find travel-friendly shampoo, toothpaste, even laundry detergent in Walmart’s travel section! It will be near the section that you find toiletries.
If you really want to bring bigger bottles, and if there’s 2 (or more) of you, you might also consider combining the items you can’t bring onto a plane as carry-on into a single suitcase that will you’ll make the checked baggage.
That way you can at least save on one baggage fee.
Or, you might just consider buying a few things in Hawaii too.
👆 The ABC Stores in Waikiki sell different types of floats that you can choose from. They also sell already blown up floats that you can buy and take direct to the beach and float in the ocean! So you don’t need to pack your own float!
The easiest way that won’t take up too much precious Hawaii vacation time would be to head to a convenience store that’s located in the heart of tourist districts in Hawaii.
But you probably don’t want to end up with a huge list of things to wait to buy in Hawaii because you don’t want to be roaming around town looking for that thing that you really need!
You might want to head straight to the beach after you check into your hotel, instead of being worried about going to the store to pick up some travel essentials…
So it might be easier just to buy the travel-size items and bring them from home!
It is also important to note that not all airlines will allow you to have a carry-on suitcase for free.
There are some airlines that charge to bring a suitcase on the plane with you. (Notably, United.) So be sure to check those carry-on baggage policies too for the airline you’re flying.
And if you’re flying with Southwest, be sure to know how to get a good seat!
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What to bring to Hawaii
Things you should pack for Hawaii include a sun hat, waterproof phone case, water shoes, swimming goggles, reef-safe sunscreen, and more! I also love snorkeling with my open water swim buoy so I can rest when the water’s deep and I don’t have to tread water!
Here are some of the top 9 things to pack for Hawaii to REALLY consider bringing on your Hawaii vacation when you want to experience the best of Hawaii outdoors!
To be a bit dramatic…
There is now a so-called sunscreen BAN in Hawaii. (This started in January 2021.)
This sunscreen ban is about banning the sales of sunscreen with certain sunscreen ingredients in them.
The chemicals that are banned are those that have been shown to be the most toxic to coral reef. (Healthy reef is what brings the fish that makes snorkeling in Hawaii fun!)
Can you bring sunscreen to Hawaii?
You can buy your favorite toxic sunscreen at home, and then bring it to Hawaii. But it would be nice if you didn’t do that.
Consider that one of the reasons that they made it illegal in Hawaii was to keep the tropical fish and turtles coming back to the shores of Hawaii!
So, when you’re out buying your sunscreen for Hawaii, consider making it reef-safe sunscreen. (Or, more accurately possibly, reef-safer sunscreen.)
While there is some discussion around all the chemicals that are toxic to marine life, we’ll look at the Hawaii ban to tell us the chemicals that are the most harmful.
The 2 chemicals that are included in the Hawaii sunscreen ban are oxybenzone and octinoxate.
So you can check sunscreen ingredients specifically for these ingredients if you want to feel like you’re doing a little to help the marine environment.
These are chemicals you don’t want in your sunscreen.
See more about what reef-safe sunscreen is about and check how reef-friendly your favorite sunscreen is.
2. Swim shirts with UV protection
If you don’t want to bother with putting on so much sunscreen…
Opt for UV swim shirts instead!
Swim shirts can be perfect for snorkeling, other water activities, and even if you will just be out in the sun.
It makes it so you don’t have to be as concerned about sun burn all over your body.
These sorts of swim shirts (aka rash guards) are designed with UV protection.
Shop swimwear for Hawaii:
- Rashguards aka UV protection shirts
- Board shorts aka swimwear bottoms
3. Tech t-shirt
When you’re out and about not at the beach, a tech t-shirt can be perfect.
These are quick-dry shirts and can also be moisture-wicking shirts.
The moisture it’ll be wicking away will be all that sweat from the hot Hawaii weather.
These types of shirts are especially perfect for hiking in Hawaii, but they are also good for when you’re out going to different places around the island too, since you’ll be outside in that hot weather – sweating!
These shirts are better than cotton, because cotton will absorb that sweat, instead of wicking it away. This means it can keep you and your shirt more dry, too!
You may know these kinds of shirts as work-out shirts, and they are perfect for everyday wear during Hawaii vacation.
You can also find these sorts of athletic shirts at Walmart, Target, and Kohls.
Under Armour is one of the popular brands for tech t-shirts.
4. Water shoes
Some beaches in Hawaii are basically sand-only beaches.
👆 Sunset Beach, one of the best beaches on the North Shore of Oahu.
With these kinds of beaches, you can go no problem barefoot for a nice long walk along the beach with your sand in your toes. (Although the sand might get a little hot – walk where the water comes up to shore as it’ll be cooler there!)
Other beaches in Hawaii have more of a rocky beach entrance.
👆 Snorkeling at Sharks Cove, one of the best snorkeling spots on Oahu.
It’s for these types of beaches that you might want water shoes, in particular if you’ll be snorkeling at these beaches.
And if you will be swimming directly above coral reef…
👆 Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, another one of the best snorkeling spots on Oahu.
While you will very much want to avoid touching coral reef that’s below you as you’re swimming, in case your foot accidentally does hit the reef, water shoes can provide protection.
Coral reef can be sharp!
And there are also some hikes that might give you a water crossing, maybe with a rocky bottom too! (Lava rocks in particular can also be sharp.)
👆 Hiking to Honomalino Bay, one of the best hikes on the Big Island.
It’s very possible that you’ll be happy you packed some water shoes!
Shop water shoes for Hawaii
5. Hiking sandals
Travel sandals or hiking sandals can be versatile.
They can work for the popular short hikes in Hawaii, and then afterwards you can go for another activity in the same footwear.
👆 Diamond Head hike, one of the best hikes on Oahu.
Hiking sandals can be better than your regular beach sandals or flip slops because the hiking sandals are designed to give you a little more traction.
Many of Hawaii’s hiking trails can be lined with dirt and loose gravel.
While these sort of shoes or footwear may not completely prevent you from slipping, it’ll give you a better grip than regular footwear!
And most importantly, you can use them for both a morning hike and afternoon walk on the beach without having to bring along an extra pair of shoes!
Shop hiking sandals for Hawaii
That said, there are also some Hawaii trails in which sandals may not be the best, so be sure to watch out for that.
Like when hiking across old lava flows, you will want shoes and not sandals.
Even small specks of lava rock can be SHARP!
Plus lava rocks are rough terrain and your feet may appreciate thicker soles for your shoes.
No matter the reason, if you do prefer shoes for hikes, trail running shoes can be perfect for Hawaii trails.
They will give you more traction than regular shoes, and they are not as heavy as hiking shoes. (Although hiking shoes will have thicker soles.)
Salomon is a popular brand for running shoes.
Merrell is a popular brand for hiking shoes.
Shop trail running shoes for Hawaii
OR… See more about the best shoes for hiking in Hawaii.
Also see some of the best hikes in Hawaii that come with amazing views:
6. Snorkel mask or swimming goggles
And then with so many snorkeling spots in Hawaii, it’ll be good to bring along some snorkeling gear!
You can go for a snorkeling set with just the mask (and the snorkel thing that allows you to breathe), or you can go for a snorkeling set with a mask and fins.
If you want to go for the minimalist approach (and take up less space in your luggage), then you can bring along a regular pair of swimming goggles.
You’ll want clear ones so you can see the colors of the fish well!
If you’ll be wearing swimming goggles, it does mean that you’ll have to come up for a breath often, unlike if you’re wearing a proper snorkeling mask which serves as your breathing equipment as you swim around so you don’t have to come up for air.
👆 Snorkeling at Two Step.
If you’ll be snorkeling without fins, those water shoes are a very good idea!
Fins do serve to propel you in the water more quickly with less energy, which means that you can cover more ground… er… cover more water… without as much work. (aka see more underwater life in less time!)
Shop snorkeling gear for Hawaii
See some of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii right off the beach aka without a snorkeling boat tour:
- Best Oahu beach snorkeling
- Best Maui beach snorkeling
- Best Big Island beach snorkeling
- Best Lanai beach snorkeling
If you want to capture underwater life cheaply, a simple waterproof phone case can work out well!
If you won’t be investing in an underwater camera… and you don’t want to spend $50-100 on a waterproof phone case designed specifically to fit your iphone or samsung phone…
Then the next best thing you can have is an cheapo waterproof phone case.
Well it works if you’re snorkeling in calm waters!
If there are waves, it’ll be difficult to get your phone to stay still which means it could result in not-so-good underwater photos!
But assuming you’re snorkeling in calm waters…
It might take a few practices in the beginning to get a strategy down, but if you don’t want to spend the money on a more expensive case, it is a truly valuable alternative!
The touchscreen doesn’t work underwater, so you need to figure out the button you can click (maybe the volume button) to capture the photo.
For video, you’ll have to start it before you go underwater.
You can also get a camera float and attach it the phone case as an extra precaution in case you let go of your phone!
Mine did float with my phone attached to it!
Shop for taking underwater photos in Hawaii
See more about how a cheap waterproof phone case can work.
8. Portable phone charger
There are SO many picture-perfect moments in Hawaii!
And there are likely going to be days when you’re out all day.
You don’t want to miss out on those picture-perfect moments because of a dead phone!
Remember, you’ll probably be using your phone more than usual throughout the day, as you consult Google Maps or take pictures.
Hot weather can also seem to drain your phone battery more quickly.
So make sure you bring a portable phone charger!
I put my charger in a freezer ziplock bag to protect against water and sand. (Hazards of the beach!)
Whether you’re out for a circle island drive…
👆 Driving the southern route from Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
That includes hiking…
👆 Extended Lanikai Pillbox hike, another one of the best hikes on Oahu.
👆 Lanikai Beach, one of the best beaches on Oahu.
And biking to end the day!
Bring an extra USB cord!
And if you’re renting a car, bring along an extra USB cord just for the car. If you’re renting from a car rental company, you’ll probably be getting a newer car that has a USB port for charging.
This way you can just keep a USB cord in the car and you don’t need to have to keep grabbing it every time you leave the car for an activity or for the night when you’re back at your accommodation!
See more about renting a car in Hawaii:
See more about Hawaii without a car:
- Getting around Oahu by bus
- Bike sharing in Waikiki
- Getting around Maui by bus
- Bike sharing in Kona
- Getting to Lanai by ferry from Maui
9. Small first aid kit
I threw in some supplies into a ziplock bag from an ultralight first aid kit that I had.
It can be a good idea to at least have some bandages of varying sizes, gauze, medical tape, antiseptic wipes, ointment, neosporin, or other such similar items!
They could be items you already have around your house, and then place them into a freezer ziplock bag so it’s a stronger waterproof bag aka beach-proof bag!
I put a few items from my “first aid kit” in my daypack, and I had more back at my accommodation.
If you put on shoes and socks and walk a lot while your skin is still wet (like if you’re doing a beach hike!), this can cause rubbing, chafing, and/or blisters on your feet. (Walking a lot in sandals or flip flops that you’re not used to might do the same.) Putting a bandage over such areas can ease the comfort.
You might also accidentally cut yourself on coral reef, lava rock, or even just regular rocks on the beach or off of it.
These types of injuries aren’t exactly uncommon during a Hawaii vacation.
So if this happens to you, you might thank yourself that you have some basic supplies to cover you until you’re able to get better first aid supplies! (Maybe that’s back at your hotel, or maybe that’s at the convenience store!)
I was once swimming along barefoot on Oahu and did accidentally kick some reef. It didn’t hurt, but when I got out of the water, I discovered blood on my foot!
Similarly, I had gone to a rocky entrance snorkeling spot on the Big Island with a group from the Hawaii hostel I was staying at. One of the guys walked out of the water with a huge gash on his foot with major bleeding!
Snorkeling accidents like these are good reasons to pack a few bandages in a ziplock bag.
It could be even better to have some waterproof bandages too so you can be in the water without worry even if you do get cut! (You know, that thing about whether it may or may not be true that blood attracts sharks – shark attacks in Hawaii are rare, but they do happen.)
Otherwise, if you’re at a beach with a lifeguard, a lifeguard should be able to provide you with some basic first aid supplies.
My favorite small backpack for Hawaii
I find my Osprey backpack to be great for a day out and about in Hawaii, and it’s lasted for several years.
There’s a clip on the front which can work to hang things.
Like swimming goggles…
Or a hat!
There’s also a hydration sleeve which is intended for a water pack, but it can work to keep the waterproof phone case flat!
There’s also a spot to clip on a bike helmet, which can be perfect for a bike and snorkel day or a bike and hike day!
An outdoor brand that’s known for good quality hiking backpacks is Osprey.
For this type of small backpack, there’s a 9 liter daypack for women and an 11 liter daypack for men.
These are pretty small, but it can be just enough room for what you need for a day in Hawaii!
Otherwise, there’s a slightly bigger size with a 20 liter daypack for women and a 22 liter daypack for men in the same version.
The 2 things you should absolutely pack in your daypack or beach bag EVERY DAY you’re in Hawaii no matter what you’re doing!
If you’re active throughout the day, you’ll probably sweat more than normal!
And of course, Hawaii’s hot weather will make you sweat more than normal too if you are coming from a cooler climate.
You don’t want to run out of energy during the day!
So be sure to load up on snacks.
To save a little bit of money, it could be good to head to the grocery store at the beginning of your Hawaii vacation and buy a bunch of snacks for the days you’ll be in Hawaii.
And those are a few Hawaii essentials to consider!
- What to pack for snorkeling in Hawaii
- What to pack for hiking in Hawaii
- What to pack in your daypack for a day out and about in Hawaii
HAPPY PACKING FOR HAWAII!
👇 Explore the Hawaiian islands map on google maps!
There are affiliate links on this page. As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a commission from this.
Top things to pack for your Hawaii vacation!
The ultimate beach towel for travel?!Turkish towels are considered to be more absorbent and lightweight than your average beach towel. Be sure to check out turkish towels like these!
The cheapo way to waterproof your phoneYou can take underwater pictures with a simple waterproof phone case like this. Touch screen may not work well underwater - try the volume button to snap the pic instead!
Wear less sunscreen by wearing a UPF swim shirt!Wearing a swim shirt means less skin that's exposed to the sun which means less sunscreen you need to apply! See about wearing swim shirts with UV protection like these when you're snorkeling.
More for your Hawaii packing list
- How a cheapo waterproof phone case works
- Why wear water shoes for the beach
- Why a personal swim buoy is an essential for snorkeling and swimming in the ocean
- Essentials to pack for Hawaii
- Best shoes for Hawaii
There are affiliate links on this page. Among others, as an Amazon Associate I may earn from purchases.