Backpacking the Kalalau Trail on Kauai’s Napali Coast is one of the most epic trips I’ve taken. It’s challenging and rewarding and a much different backpacking experience than at home in the Pacific Northwest. So there are some slightly different items from a typical backpacking trip that you will need for hiking the Kalalau Trail in Kauai. The top items that I needed that were different than a typical Oregon backpacking trip were: hiking poles (I don’t use these at home) and a sleep sheet instead of a sleeping bag. So here’s my full Kalalau Trail packing list – what to bring, what to skip, and how to pack!
Kalalau Trail Packing List
First, check out my guide to backpacking the Napali Coast. The Kalalau Trail is a challenging hike and requires a permit to hike beyond the first two miles. Here’s what to bring on your Napali Coast backpacking trip. It helps to be camping in pairs, not only for safety, but then you are only carrying half the weight for a lot of shared gear – tent, cooking etc. Also of note, be prepared for everything you bring to come home stained with red dirt, especially in the rainy season! I took an older and slightly heavier tent for this reason, but really only our shoes and hiking outfits took a thrashing.
Camping Gear: The Essentials
- Kalalau Trail permit – print it out. You’ll need to show this to the ranger/guard.
- hiking poles – Note: most airports do not allow you to fly with hiking poles in your carry-on bag. So plan to check your bag. However if you have a direct flight on the way home, many airports like Kauai that are used to backpackers will not notice or care. So on the way home, I just put my poles in my backpack and was allowed to go through security fine. On the way there I checked the bag.
- backpack – the smaller the better! If I did this trail again, we would both use 45L packs (or the REI Trail 40)
- backpacking tent
- sleeping pad
- sleep sheet or bag liner, instead of sleeping bag – depending on the season, but in June, we were warm enough with just sleep sheet and clothing layers if needed. This also helped cut down on pack weight.
- camping pillow – I just use a pillowcase with puffy or clothes stuffed in it.
- camping headlamp
- water filter and any extra bottles for filtering – I love the Katadyn BeFree .6L and a wide-mouth Nalgene for filtering into.
- water bladder
Food & Camp Kitchen
- stove, fuel, lighter – Note: you cannot fly with camp fuel. Depending on your camp stove type you will need to purchase your fuel on arrival. With many sporting shops being closed, options are more limited. Check Ace Hardware locally, and Pedal & Paddle in Hanalei also sells camp stoves and small Isobutane propane. You could also go more minimal and do no-heat meals and coffee.
- camping cookset – I have the older version of this GSI Dualist with pot, and nested bowl/cups. You can also pack food inside the cookset, so there’s not wasted space!
- eco camp soap – 1.3oz Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash is my fav multipurpose soap for dishes or people
- 1 mini spatula silicone topper – leave the wooden handle at home and use this to clean your dishes to not waste any food, then wipe your bowl clean with a cloth. Like this!
- small cloth
- backpacking meals and other packable food (some backpacking lunch ideas)
- all the snacks – which we dubbed the “way there snacks” and then reserved a stash as the “way back snacks”
- electrolyte tabs to put in your water – Nuun are my favorite. Try these at home first, but even if you don’t usually hike with these, worth trying for this trail as you will be sweating just standing still!
- celebratory drink
- large ziploc bags – 1 for your trash, 1 for your snacks, 1 for your food.
Hiking & Camp Clothing / Toiletries
This is really a “you do you” section, as we all have very different preferences for clean/dirty, and size of clothing, but here’s what worked for us. We planned for one hike in outfit, one hike out outfit (Just in case things got wet or dirty or didn’t dry out in time), one lounge about outfit for at beach, swimsuit, and a sleep outfit. As for running shorts vs pants – some of the trail has lots of overgrowth that will be whipping your calves. You could wear long compression socks or pants, but going in June, I was more concerned with getting overheated, or blisters. So I wore shorts and running socks and was fine.
- Hike in/out outfits x2 – running shorts with liners (Lululemon Trackers), running socks (these are my favorite “no blister” socks), sports bra, running tank.
- Beach outfit – swimsuit, thin shorts, fresh tank, sun shirt
- Sleep outfit – fresh socks, underwear, leggings, long sleeve base layer
- For me that was: 2 running shorts, 3 socks, 2 sports bras, 3 tanks, swimsuit, thin lounge shorts, sun shirt, 1 underwear, leggings, long sleeve baselayer, raincoat, hat, sunglasses, running shoes, water sandals.
- UPF sun shirt – while I brought a thin sunshirt, I didn’t wear it for hiking as it would have been too sufficatingly hot. So instead I slathered on the sunscreen for the hiking portion, and then when we arrived at the beach and the next day I wore the sunshirt which was great for ensuring I didn’t get a sunburn and be miserable on the hike out.
- trucker hat or sun hat
- packable rain coat – I love the North Face Venture 2 for being light and super packable.
- trail running shoes (or hiking boots) – The best hiking shoes for Hawaii are going to be shoes you are already used to hiking in – that also have GREAT TRACTION! This is not a trail to test out new shoes on. You’ll be safest in a shoe you won’t lose your footing in or be tripping over – combined with hiking poles.
- water shoes or sandals – I used my Bedrock Cairn “adventure sandals” which were great for staying attached to my feet and not losing balance in the water. Combined with my hiking poles these worked great for me. In more extreme conditions a closed-toe water shoe is a good choice for most people.
- quick dry travel towel – great for stream crossing dry offs to put your shoes back on. You might feel like you’re wasting time drying off and swapping shoes, but you’ll make up that time not slogging along in wet shoes or socks!
- dry bag – while you could bring a waterproof phone case, we opted for waterproof dry bags. We also skipped a pack rain cover, since we were only expecting a small amount of rain. And instead packed our sleep outfit and sleep sheet in a drybag within the backpack. That way if anything else got wet, it would eventually dry, but at a minimum we would have a dry outfit.
- first aid kit
- toiletry kit – toothbrush (electric toothbrush 3″ head is great for backpacking, travel toothpaste, SPF chapstick, ibuprofen, arnica gel, mini lotion etc)
- travel wipes
- TP, or tissue pack, and a Kula cloth (ladies), and hand sanitizer, and small ziploc bag for any TP.
- sunscreen – Thinkbaby makes reef safe SPF50 sunscreen
- mosquito repellent – the mosquitos alone will make you pick up the pace through the valleys.
Misc Gear & Optional Items
- hammock – ENO double hammock was our #1 worth the weight! splurge.
- rain cover – depending on the season
- cash – in the event that you hike in and can’t hike back out (injury, fear etc) there are boats that come in just off shore from Kalalau Beach. They are not allowed to land at the beach, but will swim your gear out to the boat and then you have to swim out to the boat, but you can buy a ride back to Hanalei.
- power bank charger – we took one portable charger to share for two people. We also only used one of our phones at a time.
And that’s my full Kalalau Trail packing list. Everything you need to hike the Kalalau Trail in Kauai.
Backpacking Gear List Download
What NOT to bring on the Kalalau Trail
- Anything you won’t want to hike back out! Please don’t leave things at Kalalau Beach. This trail risks being shut down if hikers are not responsible. Leave No Trace!
- Too many clothes. You’ll likely end up rewearing things. As long as you have something to hike in, something to lounge in, and something to sleep in you’ll be happy.
- Tons of toiletries. Bring a eco camp soap and reef safe sunscreen. You don’t need shampoo, conditioner, makeup and a bunch of product out here.
There are some shops in Kauai that offer gear rental for backpacking the Kalalau Trail. While this is an option I would say for most people that have already backpacked at home, you probably have better and lighter gear. But it is an option to look at especially if you need to round out your gear – stove rental etc.
Kauai Rainy Season: Rainfall by Month
Kauai’s rainy season runs from November through April. Kauai’s “dry” season (the months with the least amount of rain) is June through September. May and October still get a substantial amount of rain. The Napali Coast is a tropical rainforest, so you will find rain year round! So your Kalalau Trail packing list depends somewhat on the rainfall you will encounter.
However, temperatures even through both seasons aren’t too drastically different. Summer highs average 74-77F and lows in the 60-62F range. While rainy season or winter highs average 72-74F, with lows in the 54-58F. As for daylight hours, being closer to the equator, Hawaii doesn’t see such drastic daylight hour changes like we experience in the Northern Hemisphere in Oregon. Even in rainy season there will be 11 hours of daylight, and in June/July you will have 13.5 hours of daylight. But even a couple extra hours of daylight can help if you’re trying to make it to Kalalau Beach in one day.
What to Wear Hiking in Hawaii
This one really comes down to your personal preference, style, and the weather. Most of the hikers on Kalalau Trail wear either hiking clothing (quick dry type zip off pants etc) clothing or trail running clothes (running shorts, trail shoes etc). And by the time you make it to Kalalau Beach, you’ll just be happy to be there! That said, you’ll see most people wearing beachy and hiking wear. For our beach days we rotated between swimsuit, light shorts, breezy tank, and longsleeve UPF sunshirt, and rewore things. We just made sure to have a fresh “hike out” outfit as we knew we would be most comfortable.
Happy hiking! Questions? Just let me know!