Headed to Hawaii or another tropical island?
If so, this Big Island packing list has you covered! We’ve been to the Hawaiian islands half a dozen times, including a total of four months on the Big Island, so at this point we’ve know exactly what we need to pack! We’ve have also been to Kauai, Maui and Oahu, and this list works for any of those islands (any tropical island really) as well!
The Big Island is full of many fun things to do and has many different micro-climates, which makes packing a bit more involved than throwing your favorite bathing suit and some flip-flops into your carry-on suitcase. Thus, we’ve divided the packing list up in different activities you might be doing.
If you’re visiting the Big Island, you’ll also want to check out our post on our Favorite Big Island Vegetarian Restaurants.
First off, get the best guidebook about Hawaii: Hawaii the Big Island Revealed. In here you will learn all about the island and what to do. It was written by Andrew Doughty and Leona Boyd and they have done their research! It’s not as mainstream as Lonely Planet or other guidebooks. They tell you local secrets (though I suppose they aren’t secrets anymore). You’ll also learn about places you might want to leave to the locals on the weekends. Finally, there’s a list of just about every hike and activity imaginable. Want to visit turtles? It’s in the book. Want the best beaches? They list them all. Food? Yup. While we will share all of our favorites here on the site, this guide really is a MUST BUY!
Hiking sandals– During hikes on the island you might be crossing streams, trekking through mud, walking over lava rocks, or walking on sand. The best footwear for this is hiking sandals. You can decide if you want open or closed toe sandals. Teva, Keen and Chaco‘s make some great options.
Bug Repellent– Hawaii is a tropical island which means there are plenty of mosquitoes around. If you are a mosquito magnet, like me, you will need some bug spray to keep them away while you are exploring the island. I personally like repellent that doesn’t have DEET, so I look for repellents with citronella, peppermint and other natural ingredients. Of course there are many options on the market, so find what works best for you. Pro Tip: wear light clothing if you are in a heavy mosquito area, they are attracted to black clothes. Avoid being outside during dusk and dawn. If you do get bit, I recommend an anti-itch cream. Ditch the Itch by All Terrain has been working well!
Hiking Poles– The first time we went to the Big Island, my parents introduced us to the wonders of using hiking poles on our many expeditions across the islands varied terrains. A single hike on the Big Island could take you over lava rocks, over creeks, through lush forests and on steep volcanic inclines. These terrains can be quite unstable and hard on the knees. Hiking poles will help with your balance, they reduce the impact on your knees, help with circulation and lower your heart rate. The best type are the easy flip locks that you can adjust the height. Pro-Tip: If you are checking luggage, pick a size that will fit in your bag. You might be able to carry it on, TSA does allow that, but check the rules because they can change.
Energy bars– Stash these in your backpack while hiking, also in your beach bag and car. You never know when you are going to need a snack! Look for energy bars that are not full of sugar, these days, many energy bars are just expensive candy bars. A few of my favorite brands are: GoMacro, Hammer bars, and Pure Organics. Pro-Tip: Make your own before your trip and bring a bunch with you! You’ll save money and be able to make bars with the ingredients you want.
Water bottle– You will want to take this over all the island as you hike, go to the beach, drive around and shop. Hydration is key! We use glass because it’s easier to clean and doesn’t smell after using for a few days. These stainless steel water bottles are also really popular. Pro tip: Bring it on the plane, just empty it for TSA and then fill it once you get past security.
Small First Aid Kit– It’s always a good idea to carry a first aid kit with you, especially while hiking. You never know when it will be needed.
Swiss Army Knife– I LOVE my tiny swiss army knife. I bring it everywhere with me in my purse. I use it cut tags, my nails, cut fruit, slice cheese, open packages, basically everything! Oh, and it also would be useful while hiking if needed. 😉
Hiking backpack– You’ll need a backpack to hold all the above items, plus food, water, keys and anything else. This backpack looks like a great size. It can also be your carry-on bag on the airplane.
Hat– Look for a wide brimmed hat to actually protect your face and neck. This is not a fashion statement, save that hat for your beach hat. 😉 Pro-Tip: If you have a membership, Costco sells a wide-brimmed sun hat (it doesn’t win points for style) but it does the trick for a great price!
It’s always a good idea to carry a flashlight, just in case. Bring a small portable one.
Towel – Hotels and Airbnb’s will have towels for you, but if you are not staying at a place that has a towel, this is obviously essential. Might as well get a small compact towel so you don’t have to lug a big puffy one. This compact towel will come in handy for hikes and distant beaches if your hotel doesn’t appreciate you bringing their towels to other parts of the island.
Bathing Suit– We suggest picking something that will stay on while boogie boarding or playing in the waves, unless of course you are just wanting to lie on the sand and get some sun. No judgement here! It’s your holiday after all. There are also some nude beaches on the island, so if that is your thing, don’t bother packing a swimsuit. 😉
Boogie Board – If you are going to be boogie boarding a lot it makes sense to buy a board instead of renting one. Costco in Kona sells some affordable ones. We will be creating a post on the best beaches to boogie!
Flip flops– Essential for the beach and walking around the towns/cities. Pick a higher quality pair so you won’t get blisters or super tired feet. Reef, Teva, etc. all make great options. These are my favorite Teva sandals (woman’s). I’ve walked all around the world with them and find them very comfortable. Aurelien just got a pair of Olukai “Ohanas” and so far is very satisfied. Of course there are tons of flip flops on the market.
Hat – Best to protect your face, ears and neck from the sun, it can get really hot! Ladies, I love my Sunday Afternoon Riviera cotton/paper “straw” wide-rimmed hat. It looks like a floppy, straw hat, but is easily foldable and doesn’t get ruined when in transit. I’ve brought it on many trips and it folds really well. I used to take my straw hats and try to keep them in good condition, but they would inevitably get ruined.
Snorkle and Mask- The Big Island is teaming with bright color fish, reefs and sea turtles. Bringing your own snorkle set will save you rental money and you can use it for future trips. The fins are pretty important, you will find them very useful when trying to swim against the current or chasing after a sea turtle. Actually that is a joke, since sea turtles are quite slow. Also, keep in mind you should give sea turtles space, you should have about ten feet between you. Pro-Tip: go to Carlsmith beach in Hilo. Walk to the back of the park, down steps and you might see some very friendly massive sea turtles. They don’t know about the ten foot rule…they come right up to you.
Water Shoes- This is not necessary if you are planning on only going to white sand beaches, like Hapuna on the Kona side, but if you are swimming in tide pools and beaches with rocks, you will be glad you have these. Aurelien stepped on a sea urchin recently, while not dangerous, it still hurt! If he had been wearing his water shoes he could have prevented ending our beach trip prematurely.
Binoculars– The majestic humpback whales visit the Hawaiian islands from November to May (most are there from January to March) to calve and mate (yes both). You will be jealous of other beach goers when a whale in the distance starts flying up in the air and you can’t get a close up look. You will also enjoy your binoculars on hikes and at lookout points. Pro-Tip: don’t use the binoculars to spy on other beach goers, they might not enjoy it. 😉
On a clear night, head up to the Visitor Information Station of the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy up on Muano Kea. It’s an hour long? drive from Hilo or a 1.5 hour long drive to Kona. Pro Tip: Make sure the moon isn’t full, this will make it hard to see the stars.
Warm coat and hat – The visitor center is 9,200 feet above sea level, so it is COLD. You will be very happy you brought a jacket and hat. Pick a down jacket that is light and easy to pack. I love Patagonia, sometimes you can find great deals on Backcountry, or other sites.
There you have it! Enjoy your time in paradise!