Live, Play, Travel

Packing for Kalalau: the Gear

August 10, 2015

Back in the spring, when we were planning our Kalalau Trail hike, I joined a Facebook group for the trail. In the months before the trip it was a perfect way to get advice on things like parking and packing and after the trip it became a great way to stay up to date on a place that is now near and dear to my heart.

I have noticed that a few of the same questions come up all the time. What should I pack? Should I take a tent or a hammock? What type of shoes should I wear? I will admit that I asked all these questions myself. While we have done a ton of hiking and camping, rarely have we combined the two. Backpacking was fairly new to us, as was doing anything in a tropical climate.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of what we took (you presumably know about things like headlamps, cookware, sunscreen, etc.!) and, obviously, your needs may be different than ours. Only you know how warm you sleep, how much you eat, and whether one bottle of wine will last you through your whole trip!  This list covers some of the basic things that made our lives easier and better while on the trail and at the beach.

So with all that in mind, let’s get started!

Osprey Aura 65 Liter Pack – I think I tried on every pack in every size in every store in Boulder before I settled on the Osprey Aura 65. I was unsure of how much stuff we would need and had a hard time imagining going hiking without all the things I usually take to stay warm here in the mountains! This bag was very comfortable and 65 liters was perfect. Keep in mind that I carried a crapload of photography gear with me. Without all that gear, a smaller bag may have been plenty.

2-Person Backpacking Tent – Our normal camping tent is this one (keep in mind that we typically camp with a kid and two dogs!) but we didn’t need all that space for this trip since it was just my husband and I. We borrowed a two-person tent from a friend (it was REI brand but several years old so I’m not sure of the model) and it worked perfectly. There seems to be some debate about whether a tent or hammock is the way to go for this trail but I say tent all the way! Keep in mind that it rains a LOT at Kalalau. We were happy to have the shelter.

Shoes – Shoes are the other thing that seems to be hotly debated in terms of what works best for this trail (which is narrow and slippery). I hemmed and hawed over it for a while and ended up going with my favorite trail runners, my Brooks Cascadias (with custom inserts). They were perfect – they have great traction and they dried very quickly when they got wet (which happened a lot). I also took a pair of Chacos which I threw on pretty much as soon as we got to the campground.

Jetboil + Aeropress – I will go ahead and tell you right now that this little combo of tools has changed our camping lives. Honest to god, you guys. My love for the Jetboil + Aeropress combo is probably worth a post in itself but for now I’ll just saw that I am a huge coffee snob and this is, by far, the best and easiest way to make good coffee when you’re camping. Please believe me when I tell you that drinking good coffee on that insanely beautiful beach in the morning is the absolute best way to start your day.

This is what morning at Kalalau looks like. I guarantee that having a cup of good coffee here will be one of the highlights of your day.

Mummy Bag Liner – This was another thing that caused a lot of angst while we were making our packing list. Where we camp it is usually cold at night, even in the summer. I don’t think I have ever gone camping with anything less than a 15 degree sleeping bag. The idea of not taking anything warm to sleep in was really hard to wrap my brain around. But we decided to go for it and these liners (which we use in our down bags at home) worked perfectly. A word of advice: if you plan to sleep on the beach itself, you will probably want another layer of insulation. A light fleece blanket to throw on top would have been perfect.

Trekking Poles – Whether or not trekking poles are necessary is another thing that is hotly debated. As far as I’m concerned, they are not optional for Kalalau. Have I mentioned that this hike is slippery and narrow? And that you’ll have 30-some pounds on your back? Take poles. Just trust me on this one!

Water/Steripen – Knowing that we were in for a long, hot day we started our hike with a lot of water, just like we would if we were going to be out all day in Colorado. We quickly realized that, unlike at home, there are water sources everywhere on this trail. We ended up dumping out all but one liter each and refilling our bottles at the various streams and waterfalls when our supplies ran low. The Steripen made this quick and easy. Water is heavy, you guys. Don’t carry more than you need. We also had iodine tablets in case the Steripen died on us.

Thermarest – I took my itty bitty backpacking Thermarest. It was perfect for sleeping on (obviously!) but it also came in handy for lounging around on the beach. Like this:

Clothes – I am not going to go through a detailed list of clothes that I packed because you know what you need. I will say that I took a few short sleeve technical shirts, one cotton tank top, two pairs of shorts, a cheap cotton skirt, and a long-sleeve rash guard. And socks and underwear and things. I also took a rain jacket but I don’t think I ever used it. It’s hot there – the rain feels good!

We stressed quite a bit over what to pack for this trip but, all in all, I think we did pretty well and don’t have any major regrets.

If you stumbled on this post because you are planning a Kalalau trip of your own and trying to figure out what to take with you, I hope this list helped you out. Any questions about what to take? Leave me a note in the comments and I’ll give you my opinion (for whatever it is worth …!)

Also, you should know that I’m totally jealous, fairly small, and can easily fit in your luggage …

Happy travels, friends!

This post contains affiliate links. All gear was purchased with my own dough. Thank you for supporting Peak & Pixel!

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Larry Billimek August 13, 2015 at 11:45 pm

    Hi Jen!

  • Reply Larry Billimek August 13, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    Hi Jen -I just took my 14.5 year old son, his twin sister, and 12.5 year old son to Kalalau for two nights. We began at 6:45am which turned out to be fortuitous since the trail proved to be much more of a challenge for my daughter than she’d anticipated. I found that Nutella snack packs (as a surprise) turned out to be an enormous morale booster for her, helping her push on the whole way (not to mention me carrying her pack for over a mile(!).
    An hour-long stop for rest, lunch, and swimming at Hanakoa is a nice way to break-up an otherwise long hike all the way to Kalalau.

    As for important items to include, i think lemons/crystallized lemon juice is a MUST-HAVE when drinking (treated) stream water. Also, Trader Joe’s Sriracha Bacon Jerky is SO good at camp and really satisfies.

    Nice Blog and excellent photos!


    • Reply jendz August 14, 2015 at 2:11 pm

      Hi Larry – Oh man, we discovered that Trader Joe’s Sriracha Bacon Jerky AFTER we got back from Kalalau and you are totally right that it is ridiculously good! We just had to regular jerky with us (mmm … jerky!) but it still hit the spot. The lemon suggestion is a really good one that I hadn’t thought about. We had Nuun tablets with us and I found that those were really great for breaking up the monotony of drinking water plus they weigh next to nothing.
      I love that you did this with your kids! I really look forward to the days when our guy is old enough to do more hiking under his own power! It’s a tough hike for adults – I’d imagine that it would be even harder for kids. Good for you guys!

    Leave a Reply