With a few exceptions, such as the 11-mile (one-way) Kalalau Trail, most hiking trails on Kauai are day-trips that can be accomplished with little more gear than a water bottle. But to get the most out of Kauai’s many beautiful hikes you will want to dress appropriately and carry a few items to enhance your trip.
And you do not want to end up at Hanakapiai Beach, for example, tired, sunburned, with no water and a broken sandal and still have to hike two miles back holding the broken sandal. I’ve seen similar situations on numerous occasions. Below are items that I use and carry on day hikes in Kauai. Each has a purpose tailored to my experiences and preferences and you will want to tailor your gear according to your needs.
The items listed below have been selected and used for reasons such as usability, ruggedness and lightweight. Not shown is the picnic lunch that I usually bring if the hike is more than a couple of hours. The lunch will often consist of a deli sandwich from the Big Save grocery store in Hanalei.
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I use the GoPro Hero camera to take videos along the hiking trails. I usually use the camera and pole as shown in the photo, but I can also extend the pole and adjust the camera to take selfie videos while hiking the trail. I always keep the waterproof backdoor on the camera case so I don’t forget if I take it in the water, but I carry a regular backdoor that can be switched out if I would like to capture better audio.
The SmaPole tripod comes with a blue Wrenchboy (shown next to the regular backdoor in the photo) that is handy for tightening and untightening the blue aluminum thumbscrew that fastens the camera to the pole. We also have a mount on our vehicle dashboard to capture the scenery as we drive around Kauai.
The mounts are relatively inexpensive (can be discarded when you turn in your rental car) and can be attached with a peel-off adhesive. There are also specialized mounts for bicycles, motorcycles, surfboards, and other recreational equipment. For personal wear, there are several options including a head strap mount, a helmet mount and a chest harness.
We do not recommend the chest harness as the video is usually jumpy with a lot of heavy breathing for audio. GoPro cameras are perfect for taking in the water, and there are many water-based accessories. Just be sure the camera is securely attached to your body or piece of equipment when in the water. Also, be sure you have the waterproof backdoor on the case.
Note that the GoPro Floaty Backdoor does not necessarily keep a GoPro camera afloat if attached to other accessories that add weight. One problem that you need to be aware of when using a GoPro in or near the water or where there is moisture such as rain is that droplets of water can collect on the housing over the lens and ruin your footage.
We usually carry a towel and continually wipe off the lens. Another solution is to apply Rain-X over the lens.
Lightweight and small, Pedco’s Ultrapod Tripod is used to mount the GoPro camera for time-lapse videos. It comes with a handy Velcro strap that can be used to strap the GoPro to posts, trees, branches and the like.
Perhaps I should have more first-aid items, but I don’t want to overdo it. I have had more than a few scrapes on Kauai trails. On the Pihea Trail I slipped and scraped my leg on an exposed root.
Another time, on the Hanakapiai Falls Trail, I was focused on not slipping on rocks and instead hit my head on an overhead branch. Most trails in Kauai are well-traveled, wide and relatively safe. There are no wild animals (except feral pigs) in Kauai and no known poisonous snakes.
Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets
The one item that is truly of an emergency nature in my backpack, these tablets would only be used if I run out of water I bring in water bottles.
Please note that many Kauai streams have bacteria (Leptospirosis) from the urine of Kauai’s wild pigs and goats. You should never risk drinking untreated water from any Kauai streams due to this serious and potentially fatal bacteria.
My headaches occur unexpectedly and though they rarely happen on the trail I am always ready. It’s no fun hiking up and down over rough terrain with a throbbing headache. If you have headaches or similar issues, bring medication just in case.
Trail Hiking Shoes
If you’re looking for hiking shoes for Kauai, I love my Salomon XA 3D Ultra 2 trail running shoes. They are rugged, lightweight, comfortable and work well when crossing streams.
The hiking shoes can be rinsed out from the inside with a garden hose. If you don’t have trail running shoes, your old tennis shoes should work just fine. (You can trust your old tennis shoes for comfort and not making blisters on a long hike.)
Don’t wear your new tennis shoes. It’s very likely your shoes will get dirty and muddy on Kauai trails. Kauai’s red dirt and mud are famous for leaving their mark. The specific Salomon shoe listed above may no longer be available but Salomon has plenty of trail running shoes to pick from.
Although many different kinds of small hiking backpacks can work on Kauai trails, I prefer my INOV-8 Race Elite Backpack. INOV-8 backpacks are designed to be durable and very lightweight. Many professional long-distance trail runners use INOV-8 backpacks for endurance competitions.
I have had my INOV-8 backpack for several years now, using it on many Kauai trails and also for cycling trips in China. The pack has never failed me once. What I like about the pack is that it is extremely lightweight, can hold a fair amount of gear, is water repellent, offers easy access to water bottles, and can be adjusted for fit several different ways.
Oakley Prescription Sunglasses
I like the way my Oakley sunglasses wrap around my face for maximum protection against the strong Kauai sun. I have my sunglasses fitted with prescription lenses because I don’t want to miss any of Kauai’s beauty. Rubber straps keep me from losing my sunglasses, especially when crossing streams.
Nikon COOLPIX Waterproof Camera
Rugged and waterproof, I don’t have to worry about this camera on Kauai trails. I have actually had two cameras, including a Canon ELPH, permanently quit working after a trip on a Kauai trail (probably from moisture that collected inside the camera).
The Nikon takes better photos and videos than the GoPro, in fact much better video. The Nikon COOLPIX is a popular camera among Kauai tourists. I regularly see visitors to the island using the Nikon COOLPIX.
It’s also a great camera for the beach, kayaking, and other water-related activities on Kauai. Ours has been dropped from approximately six feet onto a wood floor with no problem. It’s a popular camera and we see it all the time in the hands of tourists.
For our best shots, when the elements or transporting a larger camera are not issues we use our Canon EOS Rebel. The camera is perfect for capturing the infinite beauty of Waimea Canyon, Hanalei Bay, and the Na Pali Coast. What sets this camera apart is the lens that can capture every ray of light and turn your Kauai photos into works of art.
Whether you use any of these cameras or other options, just be sure you have a camera for your trip to Kauai to capture lasting memories of your beautiful visit.
I usually take a couple of Clif Bars with me on Kauai trails just in case I need a little extra energy or to mitigate muscle cramping that sometimes occurs later in the day.
Also, it’s a good idea to have a little extra food in case you are delayed returning, for example when a stream suddenly floods and blocks the way to your endpoint.
Waterproof Bag for iPhone
I carry my iPhone on Kauai hikes as much for the camera as for a communications device, though there are many trails in Kauai where phone service is not available. Since the INOV-8 backpack I use is not completely waterproof, I keep items inside the backpack in Ziploc bags, and I keep my iPhone in a dedicated waterproof bag, the kind that folds up like a dry bag.
I bought the waterproof bag seen in the above photo on the discount shelf at Target but there are several options available at Amazon.
Moisture Wicking Long Sleeve Shirt
Moisture-wicking shirts are perfect for Kauai hikes, primarily because there is a lot of moisture to be wicked away due to the moisture, humidity, and frequent rainfall.
I like my white, loose-fitting shirt (Sport-Tek style) because it protects from the sun and doesn’t contribute to prickly heat, a rash that can occur when sweat glands are overused and become blocked.
I got prickly heat one time in the Philippines by wearing a cotton shirt that stayed wet and clung to my body because of the humidity. It is a very irritating rash to have that sort of feels like ants biting the body.
Outdoor Research Sun Hat
To top it off, I wear this comfortable hat for protection against the sun. The hat is soft, airy, and durable and can be washed repeatedly.
Depending on the length of the hike, I will typically bring one 16-ounce water bottle (that fits in a holder on the front strap of my backpack) and one 1-liter water bottle that fits in a side, zippered compartment of my backpack. Though plastic water bottles are not environmentally friendly, they are lightweight and convenient.
I bring a small rag to wipe away the sweat and to keep gear, including cameras, dry. I apply sunscreen and insect repellent before hikes. I do not bring them with me on hikes, though you may want to.
Some gear lists recommend whistles for emergency signaling. Kauai trails are pretty straightforward and getting lost is not usually an issue.
In very rare cases, Kauai hikers have been harassed by vagabonds who live in the Kauai wilderness (for example the Kalalau Beach area) and a whistle could be used to signal for help and/or scare away threatening individuals.
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