What to Wear Travel Tips from an Iceland Expert

13. July, 2018

Planning a trip to Iceland and not sure what to wear? This packing guide from an Iceland expert covers inside tips on how to dress while exploring the Icelandic wilderness any time of year.

From hiking frozen glaciers to hunting for hot springs, the mighty forces of nature are alive and well in Iceland. With its rugged terrain and unpredictable weather, Iceland requires potential visitors to do some careful planning when it comes to packing. Before taking off for the rugged paradise that is Iceland, find out what to pack to make this dream journey one to remember. Iceland is one place where it pays to be prepared!

Unpredictable Weather
The weather in Iceland can seem schizophrenic at times, unable to make up its mind. Within the span of one day, you can experience bright sunshine, torrential rain, snow, and hailstones. In fact, the locals have a saying – “Don’t like the weather in Iceland? Just wait five minutes.” With weather conditions this unpredictable it’s no wonder travelers are confused about what clothing to pack for their Iceland trip.

Layered Clothing
The key to preparing for Iceland’s volatile weather conditions can be summed up in one word: layers. Plan on packing versatile clothing that can be worn in layers. Dressing in layers allows you to fully customize your insulation level for any activity or temperature. Be sure to wear uncomplicated clothing that you can easily take off and put back on throughout the day.

Breathable Base-layer: For the layer closest to your body choose breathable, quick-drying fabrics. Long sleeve thermals or lightweight woolen t-shirts are best because they absorb sweat while keeping you warm in cold temperatures yet cool in the heat. Thermal underwear or lightweight leggings are good bottom base-layers.

Insulating Mid-layer: When it comes to your mid-layer a sweatshirt or zip-up fleece jacket is a good place to start. A sweater is an important item to keep you warm especially if made from wool. Icelanders swear by hand-knitted lopapeysa sweaters made from Icelandic wool. Not only will you fit in with the locals but Icelandic wool is also breathable and waterproof.

Rainproof Outer-layer: Once you get to the outer layers, think loose but windproof and waterproof for both jackets and pants. Your outer layer garments should fit easily over your other layers with room enough to move around in. Jackets should be medium-weight with enough aeration to release extra heat and moisture while they keep you warm and dry.

Cold Weather Accessories
Hats, gloves, and scarves are equally important and may also need to be layered in particularly harsh weather. Find yourself a good, fleece-lined hat that preferably covers your ears. Packing a good, warm pair of waterproof gloves is essential. In addition to a woolen scarf, Icelanders rely on neck warmers known locally as buff to protect against the elements. Buffs are extremely versatile for hiking and can be used as a scarf, hat or to protect your face from the wind and cold during extreme weather.

Footwear
Wearing sturdy walking or hiking shoes with ankle support and a good gripping sole is important for the craggy and sometimes slippery terrain that you’ll be walking on in Iceland. If you’re planning a trip during the colder months, fur or fleece-lined snow boots are a good addition to your Iceland winter packing list. Underneath your boots thermal socks are the best for keeping those toes nice and toasty. Wool socks are a great choice and you can get different strengths depending on the season.

Unexpected Essentials
There are a few important items you wouldn’t expect to see on a typical Iceland packing list:

Sunglasses: Sunglasses are useful in summer to ward off the Midnight Sun but also help reduce glare from ice on the glacier all year round.

Sunscreen: Due to Iceland’s northerly location and lack of air pollution, the sun is very strong. Wear high-factor sunscreen to avoid sunburn in any weather.

Swimsuit: Probably the most important item you can bring to Iceland is your swimsuit as outdoor bathing in geothermal water is available year round.

Eye-mask: During the perpetual daylight of summer an eye mask is an invaluable tool to keep the light from disturbing your sleep.

Into the Glacier Gear
The right clothing and gear can make or break your glacier adventure in Iceland. The temperature inside the Into the Glacier tunnel is around 0°C (32°F) so you need to be properly dressed to feel comfortable. We recommend that you wear warm clothing like a winter coat, hat, and gloves as well as suitable footwear like waterproof shoes and thermal socks. Although you may opt to bring your own, Into the Glacier provides easy-to-use crampons that slip over your footwear and help to keep you from slipping on the icy floor.

Traveling to a cold weather destination like Iceland may seem daunting. But no matter what time of year you plan to visit, these packing tips will have you covered. By packing smart and wearing the right clothing, your adventures in Iceland are sure to be safe, comfortable and seamless. Approach your time in Iceland with an open mind and a sense of humor, and you’ll be on your way to having the trip of a lifetime.

This blog post was contributed by Sif Gustavsson, CEO of Iceland Cool and past Director of Visit Iceland USA.