Traveling to Iceland soon and wondering what kind of weather to expect, what to wear and what to pack for Iceland in winter? This Iceland winter packing list (more than just clothing) 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 is meant for all colder months from end of September to May. For the rest of the year – check this Iceland packing list for summer.
What kind of weather can you expect in Iceland in winter?
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 in June, and beautiful cold dry weather with no rain or snow for seven days in a row in November. So when traveling to Iceland, you have to be prepared for all kinds of weather in any season. This is especially the case 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. But the wind can be really hard in Iceland in winter, so it feels much colder than it actually is! Average temperatures in Reykjavik are around 0°C (31°F) in January, but don’t let that fool you – the wind makes it feel much colder. On top of that, the weather is known to change quickly and often.
Iceland is not all covered by ice and snow in winter, but you should check the road conditions and expect the unexpected. Usually, you will get more rain than snow and cold northerly winds which can be very strong.
What to wear in Iceland in winter
There is no bad weather, just bad clothing. But what kind of clothes to pack for Iceland in winter? 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.
My best advice on what to wear in Iceland in winter is this: dress in layers with a WATERPROOF outer layer. Dressing in layers gives you a lot of flexibility for any weather conditions.
Waterproof 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.
Woollen or fleece sweaters
Layering is they key to dressing right for cold and ever-changing climate as in Iceland. Pack a couple of warm lightweight sweaters in wool. Fleece sweaters will do the job too, but if you can, wear at least one layer of real wool.
Waterproof hiking boots
Waterproof or water-resistant pants
I didn’t buy any special winter pants for Iceland, but packed my waterproof skiing pants and they were ideal during the cold days and perfect for waiting for the Northern Lights outside at night.
Pack several pairs of really warm socks (wool is best) for Iceland in winter, especially if you are planning on spending a lot of time outdoors.
Gloves, scarf, and winter hat
Gloves, scarf or buff, and a winter hat are an absolute must. Consider wearing warm waterproof gloves together with thin inner gloves which you can keep on while taking pictures. I packed two warm hats with me as well: a fleece hat and a winter hat with ear flaps that I wore when the wind was really strong, or at night when hunting for the Northern Lights.
Swimsuit and a quick-drying towel
Remember to always carry a swimsuit and a quick-drying towel (although you may be able to rent one). Iceland is known for its many outdoor thermal pools and hot tubs which are popular all year round. Flip-flops can be useful as well.
Winter jacket and a swimsuit? Yes, this is your packing list for Iceland in winter!
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. 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 examples of the clothes I wore which allowed me to actually enjoy my Icelandic winter trip.
What else to pack for Iceland in winter
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 (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.
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.
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.
Weather-resistant camera gear and a tripod
You should not forget to bring your camera gear – consider a weather-resistant camera for Iceland. A good tripod is a must for night photography. Here you can find more tips for finding and photographing the Northern Lights.
Batteries drain very fast in cold climate. I advise to carry extra batteries for your camera in any case. And don’t forget a power bank. It allows you to charge your smartphone or any other devises during the day. It has quickly become my essential packing item for all the trips.
Don’t forget 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. 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.
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. However, the prices are much higher in Iceland than on Amazon :), so prepare in advance, pack smart, and enjoy the trip of a lifetime!
Traveling to Iceland in winter? Don’t forget to get a good travel insurance!
- Here you can read more about summer versus winter travel to Iceland.
- Planning a trip to Iceland? Here are the best suggestions on where to stay in Reykjavik and on a self-drive tour around Iceland’s Ring Road.
- Make sure to also check our Iceland winter trip itinerary and the list of unforgettable winter experiences you must have in Iceland.
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