I learned long ago that fortune smiles on the well-prepared, and that there's little honor in packing neurotically close to the bone - especially where fantasies are concerned. Someone else's austere selection of gear may weigh a pound or two less than mine, but I guarantee that I'll enjoy my trip to Maui more for having brought great lightweight binoculars (amazing view from Haleakala's precipice) and my own high-tech snorkeling gear (amazing scenery in the fecund waters of La Perouse Bay). Not to mention a packable blender for an impromptu pi¿a colada. When it comes to equipment, think double-duty, efficiency, and intelligent indulgence: quick-dry travel clothing that's lightweight and takes up little room in a duffel bag; footwear that's suited for hiking volcanic craters but looks just fine back in civilization; a folding kayak to paddle around paradise. Herewith is a selection of items I've found indispensable (or just plain cool) on my island wanderings.
Tidal New Wave
Are conditions favorable for big air at Maui's famous Hopokipa windsurfing beach? You'll know with just a glance at your Rip Curl Ultimate: ATS Titanium Tidemaster Watch. This wristmounted surf report tells you the moon phase and whether the tide is high or low, rising or falling, neap or spring. The titanium casing is hard-core, and you'll look slick wearing this water-resistant Swiss-made beast, making it totally worth the $700 price; tel. 800-842-2875, Web site www.ripcurl.com.
I always travel with my own snorkeling gear. I mean, who just breathed into that rental snorkel, and how scratched is that mask? Scuba Pro's Flip Snorkel ($42) folds up for easy packing, and the company's twin-lens, low-profile Fino Mask ($69) can be fitted with your eyes' Rx. Round out the ensemble with the Force Fin Fab Force SK flippers ($125), lovable for their light weight, adjustability, slipper-comfy footbed, and easy-finning fish-tail shape. I carried this collection on a goat-path hike to a hidden cove on Nevis, where I enjoyed vivid clarity during putz-around fish-viewing, then powered my way through sea caves while taking the watery route back to the trailhead. Scuba Pro: tel. 800-728-2277, Web site www.scubapro.com. Force Fin: tel. 800-346-7946, Web site www.forcefin.com.
I'm not a serious birder, but I was happy to have the Swarovski 8 x 20 Pocket Binoculars ($521, but greatly discounted by most retailers) on a rain-forest search for the rare Montserrat oriole. Not that I saw one, but the astounding clarity of the fully multicoated lenses on these babies brought other denizens of the jungle treetops, as well as distant views of a strange isle called Redonda, into hyperclear focus. No other binos this size (they fit in a shirt pocket) or weight (7.6 ounces) come with the eye-boggling optics of the rugged, waterproof Swarovskis; tel. 800-426-3089, Web site www.swarovskioptik.com.
The cloudlike stride and natty styling of Oakley's Chop Saw ($90) belie what a rugged piece of footwear it is, equally at home on sole-shredding lava flows or marble hotel floors. The wide, moderately treaded rubber outsole bites loose trails and spreads the impact of a full day of footfalls. A mesh panel at midfoot air-conditions the leather upper, and a pillowy tongue dissipates pressure from the laces. Best of all, the shoe is made with the human foot in mind: plenty of piggy-wiggling room, a gentle caress at the heel, and a contoured urethane footbed that'll way outlast any running-shoe cushioning; tel. 800- 403-7449, Web site www.oakley.com.
Swiss Army Knife of Luggage
A bag that's just a bag is like a pocketknife sans scissors, toothpick, and can opener. The Victorinox Swiss Army E-Motion 360-degree 24-inch Trek Pack Plus ($495) is a 4,650-cubic-inch rolling duffel with a curved telescoping handle. Why curved? Because the back of the bag is neatly shaped to follow the contour of your spine - once you zip out a hidden harness (with shoulder, waist, and sternum straps) and convert the bag to a backpack. Roll it through the airport, portage it down the trail, grip it like a suitcase. The crowning touch? You can choose any of three smaller bags that dock on the front of the pack and detach as you need them, to serve as day pack, shoulder bag, or lumbar pack; tel. 888-658-0717, Web site www.swissarmy.com.
Forget the Film
Sure, digital cameras are cool, but until now they've been for those who aren't likely to bump their gear or get it wet. The Sony DSC-P5 ($500) changes all that. It's lightweight (8 ounces) and rugged in its brushedaluminum body, and once it's inside Sony's MPK-P5 waterproof housing ($250), you can employ it down to 133 feet or up on the soggy slopes of Mount Waialeale on Kauai. Its 3x zoom lens and 3.2-megapixel resolution make for great JPEGs and prints, the LED screen is superbright, and each Sony Memory Stick handily tucks away 8MB worth of images; tel. 888-420-7669, Web site www.sonystyle.com/digitalimaging/P_Feature_P5.shtml.
Can't tell you how many times I've been up Paradise Creek without a paddle. Next time, I'm packing a Klepper Aerius Classic I folding kayak ($3,115), a work-of-art bundle of autonomy that puts you at the helm of your own ship as soon as you pick it up from baggage claim. Well, maybe 20 minutes later, after you assemble the sturdy wood framework and slip it into a tough hypalon-and-canvas skin. (Try it at home first, though; there's a bit of a learning curve.) Inflatable sponsons render the vessel as stable as a river barge, but it still paddles quick and true, and stows enough provisions for a three-week journey from one happy isle to the next. The boat breaks into two packages - one a backpack, the second a long duffel for the framework - and weighs just 55 pounds total, including paddle and rudder; tel. 800-500-2404, Web site www.klepper-usa.com.
Mango Daiquiri, Lovey?
Sailing the Windwards, you put ashore at Carriacou, where the market is teeming with papayas and mangoes, bananas and nutmeg, pineapples and cinnamon. And there you are, sans blender - NOT - because you've packed the Vortex from GSI Outdoors ($70). The hand-cranked gadget is made of stainless steel and unbreakable Lexan, packs compactly inside its own base, and clamps to a park bench or a gunwale for impromptu self-powered mix-meistering. Should the sun be over the yardarm and the Rivers Rum handy, test out the shot glass that's incorporated into the blender's lid; tel. 800-704-4474, Web site www.gsioutdoors.com.
A few years ago I rendezvoused with an East Coast pal on Grenada. In the airport we regarded each other wearing identical Ex Officio Baja Lite shirts ($79). No surprise; they're perfect island apparel. The mesh sides open for ventilation, tabs keep rolled-up sleeves in place, and the soft cotton/poly fabric dries overnight after a sink washing. For our rain-forest hike in Grand Etang National Park, I donned Sportif's rugged nylon Matecumbe Convertible Pants ($70). I wore them long for thrashing through brush, zipped them down to shorts for the open sections, and dived right into pools at the base of the Seven Sisters waterfalls. (With their built-in brief, they're swim trunks as well.) Sportif's equivalent for women is the briefless Everglade Convertible Pant ($60). Ex Officio: tel. 800-644-7303, Web site www.exofficio.com. Sportif: tel. 800-776-7843, Web site www.sportif.com.
Whether you're piloting a Sunfish or scaling Baffin Island cliffs, if you're surrounded by water you need polarized sunglasses to knock back glare. The spec-heads at Maui Jim have long had that science nailed; they make nothing but glare-slaying shades that also incorporate mirroring and antireflective coatings. The big news with the Titanium ST Hulu shades is weight - or lack of it - thanks to titanium frames and new superthin glass lenses. They're not cheap ($259), but these weightless wonders are so sharp, they one-up reality; tel. 888-628-4546, Web site www.mauijim.com.