What to Pack for a Trip to Iceland

What to Pack for a Trip to Iceland

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What do you wear in Iceland? The question alone makes me want to grab a sweater and some fuzzy socks! In the weeks (OK months) leading up to our fall Iceland vacation, I pored over endless packing lists, weather reports, Instagram photos and jacket reviews to try to nail down exactly what I would and would not need.

And it was challenging, since I’d see some pictures of people bundled up in heavy parkas and earmuffs and others with just a flannel shirt and some cute boots. A pretty drastic difference!

Here's the thing, Iceland is not as frigid as it sounds. The temperature in the lowlands stays fairly mild throughout the year, topping out in the 50s in summer and mainly dipping below freezing only in winter (which, admittedly, is a very long season in Iceland). It can feel drastically colder or warmer, though, depending on factors like whether the sun is out, how close you are to the coast, how windy it is, whether it’s raining, whether you're standing in two feet of ice-cold water (yep, that happened), etc. And since all of these variables can change within a day, or even a few minutes, you always need to be prepared to shed and add layers accordingly. It was almost like a game every time we got out of the car to guess which jacket/gloves/hat/scarf combo I would need for each site (I was usually wrong and cold … or hot).

We visited in October and were blessed with scarce rain and several sunny days, which is not always the norm for what's typically considered "early winter." The items on this packing list should have you covered pretty well whatever time of year you visit, though. Read on for what was in my suitcase on our Iceland vacation.  


PARKA. You'll want your outermost layer to be warm, waterproof and have a hood. If you already own a heavy-duty windproof and waterproof jacket (like The North Face) and a packable down or fleece to wear under it, you could get by without a parka, but if you're standing outside at night watching the Northern Lights or visiting in winter, you'll probably want something insulated. I wore my Obermeyer parka (FIND IT HERE) a lot more than I anticipated and it was super handy to throw on when we were hopping in and out of the car a lot for photo stops, instead of bundling up with a lot of separate fleece/down/jacket layers. My parka has a waterproof rating of 10,000 mm (which THIS ARTICLE helped me to understand) and it kept me dry just fine in the light rain and waterfall mist that we experienced. 
PACKABLE DOWN. Wear this when it's not as cold, or for longer hikes. Since it folds up small, you can throw it in your backpack when you warm up and pull it back out if the wind picks up (which happens a lot). I wore THIS PUFFER JACKET in "Chianti." I like that THIS ONE has a bag you can roll it up and store it in.
DOWN VEST. These are great for days when the sun is out and you want to shed your jacket, or as an extra layer that doesn't constrict your arms. Plus they're cute! Mine is THIS BRAND from last fall, but they don't have a plaid one out right now so if you want a similar look try THIS ONE


BOOTS. If you only have room for one pair, make sure they are waterproof and comfortable enough to hike in. I decided on snow boots for the extra warmth and the look, and tried out two pairs. THESE SUEDE LEATHER SOREL BOOTS with removable fleece lining (handy if they somehow get wet inside) were very comfortable and passed my bathtub waterproofness test, but I ultimately went with THESE ONES in the wheat/black color instead since they cost less than $40 and I don't get to wear snow boots that often in Texas. Paired with wool socks, they were extremely comfortable and I loved how light they felt on my foot. The side zipper made them really easy to get off and on, but unfortunately made them not completely waterproof either. I still recommend them though if you need something budget-friendly, are bringing a second pair of shoes, or aren't planning on doing any hiking through water, as they held up just fine in snow, rain and waterfall spray.
EXTRA SHOES. No matter how well you plan, sometimes you end up walking through two feet of freezing cold ocean because you misjudged the tide (I blame my husband), and in case that happens, you'll be really glad to have something not soaking wet to throw on your feet. If you have the room, pack a shorter pair of hiking boots, and if not, at least a small pair of comfortable shoes you can throw on while your boots dry. (Pro tip: Take off your wet shoes in the car and blast the foot heating vents on them ... it works wonders.)


COZY SWEATERS. I brought a couple of oversized ones so that I could layer underneath them. Wool sweaters are popular in Iceland, so next time I'll pack one of those, too. They also make a great (but pricey) souvenir if you want to buy one there.
FLANNEL SHIRTS. These are perfect for layering and pack light. I wore THIS ONE in black and white and THIS ONE in red. 
FLEECE LINED LEGGINGS. I took four pairs in a variety of colors and layered two each day. Not only are they super comfy and easy to adventure in, they're also nice and warm! 
WATERPROOF PANTS. I basically lived in leggings, but we also were lucky to not have too much rain. To be safe, I'd bring along a pair of HIKING PANTS that are water resistant or quick drying. I packed a pair of INSULATED PANTS that ended up being a little too warm for most activities, but we also had pretty mild weather. If you're visiting in the middle of winter and doing ice cave tours or glacier walks, you might want to bring some of these along. They're so warm and come in petite, regular and tall lengths! (Pro tip: If you're under 5'7", you might fit the YOUTH PANTS that are a bit cheaper and come in some bright colors.)
DARK JEANS. You'll want these if you're staying in Reykjavik to blend in with the stylish locals, or for going out to dinner at night. Stick to leggings or hiking pants for day trips though because no one wants to be stuck in wet jeans all day (and you'll be hanging out with lots of waterfalls). 


LONG SLEEVE TOPS. Layer these over your thermals and under a sweater on colder days. 
THERMAL TOP AND PANTS. You'll only need a couple of pairs because you can wash them out and let them dry overnight. I packed ONE WHITE and ONE BLACK thermal top. I skipped the bottoms and doubled up on fleece-lined leggings instead, but I'd recommend bringing thermal leggings for extra warmth. I would have been too cold in just my fleece ones some days but I had a long parka and taller boots that covered most of my legs. 
WARM PAJAMAS. You should have a heater at night if you're staying at a guest house or hotel, but if you're stuck with a broken one (like we were one night) or bunking down in a camper van, you'll be glad you brought some cozy PJs. I have THIS PAIR from Target and they are so comfy. 
WOOL SOCKS. These were worth every penny for how warm and dry they kept my feet. I'm fully convinced they could make any pair of shoes comfortable too. I also snuck THESE ONES in my cart because of how cute they are, even though I didn't bring them to Iceland.


BEANIE. Fleece-lined knit caps give a little extra warmth, but mine weren't lined and worked just fine. Bring a couple of colors to easily mix up your look.
SCARF. I always travel with a blanket scarf as it serves so many purposes. In Iceland, it was my plane blanket, car blanket, towel, picnic blanket … oh and cute scarf on occasion. I wore THIS ONE in black and white, but it comes in lots of colors and costs less than $10. 
GLOVES. Look for something waterproof and touchscreen compatible. I brought THESE ONES along but they were a little too bulky for most activities (i.e. taking lots of pictures). They were very warm though and would be great for skiing and snowball fights! I ended up wearing MY TOUCHSCREEN PAIR much more, but since they aren't waterproof they would get quite damp at times. Luckily gloves dry out pretty quickly!
SUNGLASSES. Believe it or not, the sun occasionally makes an appearance in fall. Actually, we had three very sunny days in the week we were there. So definitely bring some sunglasses. You'll especially want them at the Blue Lagoon, where the sun reflects brightly off the water. I was dumb and left mine in my locker and regretted it the whole squinty time. 
BACKPACK. If you plan to do any hiking, bring along a daypack for your snacks, water and all the layers you will inevitably want to shed. On our hike up the Glymur waterfall, I went from wearing fleece-lined everything and an insulated jacket, to wishing I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt two miles in with the sun beaming, to desperately bundling back up into my puffer and gloves when it started raining at the top. 


BATHING SUIT. If you know anything about Iceland, you probably have heard of the Blue Lagoon. You'll want to go there. And you'll need a swimsuit for that. Plus, there are other hot springs and public pools along the Ring Road where you might want to take a dip.
QUICK DRY TOWEL. You can use this when you visit the Blue Lagoon, or for those days when the rain or a waterfall soaks you. You'll definitely need a towel if you're staying in a camper van and THE MICROFIBER ONES pack lighter and dry faster than whatever you keep in your bathroom at home. 


WATER BOTTLE. The water in Iceland is clean and so yummy, so no need to stock up on bottles at the store. Just bring a couple of refillable ones and enjoy all the free tap/spring water your heart desires.
PLUG ADAPTER. This one is my new favorite because you can charge three things in one outlet (one plug, two USB ports). It also has four internal plug adaptors, so it covers A LOT of countries. We also brought a CAR CHARGER to make sure our phones stayed powered up on the go since I use mine instead of a camera all the time. 
EXTRA LARGE MEMORY CARD.  We maxed out a 64 GB memory card with all the video we took on our GOPRO HERO 5 so either take backups, a larger card or plan to do a lot of picture and video transferring at night. 
DRONE. This is the No. 1 item we wish we had brought with us to Iceland. I think we would have left our jackets behind to bring a drone instead, but we didn't own one yet. If you're thinking of buying a drone, definitely do it before you go to Iceland! And if you have one, leave your recommendation in the comments because we're shopping around.


If you've visited, would you add anything to this list? If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, drop all your packing questions in the comments!

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