A mountainous landscape in Iceland

What are the travel essentials to pack when planning a trip to Iceland? How do you know what to wear in winter and summer? What hiking gear should you bring if you’re planning to explore the dramatic landscapes of Iceland? This article is your one-stop-shop for all you need to know about packing for your trip to Iceland, whatever the season.

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!


What to Pack for the Icelandic Winter?  

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

Icelandic winters usually are around 0°C, though temperatures will vary between -10°C up to +10°C. It comes as a surprise to many people that Iceland is not incredibly cold, at least as not as severe as the name implies. That's not to suggest it doesn't get chilly for good portions of the year, but we're not talking sub-arctic conditions. 

Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, in Winter

Iceland's wind is the most turbulent factor of an Icelandic winter. Whether it is a gentle breeze or a full-blown storm, gust is in no short supply here. The winds can be cutting and cruel, making it feel a lot chillier than the temperature would at first suggest. 

This windchill is a deceptive beast. Those staying within the sheltered confines of the country's capital might, at first, underestimate its power. However, they're quick 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 to expect with Icelandic weather! 

So, the wind is the enemy, that much is clear. The below box contains a list of items that make a world of difference, keeping you comfortable even after hours of exposure. There are so many things to do when visiting Iceland in winter that you won't want to miss out because of inadequate clothing. From Golden Circle tours to exploring Ice Caves; you want to make sure you're well prepared for your Iceland adventure holiday.

Everything in the list is ideally suited for the wintertime and thus are considered essential items. 

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.

What to Pack for the Icelandic Summer?  

The Icelandic summertime is a beautiful affair, a respite from the dark winters that seem to linger on for an eternity. The Midnight Sun is one of the season's most significant natural attractions. Visitors enjoy omnipresent daylight that appears to enhance the holiday experience to no end.

Summer solstice tends to fall around June 21st. At this point, visitors can expect 24 hours of sunlight because although the sun does set for an hour or so, the daylight lingers for that time. 

Kirkjufell, in West Iceland, at sunset

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. This helps them get a good night sleep during the summer months, but of course, may not be possible in all hotels.

If you find it hard to sleep when there's daylight outside, a sleeping mask is a safe bet. A good nights sleep will prepare you well for a day full of adventure. 

Besides the obvious: trousers, t-shirts, socks, underwear, shoes, jumpers/sweaters, a warm rain jacket and your best party outfit for the Reykjavík Nightlife. There are also some other useful items you'll find necessary to include in your summer packing.

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.

Packing for Hiking in Iceland

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 landscape of Landmannalaugar draws ramblers from around the world, providing a cheap and natural experience that is authentically Icelandic.

Landmannalaugar, Iceland Highlands, is a great location for hiking

Of course, there are numerous hiking trails around Iceland. Quite frankly, there are far too many to name. But 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 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).

Man sitting looking at the landscape at 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 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!

Did We Forget Anything?  

The Northern Lights displaying over a mountain range in Iceland

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.

Hvitserkur in Northwest Iceland.

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 Facebook Comment's box below!