Traveling to Iceland this winter and wondering what kind of weather to expect, what to wear and what to pack for Iceland in winter? Whether you’re just visiting Reykjavik for a few days or are planning a longer trip, this Iceland winter packing list will help you truly enjoy your Icelandic winter adventure.
Just to make it clear, by winter I don’t just mean November, December, January and February. This Iceland winter packing list has all you need to pack when traveling in Iceland in between end of September till May. For the rest of the year – check this Iceland packing list for summer.
You may wonder how cold is it in Iceland in winter. It’s actually warmer than you would expect in Iceland in winter: 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, the 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. So when traveling to Iceland in winter, you really need to dress as warm as you possibly can.
Our personal experience. I have been to Iceland three times: at the end of May/ June, in September, and in November. We had knee-deep snow at the end of May, beautiful sunny but freezing cold weather in November, and quite nice summer-like weather in September.
I needed a winter jacket, as well as gloves and a hat during each of these trips. We needed thermal underwear in the first week of September. I wore winter boots in November, and waterproof hiking boots in May and September. When we got snow in May, hiking boots were useless, and we were happy to be able to borrow Moon Boots at our accommodation…
If there is one thing I learned from these different experiences is that you have to be prepared for everything when traveling in Iceland, especially in the cold months from the end of September through May. So I created this Iceland packing list for winter in order to help you prepare for your trip and make the most of it, no matter the weather.
When you think of what to pack for Iceland in winter, remember these four keywords: WOOL, LAYERS, WINDPROOF, and WATERPROOF. This counts for everything you wear – from head to toes. Find out!
What to wear in 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 months? 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 and you’ll enjoy your winter trip to Iceland no matter the weather.
My best advice on 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.
My winter packing list for Iceland:
1. 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 thiner waterproof jacket. Just make sure to wear several layers of fleece and/or woollen sweaters underneath.
It doesn’t really matter if you are visiting Iceland at the end of September, in January, or in April, you do need a really warm winter jacket.
2. 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 in the beginning of September. In November I wouldn’t have survived without it.
3. Woollen and/or fleece sweaters. Layering is they key to staying warm in the cold and ever-changing climate. I advice to wear at least one really warm woollen sweater. Ideally, pack a couple of thinner lightweight sweaters in wool as well. Fleece sweaters are ok for layering too, but you’ll quickly realise that real wool is irreplaceable.
4. Waterproof or water-resistant winter pants. I didn’t buy any special winter pants for Iceland in November, but packed 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.
5. Woollen socks. Pack several pairs of really warm socks for Iceland in winter, 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.
6. Waterproof winter boots. Comfortable sturdy waterproof walking shoes with good traction are a must. I wore these waterproof insulated women’s boots (alternatively – 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.
7. STABILIcers for walking on ice. 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 steal cleats to prevent you from slipping. We could have definitely used these by the waterfalls!
8. 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 which 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.
9. Swimsuit and a quick-drying towel. Iceland is known for its many outdoor thermal pools and hot tubs which are popular all year round. Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit and a quick-drying towel (although you can usually rent a towel, it’s quite expensive, so it’s often easier to just bring your own). Flip-flops can be useful as well.
10. Jeans/ pants and an extra pair of shoes. Whether or not you need smart clothing depends on where you are staying. 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 Iceland’s hotels – a pair of jeans and a sweater is all you need.
I also recommend to pack 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 will make your trip more enjoyable. Read on!
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 I wore which allowed me to actually enjoy my Icelandic winter trip.
What to pack for Iceland in winter
Here are some more items that I advice to pack when traveling to Iceland in winter. You’ll be glad you did.
11. Thermos flask. There are few things in life which make you feel better than a sip of 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. Moisturiser. Lip balm, hand cream, face cream for cold weather, and body moisturiser 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 did.
15. 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. A 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.
16. Power bank. Batteries drain very fast in cold climate. I advise to carry extra batteries for your camera in Iceland in winter and don’t forget a power bank. It allows you to charge your smartphone or any other devices during the day. Power bank has quickly become my essential packing item for all the trips.
17. Travel adapter. Iceland uses European plugs.
18. Sun glasses. Yes, you also need sun glasses 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 sun glasses, you may want to take those with you.
19. 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.
20. 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 killers with you.
21. Ice scraper for your rental car. I still can’t believe it, but rental cars in Iceland don’t come with any winter essentials. As a minimum, pack an ice scraper with you. I heard from many people that they advice 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.
If you forget something… You will be able to find anything you might need in Reykjavik and some bigger towns in Iceland, but it is really difficult in rural areas. Also, the prices are 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. Waterproof 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 Iceland winter packing suggestions from this post.
Traveling to Iceland in winter? Don’t forget to get a good travel insurance!
- Planning a winter trip to Iceland? Make sure to check our Iceland winter trip itinerary and the list of unforgettable winter experiences you must have in Iceland.
- Are you staying in Reykjavik in winter? Here you can find my hand-picked selection of the best winter day trips and tours from Reykjavik.
- Here you can find our suggestions on where to stay in Reykjavik and on a self-drive tour around Iceland’s Ring Road.
- Here you can find out how much everything costs in Iceland: from food and drinks to activities and more.
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