Destinations, Travel, travel tips

10 Tips for Backpacking the Big Island of Hawaii


Backpacking Hawaii is a great way to experience the island and the locals. Most visitors to Hawaii stay in resorts. By exploring on foot, you will see sights most tourists won’t see like private beaches, untouched hiking paths, and perfect opportunities to witness both sunrise and sunset by camping on beaches and parks.

Disclaimer: This post is for those not just camping but backpacking. If you are not comfortable with hitchhiking, road walking, dirty clothes, and flexible planning then backpacking might not be for you.

This does not mean you have to be experienced in backpacking, only have an open mind and a free spirit.


1. Pack light

Especially if you are a beginner, you might have a problem with packing way too much. Remember, everything will be on your back. No need to bring makeup; the Hawaiian sun will give you a glowing tan. Ditch the cotton clothing; cotton absorbs odors and takes too long to dry, stick with polyester.  You will be wearing your bathing suit most of the time anyway.

Check out my list of packing tips HERE for the perfect backpack.

2. Snorkel

Don’t bother buying a snorkeling mask and flippers before you leave. Walmart in Hawaii has cheap snorkeling gear. If you are on a budget, flippers aren’t completely necessary. If you opt out of flippers, bring water shoes or Crocs to swim in. Your feet will thank you for the protection from the rough coral and volcanic rocks.


3. Take the Bus

The Hele-On bus system is a little interesting. Two dollars is the fee (or $1 for students). We were charged $2.50 each because of our packs. The bus can drop you off and pick you up at any location along the route. The website provides definite stops but some of these stops are not marked with signs. Have fun.

4. Hitchhike

Hitchhiking is very common on the Big Island. When everyone exits the plane and heads to their resort shuttles, you will be the lucky one sticking your thumb out. We never waited more than thirty minutes for a hitch. Do understand the south side of the island has far less inhabitants and therefore a hitch might be more difficult but not impossible.

5. Camping

The island of Hawaii requires you to have a permit to camp. Go to this website and see how many spots are available on each park. The parks closer to the cities are more strictly enforced. We were never asked to provide a permit. Most camping sites will have showers and water fountains.

photo 2(1)
View from our campsite on Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

6. Know the Climate

The east side of the island, side with the city of Hilo, is wetter than the west side. Remember, any weather app you use to look up the weather in Hawaii will provide not-so-accurate information. The island’s weather changes so quickly.

7. Where to Get Isobutane Gas

If you fly into Kona, Isobutane is not provided at the Walmart but the Sports Authority. If flying into Hilo, Hilo Surplus has isobutane gas.

8. Wear Sunscreen

Seriously, do not skimp out on sunblock because of pack weight purposes. You will always be exposed to the sun’s rays even if lounging under a palm tree. Believe me, you will still get a rockin’ tan.

9. Always Keep an Eye on Your Pack/Gear

Never leave your stuff unattended. Even if lying on a picnic table near your tent, thieves can swipe just about anything if you are not looking. I am not saying Hawaii is full of thieves but we did hear of a few thefts.

10. Don’t Steal the Sand

The sand on the beaches of the Big Island is nothing less than spectacular. Green, black, and white sand beaches prohibit stealing of sand. Don’t do it. The green beaches see the most sand thieves.

Check out this Weekly Photography Favorite to see my photography from my Big Island backpacking trip.

7 thoughts on “10 Tips for Backpacking the Big Island of Hawaii”

  1. It truly is difficult to find skillful individuals for this matter, nevertheless, you sound like you know exactly what you are preaching about! Thanks.

  2. Thank you for this post! 🙂 I am heading to Hawaii in January/February and would love more tips on backpacking. I’m hoping to hit as many islands as I can… did you make it to any other islands?

    1. Hey Kristen! Hawaii is the absolute best. I dream about it every day. Now I’ve been to Kauai and Oahu but on separate occasions, and both islands I had rented a car. The Big Island is the only time I didn’t rent a car, and I ended up seeing less of the island because of that. However I did camp in Oahu and Kauai and found that it was easy and cheap to camp on the beaches just like the Big Island was. However for Kauai you need to go to a certain office to get a camping pass, so a car may be best if you go to Kauai. When it comes to hitching, I don’t know since I did rent a car. I feel like Oahu would have some good public transit since Honolulu is so big. I didn’t feel as safe in Kauai camping, because many of the locals actually live that way. I don’t know much about Maui, but I have friends that live there and it seems like a friendly place to visit. Hopefully I’ll make my way to that island next year. Good luck! I hope you have an awesome time!

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