Iceland packing list for winter and summer

Iceland Packing Essentials: Bring a Winter Jacket and a Swimsuit

In Europe, Iceland by Jurga16 Comments

Traveling to Iceland during colder months and wondering what kind of weather to expect and what to pack for Iceland in winter?  I made this Iceland packing list (not just clothing) to help you prepare and truly enjoy your Icelandic winter adventure.

What kind of weather can you expect in Iceland?

I have been to Iceland twice, once in summer and once in winter. While this may not be common, we had a big snow storm, rain, and sunshine with temperatures up to 20°C (68°F) over a ten-day period in June, and beautiful cold dry weather for seven days in a row in November.

When traveling to Iceland, be prepared for all kinds of weather in any season, especially if you cover Northern and Southern parts of the island in one trip, as the weather conditions may vary tremendously.

Iceland enjoys a cool temperate maritime climate and it’s warmer in winter than you would expect. Average temperatures in Reykjavik are around 0°C (31°F) in January, but only 13°C (55°F) in July. The weather is known to change quickly and often. Icelanders often say that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.

Iceland is not all covered by ice and snow in winter, but you should check about the road conditions and expect the unexpected. Usually you will get more rain than snow and cold northerly winds which can be very strong.

Iceland packing list for winter months

There is no bad weather, just bad clothing. But what clothing is right? Packing for Iceland is tricky because you can expect so many different weather conditions in any season. Don’t despair. With some good preparation and consideration you can easily travel light.

Iceland winter clothing advice: dress in layers with a WATERPROOF outer layer

Be prepared for all types of weather in Iceland, also in winter. Dressing in layers gives you a lot of flexibility for any weather conditions.

– Make sure to pack a waterproof jacket and water-resistant or waterproof pants.
– Comfortable sturdy waterproof walking shoes with good traction are a must.
– Don’t forget a couple of warm lightweight sweaters or fleeces, thermal underwear, warm socks, gloves, scarf or buff, and a winter hat. Consider warm waterproof gloves together with thin inner gloves which you can keep on while taking pictures.
– Remember to always carry a swimsuit and a quick-drying towel (although you may usually rent one) – Iceland is known for its many outdoor thermal pools and hot tubs which are popular all year round.
– Whether or not you need smart clothing depends on what you are planning to do in Iceland. It might be a good idea to pack a few smart outfits for a nice dinner or if you are planning on going out in Reykjavik.

Winter jacket and a swimsuit? Yes, this should be on your packing list for Iceland in any season!


Thermos

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 vacuum 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 (when you find one). 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

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

Flashlight

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.

Beauty essentials – not just for the ladies

Lip balm, hand cream, and body moisturiser should be in everybody’s bag when traveling to cold places. You will enjoy your Iceland winter trip more when you will not have cracked lips, dried out hands, or an itching body.

What else to pack for Iceland in winter

That’s pretty much it when it comes to Iceland packing for winter. Of course you should not forget to bring your camera gear (consider a weather resistant camera), travel adaptors (Iceland uses European plugs), sun glasses (yes, also in winter as the sun is very low and you’ll definitely need sunglasses if driving on a sunny winter day), medicine, and a smaller backpack for day trips. Don’t forget a rain cover for your backpack! You can leave your umbrella at home – strong winds make it completely useless.

If you forget something…

You will be able to find anything you might need in Reykjavik and some bigger towns, but it may be more difficult in rural areas. So prepare in advance, pack smart, and enjoy the trip of a lifetime!


Looking for specific advice on what to wear in Iceland in winter?

Here are some examples of the clothing I wore on my trip to Iceland in November this year (2015). 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 told us – you can only divide it into two categories: cold or bloody cold, and it was the latter. So here are some links to the clothes I wore and things I took with me which allowed me to actually enjoy my Icelandic winter trip.

Iceland packing list winter and summer - Jack Wolfskin Nova Scotia winter jacketwinter jacket Iceland packing list winter and summer - UGG winter bootswinter boots Iceland packing list winter and summer - Icebreaker merino underwearthermal underwear Iceland packing list winter and summer - falke ski socksski socksIceland packing list winter and summer - fleece sweatersweaterIceland packing list winter and summer - day backpackbackpackIceland packing list winter and summer - odlo inner glovesglovesIceland packing list winter and summer - waterproof glovesgoretex glovesIceland packing list winter and summer - waterproof winter pantscapIceland packing list winter and summer - fleece hatwaterproof pantsIceland packing list winter and summer - buffbuffIceland packing list winter and summer - barts kamikaze warm winter hatwinter hatIceland packing list winter and summer - thermos flaskthermosIceland packing list winter and summer - sigg reusable water bottlewater bottleIceland packing list winter and summer - led flashlightflashlight

If you are in Europe, you can find some ideas for things to pack for Icelandiceland here.

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What to pack for Iceland in winter. Clothing, shoes, and other items that will make your winter trip more enjoyable.
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Iceland Packing Essentials: Bring a Winter Jacket and a Swimsuit was last modified: January 19th, 2017 by Jurga

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Comments

  1. My friend and I are leaving for Iceland next week and your tips have helped tremendously. I feel that I am well prepared now and ready for Icelandic winter. We knew we needed warm clothing, but some of your tips have been especially helpful.

    1. Author

      Have a good trip. You will love Iceland! And thanks for reading and for your feedback – highly appreciated!

  2. We are going in 3 weeks time for 2 weeks, I have found this absolutely invaluable advise.
    Thanks

  3. We visited last February and wore jeans in Reykjavik, but the wind was very strong and cold. I should have packed the thermic undies.

    1. Author

      I’m with you on this one, Tatjana. I also wore jeans in Reykjavik, in combination with thermic underpants and three layers of shirts/sweaters + windproof winter jacket (we visited in November). It was still cold, but in town you can always find a place to warm up. Outside of town I wore my winter pants (kind of skiing pants actually) with thermic underwear and it was bearable. People with jeans were really suffering, especially at the waterfalls where they got wet. And we didn’t even have rain – can’t imagine how cold it would be if the jeans would get wet in the rain in such temperatures.

  4. Thanks for the advice, Jurga. I found your article very useful. Myself and a group of friends are travelling south Iceland for a week this coming November, and I’m already so anxious about the trip. My entire suitcase will just be coats I’m afraid. I’ve already got the thermals and rain gear checked off the list, but I’ve got to get something heavier to help fight the wind and keep me from blowing away.

    1. Author

      Glad you found my tips useful, DeAnna. You made me laugh ‘entire suitcase will be just coats’. 🙂 Pick right and one is enough. And don’t forget at least 2-3 layers underneath. You can click on the yellow jacket picture to see what I wore in Iceland in November – to give you an idea. What you are looking for is a lightweight wind- and waterproof jacket with winter insulation. Have fun in Iceland (and don’t blow away)!

    1. Author

      Any excuse is good to to update your wardrobe, isn’t it? 😉 Same here – I buy most clothes when preparing for trips. Advice for Iceland – buy bright colours. Landscape can be really b&w in winter if the weather is less good and your bright jacket will improve all your pictures! Or at least that’s what everyone keeps telling me about my yellow jacket in Iceland…

  5. Does anyone have recommendations about the type of luggage that is best? I am torn between my standard large roller suitcase or a large camping type backpack.

    1. Author

      Hi Jillian, I think that DeAnna is right – you should consider what means of transport you will be using in Iceland before deciding what type of luggage to take with you. I took a large duffel bag with wheels to Iceland, but it’s the same luggage we use for most of our trips. We’ve abandoned hard shell suitcases years ago, because duffel bags are just easier to stack in the trunk of the car when doing road trips, and especially now that we travel with 5 people. But if trunk space is not an issue, then it really doesn’t matter.

  6. I am returning from Iceland today. Winter had just arrived about the middle of my trip. Jurga’s packing tips really saved my life.

    Jillian, I flew with Icelandair from Chicago O’hare to Keflavik. They allow you 2 free checked bags, one carry-on and a personal item. The carry on bag I chose was an Osprey Transporter 40 duffle/backpack. It fit perfectly in the overhead compartment, and I had it packed full. I would say the type of luggage you would need may also depend on what type of vehicle you will be travelling in and if your travelling companions will need space for their luggage also. These were the big deciding factors for me. The large roller suitcases can take up a lot of room in the back of your car and could make it difficult to situate other luggage.

    Be sure to take Jurga’s advice about what to pack. The most useful things I had on the trip were my waterproof pants and my rain/wind shell jacket. You don’t want to have to buy the expensive stuff in Iceland’s gift stores. My husband did not take my advice and found out the hard way that he needed waterproof instead of water resistant clothes.

    1. Author

      Thanks a lot for your feedback, DeAnna. Glad to hear that my tips made your trip more enjoyable. How was the trip itself?
      Sorry to hear about your husband though. I saw so many people in wet jeans during our trip, I don’t know how they handled it. It’s so much easier and cheaper to buy the right clothing (and shoes!) before you leave – prices are really high in Iceland and even more so in tourist areas.

      1. It really was everything I hoped it would be! The weather was about as nice as you can expect it to be in November. Some sunshine, some rain, snow and cold strong wind. The northern lights were not very strong while I was visiting though. We saw them very faintly one night while staying in Kirkjubæjarklaustur. My favorite memory of the trip was climbing the cliff behind the town in the dark to get a better view of the lights. We were completely alone up there, the moon was full, and we could see everything for miles in all directions bathed in moonlight. Simply the most incredible view even without the northern lights.

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