There’s a long list of questions that I get asked from travellers planning to visit Iceland.
One of them I get asked quite frequently: What should I pack for my trip to Iceland?
On top of that, the name Iceland seems to scare many travellers and give them wrong ideas. They imagine a typical scene from Game Of Thrones where they are battling blizzards in the north. But believe me the name is more scary than the actual weather. Luckily we have warming effects of the Gulf Stream which provides a temperate climate all year around.
However the biggest characteristic of the Icelandic weather is unpredictability. You can experience sun, rain and hail, all on the same day.
“If you don’t like the weather right now, just wait a few minutes,” is a common saying among Icelanders…
What are the Icelandic seasons like?
Iceland has four seasons, although sometimes it doesn’t feel that way since the weather changes all the time. However every seasons has something great to offer. Understanding each one of them might help you pack for your trip.
Summer: is the season where every Icelander feels full of energy and sleeping feels like waste of your time, sine the sun rarely sets for a long time. Unfortunately the Icelandic summer is quite short ranging from June to August, the latter being the warmest. The temperature ranges from 7° to 20°C. It usually doesn’t get hotter than 20°C. The weather is usually mild and the days are long. At this time of year you shouldn’t expect super cold days, but there is always chance of rain. The summer also marks high season in the country where the most popular sites will be packed with tourists. However, since the sun will be up all night it gives you the opportunity to travel and sightsee by night avoiding the big crowds.
Autumn: The Icelandic autumn is from the beginning of September until late October. These months are probably the only low season of the year due to cold, windy and rainy days. The temperature is between 0-10°C. At this time of year you can expect all sorts of weather. So it’s good to pack according to that. It’s still a great time to visit Iceland and accommodation prices usually lowers.
Winter: The Icelandic winter is the season for northern lights and ice caves. It ranges from early November till mid March, these months are the darkest of the year. This is time when Icelanders layer up and put on their hard core winter boots. The temperature ranges from -5° to +5°C, however the wind makes it feel much colder. If you are travelling to Iceland during winter it’s quite important to pack warm clothes and waterproof overlayers.
Spring: The Icelandic spring is when the days are getting longer and sunnier, but the mountain peaks are still covered with snow. The farmers let their sheeps out to run freely for the summer. The spring ranges from beginning of April to end of May. Springtime weather can be anything from snow and rain to bright sunny days and the temperature averages between 0-10°C.
How to pack for your trip to Iceland?
Now you have an idea what the weather is like in Iceland, so let me give you a few tips on what might be useful to bring with you.
This is never said too often, if you are coming to Iceland dress in layers!
Layering your clothing is the best way to maximize your comfort outdoors. The beauty of this simple concept is that it allows you to make quick adjustments (peeling of or adding layers) based on your activity level and sudden changes in weather conditions.
66 North is the leading outdoor clothing brand in Iceland, I’ve used their products for many years and wouldn’t recommend any other. Here below you can see examples of each of the three layers. If you don’t have something similar, don’t worry, you can always gear up in Reykjavik; 66°North has a few stores in the city.
This is probably one of the most important layer. 100% wool is preferable and is the best insulator. The wool breaths easily and allows you to sweat through it by wicking moisture into the middle layer. Don’t wear cotton near the skin, you’ll be soaked quickly leaving you overcooled when you stop to rest after a strenuous hike. Wool thermal underwear will also be very much appreciated if you’re spending the night in a tent. You can see an example of this product here.
The mid layer is the primary insulating layer and works by trapping warm air that your body generates. It also wicks sweat vapour further away from the body. You can either choose wool, down, fleece or high-tech synthetics like PrimaLoft. Light- to midweight fleece is recommended for activity in cold weather but heavier fleece, down or PrimaLoft jackets are great for resting/passive activity in freezing conditions. I usually were a PrimaLoft jacket like this one.
This layer needs to be water and wind proof/resistant, protecting you from tough conditions that often occur without any notice in Iceland. The shell needs to be able to breath as well, allowing moisture to leave the body. You can choose from so called soft shells that are more flexible but only water-resistant (not proof), or hard shells that are completely waterproof but not as flexible and do not breath as well. Find wearing shell called Snæfell, find it here.
Swimwear and towel
This is something many travellers forget to bring to Iceland…understandably, it’s not the first thing that pops into your mind when packing for a trip to the subarctic. However Iceland is rich in geothermal heat so running around in swimwear is a big part of the local culture. We have thermal swimming pools in every neighbourhood in Reykjavík. You will also find them in almost every small town in the country side, and the entrance fee is fairly reasonable (4-7 euros).
You will need swimwear if you are planning on visiting the Blue Lagoon, Laugarvatn Fontana or one of the many secret hot spring in the nature! Also a towel will come in handy so you don’t cool down too quickly after coming out a natural spring in the middle of nowhere.
Is it only me that was raised to believe that most heat gets lost through the head? Apparently that’s just a myth but we still loose around 10% of our body heat through our heads. This will definitely matter in cold windy conditions, so don’t forget it!
Waterproof hiking shoes
Packing hiking shoes might be a good idea even if you’re not planning on hiking. Many popular sites like Skógafoss waterfall can become muddy and wet so bringing sturdy waterproof shoes will make your experience much more enjoyable. The same goes for Seljarlandsfoss waterfall, where you have the option to go on a small hike behind the waterfall.
You can bring the light versions instead of the heavy duty shoes if you’re packing light.
In recent years, Reykjavík has become known for its crazy nightlife. It’s definitely something you should consider checking out if you are visiting Iceland. So then it might be important to pack something fancy! Don’t worry too much about it though, because there is hardly dresscode anywhere (although everyone is very aware of fashion!).
Other useful stuff
Since you’ve already gotten this far, I assume you are already swetty packing your bag for your trip. While we’ve gone over the most important things clothing wise, I will list up few other things that might be useful to bring with you to Iceland.
The water in Iceland is incredibly clean and drinkable. A plastic bottle of water costs about 350 ISK. There’s no reason to buy that, instead bring with you a nice water bottle that you like carrying around. Then you can always fill it up at every hotel, restaurant or even a nearby river!
Camping is available everywhere in Iceland. You can camp in designated campgrounds for about 1,600 ISK per night and some hostels allow you to put up tents too. You’ll need to have your own gear and sleeping bag. Camping in Iceland can really safe up money in the long term. As the standard price for a hotel room is around 9.000 ISK per person.
Bring your own sheets or sleeping bag
Like in other Scandinavian countries, hostels in Iceland charge you 1,500 ISK for bed sheets if you don’t have your own or a sleeping bag, usually pillows are free.
A GPS device is not a necessity for travellers but it can definitely improve the experience when navigating in Iceland. You can both bring a regular GPS or use the one in the smartphones if you buy an Icelandic prepaid sim card. Google maps works well and is quite accurate.
Again since the weather is constantly changing, having a day pack can be perfect to store extra clothes, gloves and hats or even some snacks.
Iceland is the photographers paradise, so make sure that you bring with you a good camera. You are going to want to snap some photos along the way. It goes without saying that if you indeed plan to photograph the northern lights you need a camera where you can control the exposure such as a DSLR.
A tripod can come in handy if you want to catch photos of the northern lights or if you want to get those dreamy photos of moving waterfalls and the midnight sun. You don’t necessarily need a big tripod, a small gorilla pod would also do it’s job.
Have you been to Iceland? Anything else that comes to your mind that is missing at the list? Let us know in the comments.
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