Hikes Tips

How To Prepare For Your Haleakala Backpacking Trip

Backpacking through Haleakala Crater is not something that you want to do haphazardly. Careful planning is involved in order to make sure that both you and your crew are fully prepared. In this post, I discuss in detail how we went about planning for our Haleakala backpacking trip. First, some things to note. This was my first time backpacking through the crater. However, we did have one person in our crew that has backpacked through Haleakala on multiple occasions.

Note: Information regarding the supply list were adapted from the Friends of Halekala crater trip packing list and modified. Information on the cabins were taken from the National Park Service Haleakala website.

Decide On Your Itinerary

There are many ways that you can tackle Haleakala Crater. One of the most popular ways is outlined by Stuart Ball, in The Backpackers Guide to Hawai’i. We chose the route below for two reasons, 1. We wanted to experience all three cabins, and 2. we wanted to minimize, as much as possible, the risk for blisters and foot sores.

This was our itinerary:

Day 1 (July 7, 2013): Drop off the crew at the Sliding Sands trailhead. Stage the first car at Halemauu trailhead (our endpoint). Stage the second car at the Sliding Sands trailhead.

Day 1 (July 7, 2013): Sliding Sands (Keoneheehee) trail to Kapalaoa Cabin (~5.5 miles). Spend the night.

Kapalaoa Cabin, 5.5 miles down the Keoneheehee or 7.3 miles from Halemauu Trailhead, lies at the base of the cliffs on the south side of the valley. The view from Kapalaoa takes in brightly colored cinder cones, subalpine plants, and dramatic cliffs. This cabin lies at 7,250 feet (2,210 meters). There is no campsite near Kapalaoa cabin.

Day 2 (July 8, 2013): Kapalao Cabin to Paliku Cabin (~3.8 miles). Spend the night.

Paliku Cabin, at 6,380 feet (1,945 meters), is at the east end of the wilderness valley at the base of a rain forest cliff. The cabin is reached via a strenuous 9.3-mile hike on Keoneheehee Trail, 10.1 miles on Halemauu Trail, or 8.6 miles up the Kaupa Trail. Clouds and fog often roll over the top of the cliffs behind Palika. The extra moisture makes this spot exceptionally cool and lush. There is also a campground at PalikÅ«.

Day 3 (July 9, 2013): Paliku Cabin to Holua Cabin via Halemauu Trail (~6 miles). Spend the night.

Holua Cabin, the closest cabin, lies at 6,940 feet (2,115 meters) in the shrubland near Koolau Gap, 3.7 miles down the Halemauu Trail or 7.4 miles down Keoneheehee Trail. There is also a campground at Holua.

Day 4 (July 10, 2013): Halemauu Trail to Switchbacks to Staged car at Halemauu Trailhead (~4 miles). Go back home.

Other options:

  1. You could backpack Haleakala in reverse, starting from the Halemauu Trailhead and ending with a climb up the Sliding Sands (Keoneheehee) Trail.
  2. Stuart Ball’s suggested itinerary involves three days. Day 1: Sliding Sands (Keoneheehee) Trail to Paliku Cabin, Day 2: Paliku Cabin to Holua Cabin, Day 3: Holua Cabin to Haleakala Crater Road via Halemauu Trail.
  3. Alternatively, you can make this a two day trip. Day 1: Sliding Sands (Keoneheehee) Trail to Paliku Cabin, Day 2: Paliku Cabin to Haleakala Crater Road via Halemauu Trail.
  4. A lesser used option is to start on the Kaupu Trail up to Paliku Cabin, and then continuing on to either the Sliding Sands Trail or Halemauu Trail. When starting on the Kaupo Trail, you will gain 5,400 feet of elevation in under 7 miles, making this one steep climb up.

Secure Your Cabin Permits

This step sounds easier than it really is. When we started planning for our Haleakala trip, I had set in my mind a specific time frame for when I wanted to go. However, what I didn’t take into consideration was how much of a crap shoot it would be, trying to acquire the cabins in the desired order that I wanted them. People scoop up the cabin permits very quickly and that’s why you need to reserve three months in advance. Some things to note:

A few notes about the cabins:

  • Permits may be obtained from the National Park Service website or over the phone by calling (808) 572-4431 between the 1:00pm and 3:00pm Hawai’i Standard Time, Monday through Friday.
  • You may obtain a cabin reservation up to 90 days in advance online.
  • Each cabin is rented to only one group per night (maximim of 12 people per cabin).
  • A flat fee per night per cabin is charged ($75 per night)
  • Wilderness Orientation: Each person staying in a cabin is required to watch an 8-minute orientation at the Haleakala Park Headquarters Visitor Center.
  • Hōlua, Kapalaoa, and PalikÅ« cabins have pit toilets and water available near the cabin. The water is non-potable and must be filtered or treated before drinking.
  • Each cabin has one wood-burning stove with limited firewood, 2-burner propane stove, cooking utensils, dishes, and 12 padded bunks. In times of drought, cookware will be removed and you must pack in all your water.
  • There is no electricity in the cabins. Bring plenty of warm clothes and sleeping bags.
  • Hiking off designated trails or taking shortcuts is prohibited. Off-trail hiking causes erosion and damages fragile life forms.
  • Bicycles and other wheeled transportation are not permitted. Horses and mules are permitted at PalikÅ« and Hōlua.
  • Quiet hours are 8pm to 8am. Please respect the privacy of others camping around you.

Book Your Plane Tickets

If you do not live on Maui, then you’ll need to book your airplane ticket to Maui. Flights will vary based on your departing location. We like to fly Hawaiian Airlines, because, they’re the most dependable and on time (compared to the other local airlines) and consistently rank as one of the top airlines in the nation. Travel + Leisure magazine ranked Hawaiian Airlines as the third best U.S. Domestic Airlines in 2011. Book a Flight to Hawaii with Hawaiian Airlines today!


Finalize Your Crew

Each cabin permit accommodates 12 people. Who will you choose to be a part of your backpacking group? This is an important decision. You want to make sure that the people joining have previous hiking experience and will be able to handle the multi-day, 20-mile+ long hike. I would question including someone with minimal to no hiking experience because the mileage and altitude may be too much for them. Another aspect of selecting your crew is group dynamics. You will be with these people for a 3-4 days, and so it is important that everyone, for the most part, gets along. Also, it pays off to have someone that has done the trail before. This is important for two reasons, 1. they will be able to describe the trail and potential dangers to you, and 2. they may be familiar with side trails and landmarks that vere off the main trails.

Prepare Your Gear

Below, you will find a complete list of the gear and food that I brought along with me for this hike. Required gear will differ based on the individual hiker and the conditions in which they are hiking in. You want to think carefully about what gear/food you want to bring along and are willing to carry for multiple days. For those of you planning to hike Haleakala, you can also download and use this gear and meal plan checklist that I have put together: [download id=”25″ format=”1″]


Note: Be prepared for freezing, wet or very hot conditions – you could have them all. Also, you will want to avoid cotton clothing in the event that it rains. Clothing made with material designed to wick off sweat is desirable.

  • 1x Raincoat or sturdy poncho (North Face Venture Jacket)
  • 3x Convertible Rain Pants/Shorts (The North Face Men’s Paramount Convertible Pant)
  • 1x Hiking boots or sturdy, broken-in shoes (Merrell Mix Master Mid Waterproof)
  • 1x Slippers/flip-flops (for use while relaxing at the cabin)
  • 4x Thick socks (synthetic or wool is better than cotton)
  • 4x Short Sleeve T-shirts (Wicking Material, i.e. Nike DRI-Fit, The North Face Reaxion)
  • 1x Long Sleeve Shirt (Nike DRI-Fit)
  • 1x Long Sleeve Button-Up Sun Shirt
  • 4x Under Armour Underwear
  • 1x Hat
  • 1X Leather gloves


  • Sun Hat
  • Warm cap/beanie
  • Fleece or similar jacket or sweater
  • Long underwear
  • Comfortable, warm, sleeping clothes

For the Cabin

  • 1x Sleeping Bag/Mummy Bag (Alpine Designs 45 degree Mummy Bag)
  • 1x Pillow by Swiss Gear
  • 1x Sports Utility Blanket (5’x7′)
  • 1x LED Folding Lantern, Dimmable

Personal Items

  • 1x Backpack (The North Face Terra 65)
  • 1x Camelbak hydration pack for your bag OR Water bottles (at least 2-3 liters per person for the hike in. You will be able to re-fill at the cabins)
  • 2x Hiking Sticks
  • 1x Rayovac LED Flashlight
  • 2x Life Gear Glowsticks (Blue)
  • 1x Energizer Headlamp, 70 lumens, white and red light (for lava tube exploration)
  • 1x Energizer LED Folding Lantern, Dimmable, 300 lumens, 100 hours (for the cabin at night)
  • 1x Microfiber towel to “wash off” (Enduracool Instant Cooling Mesh Towel)
  • 1x Ray Ban Wayfarers
  • Identification (driver’s license/State ID)
  • Cash/Credit Card to purchase drink/food pre- and post- your Haleakala trip.


  • 3x Wet Ones Wipes (20 wipes per pack)
  • 4x Facial Tissue Packs
  • 2x Toilet Tissue (singly ply, 150 sheets per roll)
  • 1x Foldable Toothbrush
  • 1x Colgate Toothpaste (0.85 oz)
  • 2x Sunscreen (Banana Boat, 30SPF, 1 fl. oz,)
  • 1x Listerine Mouthwash (95ml)
  • 1x Dial Hand Sanitizer (2 fl. oz.)
  • 1x Deodorant (0.5 oz.)
  • 1x Body Glide Anti-Chafe (1.3oz)
  • 1x Reach Tooth floss
  • 1x Chapstick Lip Balm
  • 1x Contact lens disinfection
  • 1x Contact lens holders
  • 1x Set of contact lens
  • 1x Comb
  • 4x Large Ziplock Bags
  • 4x Small Ziplock Bags


  • 1x Canon 7D DSLR
  • 1x Canon 10-22mm Lens
  • 1x Canon 50mm Lens
  • 2x 32 GB Compact Flash Cards
  • 2x Canon 7D LP-E6 Batteries
  • 1x GoPro Hero3 Black Edition
  • 2x MicroSD Memory Cards
  • 3x GoPro Hero3 Batteries
  • 1x iPhone 5
  • 1x Mophie Juice Pack Helium Battery Pack for iPhone 5
  • 1x Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation (6000 mAh)
  • 1x lens pen cleaner

First Aid Supplies

Note: Do not forget to bring any personal prescription medications. 

  • 1x First Aid Kit (Lifeline Safe & Dry 98 piece first aid kit).
  • 1x Advil (100 tablet pack)
  • 1x Pepto Bismol (40 caplets)
  • 10x Severe sinus, congestion, and cough get tablets (6 day and 4 night tablets)
  • 2x Moleskin Pre-Cut Blistter Dressings (22 adhesive dressings per pack)
  • 1x Blister Medic (24 adhesive dressings per pack)

For our backpacking trip, I picked a 98 piece Lifeline Safe & Dry First Aid Kit. It’s a bit unnecessary for each person in the group to have a fully stocked first aid kit, however, at least one person should be assigned the duty of carrying on in the event that an emergency arises.

One More Thing: Remember, whatever you pack in, you must pack out. Any trash, even food scraps and leftovers must be packed out by you. Consider bringing multiple plastic bags, ziplock bags, and/or garbage bags for this purpose.

Decide On A Meal Plan

Cabins do not come stocked with food, so don’t forget to bring your own, multi-day supply of food for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks (of course, I am sure there will be a lot of sharing going on!). Bring food that is lightweight and has minimal waste packaging (you’ll have to carry out the waste). Keep in mind that the cabins are stocked with cooking gear, cutlery, and a wood burning stove (1 per cabin) and propane burners (2 per cabin).

Here’s an example of what I am brought along with me (see photo below). For dinner, I went with Meal-Ready-To-Eats (MREs), mainly because they’re lightweight. Most importantly, we had hot chocolate 2 out of the 3 nights! Also, it might be a good idea to bring some flavor packets for your water, to mask any stagnant tastes in the potable water. For lunch, I went with tuna packets. Snacks included things like dried fruit, beef jerky, and almond pocky, and nuts.

  • 1x Spork (spoon/fork) by Light My Fire
  • 1x Mountain House Beef Stew
  • 1x Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki with Rice
  • 1x Spaghetti with meat sauce
  • 1x Raspberry Crumble
  • 4x Tuna Packets
  • 1x Pineapple Dry Fruit (6 0z.)
  • 1x Mango Dry Fruit (6 oz.)
  • 6x Beef Sticks (0.8 oz.)
  • 1x Almonds (12 oz.)
  • 6x Starbucks VIA Refreshers (Strawberry Lemonade)
  • 10x Propel Zero (Berry)
  • 20x Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows
  • 6x Cliff builder’s 20g Protein Bars (Crunchy Peanut Butter)
  • 1x Natural JIF Crunch Peanut Butter (16 oz.)


Debrief Prior To Leaving

I would suggest meeting with your crew, prior to leaving for Haleakala, to discuss planning and logistics. This is important in making sure that everyone understands the itinerary and what is expected of them. This will also ensure that everyone knows what supplies they will need and how much food they should bring. Other topics to discuss include how people will get to the airport the day of the trip.


Thoughts Post-Hike

Since I wrote and prepared this post before actually hiking Haleakala, I thought that I would add a few more thoughts:

  1. I’d pack less clothing. Clothing is heavy, and I think that I packed too much of it for the trip. Next time, I’d probably go with 1x convertible pants/shorts (instead of 3x), and 2x T-Shirts (instead of 4x).
  2. I’d consider bringing more “real” food. One person in our crew had eggs and bacon, for breakfast, two days in a row. Real eggs and bacon. Also, someone shared with me a packet of Maruchan saimin (ramen). It was the best packet of saimin that I have ever eaten.
  3. I would ditch the hiking sticks. I didn’t use the sticks until the final day up the switchbacks. I didn’t need them and I could have gone without the added weight.

And that’s all there is to it! Actually, as you see, there’s a lot that goes into planning a backpacking trip to Haleakala Crater. The worst thing that you can do is reserve a permit and then show up at the trailhead not knowing what to do next. Take some time to decide on the best itinerary for you and your group. Spend time working on your supply list and food list. And finally, really consider who you decide to bring along as part of your crew. Other than that, remember to have a great time. Backpacking through Haleakala is an amazing experience. Enjoy it!

By Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

13 replies on “How To Prepare For Your Haleakala Backpacking Trip”

Glad you found it useful, Cadence! By the way, checked out your site and love the photography. If you’re ever interested in doing a guest post here, lemme know! Your yoga post was rad 🙂

Planning a trip to Haleakala next month and really appreciated this blog. I have a silly question about the outpost toilets. Toilet paper? Dump or not? 😀

Hey Poohcurious…that’s a good question. I’d say bring some TP just in case. From what I remember, most of the outdoor toilets had useable TP left over from past cabin dwellers. However, at one of the cabins (Paliku), the TP was wet because that area sees a lot of rainfall and moisture. So, good idea to have some TP available just inc as you find yourself in that situation.

Hey thanks for the quick and helpful response! I was also wondering bc of their leave no trace vid, do we bring it out with us? I know sounds silly but was just curious and it would put me a little at ease knowing this helpful tidbit. ;p

I’m interested in hiking from the crater down to Kaupa by the sea. Is there any service that can drop me off at the crater and pick me up at the beach?

There is not. You could try getting a hold of one of the downhill biking groups for a ride up (Maui Downhill is one). Not sure what that would cost. And you’ll def have to arrange for some sort of pick up at the bottom, it’s about a 2 hour ride back to Kihei and almost 3 to Lahaina. A cab would be really expensive and not many cars for hitchhiking. I wouldn’t leave a car there either because it could get broken into.

Camping at Paliku this weekend and I was feeling a little nervous about being unprepared. Reading your article helped me come up with an organized plan to pack. I’m definitely going to use your checklist and share this article with my group. Mahalo nui loa!

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