Whenever I try to travel to warm weather destinations like Southeast Asia, Fiji, or Hawaii, I try to stick to one main bag. My packing philosophy is travel light, travel far. Every time I find myself weighed down by a suitcase, a carry-on, and a backpack, I kick myself and pine for the days where all I had was a small backpack.

If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, here’s how to pack light without missing out on any essentials.

What bag to bring

I have a few packing systems in play whenever I travel. For the most part, I like to keep my items into one or two carry-on sized bags. Usually, this means a backpack along with my freediving fins as a carry on. If I’m planning to be parked in one place for the whole trip, I pack a suitcase.

My favorite backpack for recent trips is the Osprey Kyte 46L. This bag is perfect as a carry-on and has plenty of space to fit my camera gear and a fair amount of clothes. I would bring this if I were changing destinations every few days, or planning to walk a lot with all of my equipment.

Sometimes, I travel with the Osprey Ozone Duplex. This bag comes with a small backpack and a duffel bag that clips to the exterior of the backpack when it’s not packed too full. I pack my electronics into the backpack, then my shoes, toiletries, and clothes into the duffel.

If I’m bringing along a suitcase, I like hard-shell suitcases with four wheels from Rimowa or Away.

No matter what system I have, I organize my clothes with the help of packing cubes.

Camera Gear

Hawaii is one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever ventured to. With dramatic volcanoes, black sand beaches, jungles, waterfalls, grasslands–and not to mention the underwater world, it can be hard to put the camera down. These are my favorite cameras for capturing the sights of Hawaii:

  • GoPro Hero 7 Black: Portable, waterproof, and you can switch between the classic fish-eye view or a linear view. Bring this along if you plan to do a lot of hiking, snorkeling, surfing, and adventure activities. I often find myself reaching for the GoPro over my heavy DSLR or mirrorless cameras.
  • Canon EOS Rebel SL2: The SL2 and the newer model, the SL3, are some of the smallest DSLR cameras on the market. I highly recommend this camera if you’re interested in a travel friendly DSLR. The 10-18mm wide angle lens will allow you to capture landscapes, while a telephoto lens like the 70-300mm helps capture wildlife in the distance.
  • Sony a7iii/Sony a6000: I recently switched from the DSLR system to a mirrorless camera system, investing in the Sony a7iii with the 24-70mm lens as an all-around set up. The Sony a6000 is a backup camera, shooting in conditions where I could damage the a7iii–like on hikes or boating trips.
  • Best camera set-up for Hawaii: I’d say the Sony a6000 and its kit lens paired with a GoPro like the GoPro Hero 7 Black or the new GoPro Hero 8 would be an ideal camera system for those wanting great shots without spending a fortune on camera gear.

Shoes

Shoes are always one of the most stressful packing thanks to the amount of space that they take up.

Tropicfeel shoes: I was recently sent shoes to review from Tropicfeel, a company that strives to sell the ultimate travel shoe. I chose the black, white, and teal “Monsoon” model. These shoes hold up well on long hikes that take you through river crossings, and they dry super quick in the sunshine. The Tropicfeel shoe is ideal for dirt, sand, and pāhoehoe lava types of terrain. Plus, it looks sleek enough to wear in town. If you’re planning on strenuous hand-over-foot hikes or treks through trails of a’a lava, I’d opt for a traditional running or hiking shoe instead.

Black sandals: A simple pair of black sandals are ideal for the beach and evenings spent out. If it’s raining, leather might not be the best match. I typically bring a simple pair made from Olukai.

Toiletries

Hawaii recently banned the use of coral damaging sunscreen in its waters. A major win for the environment! When you’re packing sunscreen, keep an eye out of reef-damaging ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, and others that put coral polyps at risk. I’ve written a ton of recommendations and more information on reef safe sunscreen over at The Salt Sirens.

Sunscreen: Stream2Sea is one of the best and easily found. I also stock up on Avasol’s tinted face sunscreen whenever I’m in the U.S.

Shampoo, conditioner, soap. Deodorant, makeup, moisturizer. Nail clippers, tweezers, menstrual cup. All stuffed into a travel-friendly toiletry bag.

Clothes

Since you’re heading to Hawaii, expect a mix of sunshine and rain showers depending on the time of the year. No matter if I’m traveling for one week or one month, I tend to pack the same amount of clothing.

  • 5-7x pairs of underwear, 2-3 bras (including sports bras)
  • 5x T-shirts or tank tops that can be worn both sightseeing and working out
  • 3x shorts–one jean pair, one for hiking
  • 1x running tights for hiking, yoga, the plane ride–bonus if it can be worn as surf leggings in the water
  • 2x dresses that can be dressed up or down
  • 1x cover-up to throw over my bathing suits
  • 2x bikinis, 1x rashguard rated UPF 50+
  • 1x long-sleeved button up fishing shirt for sun protection

It helps to build your clothing items around an outfit checklist. First, decide which activities are likely to take up most of your time. If you’re planning on spending 90% of your time at the beach, opt for more bikinis and casual wear. If you’re hiking, pack another hiking outfit. A basic dress with a tropical print is always helpful for cultural events–like a luau or hula performance.

Sporting Gear

My freediving kit is pretty fine-tuned to my needs, but I enjoy the Leaderfins carbon fins, Mares Star LiquidSkin mask, Salvimar freediving snorkel, and a basic rubber weight belt (mine is bunk, so I won’t link to it). I try to borrow weights from dive shops rather than packing them along. If I do, I bring only 2lbs max. On trips to Hawaii, I also pack an O’neill 2mm surf suit. This helps pad my fins and gives a bit of extra warmth on long dives. For my dive computer, I bring along the COSMIQ+.

What would you pack on a trip to Hawaii?

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