On the Napali, your feet ARE your transportation. Choosing the proper footwear will be one of your most important decisions. The first time I hiked the Kalalau trail, I had huge rubber boots that kept my feet dry, but they were extremely awkward and heavy in the mud. I donated them to the Hanakoa Shack, where I spent a restless night with rain drumming on the corrugated tin roof. I finished the trail in sneakers, forever stained red with Kauai's mud.

Hiking Hawaii

On the mainland, getting your feet wet can lead to hypothermia... in Hawaii splashing through a stream provides a refreshing cool down. In the jungles of the Na Pali, often times the best route involves multiple stream crossings... and in the denser areas, the stream IS the only passable route. This is why I strongly advise some type of amphibious footwear. Standard leather hiking boots are fine until it starts to rain, or until you have to remove your shoes to ford a stream.

Japanese tabi, the classic footwear of the Napali
Tabi

On my way in that first time, I noticed the experienced hikers wearing funny green sock-like things, they called tabis. Made in Japan for fishermen walking on sharp coral reefs, they are also know as reef-walkers. Imagine a dark green sock with two yellow stripes around the ankle. Now dip it up to the bottom of the ankle in dark green latex rubber. Glue on a 3/8" thick piece of white felt and you have a tabi.

There are two great things about the tabi. First, the felt bottom provides great traction on the lava rock formations along the Na Pali, even when wet. The other advantage is that the big toe is separated from the others (imagine a mitten for your foot). This lets you kind of wrap around a rock to get much better footing. Sadly, today's tabi (shown in image above) has been beefed up by adding thick rubber to the toe and heel sections. While these new tabis no doubt will last longer, they have lost the flexibility, comfort and light weight that made the originals so ideal.

Alternatives

Today there are a huge number of choices for amphibious footwear. For the last few years I have been wearing something called Zumis, rubber slip-ons with felt soles. I got these at the Village Variety in Hanalei's Ching Young Village for about $20.

Another promising option is one that looks like a textured rubber glove for the feet, I believe they are called 5 Fingers and made by a company called Vibram. I have heard good reports on these from a couple of early adopters, however I don't know of anyone to take them down the trail.

Camp Wear

One last word on footwear... You might want to consider bringing along a pair of flip-flops. This is especially important in the summer, because the large expanses of sand can get extremely hot on a sunny day. Flip-flops are also handy when puttering around the campsite or going to the shower.