I’ve visited Iceland twice. Once at the beginning of February and once in August. Two totally different seasons with totally different weather conditions which required a bit of thought as to what to pack. Here’s what I’ve learned on my visits to this stunning country about what to pack for your trip to Iceland – winter or summer.
What to Wear in Iceland
Your packing decisions will be based on the time of year you’re visiting Iceland. You’ll want to be taking in all natural beauty of the country so you’ll spend a lot of time outdoors. To say Icelandic weather is changeable would be an understatement. There’s a saying in Iceland ‘if you don’t like the weather wait five minutes’.
In winter you’ll find that one minute it’s bracing and fresh and the next a wind will whip up across an icy plain and hit you with an ice-cold blast for the next half hour. This will numb your fingers and turn your nose an unflattering shade of red. On top of that there’ll be snow, blizzards and icy rain and then there’s the wind-chill factor.
In the summer, you’ll get sun, rain and storms. So, you’ll need to be prepared for every kind of weather, especially in the shoulder seasons. Even the Icelandic people won’t attempt to predict the weather so all I’m going to say is be prepared for anything – except tropical sunshine.
Packing for Iceland in Winter
Layers are essential so you might end up looking four sizes bigger than you actually are – but there’s nothing more miserable than being too cold to enjoy your trip so go with it.
Let’s start at the bottom – literally! Pants, well thermal leggings and long-sleeved vests. Lycra or scientifically designed synthetic fabrics cling to the body and keep you warm, retain heat and wick moisture away from the skin. Wool makes for a good base-layer too. Having a good insulated base-layer is crucial for keeping warm in snow and ice. Make sure the tops are a good length so you can tuck them in. A high necked, long-sleeved vest with half-zip will keep you extra toasty.
Micro fleeces make great mid-layers and come in different thicknesses. I like fleeces which have a high neck and half-zip with sleeves which tuck over the wrists with a thumb-hole – it’s good not to have any gaps where the cold can creep in.
Jumpers are good too and you’ll see the locals wearing the Lopapeysa – the wool traditionally used is called ‘Lopi’ and ‘peysa’ means sweater and the iconic sweaters have many different patterns and designs and are hand-knitted by locals – I guess they’ve got to find ways to fill those long, dark winter days. You’ll find these jumpers for sale all over Iceland.
I took my grey ski-jacket which was perfect as it has a fleecy layer inside, is wind-proof and water-proof. It also has a hood which was good for protecting my face from the icy winds and it zips right up to my nose. A good insulated and waterproof jacket will also keep you warm. I was very grateful to be wearing one at Gullfoss waterfall where the winds were bitter – I still felt the cold, though.
You’ll need either waterproof over-pants or ski pants. I took my ski pants which are black and so didn’t look like I’d come straight off the piste. Imagine not wearing water-proof trousers and getting wet – jeans would probably ice up in the cold.
Boots or Hiking Shoes
Boots or hiking shoes should be waterproof with a cleated, grippy sole for when you’re walking on snow or ice. Snow boots would be an option too. Long thermal socks will keep toes toasty and stop a chilly wind whipping around your ankles.
Hat, Gloves and Scarf
Don’t leave your hotel, B&B or hostel without these – they are small enough to pop in your rucksack if you don’t need them but vital if the weather takes a turn for the worse. Which it will do. I wore two pairs of gloves – the inner pair, were touch-screen gloves and made of a thinner material so I could still use my mobile phone for Tweeting and Instagramming. They were essential for using my camera which was impossible with bulky gloves. Take a hat that covers your ears. You could wear what the locals wear…. or maybe not!
Packing for Iceland – Summer
Again layers are key but this time instead of thermals think t-shirts (both long and short sleeved) and jumpers so that you can peel off if the sun comes out and the temperatures rise.
Take a lighter jacket – I’ll be taking my North Face Resolve Insulated jacket. It’s really light and completely waterproof with a stowable hood and down filling. It also folds down really neatly so I can pop it in my bag if it gets warm. This jacket turned out to be perfect for our August visit.
I don’t have waterproof over-pants so as we’re just going for a day I’m going to trust to luck and wear my jeans. Hopefully, it won’t rain – if you’re going for longer it might we worth buying a pair even though they’re not that pretty…
Boots and Shoes
You’ll need comfortable boots for walking, ideally waterproof, which have a good grip for all those shale tracks and rugged outdoors. Good socks to stop rubbing would be wise too. Ideally you’ll want a lighter pair of waterproof trainers or trekking shoes for getting around in summer so your feet don’t get too hot.
Inspect repellent is a good idea in summer if you’re going to be near the water.
Summer and Winter
There are other essentials that shouldn’t be forgotten. Sunscreen, protective lip balm and sun glasses – UV radiation is stronger when it’s reflected by the snow.
If you’re stopping off at The Blue Lagoon on the way back to Reykjavik airport or dipping into any of the many geothermal pools across Iceland, you’ll need to pack your swimwear and a pair of flip-flops. Don’t forget to alternate your dips in the thermal pools with a roll in the snow in winter – I can assure you it’s incredibly invigorating!
If you’re going snow-mobiling on a glacier or any other adrenaline sports then you’ll need specialist clothing but the company you go with should sort this out for you as it’ll be part of the excursion.
Extras and Miscellaneous Items
Iceland uses the two pin European plug with round holes so you’ll need an adaptor or two. If you’re going on an Icelandic roadtrip you may want to take a battery pack for your mobile phone. Finally pack an extra SD card for the camera and an extra battery if you’ll be there in winter, they run down more quickly in the cold weather and Iceland is so gorgeous you’ll go into photo clicking overload!
I hope you find this post useful if you’re unsure what to wear in Iceland and if you’ve been before and have any more tips please share.
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Read more about Iceland
• Tips for Visiting Reykjavik – Iceland’s Capital of Cool – Reykjavik the coolest city on earth?
• Touring Iceland’s Golden Circle – Three forces of nature in one unforgettable tour
• Into The Blue Lagoon – Tips for your visit to the Blue Lagoon
• Reykjavik – Iceland’s Design Destination – Checking out the cool design in Iceland’s capital
• Eating Iceland – What food will be served up on your visit to Iceland
• Thunder Bread – A Geothermal Bake Off in Iceland – Digging for Thunder Bread in Iceland
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