The Land of Fire and Ice (a.k.a. Iceland) didn’t get it’s cool nickname for being mild. If you are headed here, congratulations! You are going to have some of the best experiences of your lifetime! BUT, it’s important to be prepared so that you can thoroughly enjoy your time there.
The weather in Iceland is variable and rapidly changes. Furthermore, there are often micro-climates. In a 3 hour drive sightseeing along the coast, you might experience all four seasons in one day. Speaking from experience, we started one day out with sun and passing clouds, me in a flannel and vest feeling pretty comfortable hanging out outside and a few hours later I was bracing myself against gale force wind with hail pelting me in the face and my fingers turning purple from the cold. Don’t let that get you down. It was actually kind of fun considering the rest of the day was pretty nice!
So, the terrain, weather and exposure to wind make for a unique clothing needs. There is a saying in Iceland, “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing choices.” So, here are my best tips for what to wear in Iceland so that you pack well and enjoy it all!
Clothing to pack for Iceland
Warm windproof and waterproof coat
Even in the summer months, Iceland can be chilly, so look ahead to what the temperatures will be and ensure your outerwear can protect you from the wind and the rain. Alternatively, you can ensure your outer coat is wind-proof and bring a sturdy rain poncho, but I prefer the waterproof (or water resistant) coat. A good option is a ski coat because it is designed for mobility, wind-resistance and getting wet in the snow.
Sturdy, warm boots
I highly suggest getting a pair of hiking boots for this trip. At minimum, you’ll need a pair of shoes that have good ankle support, treads for traction and can keep your feet warm and dry. I purchased a new pair of hiking boots on sale at REI for $65 and there are even less expensive options out there. Do some research and you’ll find you can get a good pair without breaking the bank.
Tops: Thermal layers
Because the weather changes so much in Iceland, it’s nice to layer your clothing so you can shed or add as needed. I also suggest looking for materials that are breathable but also meant to handle sweat and dry quickly. Stay away from cotton. Once it gets wet or you sweat, it is very slow drying. Your best bet is merino wool (which also is good for odor control), but that can get pricey so you can also look for athletic fabrics that are designed for running, sports, etc. In October in Iceland, I wore a performance wear tank top (meant for sports) plus a long sleeve thermal top plus a flannel plus a lightweight down vest and my coat and it was perfect. Sometimes I was without my coat and sometimes with, but always comfortable.
Bottoms: Moveable fabrics
The key with your bottoms is to be warm and have great mobility. For women, I highly recommend fleece leggings. You can get them on Amazon at a steal! I wore these every day and they were great. For men, you can get performance wear pants or hiking pants. I recommend staying away from jeans because they are stiffer typically and also slow drying. You can also put thermal pants under hiking pants which work great as well (like, long underwear).
Water resistant pants
This is a key item you’ll want to have. Get a pair of waterproof or water resistant pants that will fit over the other pants you wear. That way, when you go to a waterfall (the larger ones have a lot of spray and you get wet) or if it’s raining out, you can throw these pants on over your others, stay dry, then take them off when you’re back in the car. This will avoid any uncomfortable, wet rides between sightseeing. These pants were a lifesaver. It’s a great bonus if they are also windproof. It will cut any cold windy weather down considerably for you.
I highly recommend getting a pair of wool socks for each day you plan to be sightseeing in the country. They will keep your feet warm and dry and this will set the precedent for your whole body. If your feet are miserable, so are you. These don’t have to be super costly. I got great ones at Mountain Warehouse and they totally did the trick. Try them on beforehand with your boots to make sure they fit well underneath. You can get ones that are really thin or thicker ones, depending on your boots.
Hat, gloves, scarf
Be ready to keep your head, neck and hands warm. These are no-brainers. I recommend getting gloves that either can flip to expose your fingertips or have the threads that allow them to work with electronics because trust me, you will be snapping pictures left and right. It’s nice if your gloves allow you to still work cameras and phones.
If you plan to visit the thermal baths, hot springs or Blue Lagoon, you’ll need a swimsuit! I’d also bring flip flops. If you can fit it in your suitcase, you can bring a robe also to keep warm outside. For more info on how to prep for Blue Lagoon, read on here!
If you plan to go out in Reykjavik for a night or two, pack some normal outfits you’d wear out in the city so you’re not stuck wearing hiking boots and waterproof pants to a nice dinner. This obviously depends on what you plan to do. You can still be casual, in my opinion. I went out in leggings and a cute sweater and tall leather boots.
Other helpful packing items
Reusable water bottle
You may have heard, Iceland is expensive. If you haven’t heard that yet, you’re hearing it now. It’s true. So, finding ways to cut down on costs helps a lot. Iceland’s water is really pure and clean. So, if you bring a reusable water bottle, you can fill up when you stop at gas stations or points of interest so you don’t wind up spending $40 on water over the course of the week.
Waterproof phone case
If it’s raining, you’re by a powerful waterfall, or you’re taking a dip in a thermal bath, a waterproof phone sleeve is helpful to have. They sell them on Amazon and are designed to fit your phone and even take photos through the plastic.
For all the same reasons it’s convenient to have a waterproof phone case, it’s also nice to have a waterproof bag you can throw over your shoulder when you go out sightseeing.
Make sure you have the converter you need to accommodate a Euro outlet.
Portable battery charger
If you plan to be out all day sightseeing and you want to take lots of photos (which, trust me, you will) then I recommend getting a portable battery pack that you can charge overnight and take with you on the road.
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And, there you have it! With these items, you’re sure to be comfortable and prepared so you can focus on enjoying the extreme beauty this country has to offer! For more info on how to make the most of your trip, read Top Tips for Visiting Iceland.