Icelandic highlands

What should you pack when you go to Iceland? What’s the weather like? What should you expect in Iceland?

So you’re going to Iceland and don’t know what to pack? If you’ve done your research you’ll know that you can expect all kinds of weather in Iceland, no matter what the season. And the weather may change every few minutes, so in one day you can get sun, rain, snow and wind!

You may also know that Iceland isn’t as cold as the name suggests, often mentioned in a now almost classic saying: ‘Greenland’s ice and Iceland’s green’. Nonetheless, the Icelandic weather should be taken seriously.

If you're from Canada, you probably won't find it that cold, even in wintertime. If you're from Italy, you'll be freezing the whole time, even in summertime.

Obviously, what you pack for your trip in Iceland depends on what you will be doing, which season you’re coming for and how long you are staying.

Hopefully, this list can give you an idea of what to expect.

Contents
    1 -  The Icelandic Wind
    8 - Anything Else?

The Icelandic wind  

Iceland is windy. When I say windy, I don’t just mean a little breeze every now and then (which can be lovely) – but a full on storm occasionally, more likely to happen in the wintertime or in the highlands. Icelandic winters aren’t extremely cold temperature wise (normally around 0°C, maybe between -10°C up to +10°C) – but you’ll have to factor in the windchill.

There's also a difference between doing your everyday things in the city, or standing outside in the wild nature for hours looking out for the Northern Lights. So even if it's not crazy cold temperature wise outside, make sure you bring a lot of warm layers with you during wintertime!

Here's an idea for an all year round packing list besides your t-shirts, trousers, underwear and what you would generally pack:

A wind proof jacket - you'll need it!

Rainproof jacket and trousers - otherwise you'll get drenched when looking at waterfalls!

1 or 2 warm jumpers - the Icelandic wool jumper, lopapeysa, is perfect!

A set of thermals - even during summer, just in case. Handy if you are going snorkeling or hiking.

Wool socks - you'll need them in the highlands during summer and in town during winter.

Gloves - in summertime you'll need those for whale watching tours or horse back riding.

A warm hat - necessary in wintertime, convenient to have on camping trips in the summertime.

A scarf - if you're a scarf person ;)

Your swimsuit and towel - no matter what the season, you'll need this in your luggage!

Good hiking boots - especially if you're going to do some glacier activity.

The Icelandic Winter  

This is what Icelandic winter might look like!

For wintertime, you’ll need a warm jacket as well, perhaps a thick, down jacket if you have one. If you don’t have a thick jacket, then make sure you bring a few more jumpers and layer them on top of each other. Fleece and wool are good.

The positive thing about the Icelandic winter is that the cold is dry, so you can dress it off. There’s no such thing as cold weather, just being badly dressed.

Additional wintertime packing list:

Warm jacket - you'll thank me later.

Good, waterproof boots - it's likely you'll be walking in ice, snow or slush.

The Icelandic Summer  

Icelandic summernight

The summer has daylight 24/7 because of the midnight sun, so the temperature doesn't normally drop much in the nighttime, although it may drop a little bit. Make sure you bring your sunglasses during summertime, they're especially handy if you are driving. You might even get a tan!

The neverending daylight during summer is great for sightseeing - but if you find it hard to sleep when there's daylight outside, maybe you should bring an eye-mask, just in case there aren't any thick curtains in your accommodation. Waking up in the middle of the night and swearing at the sun won't make it go away!

The Pools and Hot Springs in Iceland  

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Even if you are coming to Iceland in the wintertime, still make sure that you pack your swimsuit!

Reykjavík has many swimming pools to choose from, and there are many swimming pools in the rest of the country. In addition to the warm swimming pools and their hot tubs (that are wonderful to soak in when it’s snowing!) you can choose between a variety of natural hot springs, pools, rivers and lagoons. 

You might want to check out the Blue Lagoon, Fontana Geothermal Baths or Mývatn Nature Baths for example.

Additionally, Silfra at Þingvellir National Park is an excellent snorkeling and diving site. Anyone can go snorkeling but divers will need to bring their certified diving licenses.

The Icelandic Landscape  

It would be good to get a picture of this blue ice!

The Icelandic landscape is stunning, pretty much wherever you go. If you like taking photos, don’t forget your camera or your phone, your charger and an extra memory card! If you are really into photography, then bring all your lenses and tripods and maybe consider going on a photography tour.

Batteries die quicker in cold weather, so bring some extra batteries as well. This will be exceptionally handy if you are planning on photographing the Northern Lights and are spending long amounts of time outside in the dark, cold night. It would be disappointing not to be able to catch the lights because you ran out of batteries!

Read more about the Northern Lights here.

Iceland has the standard European plug sockets, with two round prongs (220 volts). If you are coming from a country with a different type of an electrical outlet, you'll also need to pack an electric adaptor (or buy one in Iceland).

Going Hiking in Iceland?  

Looking over the landscape in Landmannalaugar

If you are going hiking in Iceland, be prepared for all kinds of weather.

If you are going on a tour that caters for your food and accommodation, then you don’t have to pack much. Just this:

Hiking boots - if it's a short and undemanding hike, you might be able to get away with sneakers. If you are hiking demanding trails or mountains, make sure you've got proper hiking boots with you.

Good socks - if your shoes are new, you might want to bring thin socks underneath.

Thermals - completely necessary. Maybe you won't need to wear it - but you should definitely bring it!

Hiking trousers - the day might start off sunny but turn colder later in the day.

Shorts - some days are really sunny and warm and then it's useful to have light clothing.

Couple of thin and breathable jumpers - good to have an extra one in case the other one gets wet and cold (from rain or sweat).

One warm (wool or fleece) jumper - to put on when you stop walking and your body gets colder.

A windproof jacket - there's a high chance it will be windy!

A rainproof jacket - both good for the rain and to go near waterfalls!

Gloves

A hat (or headwarmer)

Your swimsuit and a towel - it's very likely that you'll go bathing somewhere on a hiking trip!

Instant heat pack - great to instantly warm up your shoes, sleeping bag or to carry on you!

A good backpack - to keep all your stuff in, don't carry it around in a side bag or plastic bags as it will tire you and it's not good for your body.

If you’re going hiking alone or just with some friends, then in addition you’ll need a tent, sleeping bag, mattress, cooking utensils (gas stove, gas, a pot, cutlery, plate, cup) and you’ll need to buy all of your food and carry it with you since there are hardly any shops in the highlands and on most hiking trails – but note that you don’t need any water purification tablets!

You might not even have to bring large amounts of water with you – depending on where the hike is. On many hikes you'll be able to drink pure spring water, straight from the ground.

Also note that you'll need to bring your own toilet paper AND small bags to pick up your, ahem, leftovers. Don't leave any trace in the Icelandic nature (that includes cigarette stubs and human waste!), Icelanders hate to see their nature spoiled.

Read more about hiking in Iceland here.

Staying in Reykjavík?  

Reykjavík during New Year's Eve

Iceland is fashionable and Reykjavík is a lively city, full of people eager to impress with their street style. You’ll find a number of design shops in Reykjavík and you’ll probably quickly notice the difference between the locals and the tourists. If you want to blend in with the tourists, then wear your brightly coloured raincoat and khaki trousers with a big camera and a lost look on your face.

Reykjavík street fashion

(Photo credit: Iceland Design Centre blog)

If you on the other hand want to blend in with the locals, wear your smart jeans, shirts and leather jackets in the summer (or a nice top or a dress for the ladies) and layer up with wool and fur (or fake fur) in the wintertime (preferably in a cool design).

The Icelandic lopapeysa is always popular, both with locals and tourists. You can get an Icelandic wool jumper/sweater in different designs, shapes and colours, although earthly colours are the most popular ones.

People like to dress up for the nightlife, guys wear suit jackets and bowties or ties with smart jeans, girls wear printed tights and a dress or a designer top. Black is common but don't be afraid to wear some colour. Feel free to take risks with your style, you'll still blend in like a local.

Anything else?  

And then there are the obvious things, such as passport, phone, information on where you are staying, practical guide on how to pronounce Icelandic place names (good luck with that!), flight ticket and your wallet. Sunscreen is also handy, especially if you go on a glacier hike.

If you are planning on driving you'll need your driving license

You can pay for anything, everywhere with a credit or debit card, so there’s not really any need to take Icelandic cash with you (and it may prove difficult to get some in your home country!)

Did we forget something? :)