So you’ve booked a dream holiday to Iceland and the time to pack is approaching, but you’re still not quite sure what to take with you. Whether you’re planning to stay solely in Reykjavik, would like to travel the whole ring road or you want to hike remote areas in the Highlands, and whether you plan to travel in summer, winter, spring or fall; this guide will cover all you need to know about packing for Iceland.
So the day has nearly arrived: you’re going to Iceland, but you have no idea what to pack. Naturally, the name Ice-land has given you some indication as to the clothing that might be required. Only a basic level of research will tell you to expect all kinds of weather in Iceland, no matter the season. From these fundamental assumptions, you can begin compiling a list of everything you'll need for your trip.
What you pack for a trip to Iceland is entirely dependent on certain factors; what you will be doing while you're here? In which season will you be arriving? How long will be you staying in Iceland and are you planning on sleeping in a hotel or camping out? Will you be purchasing your outdoor gear when you arrive or are you bringing it from home?
Thankfully, you don't have to answer these questions alone! Below, we have included a seasonal check-list of what to wear in Iceland and how to pack for your trip. So what are we waiting for? It's time to discover what to pack for travel in Iceland!
Essential Items to Pack for Iceland
When you plan a trip to Iceland, it’s likely that your mind is focused solely on all the fun and adventure that awaits.
Regardless of whether you plan to stick to sights of the Golden Circle, or you decide to explore more remote areas such as the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords or Þórsmörk Valley in South Iceland; it can be hard to know what to wear in Iceland. Whatever you pack will be unique to your individual plans.
However, there are some things that are essential to pack, no matter what season you choose to arrive or what you plan to do when you get here:
Layers of Clothing
Thermal Tops and Leggings
Only a basic level of research will tell you to expect all kinds of weather in Iceland, no matter the season. This does, however, make packing difficult.
Whatever else you do, don’t forget the basics! Passports, tickets, credit cards, your driving license and tour vouchers are easy to forget amidst the chaos of packing for an exciting trip.
If you are planning to rent a car or take a self-drive tour, you will, of course, need your driving license with you. Specific tours, such as ATV & buggy tours or snowmobiling also require you to see your driving license before they’ll let you take charge of the vehicle.
You’ll also want to make sure you bring all the electricals you need, plus adapters for Iceland’s Europlug sockets (typical European sockets).
As for clothing; whatever time of year you plan to arrive in Iceland, you’ll want to pack plenty of layers of clothing, a wind/waterproof coat and some sturdy hiking boots.
Come rain or shine, you’ll find locals enjoying the swimming pools and geothermal baths. A swimming costume should be brought with you wherever you travel to Iceland; after all, you never know when a hot pool might turn up.
You’ll also not want to miss out on a visit to Iceland’s stunning Blue Lagoon on your visit, or even the Myvatn nature baths travelling round in the north. Relaxing in these geothermal hot spots can be the perfect way to start, break up or end your trip, so don’t forget your swimming costume.
This is only a summary of some key items to pack for travel in Iceland. Read on to find out more specific recommendations for each season and activity, tailored to when you plan to travel to Iceland and what you intend to do when you arrive.
What to Pack for Iceland in Summer
The Icelandic summer provides a welcome respite from the dark winters that only start to brighten after the winter solstice (December 21st). The changes in the weather provide some stark seasonal contrasts.
The Midnight Sun is one of the summer's most significant natural attractions you could witness. This spectacle begins after the summer solstice around June 21st. As you can imagine this makes travelling to Iceland in July extremely popular.
During the beautiful summer months, visitors can expect 24 hours of sunlight because although the sun does set for an hour or so, the daylight lingers.
Though the weather doesn’t always feel traditionally like summer in Iceland, summertime is considered to be June, July and August.
Summer packing is not easy given that Icelanders are used to experiencing all four seasons in a day. You have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst when visiting our shores.
There are some obvious items you’ll want to take with you: trousers, t-shirts, socks, underwear, shoes (you’ll want boots if you’re leaving Reykjavik), jumpers/sweaters and your best party outfit for the Reykjavík Nightlife.
It’s also worth noting that summer is really the only season in Iceland that it’s worth bringing over any formal ‘going out’ shoes with you. If you bring this type of footwear in other seasons you may be prone to a couple of slips in both the city and countryside due to the frequently icy ground. In all other seasons, footwear should solely be focused on practical sturdy shoes with excellent grip to help avoid any unnecessary accidents.
Summer Accessories Packing List
HATS/CAPS - Even though it's summer, it doesn't necessarily mean it will be warm. Caps can also be helpful when it comes to blotting out the sun’s gaze on sunny days.
SUNGLASSES - Practical and stylish, your summer holiday is the perfect time to do your best Elton John impression. Flick out the Hollywood shades for extra protection and extra swag.
SUNTAN LOTION - This one might come as something of a surprise given the climate. However, the sun’s ultraviolet rays are just as concerning here as anywhere else. Try telling that to Icelanders however; come the sun, the local population leaps outside like flies on honey.
RAINGEAR - Even when the weather does play along, it's still convenient to have some raingear along with you. When visiting mighty waterfalls such as Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss or Dettifoss, the mist from the waterfall can quickly soak you.
What to Pack for Iceland in Autumn
Fall, or Autumn, in Iceland is short but sweet. By the end of August, the trees start to turn orange and brown, and by the end of September, the country will be braced for the winter ahead.
The temperature will likely be cool (below 9°C or 50°F) and the winds usually pick up, making it feel colder than you might expect. This season, in particular, can be tricky when deciding on what to bring to Iceland.
Packing for Iceland in Autumn is tricky because the country tends to get a lot of what is known locally as “window weather”. This means that it can look like a pleasant day from the inside when it’s actually much cooler outside often due to wind-chill.
If you’re planning a visit to Iceland in Autumn, this is a list of the items we highly recommend you bring with you when visiting our shores:
Autumn Accessories Packing List
WATERPROOF JACKET - During Autumn statistically the rainy days start to return and the temperature starts to drop again. You’ll need to make sure you have a waterproof coat with you at all times should the weather not be favourable to you.
JUMPERS/SWEATERS - you will definitely need a warm jumper when exploring Iceland during autumn. The temperatures start to drop quickly as Iceland transitions into wintertime, so it’s important you pack for the cold.
WATERPROOF SHOES - As there’s an increased likelihood of more rainfall and if you’re planning on exploring Iceland's stunning waterfalls, it’s essential to keep your feet warm and dry, particularly during Autumn.
What to Pack for the Icelandic Winter
Icelandic winters usually are around 0°C, though temperatures will vary between -10°C up to +10°C.
The winds in Iceland can be cutting and cruel. Whether it is a gentle breeze or a full-blown storm, gusts are in no short supply here. They can make it feel a lot chillier than the temperature would at first suggest.
It’s much more important to focus on bringing layers of clothing with you than an expensive parka jacket. Using layers helps to keep you fully insulated and also allows you to remove or add layers when needed, based on the winter conditions you encounter.
Wintertime packing list
WINDPROOF/RAINPROOF COAT - This is an essential purchase. There are numerous outlets in Reykjavik that sell quality outdoor gear designed to withstand the harsh Icelandic elements. You'll want a super cosy fleece-lined one if you plan to stay out late to catch the Northern Lights.
WOOL SOCKS - There is nothing worse in the world than cold feet. Wool is the best material for heat insulation, so make sure to bring enough pairs to last you throughout the trip. If you’re planning on hiking or spending elongated periods outdoors, you’ll want to wear two pairs of socks every day. So be sure to prepare and pack double the number of socks.
WINTER HAT, GLOVES, SCARF - Oh, these are far more than fashionable accessories in Iceland. They’re lifesavers, the difference between comfort and pain. Make sure to get practical items (i.e., no fingerless gloves, bandanas or satin scarves) and be sure to take them wherever you’re heading.
JUMPERS - In terms of torso coverage, don’t forget the obvious stuff like tee-shirts, long-sleeved shirts and vests. However, the most important thing is, of course, the jumpers. Try to bring a few woollen sweatshirts with you. Alternatively, the traditional Icelandic jumper, the lopapeysa, can be purchased in stores around the country and makes for a beautiful souvenir.
THERMAL LAYERS - Specifically designed thermal wear, be it leggings or a tight pullover, are a must during the wintertime. They provide levels of insulation impossible to achieve otherwise. It’s always a good idea to bring several thermal layers with you as they can make the difference between enjoying your holiday or not.
LIP BALM - During the wintertime people’s lips will often dry out and become irritated. A handy chapstick will make this a non-issue from the get-go. While on the subject of dry skin, it may be wise to pack some moisturiser and sunscreen. Both of these could protect your skin on windy, cold and/or sunny days.
BATHING SUIT - You might not be thinking of packing a bathing suit for a winter trip to Iceland. However, it's useful in Iceland. The country has numerous hot springs, spas and swimming pools. In fact, this is an integral part of Icelandic culture. Blue Lagoon or Secret Lagoon anyone?
BOOTS - The combination of Iceland's varied terrain and the strong likelihood of a snowy forecast make packing a sturdy pair of boots a good idea. These could be snowshoes, waterproof hiking boots or other winter boots. And don't worry - Icelanders prefer casual dress so you won't look out of place wearing these out in the evening, too.
Spring in Iceland is almost as short as fall. It starts in April and continues through May and into June. The North Atlantic puffins begin to make their way to the island and start nesting in cliffs by the shore.
The temperature is a cool 0 to 10°C and you can expect some rain and wind, and even sometimes some snow showers. But the country is beautiful at this time of year.
In May, it’s common to start seeing the famous purple lupin plant appear. This will blossom throughout the summer months of June and July and can make for some stunning colours as you travel around the country.
Spring is the perfect time to take a self-drive tour around Iceland’s golden circle and Snæfellsnes Peninsula or venture out on the water with a boat tour. With these boat excursions, you can explore glaciers, sea animals (such as whales and seals), and experience some more hard-to-reach areas of Iceland.
Also, while the weather is still cool, you can enjoy glacier hiking on some of Iceland’s staggering ice caps. However, if you are planning on taking advantage of activities such as these you’ll need to prepare the right packing list for Iceland.
Springtime packing list
HIKING BOOTS - Spring is the season when Iceland’s snow starts to melt away with the rising temperatures (though we still get snowfall sometimes!). This usually means the roads are clearer, the light lasts longer and the winds are less volatile, making it the perfect time to explore Iceland’s nature.
ANTIHISTAMINES - Though Iceland doesn’t have a lot of forestries, we still have plenty of pollen. For those of you with allergies springtime, in particular, is the season to bring your antihistamines from home.
BASE LAYERS - Base layers are essential for most seasons in Iceland due to our lower than average temperatures. However, Icelanders notoriously see spring as a small window between winter and summer, meaning you’ll usually need to be prepared to keep wearing the warm clothes of winter during this time.
WARM/WATERPROOF JACKET - Spring in Iceland always has a likelihood of rain, as well as some days of snow showers. To make sure you’re prepared always remember to bring a warm and waterproof jacket on your journey over.
Hiking is an incredibly popular activity during the summer, given it is the only time of the year that the spectacular Central Highlands are accessible to visitors.
Of course, there are numerous places to go hiking in Iceland. Quite frankly, there are far too many to name.
The colourful landscape of Landmannalaugar draws ramblers from around the world, providing a cheap and natural experience that is authentically Icelandic. But prospective ramblers could choose to explore the spectacular Reykjanes Peninsula or trek the remote trails of East Iceland.
MAPS - Using a hard-copy map seems a tad outdated nowadays, given the explosion of digital navigation and GPS. However, using an actual map is an excellent way to stay safe and on track should you get lost on the trail, or your digital GPS fails. Google maps are also not very up to date when it comes to Icelandic trails and many of the roads outside of the ring road.
COMPASS - This is not a totally essential item as the trails in Iceland are generally signposted and easy to follow. If you happen to fancy yourself as a true adventurer though, then a compass should be an integral part of your kit.
REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE - Don’t let dehydration get the better of you! Start the day with a full bottle of water that you can then refill in one of Iceland’s rivers and streams that are clean and drinkable.
ENERGY SNACKS - Having a few granola bars is never a bad idea. Make sure to bring snacks that will fuel your body throughout the hike. Shops are very few and far between in the Icelandic highlands and along hiking trails.
STURDY HIKING BOOTS - This is, arguably, the most crucial thing to pack for a trip to Iceland. Even during the summer, attempts to hike in flip-flops, heels or work shoes will almost always end in disaster. A good pair of hiking boots will allow you to tackle the terrain with ease and save you from any potential injuries.
YOUR MOBILE PHONE - What are the chances you won’t have this anyway? Be sure that your mobile is fully charged before setting out. You may want it for photographs, or need it for navigation or calling people (especially in an emergency situation).
Remember, along most of the hiking trails in Iceland, there are no shops, nor are there any permanent homes or gas stations. Frankly, this means that everything you might need will have to be brought along with you in your waterproof hiking pack.
A TENT - Any overnight stay requires shelter. Take extra care when choosing a tent that you want one that can stand up to the ferocity of the Icelandic nature.
SLEEPING BAG - This one goes without saying. Camping is not the most comfortable activity in the world, so there is no reason to skimp out on any small comfort available. After all, a good night’s sleep means a great day of hiking tomorrow.
CAMPING MATTRESS - This is an item that slips into the tent. It both works as a regular mattress and as isolation from the cold ground. Camping mattresses can be folded, packed and carried with relative ease.
FOOD/COOKING UTENSILS - Everything that you will be eating and drinking (save the glacial spring water), you will need to bring with you on the hike. Ensure that you have enough food to last you for the full trip. As for utensils, it is wise to bring a cooking stove, pans, cutlery, cups, a spatula and plates.
TOILET ROLL / PLASTIC BAGS - Public toilets on the hiking trails in Iceland are sparse, if not non-existent. That, naturally, means one must do the business out in the wild. However, Icelanders are incredibly proud of their environment and so appreciate when guests clean up after themselves. The plastic bags are for doing just that!
Extra Gear Needed When Camping on Hiking Trails
So, you're feeling pretty prepared, but there's no shaking that overlying feeling that you've forgotten something important.
Well, fear not, because we've yet to run through some of the essential items for your trip. We recommend that the below details are kept as safe and secure at all times so that no hiccups should occur during your trip:
PASSPORT - You’re going to feel like a right silly sausage if you arrive at the airport without this bad boy. And that’s putting it lightly.
BOARDING PASS/TICKETS - Make sure you have your e-ticket ready, or even a physical version of your flight tickets. It's always good to know your exact boarding and departure times, and remember to check from which terminal (and which airport) you're departing.
TOUR VOUCHERS - A fundamental part of the Icelandic experience is to partake in one or more of the country’s popular activities. Whether it's scuba diving, glacier hiking or horseback riding, make sure to bring a confirmation of your booking.
ELECTRICS - Nowadays, we’ve all become slaves to the machines. Out of respect for their global dominance, make sure to pack all of your chargers, adapters, cameras, Kindles, iPads, iPhones, laptops, MP3 players, tape-decks, Google glasses, microchips, etc.
ICELANDIC PHRASEBOOK - This one certainly isn't essential given that Icelanders speak fluent English. However, you're sure to be respected for your effort.
CREDIT/DEBIT CARD - It's common in Iceland to pay by card, although most places will take Icelandic Krona in cash. The Icelandic tradition of being "a plastic player" is now catching on with tourists. If you are renting a car, you will need to present a valid credit card.
DRIVING LICENSE - If you are planning to rent a vehicle and drive around the island, you will, of course, need your driving license with you. Even specific tours, such as ATV & Buggies, or Snowmobiling, also require that you display your driving license before partaking.
SWIMMING GEAR - Both in the winter and the summer, swimming gear is an essential piece of kit in Iceland. Whether you'll be bathing in a natural hot pool or spending time in one of the city's swimming complexes, make sure to pack your trunks and bikinis. These should be brought with you wherever you travel to Iceland; after all, you never know when a hot pool might turn up.
LAYERS OF CLOTHING - No matter the season, you can't go wrong with more layers of clothing. From outer layers of clothing to mid-layers and base layers. The weather is so fickle in Iceland that you'll want layers that you can put on or take off.
Did we forget something? What did you find were the most useful items that you packed for your trip to Iceland? Is there anything that you wish you had brought that you forgot? Please, make sure to leave your thoughts and queries in the Comment's box below!