Packing for Iceland is no small feat. Visitors should expect a narrower range of temperatures, but usually cooler than wherever you live, and dramatic, sudden changes in weather. Also, as a bonus, high winds easily capable of knocking you down. And rain, but only sometimes. Nothing stops for the weather in Iceland, so the best way to enjoy your trip is to prepare for everything.
Tip #1: Check the weather, check it again, then forget it. Because it will change. Often.
Iceland is all about outdoor adventure, so you will want to be prepared to enjoy the outdoors whether you’re doing a Golden Circle bus tour or a multi-day trekking and camping adventure. The following list is intended to cover your bases for day trips, light hiking, and driving from spectacular place to spectacular place. I tested this list during my mid-August trip, so these tips should cover you from June to September. Once the snow arrives, double- or triple- your layers, add warmer boots, gloves and a much, much warmer coat.
Tip #2: Have a go-bag for day trips and road trips
At Reynisfjara, I saw a busload of tourists arrive in sweatshirts and not a rainjacket among them, and they were about to have a miserable experience. Once again, the weather is not a reason to miss out on Iceland, take some gear and you’ll be all set for an amazing adventure. We had a car with plenty of trunk space, so it was quite easy to bring all of this stuff along. Depending on your transportation, your mileage may vary. If you are touring around as part of an organized bus tour, bring whatever gear your company recommends. They’re the experts.
- All of the layers you own
- Phone, backup battery charger
- Camera, extra memory, extra battery, charging cord
- Lots of music and podcasts (we had very limited radio coverage outside of Reykjavik)!
- Offline and paper maps (we hit spots of poor coverage)
- Ziploc bags
- Swimwear, quick-dry towel, bag for wet clothes (in case you find a secret thermal pool)
- Sunglasses (eternal optimism)
- Sunscreen (yes, believe it)
- Journal, pens
- Water: take a refillable water bottle, you can drink the water everywhere
- Snacks (we stopped at a number of small towns along the way to stock up)
- Travel wipes for quick clean-up, first aid (incl bandages, antibacterial ointment, pain relief and stomach relief)
- Bag for garbage (ICELAND IS SO BEAUTIFUL, don’t you dare litter)
Tip #3: Take all of the layers for your adventures
- Rain jacket
- Rain pants
- Mid-layer: MEC Uplink layer
- Hat and gloves – I took both light merino ones and thicker running ones with grips for phone & camera
- Buff: scarf, hat, & headband all-in-one (this seems to be a common summer item for Icelandic children, too)
- Merino hiking socks (with a spare dry pair)
- Hiking boots (worn on the plane)
- I’d also suggest taking an extra pair of dry footwear if you have them. One of my boots got quite wet at a waterfall, but it was the last stop of the day and the inconvenience was minimal.
Tip #4: Keep everything else simple
Everyone traveling in Iceland looks like they’re on a rugged outdoor adventure. The locals, generally, do not. Efforts to blend in will likely fail, so just lean into it and look like the rugged adventurer you are. This packing list was for a long weekend, with one day spent in Reykjavik, and the rest of the time on the road exploring.
- Plane tickets
- Bank cards, credit cards, currency
- 40L Backpack
- Black North Face cross-body bag
- Packing cubes
- All of the layers in the previous section
- Sleepwear, sleep mask, ear plugs, merino long underwear
- Bras x2, underwear x5, socks x3
- Swimwear, quick-dry towel, and plastic bag (if you’re visiting the Blue Lagoon or any thermal pool)
- Tops 3 long-sleeved (2 merino, 1 casual top for going out in Reykjavik), 1 merino tank
- Pants: casual black pants for Reykjavik, hiking outdoor pants for outdoor adventures, running/hiking tights
- Footwear: comfortable walking-around boots for Reykjavik
- Shampoo, conditioner, hair product, elastics, wide-toothed comb
- Bar soap, body lotion, deodorant, razor
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss
- Glasses and case, contact lenses, case, solution
- Lip balm and hand lotion
- First aid: bandages, Imodium, ibuprofen, allergy pills, blister pads
- Face wipes, tissues
- Makeup and brushes, cotton swabs, emery board and nail clippers
- Phone and charger, ear buds, backup charger
- Zip ties – I use these as a makeshift luggage lock when checking my backpack
What did you take to Iceland? What worked, what didn’t? Let me know in the comments!
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