With its wild Na Pali coast, gorgeous secret beaches, and little two-lane roads, there are so many things to do in Kauai! But packing the right items can make or break your trip. If you’ve got the right shoes and rain gear, for example, chasing a rainbow to the beach down a muddy cliff can be an adventure, instead of a nightmare. Here’s what to pack for Kauai.
These are my top 10 recommendations for everything you’ll need to enjoy your Kauai itinerary.
Kauai Packing List: Top 10 Items
1. Kauai Revealed Guidebook
This is the only guidebook you’ll ever need for Kauai!
It’s written by long-time locals in the know who share all their favorite secluded beaches, waterfalls, secret hiking trails, and the most delicious places to eat. Plus, suggestions for Maui hotels.
One of the things I love best about the book is the map on the back cover. It’s an easy way to check out the best beaches around the island at a glance.
Just tuck the guidebook into your day pack when you’re out and about for everything you need to know. Plus, the writing style is personal and fun!
2. Rash Guard
If you don’t routinely spend lots of time in the ocean, you may not own one of these, but you definitely need a rash guard for your trip to Kauai! I finally got one on my first visit to the Big Island.
So if snorkeling is on your Kauai to do list, a rash guard is key. It will keep your back from getting burned while snorkeling and also keep you warm. Yes, the ocean in Kauai is warm (although less so in winter), but you will still be getting chilly if you spend a few hours out there.
Many of the rashguards are skin tight which I’m not a huge fan of. In my experience, t’s just not great trying to wrangle it on and off. That’s why I love this one that actually zips!
Looking for a more detailed packing list for Kauai? Head over to my popular Maui post.
If you’re interested in packing lighter, you’ll want to pack reliable shoes that can do double duty for both hikes and water adventures. That’s why Keens always have a spot on my packing list for Kauai.
First of all, they last forever. I’ve had my pair for more than a decade and have worn them all over the world. Secondly, they’re super comfortable. And finally, you can hike muddy trails and wear them in the ocean to keep your feet from getting gashed on coral (which is totally a thing in Kauai)!
Of all my Hawaii packing recommendations, Keens are possibly the things my readers pack most! I like the Keens Whisper Sandal for women due to its breathability. Get a pair on Amazon here. And check out this one for men.
PSA August 2021: Be aware that there is currently single lane public access during certain hours on Kuhio Highway—the main road on the North Shore due a massive landslide in March 2021.
This was the second landslide in this area so just be grateful you’ll still be able to access Hanalei Bay and all points west at all. (But you might want to avoid basing in Hanalei Bay for this reason.)
Please be patient and respectful with construction workers. Reinforcing this area’s a big job! In the meantime, you’ll need to plan ahead as the hours for public access to the road varies day to day.
You can get the current schedule from the Dept of Transportation here.
4. Insulated Grocery Bag
Let’s face it. Because Kauai is an island, food and other supplies need to be shipped over, which really escalates the cost. You’ll be at the beach anyway so why not pack a picnic lunch instead of heading to a restaurant? It’s a great way to increase your budget for sunset cocktails without much effort. (But don’t neglect the amazing food truck experience on Maui either!)
Plus, picnic lunches on a secluded beach or scenic viewpoint when hiking are memory makers. It’s one of the best ways I know to wring more value out of my vacation dollars.
Nobody wants a warm beer or soda though so pack an insulated grocery bag to keep foods cool in the hot sun. It’s an easy way to bring food if you’re otherwise just carrying your travel purse. Stateside, if you live near a Trader Joe’s you can buy one there like I did.
Otherwise, just grab this one on Amazon. And when you visit the grocery store on island for the first time, remember to pick up a few slim cold packs to stick in the refrigerator.
Click here to download and print my ultimate Hawaii packing list with 31 essential items.
5. Waterproof Rain Jacket
If you’re wondering why on earth you’d ever be wearing a rain jacket in hot, humid, Kauai, I’ll tell you. Kauai weather can be rainy! The first time I checked my weather app to find it would be raining every day on my first visit to Kauai, I was pretty distressed.
What I didn’t understand was that those rain showers are an on-and-off kind of experience. Massive showers followed by clear, sunny skies…multiple times in a single day. It’s totally fine. And makes for epic rainbows!
Still, it’s likely to be coming down when you’re sloshing through the mud on the beautiful Kalalau Trail on the Napali Coast. Or taking shelter from that freak thunderstorm passing through on the beach.
If I could only bring three Kaui clothing items, I’d bring a bathing suit, a cover-up, and a rain jacket! (But I’d really want my rash guard too. See above.) Get one with a hood. You can find one on Amazon here.
6. The Perfect Soft Travel Towel
I know, I know. You’re trying to maximize luggage space so why bring a towel?
I’ll tell you…This towel is life-changing. It’s not fluffy like a bath towel or your average beach towel. Rather, it’s super absorbent and packs easily because it’s so thin.
It’s also extremely soft and dries super fast (a feature you’re really going to appreciate on your trip). Best of all, it doubles as a cover-up! You can pick up your new favorite towel on Amazon here.
7. Underwater Camera or GoPro
It took me two trips to Hawaii to finally spring for a GoPro. I really wish I’d gotten one before my first trip! I promise you’re going to be so happy that you have a way to capture the incredibly colorful underwater show of turquoise and magenta fish swimming by. Serious divers should get a real dive camera.
And remember, a GoPro is very, very small so it’s super convenient to pack in your luggage or daypack. Don’t be sad later that you missed out! Get yours on Amazon here now.
Other GoPro items that are extremely useful: A head strap and GoPro QuickClip for hands-free snorkeling. You can get GoPro’s officially recommended mount here on Amazon.
8. Bathing Suit
It’s no surprise that you’re going to need a bathing suit in Kauai!
But I recommend you bring at least two bathing suits. I was surprised to find during our trip that between frequent dips in the water and the humidity, I barely wore any clothing that I brought.
I just alternated swimsuits every other day so I could rinse one and let it dry while I lived in the other one. As a woman over fifty, I love monokinis like this one. You can also get a pair of men’s swim trunks here on Amazon.
9. Swimsuit Cover-Up
So the great thing about bringing along a cover-up is that you can head directly from the beach into a cute cafe for a bite to eat and then (since you have your Keens as above) directly out on a hike or back to the beach.
I honestly never put on make-up or did my hair the whole time I was in Kauai but I could never have made it without my swimsuit cover-up. Get one on Amazon here (or shop the boutiques on island).
There’s some wonderful boutiques on the North Shore, much better than what I found on Maui in fact, although mostly cute sundresses and fewer swimsuit cover-ups. Guys can just bring a few t-shirts.
When is the last time you updated your look with new sunglasses? Now’s your chance because you will be living in your sunglasses in Kauai!
Bonus Item: Snorkel Gear
Do you need to buy snorkel gear for your trip to Kauai? It depends. It’s easy and inexpensive to rent it on island at any number of places. (Just stop by. No need to reserve.)
Sometimes, however, I’ve found rented masks to be leaky. You can always return to the shop and ask someone to help you fit a different mask but it’s kind of a pain to spend your time that way.
If you think you’re going to be snorkeling more frequently, however, I recommend you head to a local dive shop either in Kauai or where you live at home and invest in quality gear from someone who can offer personalized buying advice.
Other Things to Pack for Kauai
1. What do you recommend for things to do in Kauai?
Hike the Kalalau Trail on the Napali Coast. For hikers, this is a bucket list must-do! In fact, the trail is so popular that those who want to hike the whole thing (which requires camping overnight) must get a permit many months ahead of time.
But if you don’t want to devote that much time or don’t consider yourself a serious hiker, plan to at least hike the first 30 minutes to an hour. The coastal views are unsurpassed anywhere!
The other must-do on Kauai is a snorkel and sailboat tour. There’s really nothing like seeing the technicolor green Na Pali (high cliffs) rising vertically from the shoreline.
Your visit won’t be complete without a view from a boat so book ahead to avoid disappointment. Last-minute reservations can be tough in high season.
2. What is the best month to go to Kauai?
Kauai is beautiful at any time of year, but the winter can be rainy…particularly on the North Shore, which is my favorite part of the island. However, Kauai in December is still a great time to escape chilly temps elsewhere in the U.S.
Expect more rain then though. (Pro tip: If you’ll be visiting between November and March, consider basing on the south side of the island as it’s less rainy during the rainy season.)
Otherwise, I think the best time to travel to Kauai is between September and November. Plane fares and hotel prices drop after Labor Day so you’ll save money while you enjoy fewer crowds. The same goes for visiting Kauai in shoulder season between April in June. The winter rush is over and summer hasn’t started yet.
3. Do you need water shoes in Kauai?
Only if you didn’t follow my suggestion above to bring Keens! I recommend you wear something on your feet in the ocean to avoid a scrape from the coral. Water shoes are fine, but I love Keens because they work for hiking muddy slopes as well.
Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
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