Photo: Suzie Dundas (center), Costa Del Mar Sunglasses, Baseus, Carve Designs, Chaco Footwear

What I Packed for an Outdoorsy 2-Week Trip to Tahiti

French Polynesia Technology + Gear Beaches and Islands
by Suzie Dundas Jun 20, 2024

I’m not really much of a beach person, which may sound weird coming from someone who recently spent two weeks in French Polynesia. (Technically, the country is called “French Polynesia;” Tahiti is the name of the largest island, but often used to refer to the whole country).

But French Polynesia is so much more than just beaches. The country is made up of five island groups with multiple islands within each. While Bora Bora (within the Society Islands) may be the most famous, it’s hardly the only option. Visitors to the country can visit ancient archaeological sites in the Marquesas Islands, hike to hidden waterfalls on Mo’orea (just a 30-minute ferry ride from the international airport) or paddle a traditional va’a outrigger canoe through tropical water. Snorkeling and scuba diving are available throughout the country, as are endless hiking trails, tours of fruit plantations, lots of boat tours and sailing adventures, and so many more exciting activities that it’s impossible to list them all.

Tahiti pacjing list - va'a paddle

Me trying to learn to paddle a va’a around the island of Tahiti. Photo: Suzie Dundas

Travelers planning a trip probably already know the basics of what to put on their Tahiti packing lists. After all, it’s a tropical island. All you need is a swimsuit, flip flops, and some reef-safe sunscreen.

Except…no. While the islands of Tahiti are certainly tropical, all those activities demand way more than just a cute swimsuit and a trendy sun visor. So what you’d pack for a luxurious stay in Maldives may not cut it for Tahiti. You need gear that can get wet and dry quickly, shoes and clothing that can navigate mud and super-strong sun, and perhaps even a few extra items to make sure you don’t accidentally drop your sunglasses off the side of a boat…trust me.

These are 10 things to add to your Tahiti packing list you may not have thought of, coming from someone who spent most of her time away from resorts and out in nature. While buying new is the best way to know what you buy won’t be damaged, scratched, or worn out, you may be able to find some of the items below on pre-owned shopping websites like REI Used Gear or Poshmark.

tahiti packing list - marquesas shoreline

I spent most of my time in the Marquesas, a less-touristed and more outdoorsy island group in Tahiti. Photo: Suzie Dundas

We hope you love the gear we recommend. Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to make a purchase. But we always recommend gear we’ve tested and used ourselves. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

Hiking sandals


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A post shared by Chaco (@chacofootwear)

On the subject of hiking to amazing waterfalls, leave your heavy hiking shoes at home. Trails will often be wet and muddy, and you’ll want shoes you can keep on when you go for a swim (or river float, or cliff jumping session). And hiking on sand with a closed-toe shoe kind of sucks.

It’s hard to beat the Chaco Z/1, one of the most popular sandals from the brand. (In fairness, Teva also makes some really nice hiking sandals).

Z/1s have the same outsole (bottom) as a hiking trail shoe or hiking boot, but the easy-adjust straps keep your feet water-ready and able to swim, splash through puddles, and navigate wet and sandy conditions. And they rinse off quickly — just stick your whole foot in the shower or ocean. Fail to bring a pair, and you’ll be falling on your butt trying to hike in regular sandals, and dealing with soggy, crusty hiking shoes after every adventure.

Aside from coming in about a zillion styles (maybe that’s what the Z is for?) they even have an option to print a photo or custom design on the straps, and make various pairs that support causes like national parks and Brave Trails. I prefer the version with thicker straps and without the toe strap, but to each his own.

Buy Now: $104+

A swimsuit that covers up more of your skin


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This has nothing to do with modesty, and everything with durability. Many of the best adventures in French Polynesia involve active ways to play in the water, like hiking to a waterfall where you can cliff jump into turquoise pools, canyoneering, or floating on tubes through rapids and rock formations. While a cute bikini that shows off your cheeks or has thin spaghetti straps is perfect for the hotel pool, it may leave your swimsuit top floating a few feet away from you if you try to wear it cliff jumping. And having a thong swimsuit bottom when you’re sitting on a surfboard or wearing a used rental wetsuit is no picnic.

The best type of adventure-ready swimsuit will vary for everyone, but I’ve had great luck with Carve Designs. They make lots of mix-and-match tops and bottoms designed for activities like surfing, paddling, and ocean swimming, including some styles with boy short bottoms or long-sleeve tops. If you’re worried about getting scratched up, sunburned, or accidentally rendered topless when your string bikini falls off after a waterfall dive, you may want to put at least one swimsuit designed to stay put during heavy activity on your Tahiti packing list.

Buy Now: $20+

Polarized, water-ready sunglasses


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You probably already have good sunglasses, but are they ready to defend your eyes from extremely vivid ocean glare for hours on end? I know they can be expensive, but you can justify adding a good pair of polarized sunglasses on your Tahiti packing list if you don’t already have one.

I recommend having a pair with a large frame and polarized lenses to avoid eye fatigue, headaches, and pain after a day in the sun.

I like the Costa Del Mar Aransas for that purpose. Costa started by making sunglasses for anglers, so its lens technology is designed to reduce reflections and glare off the water. The Aransas has big lenses to offer max eyeball protection, and a modern, square frame that looks good on most faces. Bonus points if you can find the frame color called “Shiny Ocean Tortoise,” which looks like a perfect match for Tahiti.

If you’re not into either of those, one of these adventure-ready sunglasses may instead be a good fit.

Buy Now: $249


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Another option if you want maximum eye protection is the Smith Embark, an extremely popular, durable, and beloved pair of sunglasses among outdoor enthusiasts. Smith also has one of the best customer service teams in the entire world of outdoor products when it comes to warranties and replacements. The Embark sunglasses have a pair of removable eye flaps that sit on the side of the arms, blocking light and glare on the sides of your eyes, in addition to the front.

If you struggle with eye fatigue, they could be a good solution if you plan on spending a lot of time on the water. I have them in the most colorful combo you can get, but they come in more subtle color combos, too. Get a pair with the brand’s signature ChromaPop finish on the lenses, and you can likely say goodbye to eye fatigue and headaches during crazy-bright outdoor adventures. Bonus: they’re extremely useful for reducing the glare from snow and ice, too.

Buy Now: $195+

A sunglasses leash


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Dorky? Hell no, not if they keep you from dropping your shades off the side of a va’a, kayak, or sunset happy hour sailboat. Having a way to secure your shades around your neck is key for adventurous on-water activities. And the $10 or so they cost is a small price to pay if it saves you from having to replace $200+ sunglasses. Chums has been making sunglasses leashes for years and years, and my leash has lasted at least a decade, so it’s an easy addition to a Tahiti packing list.

Buy Now: $10


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Alternatively, Ombraz sunglasses are also good for this purpose as they come in a flat foam case and have ropes instead of arms, so they’re nearly impossible to break (and stay on around your neck if you wear them underwater). They’re not for everyone, as it takes two hands to adjust or pull them on and off, and they sit a bit closer to your face. But the rope-arm design is genius for durability and travel convenience.

Buy Now: $160

A collapsable, waterproof backpack


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Unless you want to carry the giant backpack you used for your carry-on plane item as a daypack for hiking (and you don’t, because back sweat), I recommend bringing a packable backpack for day hikes and walks around town.

I’ve used the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Sack for years and can’t complain. The stuff pocket reduces it to about the size of an apple when stowed. Pull it out, and you have side pockets big enough for a Nalgene water bottle, lightly padded shoulder straps, and a chest strap to keep it from bouncing around on your back.

It’s not the most comfortable bag if you’re holding 15 or 20 pounds, but for a few miles in hot conditions (or rainy conditions, since it’s water-resistant), it’s ideal. It’s a no brainer for anyone who doesn’t want to travel with two separate backpacks. And if you know someone traveling soon, the reasonable price point makes it a great gift.

Buy Now: $45

A waterproof action camera


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Sensing a theme yet? Add some kind of waterproof action cam to your Tahiti packing list if you want to photograph most of what you’re doing. From snorkeling to scuba diving to stand-up paddle boarding, kite surfing, or even mountain biking, you don’t want to risk having your phone as your only camera. Yes, most phones these days are waterproof — but usually to no more than three feet deep, which isn’t that helpful for ocean activities.

I’ve used a few GoPros and like them very much, but I’m currently digging the DJI Osmo Action 4 Camera. It’s small enough to securely hold in my small hands, a bit cheaper than a GoPro, and is sold as a stand-alone or with specific accessory bundles for different sports. A floating handle is a useful accessory, though as long as you can dive deep enough to get it, you’ll be fine if you drop it — even without a case, it’s rated to 60 feet deep. It really has too many useful features to list, and if you take the time to learn to use them, it can take pretty amazing vacation photos at a sub-$300 price point.

Buy Now: $299

Your own snorkel set

tahiti packing list - amazon snorkel

Photo: Amazon

If you do it right, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to hike to remote beaches, lagoons, and coves. That’s why it’s useful to have your own snorkel and mask set, since rentals may not be available in most places. I also find that rental masks don’t always fit well, and who wants to bite down on a snorkel mouthpiece used by hundreds of other people, anyway?

I’ve had great luck with the basic snorkel and mask set from Seovediary. It’s not the cheapest out there, but it’s still pretty inexpensive, and it hasn’t broken or leaked in the few years I’ve had it. Plus, it comes in its own storage bag. Personally, I like the neon green color scheme to add a bit of pop to underwater selfies, but you do you.

Buy Now: $29.99

A heavy-duty backup charger

Action cameras can suck up the battery, as can having your phone on max brightness to see it in the bright South Pacific sun. That’s why I recommend a backup charger than can power multiple devices on a single charge, so you can keep everything juiced up all day.

There are lots of good options out there (and a lot of crappy ones), but I’ve been using the Baseus Blade 100W charger for a while and really like it. It’s a smidge heavier than other devices at just under one pound, but the slim fit makes it easy to slide in a laptop pocket in a backpack, and I can charge my phone from zero to full at least four times on a full charge; it can also fully charge a laptop. The screen shows you how much charge is left, which is super helpful. And given how much I’ve dropped it and banged it around while traveling, camping, or hiking, it seems quite durable.

Buy Now: $79

A shirt with built- in sun protection


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The sun is strong in the South Pacific and can burn your skin very quickly, but you can’t apply sunscreen if your skin is wet. Also, you need to apply sunscreen about 20 minute before you get wet or start sweating. Also, you need to reapply sunscreen every 90 minutes or so. Also, most sunscreen is pretty bad for coral reefs. So instead of dealing with that, bring a lightweight long-sleeve sun shirt to throw on when you’re in the sun, wet, or run out of sunscreen.

I love the UPF sun shirts hoodies from Free Fly Apparel, which have built-in sun protection and a lightweight hood to protect your neck and face from sunburn. The brand makes several different weights, and most are thin enough that I don’t get any hotter than I would in a T-shirt — but I do get much better protection for my skin.

Read more about Free Fly Apparel and why we love it for travel and outdoor activities.

Buy Now: Men’s ($58+)
Buy Now: Women’s ($58+)

A packable rain jacket


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I would recommend that all the clothing you bring to French Polynesia be made of quick-drying materials, but sometimes, it’s nice to not get soaked in the first place. That’s why having a super-light, super-breathable rain jacket is helpful. You want one made for warm-weather outdoor activity, not one designed for skiing or as an outer layer over sweaters. The key is to get a super-packable one you can shove in your backpack or clip to the outside of your bag and always have it handy, since the tropical climate can shift from sun to rain and back again fairly quickly.

For a seriously waterproof jacket that won’t have you sweating buckets underneath and also doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, check out the straightforward Stratoburst rain jacket from Outdoor Research. It weighs just half a pound, packs into the chest pocket, and has lightweight pit zips so you can dump core heat and perspiration while still staying dry.

Buy Now: Men’s: $165
Buy Now: Women’s: $165

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