How to Pack for Your Iceland Trip, In All Seasons
An Air Iceland Connect Bombardier Dash 8 Q-200 on short final at Reykjavik Airport.
Iceland is an amazing place to visit, but those who haven't been there before often wonder what to pack. What you will need for your Iceland trip depends in part on the time of year you are going, although some essentials are needed year round. We're going to discuss three seasons: Summer (June, July, and August), Spring and Fall (May and September) and winter (October through April).
We'll start, though, with some year-round essentials:
The temperature in Iceland can vary a lot even in summer, so you should always be ready to dress in layers. This is particularly true if you are venturing into the highlands, where things can get quite stark. Here are some things to pack regardless of the time of year:
A lightweight wool sweater or fleece jacket, especially if you're coming from warmer climes. Even in July, the average high in Reykjavik is only about sixty with Reykjavik relatively sheltered. If you plan on including a whale watching or other boat trip, consider a heavier sweater too, as temperatures drop rapidly once you get out on the water.
A waterproof and windproof jacket. Iceland is fairly dry in the summer, but rain is still a distinct possibility. Also, if exploring Iceland's amazing waterfalls is on your list, you will want a waterproof jacket to protect you from the spray.
Good, solid walking shoes or even hiking boots. If you're going to the highlands, definitely take boots. But even in Reykjavik, you'll want your walking shoes.
Rain pants. Again, it can rain any time in Iceland.
A scarf to protect your neck and face.
A toque or beanie style hat.
Swimsuit. You can't possibly come to Iceland and not spend time in a hot spring.
A quick-dry towel for pools and hot springs. You can rent a towel, but probably want to bring your own.
Photography equipment. If you have a real camera, bring it; modern phones are great, but... Iceland is a country that makes a great excuse to buy that digital camera you have been eyeing.
A waterproof case for your camera.
Extra memory cards. You will take a lot of photos.
Thermal underwear. Even in summer you might end up needing it.
An adapter for your phone. Don't be the person who arrives thinking that their "universal European adapter" will work only to discover that it doesn't include the C or F adapters used in Iceland. You can get one at the airport if you forget.
A reusable water bottle. Icelandic tap water is perfectly safe, although it can taste a little bit of brimstone in some places (which includes Reykjavik). If the brimstone taste is likely to bother you, get a bottle with a built-in filter.
A travel vest. Consider getting a travel vest, which will carry all of your documents and stuff while hiking or exploring without the need for a purse or bag. They also make airport security a breeze.
Sunglasses. The sun can be bright in summer...and worse in winter when reflecting off ice or snow.
If driving, a USB car charger for your phone.
Passport, driver's license, and other documents.
One thing not to bring if coming from the U.S.: a hairdryer. Because of the voltage difference, you're better off just using the one your hotel will provide.
So, what about our various seasons? Let's start with summer.
Summer Packing Essentials
Here are some things you might want to bring in summer:
- Eye shades. Most Icelandic hotels and guesthouses do provide blackout curtains, but if you can't sleep unless it's dark, bring an eye shade just in case.
- Sunscreen. You might not think that you're going to get sunburned in Iceland. Those are the people who get sunburned in Iceland.
Summer is also the one time of year when it's worth bringing your dress shoes and a nice outfit to go out for the evening in Reykjavik. Make sure to bring any gear for specialist activities you are doing, although if you are horseback riding, you must not bring riding gear that has already been used unless it has been thoroughly disinfected. It's best to use your trip as an excuse to get new boots rather than mess with the paperwork to prove they've been appropriately cleaned. If doing a lot of hiking, bring a travel first aid kit and a good day pack. In fact, a day pack is a better alternative to a small suitcase for your carryon, as you can then use it throughout the trip.
Spring and Fall
Weather can be even more unpredictable in the shoulder months. Bring plenty of layers and consider investing in a multi-layer jacket with an outer waterproof and windproof shell.
Some other things to bring:
Decent waterproof hiking boots. You don't want to get your feet wet and you will almost certainly be rained on at some point. In the spring, you may encounter late snow.
A waterproof jacket and rain pants are particularly important in spring and fall. The temperature tends to drop and the rain tends to become more common.
Allergy meds, in the spring. Few things ruin a trip faster than encountering something you didn't know you were allergic to. Most over the counter allergy meds are available in Reykjavik and other larger towns, but it's always best to have what you know works.
Wool socks for extra warmth.
Given how wet it can be in the fall, you might want to leave the blue jeans at home and bring active pants instead. Jeans tend to hold water and take forever to dry, and you can easily be left without a dry pair of pants, which at these temperatures can be a disaster. Temperatures in April tend to range between 34 and 45F and in October between 38 and 47. Make sure you bring the right number of layers to be comfortable in those temperatures.
Fewer people come to Iceland in the winter, and many roads are closed. However, there are a few things that do attract people to the far north at this time. Christmas in Reykjavik is quite the experience and, of course, there are the northern lights. Reykjavik is surprisingly mild in the winter, with typical lows of 29 to 30F. When packing for winter, though, understand that Reykjavik tends to be warmer and if you plan on engaging in winter activities you may end up quite cold indeed.
Some things to pack for winter:
- Snow boots. Lined, waterproof snow boots with good grip are a must. If wearing regular shoes , even in Reykjavik, consider ice cleats. The relatively mild winters are perfect for icy conditions. However, these are often best acquired or rented when you get to Iceland.
- Fleece or wool sweaters. Layering up with fleece and/or wool under a shell jacket is perfect. Remember down jackets aren't waterproof. Of course, you might want to buy a wool sweater in Iceland.
- Thermal base layers. You may want them even in town, depending on your tolerance for the cold, and certainly if you plan on going hiking or snowshoeing.
- Hand/foot warmers. Both can be useful when it's cold, although easy enough to get more when you are there.
- A tripod. To get good pictures of the northern lights (or anything else at night) you're going to need to go with a very long exposure. A tripod is, thus, a must. You can even get one for your phone these days. A tripod with spiked feet is generally better.
- Sunscreen. Yes, in winter. Yes, we mean it. It can help protect you from the cold air.
- Chapstick. Because again, cold air can do a number on your lips.
- Books or better yet a tablet or e-reader. People in Iceland read a lot in the winter because, well, it's cold and dark out. Follow the tradition and curl up with a good book in your lodgings at night.
- If hiking or going outside a thermos flask that you can fill with your hot beverage of choice.
- A flashlight. Reykjavik has days that are only four to five hours long in the winter. You may also intentionally want to go somewhere at night to observe and photograph the northern lights. Don't rely on your phone, it's flashlight function will kill the battery. Get a lightweight LED flashlight or a key fob flashlight.
And, of course, if you plan on skiing, you will need your goggles and boots, but you will be able to rent skis or snowboards. There's some fantastic backcountry experiences available.
Find More Items to Pack for Your Iceland Trip
The most important thing to remember regardless of season is that you need to dress in layers. Iceland is one of those places where if you don't like the weather, you just wait a bit. Multi-layer jackets are a great option to cover this need while still letting you pack light. Good footwear is also vital. Reykjavik is a small and very walkable city and there are so many great hikes in Iceland, of all lengths and for all experience levels.
Packing correctly requires an understanding of the variable weather, knowing what you intend to do, and knowing your own tolerances for the cold and wet. For more Iceland travel tips or to find out about our amazing self-guided tours, contact Tour.is today.