Iceland road trip
I love Iceland! I’ve visited this amazing country twice; in February and August. Two different seasons with totally different weather conditions. Working out what to pack for Iceland needed some some serious thought as the weather is so unpredictable. Here’s what I’ve learned on my visits to this stunning country about what to wear in Iceland whatever time of year you visit – summer or winter.
What to Wear in Iceland
Your Iceland packing decisions will be based on the time of year you’re visiting. Whatever time of year, you’ll be outdoors much of the time taking in all natural beauty of the country and to say the Icelandic weather is changeable would be an understatement.
There’s a saying in Iceland ‘if you don’t like the weather wait five minutes’. The changeable weather greatly affects what to wear in Iceland. My tip is to wear layers, lots of layers.
Iceland – the weather in Winter
Iceland in winter is bracing and fresh one minute and the next a wind will whip across an icy plain and hit you with an ice-cold blast for the next half hour. It’ll numb your fingers and ice up your eyelashes. On top of that there’ll be snow, blizzards and icy rain. Then there’s the wind-chill factor. If you don’t have the right clothing it’ll ruin your trip. You’ll literally be in pain.
Iceland – the weather in Summer
Iceland in summer is also a mixed bag. 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 essentials for Iceland in winter and summer
Here are my packing essentials for Iceland that you’ll need whatever time of year you’re going.
Waterproof Gloves – 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 probably will.
I wore two pairs of gloves on my winter visits to Iceland. The inner pair, were touch-screen gloves and made of a thinner material so I could still use my mobile phone without freezing my fingers off. They were essential for using my camera which was impossible with bulky gloves.
A Warm Scarf stops the cold from creeping into the gaps between your hat and your jacket. You might prefer a thermal neck warmer which is another good option and not as bulky as a scarf.
Thermal Boot socks – It’s worth buying some good socks to wear in Iceland. They’ll wick away moisture and keep your feet warm and dry. My absolute favourite boot socks for hiking are Darn Tough socks. They last for years and don’t have seams so they won’t rub and cause blisters. I highly recommend them and they’re worth spending a little extra on.
A Fleece-lined Beany Keep your head warm and it’ll help the rest of your body keep warm. The double layer will stop the cold getting in. Make sure your hat covers your ears.
You’ll need a daypack to put all your bits and pieces in. The Osprey daypack is big enough to keep all your essentials in but small enough for it not to get in the way and it looks good too.
Read these tips if you’re considering buying a backpack for travelling
So, what do people in Iceland wear to keep extra toasty? A moustache balaclava maybe! I never actually saw anyone wearing one but they were selling them at Harpa! This balaclava comes a close second…
What to wear in Iceland in Winter
Layers are essential, you might end up looking a size bigger than you actually are, but there’s nothing more miserable than being too cold to enjoy your trip. So what do people in Iceland wear to keep warm in winter?
It’s all about the base. Let’s start at the bottom – literally! Pants, well thermal leggings and long-sleeved thermal vests.
Lycra or scientifically designed synthetic fabrics cling to the body and keep you warm. They also 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.
A high necked, long-sleeved zipped thermal vest will keep you extra toasty.
Tip: Make sure the tops are a good length so you can tuck them into your bottoms.
A Micro fleece top makes for 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. Try not to have any gaps where the cold can creep in.
What do people wear in Iceland generally? Hand-knitted jumpers and sweaters. 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 and I really wish I’d bought one home with me.
Hand-knitted lopapaysa sweaters in Iceland
Waterproof Insulated Jacket
I took my grey ski-jacket which was perfect as it has a fleecy layer inside and 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, waterproof jacket will keep you warm and dry. I was very grateful to be wearing one at Gullfoss waterfall where the winds were bitter and it was very exposed.
Waterproof Trousers or Ski Pants
What trousers or pants to wear in Iceland is a question I get asked a lot and it’s an important one. You’ll need either waterproof over-pants or ski pants. I wore my ski pants which are black so I didn’t look like I’d come straight off the piste.
You’ll need warm ski pants or waterproof trousers to avoid getting wet.
Tip: Don’t wear jeans in Iceland winter – if they get wet they’ll freeze.
Thermal leggings will keep you extra warm under ski pants or waterproof pants.
Check out my other packing list posts for sailing holidays or ski trips.
Braving the cold at Gullfoss Waterfall
What boots or shoes to wear in Iceland in winter
The best boots for Iceland are waterproof with a cleated, grippy sole to stop you slipping on snow or ice. Snow boots would be a good option too and have the added advantage to keeping you lower legs warm. Trainers are a no no.
The best shoes to wear in Iceland during summer are a good pair of hiking boots. 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 essentials – 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. They were essential for using my camera which was impossible with bulky gloves.
Take a hat that covers your ears, a fleece-lined hat is a good call. Neckwarmers are great and you can pull them up over your nose if it gets really icy. They’re small and light and easy to pop in your pocket if you get too warm.
Sun Voyager (Sólfar) Reykjavik
What to wear in Iceland in Summer
Again layers are key but this time instead of thermals think t-shirts (both long and short sleeved) and light jumpers so that you can peel off if the sun comes out and the temperatures rise. It’d be worth packing some thermals for night time, especially if you’re going to be chasing the northern lights as it still gets very cold at night.
Take a lighter jacket. I wore my North Face Resolve Insulated jacket It’s really light, completely waterproof with a stowable hood and down filling so it’s nicely warm but not too bulky.
It also folds down really neatly so I can pop it in my backpack if it gets warm. This jacket turned out to be perfect for our August visit but a lightweight down jacket which packs down neatly is also a good option.
I don’t have waterproof over-pants and wore hiking pants. It was August and it didn’t rain so I was lucky.
What shoes to wear in Iceland in summer
Shoes for Iceland need to be warm and comfortable. A decent pair of hiking boots which have a good grip for shale tracks and rugged outdoor terrain are ideal. I like Salamon hiking shoes for summer. Wool hiking socks (seamless to stop rubbing) would be wise too.
Inspect repellent is a good idea in summer if you’re going to be near the water.
Essentials to pack for Iceland in both Summer and Winter
There are other essentials that shouldn’t be forgotten. Sunscreen, protective lip balm and sunglasses. 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 – it’s incredibly invigorating!
The Blue Lagoon, Iceland
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 include this as part of the excursion.
Snow-mobiling in Iceland
Miscellaneous items for your Iceland packing list
Iceland uses the two pin European plug with round holes so you’ll need a plug adaptor or two. I like the ones with integrated USB ports.
You may want to take a power bank for your mobile phone for those long days out and about.
Finally pack an extra SD card for the camera and an extra battery. If you’re in Iceland in winter, batteries run down more quickly in the cold weather plus Iceland is so gorgeous you’ll go into photo clicking overload!
I hope you find this post useful when you’re packing for Iceland. If you have any more tips on what to wear in Iceland please share.
Read more about Iceland – click here for all my Iceland posts
• 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
• A Geothermal Bake Off in Iceland – Digging for Thunder Bread in Iceland
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Friday 23rd of December 2022
Hoping to go in July 2023! Husband, 19 yr old son, 14 yr old son and me! Thank you!!
Wednesday 28th of December 2022
Fabulous - have a fantastic time!
Emma @ Adventures of a London Kiwi
Tuesday 5th of November 2019
This is SUCH a good, comprehensive post - one I'm definitely coming back to when I finally get to Iceland!
Wednesday 6th of November 2019
I hope it's not too long before you get there!
Tuesday 13th of February 2018
What brand/model is your grey ski-jacket? Looks great! I'm looking for something just like that.
Tuesday 13th of February 2018
It's O'Neill but I've had it a few years now. Actually looking for a new one myself!
Sunday 21st of May 2017
Lucky you that you got to visit Iceland twice. It is one of the few countries I have never been to. I like the icelandic jumpers and those funky hats the most!
Sunday 21st of May 2017
I'd love to go back again and do a road trip around the ring road. I'd love to have the nerve to wear one of those hats...!
Saturday 7th of January 2017
Than you for sharing:)