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What to Wear in Iceland in Winter (October-April): Bring a Winter Jacket and a Swimsuit

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What to Wear in Iceland in Winter (October-April): Bring a Winter Jacket and a Swimsuit

Traveling to Iceland in winter and wondering what kind of weather to expect and what to wear in Iceland in winter (October, November, December, January, February, or March and even April)? Or maybe you are looking for tips on what to pack for Iceland in winter? This article should answer all your questions.

Whether you want to know what to wear in Iceland in November, December, January, or February, or what to pack for Iceland in October or March, this Iceland winter packing list contains all the information that you need in order to truly enjoy your Icelandic winter adventure.

It’s the most complete no-nonsense Iceland winter packing list out there. I include all the tips on what to wear in Iceland in winter and other items that you really shouldn’t forget. In addition, I share my personal experience and examples of what I wore in Iceland in November.

At the bottom of this article, you can also find some tips on what to wear in Reykjavik in winter. If interested, you can also download a printable version of this Iceland winter packing list. Read on!

Good to know: Just to make it clear, by winter in Iceland I don’t just mean November, December, January, and February. Icelandic winter is much longer than that! So this Iceland winter packing list has all you need to pack when traveling in Iceland between the end of September till the end of April. For the rest of the year – check our Iceland packing list for summer.

How cold is it in Iceland in winter?

You may wonder how cold is it in Iceland in winter. It’s actually warmer than you would expect – average temperatures in Reykjavik are around 0°C (31°F) in January. However, don’t let that fool you – the wind makes it feel much colder than the temperatures would make you think.

On top of that, Icelandic weather is known to change quickly and often. Usually, you will get more rain than snow and cold northerly winds which can be very strong. Iceland is really very cold in winter. When traveling to Iceland in winter, you really need to dress as warm as you possibly can.

I can’t stress this enough – you have to be prepared for everything when traveling in Iceland, especially in the cold months. So I created this Iceland winter packing list in order to help you prepare for your trip and make the most of it, no matter the weather. Find out!

What to wear in Iceland in winter - Iceland packing list for October, November, December, January, February, March, and April
 

What to wear and what to pack for Iceland in winter

Icelanders will tell you that there is no bad weather, just bad clothing. But what kind of clothes to wear in Iceland in winter? You might be looking for specific advice on what to wear in Iceland in November or what to wear in Iceland in December or in January or in October or even March….

The reality is that it doesn’t matter that much in which month you are traveling specifically. Winter packing list for Iceland is pretty much the same whether you are visiting in October, January, or March.

Packing for Iceland is tricky because you can expect so many different weather conditions in any season. In a way, it’s easier to pack for Iceland when visiting in winter months than in the shoulder season or even in summer, because you know that no matter the weather, it will always be cold. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst!

My best advice for what to wear in Iceland in winter is this: dress in LAYERS, ideally WOOL, and always wear a WINDPROOF and WATERPROOF outer layer. Dressing in layers gives you a lot of flexibility for any weather conditions.

Without further ado, here is the most complete packing list for Iceland in winter:

Waterproof winter jacket

Waterproof and windproof winter jacket. You do need an insulated waterproof and windproof winter jacket in Iceland. It’s an absolute must! If you don’t have a very warm jacket, it’s not a problem to wear a somewhat thinner waterproof jacket. For example, a ski jacket will usually do just fine. Just make sure to wear several layers of fleece and/or woolen sweaters underneath.

It doesn’t really matter if you are visiting Iceland in October, November, January, or even in April,- you do need a really warm waterproof winter coat or a parka for Iceland.

Thermal underwear

Thermal underwear is a must in Iceland in winter. Ideally, wear thermal base layers in merino wool. Don’t forget merino wool leggings too. Good thermal underwear is essential when packing for Iceland in winter.

I even wore my merino underwear when I visited Iceland at the beginning of September. In November, I wouldn’t have survived without it.

Ideally, you pack at least 2-3 pairs of thermal underwear. It’s usually quite easy to wash it by hand at the hotel and the heaters are so warm that it dries in no time. But if you are not willing to wash it, you might want to pack a clean thermal shirt for each day. It’s cold outside, but very warm in hotels and restaurants, so it will be sweaty faster than you think.

Wool or fleece sweaters

Woollen and/or fleece sweaters. Layering is the key to staying warm in the cold and ever-changing climate. I advise wearing at least one really warm woolen sweater. Ideally, pack a couple of thinner lightweight sweaters in wool as well. Fleece sweaters are ok for layering too, but you’ll quickly realize that real wool is irreplaceable.

Waterproof winter pants

You should know that jeans are completely useless in Iceland and even more so in winter. They’ll get wet when it rains (it will rain!) and you’ll be cold and wet the whole day. You can still pack a pair of jeans to wear in the hotel in the evening, but don’t wear them for exploring during the day.

Waterproof or water-resistant winter pants is what you need to pack for Iceland in winter. I didn’t buy any special winter pants when packing for Iceland in November, but took my waterproof skiing pants. They were ideal for sightseeing during the day and perfect when chasing the Northern Lights at night.

You may not want to wear ski pants in Reykjavik city, but they are really essential when exploring Iceland’s natural landmarks in winter.

An alternative is to wear warm winter pants like these and pack light rain pants with you. You can quickly slip-on your rain pants over when it starts to rain or snow.

Wool socks

Woolen socks are essential when packing for Iceland in winter. Pack several pairs of really warm socks, especially if you are planning on spending a lot of time outdoors. I often wore two pairs of socks in Iceland in winter, at least one pair in wool; the other pair – my warmest ski socks.

Waterproof winter boots

Waterproof winter boots. Comfortable sturdy waterproof walking shoes with good traction are a must. I wore these waterproof insulated women’s boots (alternative for men – men’s boots). You may also want to read our guide to the best winter boots for travel.

Whatever you choose, don’t compromise on footwear when packing for Iceland in winter. Once again, you really need WATERPROOF winter boots in Iceland between mid-October and March.

If you are traveling at the beginning of October or in April, you may be ok with regular waterproof hiking boots, but make sure to pack some really warm socks.

Good to know: Sturdy hiking shoes are also a must when planning to go glacier hiking in Iceland. Your shoes have to fit heavy crampons, so you can’t do it with simple leather shoes or sneakers.

Ice cleats

 Iceland is really icy in winter and sometimes it’s really difficult to walk around, even if you have good winter boots. There is one thing that I missed in Iceland in winter and that is stabilicers – a sort of an extra shoe sole with steel cleats to prevent you from slipping. We could have definitely used these by the waterfalls!

STABILIcers for walking on ice are really essential in Iceland in winter. I see this question asked again and again – do I really need stabilicers in Iceland in winter? Yes, it’s really a good idea to pack ice cleats for outdoor activities in Iceland in winter. There are lighter and cheaper models that don’t take much space in your suitcase – it’s better than nothing. Pack them with you, especially in the coldest months from November to March.

Waterproof gloves, winter hat, and a scarf

Gloves, scarf or buff, and winter hat. Gloves, scarf or buff, and a winter hat are an absolute must in Iceland in any season. In winter, I advise wearing warm windproof and waterproof GoreTex gloves, ideally mittens, together with thin inner gloves that you can keep on while taking pictures.

I packed two warm hats to Iceland with me as well: a fleece hat and a winter hat with ear flaps. I used them both – the fleece hat during the day when it was dry and the waterproof hat when the wind was really strong, when it rained, and also at night when waiting for the Northern Lights.

Swimsuit and a quick-drying towel

Swimsuit and a quick-drying towel are a must in Iceland in any season. Iceland is known for its many outdoor thermal pools and hot tubs which are popular all year round. Although you can usually rent a towel at some bigger pools, it’s quite expensive. Smaller local pools usually don’t rent towels. It’s so much easier to just bring your own!

Regular bath towels are heavy and take a long time to dry. I recommend packing a quick-drying travel towel. Also, don’t forget your swimsuit! Flip-flops might be useful but are not a must.

Jeans/ pants

I already mentioned that jeans are not ideal for Iceland. However, you may want to pack a pair of jeans or light pants to wear on the plane or at your hotel/restaurant in the evening.

Whether or not you need smart clothing depends on where you are staying in Iceland. You may want to pack one set of casual smart clothing to wear for dinner or to go out in Reykjavik. In general, people dress very casually in the hotels in Iceland – a pair of jeans and a sweater is all you need.

Extra pair of shoes

I also recommend packing an extra pair of shoes when traveling to Iceland. After all, you don’t want to wear your muddy and wet winter boots inside a hotel. It’s also essential to have a second pair of shoes in case your boots get really wet.

Winter jacket, wool sweaters, and a swimsuit? Yes, this is what you should pack for Iceland in winter!

Further below you can find a list of other Iceland winter packing essentials (not clothing) that you really should pack for Iceland in winter. At the bottom of this post, you can also find some examples of what I wore in Iceland in November. Read on!

Thermos

Thermos flask. There are few things in life that make you feel better than a sip of a hot drink after a walk in the cold. And even though there are many more cafes and restaurants in Iceland now than there used to be when we visited ten years ago, finding one while on the road can be trickier than you think.

Packing a thermos flask (and a picnic lunch for that matter) gives you complete flexibility during the day. You can fill it up with coffee or tea at breakfast in your hotel or at a petrol station or a restaurant.

Find a beautiful spot, sit down on a rock with a warm cup of tea in your hands and a magnificent view in front of you – it’s as good as it gets.

Reusable water bottle

Reusable water bottle. Icelandic tap water is pure, it’s tasty, it’s safe to drink, and it’s FREE. Take a reusable water bottle and fill it up whenever you can.

Flashlight

Flashlight or headlight. Having a small powerful flashlight in your pocket can be very useful on many occasions as it gets dark very early in Iceland in winter. We used flashlights all the time when looking for a good spot to photograph Northern Lights or when trying to choose the right camera settings or to focus in the dark. Headlight keeps your hands free, so it’s ideal for night photography.

Moisturizer

Lip balm, hand cream, face cream for cold weather, and body moisturizer should be in everybody’s bag when traveling to Iceland in winter. You will enjoy your Iceland winter trip more when you will not have cracked lips, dried out hands, or an itching body. Take my word for this, you’ll be glad you packed these little travel essentials.

Camera gear and tripod for aurora photography

Weather-resistant camera gear and a sturdy tripod. You should not forget to bring your camera gear. If your budget allows it, consider a weather-resistant camera for Iceland.

good tripod that can withstand strong wind is a must for night photography.

Here you can find more tips for finding and photographing the Northern Lights. And here you can find our travel photography tips.

READ ALSO: How to See Northern Lights in Iceland

Power bank

Batteries drain very fast in a cold climate. I advise you to carry extra batteries for your camera in Iceland in winter and don’t forget a good power bank. It allows you to charge your smartphone or any other devices during the day. A power bank has quickly become my essential packing item for all our trips.

Travel adapter

Iceland uses European plugs. Regular adapters will be fine for charging phones and cameras, but not for heavy devices such as hair dryers.

Sunglasses

Yes, you also need sunglasses in Iceland in winter. The sun is very low and you’ll definitely need sunglasses if driving on a sunny winter day. If you have special sport anti-fog sunglasses, you may want to take those with you.

Backpack with rain cover

Day backpack and backpack rain cover. A good rain cover for your backpack is a must when visiting Iceland in any season. When it rains, it pours and in a matter of just a few minutes, everything is soaking wet. You can leave your umbrella at home – strong winds make it completely useless.

Medication

Traveling in Iceland usually means that you’re in very rural locations with no shops, let alone pharmacies nearby. Make sure to pack a first-aid kit and any medicine you think you might need. As a minimum, make sure you have some strong pain medication with you.

Ice scraper

When renting a car in Iceland in winter, you may want to pack an ice-scraper. I still can’t believe it, but rental cars in Iceland don’t come with any winter essentials. So, as a minimum, pack an ice-scraper with you. I heard from many people that they advise to also take a foldable snow shovel, as well as a brush to clean the snow off the car.

We didn’t have any of that on our trip to the North of Iceland in May; luckily we were able to borrow a big brush from our accommodation – see the picture below.

Pack an ice scraper and a brush for your rental car if traveling to Iceland in winter
Cleaning the snow off our rental car with a borrowed brush (May 25 in Myvatn)
 

What to Wear in Iceland in Winter – My Experience in November

If you’re looking for specific advice on what to wear in Iceland in winter, here are some examples of the clothes that I wore on my trip to Iceland in November

We had very cold weather, with temperatures dropping to -10°C (14°F) and winds up to 100km/h (62 mph) on several occasions. We asked Icelanders what they thought the wind chill factor would be, and they said there was no number to describe it. When it comes to Icelandic winter weather, they said, you can only divide it into two categories: cold or bloody cold. It was the latter.

So here are some examples of the clothes that I wore and which allowed me to actually enjoy my Icelandic winter trip.

Printable Iceland Winter Packing List

If you are looking for a printable winter packing list for Iceland, you can fill in the form below. It has all of the items listed above and makes it easy to check if you haven’t forgotten anything. Because, well, you really don’t want to arrive in Iceland in winter and realize that you left your thermal undies or waterproof gloves at home…

   

If you forget to pack something essential… You will be able to find anything you might need in Reykjavik and some bigger towns in Iceland, but it is really difficult to impossible in rural areas. Also, the prices are much, much higher in Iceland than on Amazon, so it’s best to prepare well in advance, pack everything you need, and enjoy the trip of a lifetime!

What to Wear in Reykjavik in Winter

If you are wondering what clothes to pack for Reykjavik in winter months, I think the answer depends on what you’re planning to do. If you are just visiting Reykjavik town, going to museums and shops, then you don’t really need ski pants or several layers of sweaters.

Warm winter shoes are still a must, as well as a good winter jacket, gloves, scarf, and a hat. Insulated water-resistant pants are still advisable.

On the other hand, if you are planning to do winter day trips from Reykjavik, then you should dress really warm and follow our Iceland winter packing suggestions from this post.

READ ALSO: Best Area & Hotels to Stay in Reykjavik

Planning a winter trip to Iceland? Check this out!

More tips for your trip to Iceland:

Some of our favorite lesser-known places in Iceland:

If you found this post useful, don’t forget to bookmark it and check once more when packing for your Iceland winter trip. Are you on Pinterest? Pin this image!

What to wear and what to pack for Iceland in winter
What to wear in Iceland in winter and what to pack when traveling to Iceland in October, November, December, January, February and March
 
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Shirley

Wednesday 8th of May 2019

Hi I'm going to Iceland in August the 2nd to be exact what clothe should I bring and what camera is better, I will go to Reykjavik which places you would recommend thanks.

Jurga

Thursday 9th of May 2019

Hi Shirley, for August I recommend you check this summer packing list for Iceland. It won't be very warm, but you don't need winter boots or an overly warm jacket. Just lots of layers and a waterproof outer layer. For the camera, it's really hard to say as everyone's needs and abilities are different. If you just want good pictures and a very versatile affordable camera, I recommend something like this Panasonic Lumix FZ80 or - a bit more expensive - PANASONIC LUMIX FZ1000 (it has a somewhat better lens). As for what to do, I recommend just 1 day in Reykjavik and for the rest either rent a car (we recommend Lagoon Car Rental) and make a self-drive trip (here we have a very thorough itinerary for your first trip to Iceland) or book day trips (here you can find our hand-picked selection of the best day trips from Reykjavik). As for what to see in Reykjavik, you can find some suggestions here: What to know when visiting Reykjavik. Hope this helps. Enjoy your trip!

DD

Sunday 7th of April 2019

Will I need ski pants (May 2019)? Will a thermal baselayer under fleece leggings work or will this be a bad idea like jeans? I have a short 3 in 1 jacket.

Jurga

Tuesday 9th of April 2019

You don't need ski pants in May. I suggest light hiking pants with thermal leggings underneath. Ideally you also pack some rain pants to pull over whatever pants you are wearing in case it rains.

Rachel

Wednesday 13th of February 2019

Jurga, Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge so freely! My husband and I are going to be in Hornstrandir from March 2nd to the 10th, and then hope to drive the ring road form Isafjorder back to Keflavik by the 16th (going North!)... Any tips you can offer would be MUCH appreciated. Also, my husband is allergic to wool - any suggestions?

Jurga

Thursday 14th of February 2019

Hi Rachel, sounds like an amazing trip, just be aware that it's still very much winter in Iceland in March and so you have to be comfortable with driving in extreme winter conditions, especially because you are going North. Make sure to rent a 4WD and not the smallest one either (you can find the best deals for car rental here - book asap!). You may want to take an ice scraper/ snow brush for the snow with you - they usually don't come with a rental car. Any other tips - in general, you have to book your accommodations well in advance. I guess it won't be a problem up North this time of the year, but the south coast between Reykjavik and Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is extremely popular, so at least there you'd better book asap. Here you can find our suggestions on where to stay along the Ring Road in Iceland. If you are looking for ideas where to go and what to see, you can find some general itinerary suggestions here and here I have a bit more detailed itinerary for the south coast in winter. As for the clothing, if your husband is allergic to wool, then I recommend synthetic thermal underwear (something like this). Instead of a wool sweater, he should best look into wearing a couple of warm fleece sweaters over each other and a warm waterproof jacket. If he can't wear a woolen hat, there are also warm fleece hats available or - even better - a waterproof trapper hat like this - believe me, it's not exaggerated for Iceland in winter. Hope this helps. Enjoy your trip!

aaron a.dennis

Friday 8th of February 2019

My friend and I are leaving for Iceland next week and your tips have helped tremendously. We knew we needed warm clothing, but some of your tips have been especially helpful . Like

Jurga

Friday 8th of February 2019

Good to hear that. Dress warm and enjoy your trip!

Hallie Baron

Friday 25th of January 2019

Jurga, your tips were absolutely spot on and incredibly helpful to us. We were warm, dry and as happy as we could be in blizzards, hail storms, rain and wind (who knew the weather in Iceland could change THAT quickly!). I fell in love with Iceland, particularly it's stark beauty in winter, and can't wait to go back when the weather is warmer, the land is greener and the hours of daylight lengthen!

Thank you again!

Jurga

Tuesday 29th of January 2019

Thank you so much for coming back to the blog to share your experience, Hallie. Glad to hear that our packing tips helped you enjoy Iceland in winter! If you can, try to visit again in summer, you'll be amazed - it's a completely different country!

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