Destinations · Tips

What to Pack for Iceland: The Essentials for Any Time of Year

For my first post about my most recent adventure in Iceland, I figured I’d answer the question everyone’s been asking as well as my most Google’d topic prior to departing on my own trip. With just about every message board and blog out there stressing the unpredictability of the weather in Iceland, I didn’t even know where to begin as far as what to bring so I didn’t freeze to death or spend the entirety of my trip uncomfortable, wishing I’d brought more summer clothes or a snowsuit.

packing tips iceland land ice fire list

Since visiting Iceland during the shoulder season (the end of May) I feel I’ve experienced a bit of the best of both worlds—the bone-chattering chill of the fresh Iceland breeze as well as some of the pleasant summer midday hours that can happen there too. It is my firm belief that as long as you make it a point to have the following items with you, you will be A-OK no matter which season you plan to visit.

Windproof, waterproof jacket with a hood.

Just ditch the umbrella. I repeat, JUST DITCH THE UMBRELLA. It’s too windy in Iceland to use one. And the few aloof tourists I did see attempting to use an umbrella spent their entire day wrestling with it as it flipped inside out and flew across the ground.

A thick, warm, waterproof jacket will go a long way. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be a huge puffy snow coat (unless you’re visiting in the dead of winter and plan to spend a lot of time out chasing the Northern Lights), but it should have a hood. You’ll spend a lot of time outdoors, checking out waterfalls that undoubtedly spray cold mist in every direction and you’ll be thankful to keep your under layers dry.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Iceland
                                                    Hanging out at Jokulsarlon Lagoon

Hiking boots.

Even if you don’t plan to do a lot of long hikes, thick, sturdy hiking boots that come up over the ankles are a must in Iceland. Not only will you be traversing behind waterfalls on slippery, uneven rocks to get that perfect photo, but you will want them if you plan to do a glacier hike of any kind. They will save you from paying to rent sturdier boots that work with a crampon, which is the spikey apparatus that straps to your shoe for digging into the side of a glacier and allowing you to walk on one.

Hiking Glacier at Skaftafell National Park Iceland
                                 Hiking Glacier at Skaftafell National Park Iceland

Not only that, but if you’re a regular traveler, chances are you’ll want some good boots for a future trip at some point, so if you don’t have any—get some. I like to think about all of the amazing and beautiful places my boots have stepped over—and how maybe there is still a grain of black sand somewhere in their tread from Iceland, a pebble from the shore of Lake Superior, or a spec of moss from Machu Picchu—I’ve started taking a picture of my boots wherever I go. If you get a good pair, they can withstand almost anything.

Hiking Boots Black Sand Beach

Zip-off hiking pants.

There is a reason everyone says you will experience all four seasons you experience at home in one day in Iceland—it’s because it’s true. The morning is misty and chilly, the afternoon is warm and sunny, and the evening is cloudy with a nippiness in the air—and somewhere in there it will probably rain, snow, and hail for a minute or two.

With hiking pants that zip off around the knee area, it’s obviously two-in-one and you don’t have to keep changing your outfit every half hour of the day. I was in Iceland for 9 days and I literally just alternated between two pairs of these for the entire trip. It will lighten your load when it comes to packing and they are usually quick-dry so you’re not sitting around in wet jeans for the rest of the day. I will say that I had the bottoms of them zipped on more than they were off, but that could have been different had I visited there in July. Having the option is what’s important.

Black Sand Beach Djúpivogur Iceland
                                   Enjoying the Black Sand Beach Djúpivogur Iceland

GoPro or waterproof camera.

I didn’t have one of these but I wish I had. I spent the majority of my time zipping my mirrorless Canon camera into and out of my jacket and trying to take a photo as fast as humanly possible to keep the camera from getting too many drops of water on it. Waterfalls and overcast, rainy days are not the ideal environment for non-waterproof cameras.

blue lagoon iceland packing tips

GoPros can take some amazing high resolution pictures and would be a great solution to the problem of taking photos in the Blue Lagoon as well (whereas my Blue Lagoon photos consist of a quick shot while standing in front of the glass that overlooks the lagoon right outside the locker room as well as some cell phone pictures hastily taken through a Ziploc bag). GoPros are small and compact which means easy to travel with and are easily compatible with a selfie stick for my fellow solo travelers! It may be time for me to invest in one…

Fleece-lined leggings or Long Johns.

These are great because you can wear them under hiking pants to keep extra warm if you plan to go out on a midnight search of the Northern Lights during the dark months to keep, but what I really liked about them was that they dry pretty quickly if they aren’t the cotton type. Leggings that are for workouts or running are usually moisture wicking, so I brought these along and wore them to walk around a couple of waterfalls. Often there are long(ish) drives where you’re have in the car a while between stops along the Ring Road, so these were fast-drying as well as comfy.

Vik Black Sand Beach Iceland what pack
                                             My not-so-graceful attempt at a jumping pic.

Swimsuit

And no, this is not for sunning yourself on the beach under palm trees—the ocean is far too cold to go into most of the time around Iceland (although some more daring souls like to jump off piers into the water in the summer months).

Not only will you need your suit for the famed Blue Lagoon, but there are spas and Jacuzzis fed by geothermal heated water all over the country and at many of the accommodations in Iceland. I was somewhat surprised when I saw kids playing at a small waterpark behind a hotel in 40 (F) degree weather but then I realized that they weren’t actually shivering with hypothermia because just about all of the water is naturally heated.

Geysir Golden Circle IcelandBy no means is this a comprehensive list of everything you’ll need for your trip to the land unlike any other, but I’m fairly certain that as long as you have the above six items with you, you will have no packing regrets (don’t you hate those?) and will enjoy a more-than-comfortable stay there.

Am I missing something? What do you think, based on your experience in Iceland, is an absolute necessity that you shouldn’t leave home without? I’d love to build on this list to help guide others who are planning their own trips to Iceland!

Happy Packing,

CAITLYN WITHOUT A COMPASS

One thought on “What to Pack for Iceland: The Essentials for Any Time of Year

  1. Great Blog as usual. Looks like you had a great experience. Thanks. I sure would say do this while you are young. Some how I can’t picture me hiking up any ice, That would be some picture with you sure looked adventurous.

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