What are the essentials when packing for a trip to Iceland? Does it depend on the season? What do most travellers forget to bring?

What are the essentials when packing for a trip to Iceland? Should your travel bag reflect the season, and what items do most travellers forget to bring on their trip? How much space should you set aside for warm clothing layers, and are there any specific items you might need for certain activities in Iceland? Read on to discover every little thing to know about how to pack your bags for travel in Iceland

So the day has nearly arrived... you’re going to Iceland, but you have absolutely no idea what to pack. Naturally, the name Ice-land has given you some indication as to the clothing that might be required, and 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, we can begin compiling everything we'll need.

Obviously, 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 collating some of the essential items for your trip. So what are we waiting for? It's time to discover what to pack for travel in Iceland!


What to Pack for the Icelandic Winter?  

Iceland really only has two seasons, cold summer and colder winter. Summertime is considered to be June, July and August, and although May and September could arguably be called spring and autumn, you should still prepare like it is wintertime.

Icelandic winters are normally around 0°C, though temperatures will vary between -10°C up to +10°C. Given such numbers, it comes as a surprise to many people that Iceland is not incredibly cold, at least as not as cold as the name implies. That's not to suggest it doesn't get chilly for good portions of the year (and never forget to counter for the windchill factor!), but we're not talking sub-arctic conditions. 

This is what Icelandic winter might look like!

To put it as frankly as possible, Iceland's wind is the most tempestuous factor of an Icelandic winter. Whether it is a gentle breeze or a full-blown storm, gust is in no short supply here; despite Iceland not really being that cold, the wind can be cutting and cruel, making it feel a lot chillier than the temperature would at first suggest. 

This windchill is an illusory beast; those staying within the sheltered confines of the country's capital might, at first, underestimate its power, only to realise once they're hiking just how cold they have become. That is why it is always advised to bring warm layers with you wherever you go—there's no telling what the Icelandic weather is capable of! 

So, the wind is the enemy, that much is clear. To combat it, the below box contains a list of items that make a world of difference, keeping you comfortable even after hours of exposure. Everything in the list is perfectly suited for the wintertime and thus are considered essential items. 

Wintertime packing list:

WINDPROOF/RAINPROOF COAT - This is an extremely important purchase; there are numerous outlets in Reykjavik that sell quality outdoor gear designed to withstand the harsh Icelandic elements. 
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 will likely even want to wear two pairs, meaning you’ll want double the number of socks packed. 
HAT, GLOVES, SCARF - Oh, these are far more than fashionable accessories in Iceland. In fact, 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 certain to take them wherever you’re heading. 
JUMPERS - In terms of torso coverage, don’t forget the obvious items like tee-shirts and vests. However, the most important is, of course, the jumper. Try to bring a few woollen sweatshirts with you; if you fail to do so, the traditional Icelandic jumper, the lopapeysa, can be purchased in numerous stores around the country and makes for a wonderful souvenir. 
THERMAL LAYERS - Specifically designed thermal wear, be it leggings or a tight pullover, are a must during the wintertime, providing insulation impossible to achieve otherwise. It’s always a good idea to bring a number of thermal layers with you as, again, they can make the difference between enjoying your holiday or not. 
LIP BALM - During the wintertime, people’s lips will often dry out, providing them with an uncomfortable irritation. A handy chapstick will make this a non-issue from the get-go. While on the subject of drying up, bring a bottle of moisturiser may also prove to be a wise idea, as well as sun-screen (!) in case you head out to the glaciers on a sunny day.
BATHING SUIT - You might not be thinking of packing a bathing suit for a winter trip to Iceland, but the country has numerous hot springs, spas and swimming pools full of hot tubs and saunas. And you don't want to miss out on this integral part of Iceland's culture. Blue Lagoon or Secret Lagoon anyone? 

What to Pack for the Icelandic Summer?  

The Icelandic summertime is a wonderful affair, a respite from the dark winters that seem to linger on for an eternity. The Midnight Sun is one of the season's biggest natural attractions, providing visitors with an omnipresent daylight that, quite simply, seems to elongate the holiday experience to no end. At the height of summer—just around June 21st (the summer solstice)—visitors can expect 24 hours of sunlight, because although the sun does set for an hour or so, the daylight lingers for that time. 

The most photographed mountain in Iceland, Kirkjufell.

The never-ending daylight in summer is great for sightseeing, but sleep is a different matter entirely. Many locals take to blacking out their bedroom windows during the summer as a means of preserving the darkness, but unfortunately, this is not an easy option in hotels.

If you find it hard to sleep when there's daylight outside, an eye-mask is a safe bet, allowing you to get those precious hours of slumber we all so desperately need. 

Besides the obvious trousers, t-shirts, socks, underwear, shoes, jumpers/sweaters, a warm jacket and your best party outfit for the Reykjavík Nightlife, here are some other useful items you'll find necessary during your summer stay.

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 opportune time to do your best Elton John impression, flicking out the Hollywood shades for that extra protection, and extra swag. 
SUNTAN LOTION - This might come as something of a surprise given the climate, but the sun’s ultraviolet rays are 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, especially when visiting mighty waterfalls such as Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss or Dettifoss, when the mist from the waterfall can easily soak you.

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.

The colourful, kaleidoscopic landscape of Landmannalaugar—roundly considered to be Iceland's premier hiking location—draws ramblers from around the world, providing a cheap and natural experience that is authentically Icelandic.

The Central Highlands is considered to be Iceland's best hiking locations.

Of course, there are numerous hiking trails around Iceland; quite frankly, there are far too many to name. But, aside from Landmannalaugar and the Central Highlands, prospective ramblers could choose to explore the spectacular Reykjanes Peninsula, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, in the Westfjords, Þórsmörk Valley,Snæfellsnes Peninsula or even the trails of East Iceland. 

MAPS - Using an old, 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 of getting into the spirit of hiking and provides an added security should either 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 roads.
COMPASS - Again, this is not enormously essential 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. 
BOTTLED WATER - Don’t let dehydration get the better of you! While it’s true that many of Iceland’s rivers and streams are clean and drinkable, it’s still advised to bring at least one bottle of water for your hike to be refilled along the way. 
ENERGY SNACKS - Having a few energy packed granola bars is never a bad idea; make sure to bring snacks that will fuel your body throughout the hike. There are very few shops, and far between in the Icelandic highlands and along hiking trails.
STURDY HIKING BOOTS - This is, arguably, the most important inclusion to your pack list; even during the summer, attempts to hike in flip-flops, heels or work shoes will almost always end in disaster. A sturdy pair of hiking boots allows you to tackle the terrain with ease and save you from any potential ankle or foot 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 need it for photographs, navigation or even calling people away from the trail (especially in an emergency situation.)

Looking over the landscape in Landmannalaugar

If you’re going hiking with ambitions to spend some time overnight, then you will need to bring camping equipment with you. Remember, along most of the hiking trails in Iceland, there are no shops, nor are there any permanent homes or gas stations; frankly, this demands that everything you might need will have to be brought along with you. 

A TENT - Any overnight stay requires shelter; take extra care when choosing a tent that can stand up to the ferocity of the Icelandic nature, and ensure that you purchase or rent a tent large enough for the full hiking party.
SLEEPING BAG - This one goes without saying; even though camping is not the most comfortable activity in the world, there’s no reason not to accept every little bit of cosiness available to you on the trail. After all, a good night’s sleep means good hiking tomorrow. 
CAMPING MATTRESS - This is an item that slips into the tent and thus works as a normal mattress and as isolation from the cold ground. Camping mattresses can be folded, packed and carried with relative ease. 
FOOD/COOKING UTENSILS - As previously mentioned, everything that you will be eating and drinking (save the glacial spring water) will need to be brought on the hike with you. 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 widely 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!

Are We Forgetting Anything?  

Make sure to write up your own check list before heading to the airport. It could very save your trip!

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 here at Guide To Iceland would recommend that the below items 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 tangible version of your flight tickets. It's always good to know your exact boarding and departure times, and remember to check which terminal (and which airport) you're departing from.
TOUR VOUCHERS - A fundamental part of the Icelandic experience is to partake in one or more of the country’s popular activities. Whether its 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, 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, it is always appreciated when guests take an interest in Icelandic and you'll certainly be appreciated for your effort.
CREDIT/DEBIT CARD - If you're looking to purchase anything—literally, anything at all—then you will need some cash with you. Some choose to take out a bundle of Icelandic Krona, others choose to pay solely by card, thus following the Icelandic tradition of being "a plastic player." 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 certain 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 in Iceland; after all, you never know when a hot pool might turn up. 

Hvitserkur is a popular sight for those travelling in Iceland.

Did we forget something? What did you find were the most useful items that you packed for your trip to Iceland and is there anything that you wish you had brought that you didn't? Please, make sure to leave your thoughts and queries in the Facebook Comment's box below!