11 Mistakes to avoid when hiking the Kalalau Trail

René Rosendahl
10 min readApr 30

Completing the Kalalau Trail is no easy feat. (In case you’re not familiar, this world-famous trail off of the Napali coast of Kauai is considered one of the world's most beautiful but also most dangerous hiking trails.)

So you want to be prepared, bring the right gear, and make good decisions. And yet, more often than not, people make mistakes that get them into varying degrees of trouble.

Here are the top blunders:

1. Underestimating the Trail

Let’s get right to point: this trail is anything but easy. With 11+ miles, over 3,000 ft cumulative elevation gain, rough terrain, heavy pack, stream crossings, ledges, heat, rain, and plenty of other small and big challenges, it’s not for the unprepared and fainthearted. This is not a let’s-go-for-a-quick-hike Sunday afternoon stroll.

You’ll want to be prepared and ready. In addition to the right gear and good general preparedness, this means being in the right physical condition. You need endurance, strong legs, good balance, but also core and upper body strength. For me, this means targeted training for 2–3 months to get into the proper shape. (I’ll post more about my training program in the future.)

So don’t take this trail lightly and you’ll also have more fun along the way.

2. Not doing the Homework

Yes, you can just “wing Kalalau”, but you shouldn’t. There’s plenty to think about and plan for to make it comfortable and as safe and enjoyable as possible.

One night in camp, at about 9:30 PM, headlights appeared in the dark and a group of 3 hikers appeared and started setting up camp. I started chatting with them the next morning and it turned out they had started the hike around 8 AM, which makes it about a 13-hour odyssey. This group had hiked the last 2 hours in pitch black and ended up having to cross Kalalau Stream in the dark.

They weren’t out of shape or ran into trouble. From what I gathered:

  • The two women had found the trail online and gotten permits. Their male companion had just tagged along without knowing what they were getting into or what to expect.
René Rosendahl

Thinker, writer, product guy, developer, and exercise fanatic.