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With its rugged volcanic terrain, dense rainforests, and unpredictable weather, Hawaii offers some of the most spectacular yet challenging hiking opportunities in the country. Knowing what clothes, footwear, and gear to pack is key to having a safe and enjoyable hiking adventure on the Hawaiian islands.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to what to wear when hiking in Hawaii: wear lightweight, breathable clothing and hiking shoes/boots with good traction. Pack layers, waterproof outerwear, sun protection, insect repellent, plenty of water/electrolytes, first aid supplies, and trekking poles.

Plan Ahead Based on Weather Conditions

Check Forecasts Frequently

When preparing for a hike in Hawaii, it’s crucial to frequently check the weather forecast leading up to your trip. Hawaii’s weather can be quite unpredictable and vary greatly depending on location and elevation.

Use reputable websites like AccuWeather and the National Weather Service to stay on top of forecasted temperatures, precipitation, wind, etc. This will allow you to best plan your attire and gear for the conditions.

Dress in Layers

The key to comfort when hiking in Hawaii is dressing in lightweight, breathable layers that can be added or removed as needed. Base layers help wick moisture, mid layers provide insulation, and outer layers block the wind and rain.

Having several layers provides much more versatility than one single heavy piece of clothing if the weather shifts.

Have Lightweight, Breathable Clothes

When hiking in Hawaii’s hot, humid climate, lightweight, breathable clothing is a must. Bulky cottons or heavy fabrics will leave you sweltering on the trail. Opt instead for moisture-wicking shirts, shorts, and pants made of synthetic blends or merino wool.

These will keep you cool and comfortable no matter the intensity or duration of your hike.

Consider Waterproof Outer Layers

Hawaii is known for occasional torrential downpours, so having a waterproof jacket or pants on hand is always a good call. But when sunny, be sure to store them to avoid overheating. Quality brands like Marmot and Outdoor Research offer lightweight waterproof/breathable outer layers perfect for Hawaii’s conditions.

Choose the Right Footwear

Hiking Shoes or Boots

When hiking in Hawaii, it’s important to choose the right footwear to keep your feet comfortable and avoid injuries. Most hikers recommend wearing lightweight hiking shoes or boots with good ankle support and traction. Waterproof shoes can be useful for stream crossings or wet trails.

Hiking boots offer more ankle support and are great for backpacking trips, while hiking shoes are more breathable for day hikes. Popular brands like Merrell, Keen, Salomon, and Oboz make high-quality hiking shoes and boots well-suited for Hawaii’s rugged volcanic trails.

Good Traction is Key

The rocky, uneven surfaces found on many Hawaii trails demand shoes with exceptional grip and traction. Deep lug soles bite into loose gravel, mud, or slippery rocks to prevent falls. Many hikers rely on Vibram or similar high-quality rubber soles to traverse tricky sections of trail.

In wet conditions, look for boots or shoes with deeper, more widely spaced lugs for mud shedding ability. A supportive midsole also enhances stability on uneven ground. Prioritize traction over lightweight when packing footwear.

Moisture Wicking Socks

Due to Hawaii’s warm tropical climate, moisture wicking hiking socks are a must-pack item. Sweaty feet lead to hot spots and blisters. Brands like Darn Tough or Smartwool make excellent merino wool or synthetic hiking socks designed to keep feet dry.

Bring at least 2-3 pairs and change socks during longer hikes to refresh your feet. Some hikers even bring an extra pair to change into after stream crossings. Pro tip: wear a thin liner sock under your hiking sock to prevent blisters!

Optional Sandals

After a long day pounding trails, give your feet a break by packing lightweight sandals like Chacos, Tevas, or flip flops. Quick-dry athletic sandals work well for both campground wear and water activities like wading in streams or swimming at the beach.

Stashing flip flops in your pack takes up little room while providing welcome relief at the end of arduous hikes. If visiting Volcano National Park, sandals give feet a break from heat inside lava tubes. Just remember to bring socks if it gets chilly after sunset!

Pack Proper Gear to Stay Safe

First Aid Supplies

When embarking on a hike in Hawaii, carrying a well-stocked first aid kit is imperative. Essential items include bandages, gauze, antibiotic ointment, pain medication, tweezers, scissors, thermometer, hand sanitizer, and antihistamines.

According to the American Hiking Society, over 50% of hiking injuries are abrasions or blisters, so having materials to treat these issues can prevent infections and complications.

Insect Repellent

Hawaii’s lush rainforests and tropical climate create prime conditions for mosquitos, ticks, and other biting insects. Applying an EPA-registered insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus can decrease your chances of annoying bites and insect-borne illnesses like dengue fever or Zika.

Reapply repellent every few hours for continued protection according to product instructions.

Sun Protection

The Hawaiian sun’s intense ultraviolet radiation can quickly lead to painful sunburns or dangerous heat-related illnesses if unprotected. Wear wide-brimmed hats, UV-blocking sunglasses, light long-sleeve shirts and pants when possible.

Apply broad spectrum SPF 30 (or higher) sunscreens liberally and reapply every 2 hours. Seek shade during peak sunlight hours when you can. Staying covered and hydrated will help prevent detrimental sun damage.

Plenty of Water

Dehydration is a major risk during exercise in Hawaii’s hot, humid climate. Carry and drink ample water before, during and after hiking. The Mayo Clinic advises women consume at least 11.5 cups and men 15.5 cups of fluids daily, with increased amounts needed for strenuous physical activity causing heavy sweating.

Packing extra water allows you to share with others in need. Proper hydration keeps your body functioning properly during hiking’s physical demands.

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles enhance balance and stability while hiking Hawaii’s uneven, rugged terrain. By distributing weight and impact evenly across arms and legs, pressure on joints is reduced up to 25%, helping prevent pain and injury according to the American Hiking Society.

Trekking poles also aid with navigating inclines, stream crossings, mud and loose rocks. Adjustable, shock-absorbing, lightweight aluminum or carbon fiber poles provide optimal versatility and comfort tailored to users’ height and fitness level.

Additional Tips and Recommendations

Wear Bright Colors

When hiking in Hawaii, it’s advisable to wear bright-colored clothing so you can be easily spotted, especially if you get lost or injured on the trail. Opt for shirts, shorts, and hats in fluorescent orange, yellow, green, red or pink. Bright colors also make it easier for you to spot wildlife.

According to a U.S. National Park Service report, wearing visible colors can lower risk hiking in remote areas.

No Cotton

Avoid wearing cotton fabrics like t-shirts, jeans, and underwear on Hawaiian hikes. Cotton absorbs sweat and takes a very long time to dry. This can lead to chafing and rashes. Instead, wear moisture-wicking fabrics like polyester, nylon, wool, or silk that draw sweat away from your skin and dry quickly.

According to the REI experts, moisture-wicking clothes are ideal for Hawaii’s warm, humid climate.

Pack Spare Clothes

It’s wise to carry an extra set of clothes in your backpack when hiking in Hawaii. Sudden downpours are common, so having dry spare clothes can prevent hypothermia. Extra socks are especially important to ward off painful blisters from wet feet inside soggy boots.

An extra shirt and shorts are good too. According to a Hawaii Division of State Parks report, bringing extra garments provide warmth and comfort if you get drenched during your hike.

Check Park Regulations

Before hiking in Hawaii, check park websites for clothing regulations. For example, some parks prohibit hiking barefoot or shirtless to prevent injury. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park bans certain colors like red, black, and purple due to cultural beliefs.

Bright white is also forbidden near the boiling lava to avoid reflecting glare into visitors’ eyes. Researching clothing rules in advance prevents violations that may lead to fines or eviction from protected natural areas.


Getting ready for a hike in beautiful Hawaii may seem daunting, but being prepared with the proper clothing and gear will help ensure you stay comfortable, safe, and able to fully enjoy the spectacular scenery.

Check forecasts frequently as you plan your trip, opt for lightweight moisture-wicking layers, pack essential safety items, and don’t forget eye-catching colors to stand out among lush vegetation. With smart preparation guided by weather conditions and trail specifics, Hawaii’s magnificent volcanic slopes and valleys offer endless hiking adventures beyond compare.

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