From Hawaii’s snow-dusted summits to its sand-soaked shores, there’s a lot of ground to cover when packing for a trip to the Aloha State. Hop aboard the pineapple express to the Pacific isles and you’ll find high-altitude peaks, lush jungles, remote swimming holes, lava fields, rolling farmland and swaths of sand ripe for activity—and lounging! Yet with so many microclimates between the different islands, do you bring a suitcase for every elevation? No. With tropical threads that mirror the island vibe, here’s how to pack an aloha-inspired wardrobe for up to two weeks in the Hawaiian islands.
Don’t Just Pack One Bathing Suit, Pack a Set
Having a set of go-to bathing suits in Hawaii is akin to having a closet full of business suits in New York: Necessary for day-to-day life. Open the closet of any local from Kailua to Kaanapali and you’ll find significant space dedicated to the life aquatic. It’s likely you’ll spend 80 percent of your holiday sporting a swimsuit, so set aside a solid section of your suitcase to this tropical essential. When considering your stable of stretchy styles, remember to pair your suits—we suggest bringing between three and six—with your favorite activities. For example, pack a sturdy suit for surfing, paddle-boarding or kayaking; a casual suit for beach-hopping or snorkeling; a swish suit for lounging poolside; and a cocktail hour suit that can be paired with a chic cover-up for sunset mai tais.
Plan Accordingly for Double-Duty Dressing
Because swimwear takes up the bulk of day-to-day dressing in Hawaii, it’s helpful to have a collection of cover-ups to bridge the gap between beach and beyond. To find your style sweet spot, pack a few pieces that are casual enough for a few flecks of sand, and smart enough for a sundowner. Bearing in mind fashion and function, avoid anything too fitted and opt for flowing frocks or tops and bottoms that keep you comfortable from dawn to dusk. Finally, ladies: Add some finesse to your beach dresses with a selection of belts, necklaces, and clutches to amp up the chic-factor once the tiki torches are lit and the moon is aglow.
Add Do-Anything Activewear to Your Suitcase
With acres of terrain to explore from sea to summit, assembling a small yet versatile set of sportswear will keep you adventure-ready. First-time visitors to Hawaii don’t often think beyond the beach or pool when packing. As a result, they rush to buy activity-specific duds when wooed by the next excursion. Avoid this last-minute shopping scramble by bringing one—yes, one—explore-savvy getup capable of handling any feat the archipelago offers. Starting at your feet, we suggest water shoes for kayaking or crunching over lava fields, and hiking shoes for the miles of tropical treks. Pack breathable bottoms for venturing out before sunrise; a moisture-wicking top with short sleeves so your shoulders and back stay sun-safe; and a long-sleeved technical jacket to keep you toasty whether you’re horseback riding over the Big Island’s ranch land or biking down Haleakala, Maui’s highest peak. Depending on the nature and frequency of activities that thrill you, garments may need to be laundered—but they’ll dry quickly in the plumeria-scented breeze.
Bust Out Your Best Tropical Threads
Beyond swimsuits, cover-ups, and adventure apparel, focus the rest of your wardrobe around the sun-soaked nature of your escape. This means planning for balmy days, breezy nights, and outings that surf the break between casual and low-key chic. To outfit yourself for the environment, think about relaxed-fit garments that blend botanical prints with warm-weather basics such as tees, tanks, and shorts.
Ladies: Go with a tropical-hued and dress-centric approach by scouring your closet for bright frocks that flow in the wind.
Guys: Follow local fashion and pair short-sleeved aloha shirts with cotton shorts or pants that sit (or are rolled) just above the ankle. For example, when we spotted celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto dining with friends at his namesake Maui outpost, he was sporting an aloha shirt and tailored shorts.
Bring The 5 Sun-sentials
Once your luggage is filled with your aloha wear, don’t forget to save space for five sun-sentials: sunglasses, a sunhat, sandals, a scarf, and sunscreen. To protect your eyes from the brightness of the sand and sea, bring a pair of sunglasses with polarized lenses (keep them in your carry-on for easy access). Add another layer of sun relief with a hat—or three! Switch up wide- and short-brimmed hats based on your activity and location. For shoes, start with “slippers” (the local name for flip-flops), which are considered appropriate footwear at almost any island locale. Otherwise, flat or mid-height sandals are always on-trend. (Ladies, skip the heels unless you’re headed to a gala in Honolulu.) If you find yourself indoors or in a windy spot after dark, bring along a scarf or lightweight jacket to keep your body temperature in tropical mode even when the temperature drops. Finally, protect your skin with a strong sunscreen. If packing enough bottles of sun protectant adds too much weight to your suitcase, start with a small bottle of your most trusted SPF and pick up some more on the island once you’re settled and surrounded by swaying palm trees and the sweet sounds of ukuleles.