Having doubts about what to pack for a trip to Iceland is a very frequent problem for first-time visitors. We were on that side last year, but now with two visits in two different seasons to the land of ice and fire in our bag, we’re handing out some hopefully helpful advice for those looking to go there.
The background of travelling to outdoor and nature destinations certainly helped us getting a head start on our packing, but that wasn’t enough. We had to update our clothing to cater for the conditions in Iceland and it was well worth it.
Some context first. Travelling to Iceland almost certainly involves a lot of outdoor activities, such as hiking, visiting lots of waterfalls, going on a glacier or wildlife watching, among many others. Now, join all of these wonderful activities together with the ever changing weather. Really, every 5 minutes it seems to change. Well, don’t worry too much! It’s not always raining or super windy and, in fact, having to brave the nature elements is one of the things that makes Iceland a magical place.
We have been to Iceland during late summer and late winter. Although different seasons, they do have a lot of similarities when it comes to packing and share a lot of common ground.
Let’s start our list.
Layers will be super important all-year-round and particularly in the winter, where skin tight base layers are a must. Opt for multiple thin layers instead of thicker ones. Ditch cotton and only use lightweight and breathable wool or synthetic fibers. Outer layers should include fleece jackets, sometimes more than one. In the summer, this gets a bit relaxed and a t-shirt should be enough under the jacket.
Waterproof and Windproof
Another must-do that also applies throughout the year. It rains frequently and the wind can turn a normal not-so-cold day into a freezer. Ideally, jackets and coats should be capable of handling some rain and wind. The more the better. There are some lightweight jackets that can handle a lot of rain and wind, depending on the quality and how much you’re willing to spend. In the winter time, it’s normal to combine one of these jackets with another jacket or coat, creating an extra layer that suits the conditions.
Pants should be weather-resistant as well, at least a bit. Go for the outdoor specific ones. One possible solution is to have waterproof over pants, which is what we do when it starts to rain stronger. Forget jeans or similars, it’s not a good idea, at all!
These tips will also be helpful when going to see some waterfalls due to the water spray!
Gloves, Beanie, Scarf
Protect your body extremities. In the winter, this is even more important. Good quality gloves and are a must to keep your hands warm, and you’ll never go outside without a beanie. Summer time could be a bit more relaxed, but we still recommend it. We never really used a scarf, but it might be useful as well.
Don’t forget this! Wait, but isn’t Iceland cold? Yes and.. no! You must have heard of the blue lagoon and its very warm bluish water. Well, there are plenty more hot pools to choose from around the country. Not to be missed.
The outdoors can be really rough, depending on where you’re going. Water, mud, snow or rocks are some of the things to be found. We recommend at least good hiking shoes, and that’s for a more casual approach. No trainers or sneakers! The ideal is to have good boots, water resistant, with ankle protection and insulated to the cold, which is more useful in the winter with snow and ice. For example, we have hiking boots and mountaineering boots for more serious stuff and weather conditions.
Don’t forget the socks! Having decent shoes is a good way to start, but good socks will make your feet happy. Look for warm wool winter socks.
A backpack will be useful to store layers, for example, but also food or your camera. A smaller 20L to 30L backpack should do the trick unless you’re carrying a lot of gear.
Needless to say that you’ll need a camera to capture all the beauty of Iceland. We won’t get into a lot of details as we’re planning an article specifically for photography. Besides the camera, don’t forget to pack enough memory cards and batteries. A tripod is also useful for all the waterfalls and the northern lights!
Lip care. The Icelandic cold wind isn’t forgiving on your lips.
Sunglasses. In the summer, there is almost 24h of daylight.
With these on your side, you won’t have to rush to the stores and buy extra stuff once you get there, after realising you’re not ready enough for the weather conditions. And believe us, we’ve seen it a lot for beanies, gloves and jackets. It also saves you some headaches about “how am I going to dry these beautiful jeans” or “my awesome shiny shoes are not so shiny anymore”.
One exception is when staying in Reyjkavík and going out for a meal. It’s useful to have non-outdoor normal clothing.
Here’s a checklist of the fundamentals:
✔ Layers Layer Layers
✔ Waterproof and windproof jacket(s)
✔ Waterproof pants
✔ Warm socks
We hope these tips on what to pack for a trip to Iceland are handy and that they will make your visit even more enjoyable.
Let us know what you think!