Iceland is not warm. The clue is in the name. So packing right is crucial to make sure your enjoyment on our fair island is not diminished by the cold. We have a saying here: There is no such thing as bad weather – only improper clothing. And there’s a lot of truth in that. If your outfit is right for the conditions, you can enjoy yourself in any kind of weather.
So here is a little list of things you might want to pack to make sure you get the most out of your visit to Iceland. There are links to Amazon, and I get a small commission if you choose to purchase through them. Those links help me keep this blog alive, and you are a total hero if you use them.
So, let’s get packing!
The right coat or jacket
No matter what time of year you come to Iceland, you must be prepared for all kinds of weather. The elements are really unpredictable in Iceland, and it’s easy to be caught off guard. Believe me, I know. Every day I walk around downtown Reykjavik with visitors, in all kinds of weather, and you wouldn’t believe the number of people I get on my tours who are absolutely unprepared for the weather. Especially in summer, funnily enough. Here’s the thing: Iceland can be pretty cold in the summer. We get a lot of wind and rain, so while there are warmer days, there are also cold, wet and miserable ones in the summer, so be very mindful of that when you come.
Our winter visitors are usually a bit better prepared, since they obviously realise it will be cold, but still, it never hurts to go over these things.
So, depending on what time of year you come, a good coat will be very important. In the winter, you obviously want a warm, and preferably waterproof coat. It can rain one minute, snow the next, and then freeze. The weather really does change on a dime, so being aware of that fact can be crucial.
On the other hand, you may not want a coat that’s too heavy, to save space and weight in your luggage. So it’s important to find a nice balance.
If you are buying a new coat for your visit, I would recommend a down coat. Goose down is very warm and light weight, and in my experience it also dries fairly quickly, if your coat gets wet. They also breathe very well, so you won’t get too hot. I own a down coat myself, and it keeps me at the right temperature most of the year.
Waterproof down coats do get a bit more expensive, but if you can manage one, I highly recommend it. If not, you can always get around it by getting a rain coat or poncho to wear on the outside.
Personally, I have a light, semi-waterproof jacket that I wear outside my down coat, and it is great. Since the coat is very light and not too bulky, it’s easy to wear another layer outside it.
You may also want to pack a lighter jacket, especially if you are visiting in the summer, when a thick coat might be too much. I would recommend a windproof jacket with light lining. You can always wear a sweater underneath, so don’t go too heavy. Just something to wear on those long days out when it’s too warm for a heavy coat, but too cold for just a shirt.
And of course, something waterproof is essential. You might want a whole waterproof jacket, but a poncho or simple raincoat might do just as well, if you have the layers to wear underneath. It all depends on your budget and your luggage capacity.
Shirts and Sweaters
Again, no matter when you come, it’s all about layers. You will want a long sleeve shirt or two, and a nice, warm sweater would be nice, too. Now, if you can afford it, I would recommend getting a real, Icelandic, handmade wool sweater. These are very warm, and great in any season, whether to keep of the evening chill in the summer, or underneath a winter coat in the winter. However, the real handmade ones are not cheap. They take a long time to make, and are of very high quality, so it’s an investment.
You can, however, save a little by getting yourself a machine made sweater, made with Icelandic wool. These are just as warm as the handmade ones, but obviously not as authentic. You can probably save a little bit of money by ordering these from Amazon before you arrive here, if you can spare the luggage space. The markups in the tourists shops in Iceland can get a bit extravagant.
If you come in the winter, and you plan on spending any amount of time outdoors, thermal underwear can be a real lifesaver. If you come in the summer and you plan on doing some hiking, or if you are camping, I would also say it’s pretty important. And here’s the important part: You need to get the wool kind. Synthetics just won’t cut it. To keep properly warm, you want to wear wool against the skin. It makes a world of difference, especially if you get wet. There are plenty of ways you can accidentally get wet when you are out in nature in Iceland, and it can chill you very fast. Wearing wool against the skin can literally save your life if that happens.
I also find that when camping, I get very cold if I’m not wearing thermal underwear. The nights get pretty cold in Iceland, even in the warmest part of summer, so be aware of that.
That said, if you just plan on staying in the city, or driving around, and you won’t spend a lot of time in nature, you probably won’t need them. Just keep in mind it might be better to pack them and not need them, than to regret not having them.
Rain / Snow pants
Your legs can get cold as well, so a nice pair of waterproof pants in the summer, or thick snow pants in the winter, can be super useful. It gets very miserable to be wearing wet jeans all day, so proper outer layers on the bottom half of your body can really save the day.
Obviously your footwear depends on what you plan on doing during your stay. One thing I will say right off the bat, though, is that sandals are almost always the wrong thing to pack. It’s pretty rare that you can wear sandals in Iceland, even in the summer. (If you were planning to pack sandals for the winter you might want to look at the name of our country one more time.) Sure, there are days when sandals might work, but they’re rare. I would say it’s a waste of space in your luggage.
In the summer, you want light shoes for the city, and possibly waterproof boots, since it can get pretty wet. If you plan on leaving the trodden path to go hiking or something like that, some hiking boots, preferably waterproof, are obviously going to be useful. And in the winter, the same boots, coupled with proper wool socks are the thing.
Other Things To Keep You Warm
I think we’ve established by now that Iceland is not a very hot place. The winter doesn’t get extremely cold, but it’s not exactly warm. And the summers can be colder than you might expect. So plan accordingly.
No matter what time of year you are visiting, you want to pack gloves, a hat and warm socks. And make sure you have plenty of extra clothes, in case you get wet. Iceland is not dry.
If you are visiting in the winter, you need thicker gloves and hat, but no matter what time of year, you should pack some.
For the winter, a nice scarf or even balaclava would be a great idea. For the summer, maybe a Buff.
Also, keep in mind that it’s very dark in the winter, so if you’re out and about, you definitely need reflective gear to be seen by drivers. Your safety is the most important thing, and this is one easily overlooked area that can really be important.
So, I hope that helps give you some ideas of the kinds of clothing you should pack for your trip to Iceland. Some of these can be purchased here, of course, and in the case of proper, hand knitted wool garments you should definitely check out the Icelandic Hand Knitting Association or something similar. However, you could save a bit of money and time by getting it before you leave.
Let us know if we can be of any assistance, and we will see you in Iceland.