17 Top Kauai Packing List Items + What NOT to Bring (2018 Update)

Hawaii is a dream destination for many, and the island of Kauai is no exception. But if you’ve just booked your tickets, you’re probably wondering what to pack for Kauai, especially if you’re coming from someplace with a drastically different climate.

That’s why I put together this packing list for Kauai, which has everything you’ll need for your trip. Down below, there’s a list of things NOT to take, so you don’t get stuck hauling around stuff you don’t need. You’ll also find our tips on the best clothes to wear in Kauai, as well as some frequently asked questions about traveling there.

Don’t forget that Kauai, like the rest of Hawaii, sometimes operates on what visitors lovingly call “island time.” To make the most of your trip, consider a dose of patience and a sense of humor part of your Kauai packing list.

What should I bring on my trip to Kauai?

1) Daypack – With scenic drives, top-notch hiking, and day trips to wildlife refuges, plenty of occasions on Kauai will call for a daypack. This one is sturdy but lightweight, and it won’t take up much space in your main luggage.
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2) Beach bag – A beach bag is one of the most important things to bring to Kauai – you are planning on visiting the beach there, right? This bag has plenty of space for all your beach essentials, and the fabric is waterproof and easy to clean, making it perfect for a day on the sand.
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3) Sarong – A sarong is always a useful travel item, and it’s one of the essentials to take to Kauai or any other beach destination. A sarong works great as a replacement for a beach towel, picnic blanket, sheet, shawl, or swimsuit cover-up, making it one of the most versatile things on any Kauai packing list.
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4) Sunglasses: Women’s and Men’s – Though Kauai is the rainiest island in Hawaii, it’s still sunny much of the time – and you’ll probably be spending most of your time outside. Whether you’re at the beach, on the trail, or just exploring town, you’ll be more comfortable with a pair of sunglasses.
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5) Swimsuit: Women’s and Men’s – As for any beach destination, a swimsuit is one of the most essential things to take to Kauai. To make things easier, you’ll probably even want to bring more than one.
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6) Sundress – For many female visitors, a sundress is the go-to clothing for Kauai. In a tropical climate, a lightweight dress is one of the most comfortable options, and you can easily wear a swimsuit under it.
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7) Rain jacket: Women’s and Men’s – Kauai is the wettest part of Hawaii; in fact, the island’s Mt. Waialeale is one of the rainiest places in the world. No matter what time of year you’re visiting, a rain jacket will be a critical part of your Kauai wardrobe – you never know when you might end up needing it.
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8) Flip-flops: Women’s and Men’s – Since you’ll likely be spending much of your time at the beach or walking around a resort, flip-flops are the default footwear for Kauai.
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9) Hiking shoes: Women’s and Men’s – If you’re planning on hitting the trail, a pair of good hiking shoes should also be on your list of things to take to Kauai. They’ll take up some space in your backpack, but it’s worth it, especially since Kauai’s trails can get pretty muddy and you’ll need the traction.
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10) Sunscreen – Don’t forget to wear sunscreen! It’s essential in a tropical climate like Kauai’s, and it needs to be a water-resistant formula like this one for long days at the beach or on the river.
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11) Insect repellent – Make sure insect repellent is on your Kauai packing list, especially if you’re planning on doing any hiking or camping. Even if you aren’t, you’ll probably want to have itfor sitting outside in the evenings.
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12) Solid shampoo – Between TSA regulations and the risk of leaks, liquids are among the most annoying things to pack. Give yourself one less liquid to deal with by getting some solid shampoo for your trip. Lush’s formula works just as well as the regular kind, and it’s made from mostly natural ingredients.
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13) Leave-in hair conditioner – While you may like the blond streaks you come home with, all that sun and saltwater can also cause serious damage to your hair. Repair your strands by using a leave-in conditioner while you’re in Kauai.
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14) Kindle – Nothing makes people more inclined to read than long plane rides and lazy beach days. But even one or two physical books will start to weigh down your bag. Invest in a Kindle instead, and you’ll be able to bring as many titles as you want for the weight of one.
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15) Kauai Revealed guidebook – This is the best series of guidebooks on Hawaii, and the Kauai edition is no exception. To find out about the top things to do on the island and the locals’ best secrets, pick up this book before your trip.
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16) Water bottle – Staying hydrated is key in a tropical environment, especially on beach days or during hikes, so a water bottle should beone of your Kauai packing essentials. Bringing a bottle you can refill will save you money and reduce your plastic waste, and help make sure you always have enough water with you.
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17) First-Aid kit – If you’re out hiking or even swimming at a rocky beach in Kauai, it’s easy to end up with some cuts or scrapes. To make sure you’re prepared, bring a First-Aid kit that will help you easily deal with any minor injuries.
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18) Travel pillow – No matter where you’re coming from, the flight to Kauai is a long one. You’ll probably want to get some shut-eye on the plane at some point, so bring a travel pillow to make it more comfortable.
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19) Waterproof phone case – All those water activities in Kauai mean lots of memories you’ll want to capture– and lots of opportunities for your phone to get wet and end up destroyed. Protect your phone with a waterproof case like this one, which you can even submerge in the water to get underwater shots.
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Other packing list items to consider bringing to Kauai

What should I wear in Kauai?

The best clothes for Kauai will depend on what you’re planning to do on the island, butin general, fairly casual clothes made from lightweight, breathable fabrics should be the staple of your Kauai wardrobe. Visitors to Hawaiitend to wear shorts, tank tops, sundresses, and sandals most of the time, and might bring one or two nicer outfits for going out in the evenings. Clothes made from fabrics like linen, rayon, merino wool, and cotton blends will be the most comfortable in Hawaii’s tropical climate, but a light jacket is also necessary for evenings andat higher elevations. If you’re planning to do much hiking in Kauai, you’ll want to bring a pair of long pants and some good hiking shoes as well. Lastly, no matter what your plans are, a rain jacket and umbrella areessential things to take to Kauai.

What NOT to take to Kauai

1) 🚫 DON’T TAKE high-heeled shoes – Like the rest of Hawaii, Kauai is a pretty casual destination. A pair of cute sandals or nice flats should be dressy enough for most anything you’ll do there – and your feet will thank you.
2) 🚫 DON’T BRING unnecessary valuables – Unless it’s something you’ll really need on your trip, like a camera, there’s no reason to bring items that are valuable or sentimental and risk them getting lost, stolen, or broken on the road.
3) 🚫 DON’T PACK lots of cold-weather clothes – You’ll definitely want a jacket and some rain gear when you visit Kauai, but you’ll have no need for tons of winter clothes, even if you go in January.
4) 🚫 DON’T BRING abath towel – Regular bath towels are super bulky, so if you want to bring your own towel, pick up a quick-dry version instead.
5) 🚫 DON’T PACK heavy books – Most people will want to do some reading during the long flight to Kauai or while relaxing at the pool or the beach. But physical books will weigh down your bag, so consider leaving them at home and packing a Kindle instead.
6) 🚫 DON’T TAKE dressy clothes – Most visitors to Kauai have no need for formal eveningwear. While you might want one or two nicer outfits, depending on your plans, a maxi dress for ladies and a polo or button-down shirt for guys will usually be fancy enough.

10 frequently asked questions about travel in Kauai

1) What are the best beaches on Kauai?

It’s probably no surprise that there’s a lot of competition for the best beach on Kauai. Poipu Beach is the most popular, and has a sandbar that divides a calm, protected cove from the busier areas. Hanalei Bay is definitely another contender, with soft white sand and great surfing for all levels. Nearby Tunnels Beach is renowned for its snorkeling and diving, as well as calm family-friendly waters. On the east side, Lydgate Beach Park is one of the island’s best snorkeling spots, thanks toa lava rock wall that creates a natural lagoon and shields the area from the open ocean. Kekaha Beach is a favorite local spot on the far west side of the island, though the winds and currents there can both be strong. Lastly, you may recognize Lumahai Beach from the movie South Pacific, but although it’s stunning, the waters are typically too rough for swimming.

2) What are the top things to do on Kauai?

Like Hawaii’s other main islands, there’s so much to experience on Kauai that it would be hard to ever get bored. Of course, spending time at the beach tops most visitors’ list of things to do on Kauai, and the island offers a wide range of water activities – swimming, snorkeling, diving, surfing, and more. Inland, the Wailua River offers even more water activities, including rafting, kayaking, and water-skiing. Kauai also has some spectacular hiking, particularly along the Napali Coast and in Koke’e State Park and Waimea Canyon State Park. Even if you don’t go hiking, Waimea Canyon is a must-see for any visitor. Other top spots to see away from the beach include Limahuli Garden and Preserve, Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens, Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, Kilohana Plantation, and Grove Farm, as well as the unexpected Kauai Hindu Monastery. A scenic drive along the island’s north coast is another must, and if you can splurge on it, a helicopter tour over Kauai is truly the best (and most memorable) way to see the island.

3) How can I get to Kauai?

Visitors generally arrive at Kauai’s only commercial airport in Lihue, located on the island’s southeast coast. The most convenient way to get to Kauai is on a direct flight from the continental U.S., and Lihue is served by flights from several West Coastcities. There are no international flights to Kauai, though, so if you’re coming from another part of the world, your itinerary will probably include a layover in Honolulu and a 40-minute inter-island flight.

4) What’s the best way to get around on Kauai?

A car rental is easily the most convenient way to get around Kauai, and will allow visitors the most flexibility and the chance to enjoy the island’s scenic drives. Otherwise, it’s possible – though pricey – to get around much of the island by taxi or Uber/Lyft.There’s also a public bus system, which travels the major highway between Kekaha and Hanalei with stops including Poipu, Lihue, Princeville, and Kapaa. The buses are not terribly frequent, though, and don’t access many parts of the island of interest to visitors, so be sure to check the routes and schedules ahead of time. Within Poipu, the Aloha Spirit Shuttle runs between the area’s various resorts and restaurants and is free.

5) Are there any safety concerns on Kauai?

Visiting Kauai doesn’t require any special health or safety precautions beyond practicing common sense. Safety in regards to the ocean is probably the main concern, so be aware of the ocean conditions before you go for a swim. Hiking in Kauai can also be risky for those who aren’t prepared, and only the most experienced hikers should attempt the Kalalau Trail. Otherwise, there’s not much to worry about beyond standard precautions like locking up your valuables, parking in well-lit areas, and obeying local laws and posted signs.

6) What is the best time of year to visit?

Weather-wise, Kauai is remarkably stable year-round, as average temperatures only fluctuate about 15 degrees throughout the year. Fall and winter are the rainiest seasons on Kauai, and high season for tourism generally runs from December to March and again from July to August. To avoid both the crowds and the rain – and save some money, as flight and hotel prices tend to drop outside of peak season – late-spring and early-fall are the best times to visit.

7) Where should I stay on Kauai?

Kauai’s most popular area for visitors is Poipu, though it’s also the most expensive. This town on the south shore is known forstunning beaches that are great for swimming, snorkeling, surfing, and other water activities, and many of the island’s major resorts are found here. On the north shore, Hanalei is another of the most popular areas,thanks largely to the famed Hanalei Bay, which is often regarded as one of Kauai’s best beaches (and best surfing spots). The north shore is also home to Princeville, an upscale resort area with modern condo developments. Kauai’s eastern shore is known as the Coconut Coast for its groves of coconut palms, and Lihue and nearby Kapaa are the island’s main commercial hubs. The Old Town area of Kapaa is especially charming.

8) Where are the best viewpoints?

There is no shortage of places to take in a great view on Kauai. The Hanalei Valley Outlook is one of the most photographed spots in the state, with its views of the valley, the coast, and the mountains. The drive along Waimea Canyon Road is one ofKauai’s most popular, and there are several different lookouts along the road. Kalalau Lookout is another top viewpoint on Kauai, and is one of the only places on the Napali Coast that’s accessible by road.

9) How can I travel on a budget on Kauai?

As in the rest of Hawaii, there are many places to splurge for luxury on Kauai – but there are also plenty of options for traveling on a budget. If your schedule is flexible, visiting the island during low season (spring and fall) will cut down on airfare and accommodation costs. No matter what time of year you visit, the good news is that Kauai tends to have slightly lower hotel prices than Hawaii’s other major islands. On Kauai, the cheaper hotels are farther from the beach and away from the popular tourist areas of Poipu, Princeville, and Hanalei.To save even more on accommodations, opt for an Airbnb rental or one of the few hostels on the island, or consider camping for part of yourtrip. To stick to a tight food budget in Kauai, you can save significantly by eating at the island’s many food trucks or picking up groceries at a local supermarket. Restaurants outside of the tourist areas will also be much cheaper (food in Poipu is more expensive than anywhere else on the island).You might also consider renting a car for only the days you’ll really need it, and walking or taking the bus where possible. Lastly, don’t forget that many of the best things to do on Kauai – relaxing at the beach, hiking, taking in scenic views – are free.

10) How can I plan to hike the Kalalau Trail?

The Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile (one-way) hike that gains a total of 5,000 feet in elevation, and is as stunning as it is treacherous. While the first few miles of the trail can be done as a day hike, the second half is only suitable for experienced hikers. The trail is extremely muddy, even during dry season, and sections of it are incredibly narrow with steep drop-offs. It also requires crossing Hanakapi’ai Stream, which can be fatal if the water is too high or flowing too fast.

If you’re confident you’re prepared for the challenge, plan to spend at least one night on the trail, preferably two, or even more if you have the time. Though many people camp illegally in this area, there are two designated campsites along the trail (at Hanakoaand Kalalau). Hiking the Kalalau Trail and camping at the campsites requires a permit, which must be obtained in advance. Make sure you bring camping gear, hiking poles, a water purification system, a fire starter, and a First-Aid kit.