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HOW TO PACK FOR ICELAND LIKE A BOSS

Mary Kujawski
how to pack for iceland

You’re going to Iceland! Beautiful, glorious, unpredictable Iceland.

First: how exciting! You are going to absolutely adore Iceland.

Careful, though: You might even fall in love! I sure did!

Second: You’re probably wondering what on Earth to pack.

Yes?

Let’s explore this a bit.

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WHAT’S ICELAND LIKE?

Iceland is a place where Mother Nature is exceedingly temperamental. It’s common to hear among locals that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes!

According to my fuzzy math, guess then how many times the weather changes in Iceland on any given day, according to this common narrative?

It changes 288 times.

288!

And, if my own experience in Iceland is any indication, I emphatically agree. A couple examples from my own travels come to mind.

Picture this: I’m spending one lovely, sunny afternoon in Reykjavík walking along the shop-lined street of Laugavegur. It’s a balmy 50 degrees with little wind and, if memory serves me right, not a cloud in the sky. I dip into a storefront and am examining a small stuffed puffin in my hand when suddenly, a loud thunderous ruckus beckons us shoppers. Confused, we peer out the window to a scene I shall never forget.

It was hailing.

Hailing, I say!

By the time I left the shop, the sky was clear once again, the sun shining bright. Any evidence of the aforementioned apocalyptic hailstorm was nearly melted. It was almost as if it had all just been a figment of my imagination. It was, to put it lightly, totally and utterly bizarre!

how to pack for a road trip in iceland
In beautiful downtown Reykjavík immediately following the hailstorm. Check out that clear sky!
Note: My hot pink fleece was the perfect light jacket layer to have in Iceland AND I was easy to pick out from any crowd! A twofer!

At another point in my travels we were driving along the stunning south coast. The wind was mild, the sun again shining. All was right in the world on this beautiful Icelandic spring day.

Literal moments later we drove through heavy, accumulated snow that had just freshly fallen. It was as if we had ventured through a strange Outlander portal to another snow-covered dimension and, just as quickly as we had entered, exited out.

So.

In Iceland? To summarize?

The weather be CRAY.

There’s just no other word! You’ve got to be prepared for anything!

But how do I do that, you might be asking? How do I prepare for my trip and make sure I bring the right stuff?

There’s no question that having the right gear with you is paramount to having a fantastic Iceland experience, and that’s exactly what I hope you’ll have.

So, without further ado, let’s dig in, shall we?

FIRST THINGS FIRST: CHECK WITH YOUR AIRLINE

So, you’ve booked your flight and now you’re wondering what to pack. It’s good you’re thinking this through!

Thinking it through is half the battle!

I recommend first checking with your airline to see what your suitcase and carry on limitations are. Chances are you’re going to need every last inch, pound, and bag allotted to you. It’s downright tricky packing for the myriad scenarios you may encounter in Iceland.

This isn’t a toss-your-bikini-and-flipflops-in-a-straw-tote type of locale!

Jamaica, Iceland is not!

You know what I’m sayin’, mon?

Iceland is more of a pack-everything-and-the-kitchen-sink sort of destination.

So, kitchen sink aside, let’s “unpack” what in my mind are the essentials.

WHAT TO BRING: FOOTWEAR

Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots

If you plan to hike and explore to any degree, you will want footwear that has good traction and will keep your feet warm and protected. I wore boots like this and they worked like a charm. I lived in these things in Iceland! Price can vary depending on brand so do some research and don’t be afraid to shop for a deal!

Just as important as your hiking boots: wool socks. Cotton and other fabrics can’t provide the warmth of wool and might contribute to blisters.

The aim? Keep those feet cozy and protected! Happy feet = happy trekker!

Water shoes

Another thing I recommend is a pair of water shoes with good traction. These are perfect for entering the natural geothermal pools (like my visit to the Reykjadalur hot river) as you will most likely be traversing rocks and rough terrain. You’ll appreciate the extra foot protection! These are usually quite thin and can be tossed into a backpack. Easy peasy!

Casual kicks

Don’t forget your favorite casual shoes for the airplane and strolling around city centers! There will be times you won’t find yourself hiking a mountain trail, navigating a rocky beach, or climbing atop a glacier! Sometimes exploring shops, museums, and restaurants reigns supreme!

Iceland has it all, after all!

WHAT TO BRING: CLOTHING

I can sum up what to bring for clothing in a simple word: LAYERS.

Layers, layers, layers.

Then pack some more layers.

Also?  

LAYERS.

Joking aside, the need for layers is truly no joke. In Iceland I switched up my outerwear constantly. One minute I was needing a hat and mittens, the next I was unzipping my jacket or removing my sweatshirt because I was too hot. And if rain enters the picture (spoiler: it will), you’re going to want to be prepared.

So many layers, so little time!

A LAYERS CHECKLIST:

A windproof and waterproof shell with hood

You’ll be so glad you brought this. Sometimes you’ll need it, other times you’ll be fine without. Keep it in your backpack and you’ll be golden either way!

A packable down jacket and/or vest with hood

The wind can be a fright in Iceland! Even on a sunny, mild day the wind can create a chill. A packable down can be smushed down to nothing, making this easy to take with you and perfect to throw on when you need a little extra warmth.

Fleece jacket or sweatshirt

Of all the layers, this one was a constant for me. Just the right amount of warmth to stay cozy during our days spent exploring.

Shirts

I brought a variety of dri-fit shirts in different lengths: long sleeve, short, and even a couple tanks. Mix and match your layer needs depending on the day and what you have planned!

Hiking Pants

If you’re going to be actively exploring in Iceland (and I hope you will be!), then nothing beats a great pair of breathable hiking pants! They can withstand rugged conditions and are quick-drying, allowing you to stay nice and comfortable. This is the end-all, be-all goal!

Waterproof pants

Iceland loves its precipitation! And the thing about all those gorgeous Icelandic waterfalls? They are really quite wet!

Throw on a pair of waterproof pants over your other clothing and you’ll be able to weather any rainstorm or close encounter with Iceland’s falls.

Because you just know you’re going to want to get the perfect waterfall shot, and such things can’t be achieved from a distance. Am I right?!

Thermal underwear

You may never use this depending on the time of year you go to Iceland and the weather conditions. Still, I think it’s handy to have at least one pair with you, especially for those times you know you’ll be out in the elements for an extended period of time hiking or on an excursion.

Best to plan for the worst, hope for the best! Iceland mantra!

Hat

You will need this, you will need this, you will need this! Get yourself a good one that will keep your noggin and ears warm! I feel like a hat is the link between either a miserable, cold time or a stellar, comfortable one.

Bring a hat, bring on the stellar!

Mittens/Gloves

The key is to have a pair that are warm, waterproof, and allow you ample dexterity. I recommend trying a bunch on to find the perfect pair for you.

Sunglasses

Keep the sun out of your eyes or the snow from blinding you. Bonus? Look cool doing it!

And as a general rule of thumb for any/all of the above: skip the cotton. Think quick drying, breathable, insulating fabrics. It makes all the difference!

How to pack for a road trip in Iceland
I’m wearing it ALL in this picture: hiking pants and boots, wool socks, a fleece, a waterproof shell, a packable down, and my trusty hat!
What did this make me? Happy as a lark to be at Kirkjufell mountain! The wind and cold were no match for me!

And a final side-note/suggestion:

Iceland has some terrific outerwear shops. Perhaps the most well-known and popular brand among locals is 66°North. This is a renowned spot to pick up a practical souvenir that you know will be put to good use when you’re in Iceland! I truly regret not picking up some merch during my visit.

Methinks it’s time to go back to Iceland and remedy this, wouldn’t you say?

WHAT TO BRING: MISCELLANEOUS

Converter/Adapter

My husband brought this along on our trip and it was a lifesaver! Plug into one outlet and you’ll have plenty of spots to charge all your devices, from smart phones and watches, to cameras, video cameras, go pros, etc.

Beyond handy!

Packable Towel

If you plan on doing any bathing while in Iceland (and you should! The geothermal energy is incredible and there is no shortage of spots to try!), then this will be your best friend. It’s thin enough that it won’t take up a ton of space and it will be incredibly useful for those au natural pools you’re sure to come across.

Reusable Water Bottle

Iceland has some of the freshest, most delicious water on the whole planet. You think you’ve tasted water before? Please. You haven’t tasted anything until you’ve had Icelandic water! Save the environment and your money: there is absolutely no need to purchase bottled water in this beautiful country. Zilch!

A backpack with rain cover

Chances are good that if you’re going to Iceland you are going to venture out of the city at some point. There’s a world of wonder awaiting your exploration! You will want to have this for your travels to keep essentials with you, such as a water bottle, light snacks, a change of clothes/layers, etc. And this item can be packed nice and flat in your luggage!

Don’t forget the rain cover. Precipitation in some form is almost a near given in Iceland, no matter the day.

A waterproof means of taking quality pictures/video

Iceland is a photographer’s dream. It is chock full of serious landscape porn. You are going to want to take quality pictures/video of all the magic you are seeing. As someone who doesn’t buy a lot of souvenirs, I treasure my pictures. It’s the one thing I bring home with me and look back on with fondness.

My advice? Don’t skimp on this. It’s worth the investment. We used a go pro like this and it’s been a perfect accompaniment on our travels.

READY, SET, GO!

You’re ready, my friend! Take a little extra care and time to prepare for your travels and secure the appropriate gear and you’ll be sure to have the trip of a lifetime.

Onward, then!

Iceland awaits!

Have more questions on how to best prepare for your trip to Iceland? Nordic Green Travel can help! They can also assist you in getting the most out of your travels by creating a custom itinerary that includes iconic highlights as well as gems off the beaten path. Peruse their various tour options and get in contact with them here.

About the author

Mary Kujawski