What to Wear in Iceland: The Ultimate Guide for All Seasons

What to Wear in Iceland: The Ultimate Guide for All Seasons

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Dressing correctly is key when preparing for a trip to Iceland.Iceland is infamous for its ever-changing weather, with mild winters and often cool and windy summers. Packing for a country with weather gods prone to mood swings can seem daunting, but don't worry - we're here to help!

Sunny skies, sudden showers, fierce winds, and surprise snowfalls. This is not a description of the four seasons but a possible description of the weather on a single day in Iceland. Don't start panicking about organizing your suitcase quite yet, as good preparation is all you need.

You need to be prepared for anything while enjoying the glow of the aurora on northern lights tours, basking in the sun on summer tours, or braving the cold on winter tours. This ultimate guide will provide you will all the information you need to stay warm while visiting Iceland at any time of the year.

While the weather is certainly unpredictable, there are some upsides when it comes to planning a trip to Iceland, especially if you're planning a road trip in your rental car on the famous Ring Road. With relatively mild winters and cool summers, the variance in temperature in Iceland is not quite as high as you might expect. Of course, there are specific changes you would make in terms of clothing depending on when you decide to visit Iceland, but there are also certain staples.

Let's Talk About Layers

Layered clothing is a must when traveling to the Icelandic wilderness.

No matter the season, layered clothing is important to remember when preparing for a trip to Iceland. This dressing strategy means that each layer has a specific function, with the whole clothing system working together to provide comfort and protection in a wide range of weather conditions. Sounds pretty handy for a place like Iceland, doesn't it?

Whether or not you've thought about it, you've worn your clothes in layers before. Wearing layered clothing is key in Iceland to tackle the unpredictability of the weather and the wilderness, so let's quickly go over each layer in order:

Base Layer

This layer directly touches your skin and includes underwear, long-sleeved tops or t-shirts, and socks. Its primary function is to manage moisture and wick sweat away from your body to keep you dry. This helps regulate your body temperature and prevent cooling down too quickly in colder conditions. Synthetic fabrics or wool are good choices, but avoid cotton as it absorbs moisture and can make you feel cold and wet.

Mid Layer

The primary function of the mid-layer is to provide insulation and retain body heat to keep you warm. It traps air close to your body, warmed by body heat, to provide a barrier against the cold. A good mid-layer could be a fleece jacket, a soft-shell jacket, or a wool sweater. In winter, heavier socks to wear over your base layer socks can also be a good idea.

Shell Layer

The outer layer, or the shell layer, is your protection against the elements like wind, rain, or snow. This layer includes hard shell jackets and waterproof pants. This layer should be either water-resistant or waterproof and often windproof as well. The best outer layers are also breathable, allowing moisture from sweat to escape so you don't feel wet and clammy.

What to Wear in Spring in Iceland

An infographic photo guide to what to wear during spring in IcelandWhile still brisk, spring in Iceland begins to usher in milder weather. Mild by Icelandic standards, at any rate. The days get increasingly longer, and certain migratory bird species return to Icelandic shores.

Weather in Spring (April to May)

The average temperatures during spring in Iceland generally range from around 32°F to 45°F (0°C to 7°C) in April to up to 39°F to 50°F (4°C and 10°C) in May. You can expect windy conditions, especially in coastal areas and in the highlands.

Rain is quite common in April and May, although typically lighter than other months. Although uncommon, snowfall is a real possibility during spring in Iceland.

What Clothes to Pack for Iceland in Spring

Although the days start getting longer in spring, the season is still quite cold.When packing for Iceland in spring, you should hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. Although the weather is generally milder, you should pack as if you're going to be encountering quite a lot of wind, rain, and possibly snow. 

You should be prepared to face colder and warmer weather, so having a decent thermal layer is crucial. For the mid- and shell layers, we recommend fleece sweaters and a windbreaker jacket. Bringing shorts and some T-shirts is a good idea if it gets warm. 

A pair of hiking boots or a sturdy pair of walking shoes is necessary for uneven terrain and to protect your feet from the elements. You should also bring a warm hat, thick gloves, and a scarf to protect your vitals from the possible cold. 

Just remember that it is better to come overprepared than underprepared. The beauty of the layer system is that you can add or remove layers as needed.

What to Wear in Summer in Iceland

An infographic photo guide to what to wear during the summer in IcelandSummer is the busiest season for tourism in Iceland as many people flock to the country to enjoy the warmer weather and make the most of the longer days provided by the midnight sun. 

Weather in Summer (June to August)

Unsurprisingly, summer is Iceland's warmest season. The average temperatures in these months typically range from 48°F to 59°F (9°C to 15°C), with the warmest weather being in July. Warmer days are not uncommon, occasionally going over 68°F (20°C), sometimes quite a bit higher.

Rain is quite common in the summer, but showers are usually light and pass quickly. Although Iceland is always breezy, the winds are generally lower in summer than in other seasons.

What to Pack for Iceland in Summer

Just because it's summer, don't pack too lightly for a trip to Iceland. The wilderness can be unforgiving.Although summer in Iceland is warmer than the other seasons, you shouldn't come barging in wearing your Crocs expecting some tropical paradise - it's still going to be quite cool compared to most summer destinations. 

Pack a solid base layer to keep you dry, with a mix of short- and long-sleeved shirts depending on the weather. Throw some tank tops in there if you want to get wild. Again, a good middle layer for insulation, such as a fleece or wool sweater, will do nicely. A waterproof and windproof outer layer is vital if you'll be traveling into the wilderness. Feel free to remove some of the layers if you're ever feeling overdressed on a particularly hot day.

You should also pack some lighter clothes for the warmer days, especially if you plan to spend some days in the city. Shorts, sundresses, and casual shoes make for much more enjoyable city trotting on a sunny day than hiking gear ever will. Sunglasses and a sleeping mask for the perpetual daylight will come in handy.

What to Wear in Fall in Iceland

Guide to what to wear in Iceland during autumnWith fall rolling in, the days in Iceland become shorter, and autumn colors drape the land. Fall is an excellent season for visitors hoping to see the northern lights and those wishing to get decent mileage from their raincoats.

Weather in Fall (September to October)

As things get cooler in the autumn, you can expect average temperatures of around 44°F to 55°F (7°C to 13°C) in September, dropping to roughly 36°F to 45°F (2°C and 7°C) in October. These temperatures can fluctuate quite a bit, with colder conditions being common.

Winds start becoming stronger in the fall months, and you can expect rain and possibly snow. If traveling to the north of Iceland or the highlands, take extra caution during your preparations. 

What to Pack for Iceland in Fall

Fall is the rainiest season in Iceland, so pack accordingly.Again, pack a thermal base layer to keep you dry and a solid middle layer to keep you warm, such as a warm sweater or fleece. A windbreaker or a raincoat as an outer layer will be essential to be prepared against sudden downpours or gusts of wind during fall. Bringing rain pants and a rain cover for your backpack is a great idea.

You might be thinking that an umbrella would be a lifesaver in these autumn rains, but the reality is that the strong winds will probably overpower it. We recommend focusing on a waterproof outer layer instead. Hats, gloves, and a warm hat are also necessary for protection against the cold, but make sure they don't absorb too much moisture. 

What to Wear in Winter in Iceland

Guide to what to wear in Iceland during winterAn ideal time to see the Northern Lights, winter is naturally the coldest season in Iceland. Although the elements can be harsh, well-prepared travelers are rewarded with beautiful, snowy landscapes.

Weather in Winter (November to March)

Winter in Iceland is Iceland's longest and coldest season, characterized by cold temperatures, which can often fall below freezing. In November, average temperatures range from 30°F (-1°C) to 39°F (4°C which drop to 23°F (-5°C) to 36°F (2°C) in December. 

January and February are Iceland's coldest months, with average temperatures ranging from 14°F (-10°C) to 37°F (3°C). Things start getting a little bit warmer in March, with temperatures ranging from 28°F (-2°C) to 37°F (3°C).

Snowfall is common in winter, especially in the northern and eastern parts of the country, as well as the highlands which remain inaccessible during the season. Ice is common on roads and walking paths. Storms with high winds can occur, and wind chill can make the temperature feel even colder than it is.

What to Pack for Iceland in Winter

Crampons are a good idea in the wintertime, especially if your boots lack grip.

When packing for a winter trip to Iceland, you might need to prepare for staying in freezing temperatures for extended periods of time. Take care selecting a moisture-wicking base layer, such as woolen underwear. Long johns are the premier choice for underwear here.

Add an insulating middle layer like fleece or wool, and take thicker socks to add over your regular ones to maintain warmth in your feet. When selecting an outer layer, we recommend going with a thick, insulated parka or down coat. Waterproof or windproof pants will make a world of difference. If you go for a lighter outer layer, ensure your middle layer is solid. 

Insulated, waterproof hiking boots are a must, and take care that they have a good grip for icy conditions. If they don't, pack crampons. Again, don't forget a warm hat, thick, insulated gloves or mittens, and a scarf or neck gaiter to protect against the wind.

See more: Iceland in Winter - The Ultimate Travel Guide

What Swimwear to Wear in Iceland

Swimming and bathing is a large part of Icelandic culture.

No matter the season, it's an absolute must to pack swimwear to be able to visit Iceland's many hot springs and geothermal pools. Choose whatever swimwear you feel the most comfortable in, whether it's a traditional one-piece swimsuit, a bikini, swim trunks, or board shorts.

You won't need flip-flops or waterproof sandals in Iceland's pools or hot springs, but you can bring them along if they make you feel more comfortable. A quick-drying towel is handy by the poolside, especially in the wintertime when temperatures are freezing. 

If you don't bring your swimwear or towel along, many facilities offer rental options, but these will most likely not be as comfortable or stylish as what you could bring from home. You can skip out on swimwear in some places, but make sure it's okay before diving in au naturel!

What Not to Wear When Sightseeing in Iceland

An umbrella is unlikely to do you much good in Iceland.Having been over what to wear, here are some of the things you can safely leave at home. 

Denim or Cotton Outerwear: While these materials may be suitable in dry conditions, they absorb water and make you feel cold and damp in wet weather. Opt for waterproof or quick-drying materials instead. When staying within the city, however, these are perfectly fine.

Slippery or Uncomfortable Shoes: The terrain in Iceland can be challenging, so it's essential to wear sturdy shoes with a good grip to prevent slipping and proper ankle support for your feet during long walks or hikes.

High Heels or Dress Shoes: Unless you plan on spending a lot of time in formal settings, high heels, and dress shoes are impractical for Iceland's landscape and weather and incredibly impractical when trekking on the Icelandic glaciers!

Umbrellas: Iceland's wind can make using an umbrella more trouble than it's worth. Opt for waterproof jackets and hats instead for rain protection.

What to Wear in the City

The rules on what to wear are more relaxed in the city.While you will in no way be exempt from the weather when within the city limits, the rules of the game when it comes to what to wear tend to be a bit more relaxed. No-no's in the wilderness, such as denim jeans or cotton sweaters, become fair game, and sneakers are perfectly fine when the streets aren't icy.

The outerwear outlined in the guide above is perfectly adequate for exploring the towns of Iceland, but wearing a colorful windbreaker will make you stick out as a tourist. To blend in with the locals, consider swapping to a stylish jacket or coat. 

When going out in the evenings, Iceland can get quite cold. No matter how formal the occasion, prioritize keeping yourself warm, as you might need to walk around or wait in the cold for some time, depending on what you're up to. Many establishments have coat hangers or cloakrooms, so you won't have to lug around your parka on the dance floor. 

Dress Codes in Iceland

"Smart casual" is a good way of describing the fashion style of most Icelandic people in the evenings.In general, the dress code in Icelandic restaurants is quite casual. Most places won't require formal attire, but if you don't want to stick out, the unofficial dress code tends to be more "smart casual" than strictly formal.

As for clubs and bars, most of them don't have any rules when it comes to apparel. Some high-end bars and clubs in Reykjavik might have slightly more dressy expectations, especially on weekends, but it's generally casual compared to many other countries. The general rule for the few clubs with dress codes is no hoodies, sweaters or sweatpants, hiking outfits, sporty t-shirts, or sneakers.

As a rule of thumb, if you're in doubt, it's always safer to lean toward a smart casual look than going overly formal. A pair of jeans with a top or a shirt should serve you nicely in most situations. If you want to wear a fancy jacket, consider wearing it underneath your coat when the weather is cold.

Shopping for Clothes in Iceland

Laugavegur is Iceland's busiest shopping street.Whether you forgot to pack clothing for your visit to Iceland or want to bring one of Iceland's traditional woolen sweaters back with you,  there are plenty of options to stock up.

Laugavegur is the main shopping street in Reykjavik. It has plenty of clothing stores available, whether you need high-end hiking equipment, second-hand goodies, or a stylish dress for the evening. If you're staying downtown, this is probably your best option, and don't be afraid to explore the side streets.

Kringlan and Smaralind are the largest shopping malls in the Reykjavik area, with multiple larger clothing stores (and plenty of restaurants to keep you fueled up on your shopping spree).

Kolaportid Flea Market is a great place to find unique items you won't find in retail stores. Only open during the weekends. Keep in mind that most of the sellers at Kolaportid prefer to be paid with cash, while a few accept cards. 

That about sums up our recommendations on what to wear for your trip to Iceland! Did we miss any important information? Do you have any clothing-related adventure stories from your time in Iceland? Please let us know in the comments below!

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