WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO ICELAND
Iceland is one of those trips where no one realizes how cold it is until they actually go.
Its varied landscape makes you feel like you’re in another world, and even those who aren’t “nature lovers” somehow manage to enjoy the magic that Mother Nature has gifted them.
Yet, if there’s one thing that’ll ruin your trip (and ruin it quickly), it’s being ill-equipped with your apparel.
Along with its varied landscape, Iceland has varied weather.
You’ll be in cities and remote rural areas, and you’ll also need fleece jackets and sunscreen.
This blog will help you get all the details right.
Here’s what to pack for a trip to Iceland.
What to Pack for Iceland When?
Like most places you’ll visit, Iceland does have some weather changes depending on the season.
As a result, you should check the weather for the time of year you’re going.
This will help determine what you pack.
If you’re looking for warm weather, the best time to visit Iceland is during the summer months (June through August).
You’ll be able to participate in activities like hiking, horse riding, whale-spotting, and more.
The days in the summer are long (July has the Midnight Sun), which means there are about 21 hours of daylight.
If you’re seeking out the Northern Lights (a constant attraction for Iceland), then you’ll be heading to Iceland during the cooler season (September to April).
While there’s no guarantee you’ll see this incredible phenomenon, September to October and February to March give you your best bet.
“Winter” lasts from October to May and some tourism operators may close completely during these months.
Those that remain open will be focused on the Northern Lights, four-wheel-driving, and glacier exploration along the fringes of the southern ice caps.
It’s always best to book in advance for these types of trips because there is less availability when the bulk of the tour operators close.
December to February is when Iceland is coldest and iciest, so be sure to pack for this if this is when you intend to go.
There are still plenty of winter experiences like whale watching or swimming in Iceland’s geothermal pools.
That said, if you’re able to delay your trip, you’ll have greater access to tourist activities if you wait.
All-Season Essentials for Iceland
There are some items you’ll want to pack for a trip to Iceland regardless of when you go.
Here’s what you should add to your suitcase:
- Fleece jacket/lightweight wool sweater
- Rainproof/windproof jacket
- Rain pants
- Sturdy walking shoes with a good tread/grip
- Hat (beanie)
- Thermal underwear (specifically for highland travel/activities)
- Waterproof hiking boots (specifically for highland travel/activities)
- Warm socks (specifically for winter and highland travel/activities)
- Quick-dry towel (for visiting pools and hot springs – towels are available for rent at swimming facilities)
What to Pack for Iceland in Winter
Many travelers are surprised to learn that Iceland doesn’t often drop below freezing in the wintertime.
The temperature itself will hover right around 0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, the wind does make it feel much colder than the thermometer reads, which is why it’s important to be ready with the right attire.
Here’s what to pack for a trip to Iceland in the winter:
- Waterproof winter jacket
- Thermal underwear
- Wool or fleece sweaters
- Waterproof winter pants
- Wool socks
- Waterproof winter boots
- Ice cleats – Iceland gets really icy in the winter. Even with quality winter boots, it can be difficult to walk around. Packing ice cleats can help you maintain stability and prevent falls.
- Waterproof gloves
- Winter hat
- Quick-drying towel
- Extra pair of shoes – These are great for wearing in your hotel when your other shoes get too muddy to wear around
Essential Items to Pack for Iceland
Alright, so you’ve got the essential wardrobe items down.
Now, what else do you need in your suitcase to make this trip fun?
- Reusable water bottle
- Camera gear
- Power bank
- Travel adapter
- Backpack with rain cover – Seriously! Don’t forego the rain cover. Your umbrella will be useless if it rains, and you don’t want your stuff to get wet.
- Medication – You’ll be traveling to rural places in Iceland, which often means pharmacies won’t be convenient (if available). Pack a first-aid kit so that you have everything you may need in a pinch.
- Ice scraper – Did you know rental cars don’t come with ice scrapers? Seems dangerous, so throw an ice scraper in your bag so that you have a way to clean your car in the winter.
It’s not unusual in the travel world for tourists to end up in Iceland on a whim.
Until March 2019, WOW Air was known for being an Icelandic budget carrier that offered incredibly cheap fares to Iceland.
For a couple hundred dollars, your dreams to visit Iceland would come true.
That said, when these discount fares started popping up, more and more travelers decided to travel lightly.
Because budget fares often come with a catch.
They provide only a carry-on in your ticket fee unless you want to pay an extra $100 or so (which makes the ticket conveniently more expensive).
Not to be outdone, crafty travelers decided they would attempt to pack in carry-on backpacks to ensure they got the extra low fare without a catch.
If you’re in this camp, I’ll not only show you the best carry-on bags to take with you but also the best way to pack.
Best carry-on backpacks to take to Iceland:
- Osprey Stratos 24 Pack: Looking for something super light? This is a great backpack for hiking in Iceland. I’d recommend it for a shorter trip (perhaps a return trip – not for first-timers). It provides the wearer plenty of space, a built-in rain cover (a must-have!), and a waist-belt that makes the pack easy to carry. You’ll have plenty of room for the essentials but not so much room that you’ll overpack.
- Tortuga Outbreaker 45L: If you’re not into the “hiking backpack” look, then this may be your best bet. It’s a good blend between backpack and luggage. It provides you nearly twice as much room as the Osprey bag above, so you can make it work for longer trips. The Tortuga is a water-resistant and durable bag that provides ample protection from both sharp objects and the elements (perfect for Iceland!).
- Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L: This 45L bag is perfect for photographers, so if you’re in Iceland to get some shots of the scenery, then consider this option. There are tuck-away straps, and the convenient expansion features are ideal. However, you will have to pay extra for the camera cube if photography is your focus.
- Osprey Farpoint 40: My personal travel favorite is the Osprey Farpoint 40, which is the ideal start option for one-bag travel. The Farpoint is easy to pack (especially with packing cubes) and works around the world. You’ll load it through a front-panel, which makes it incredibly easy to access everything you need. It’s generally comfortable for mid-distance travel. If you’ve never owned a backpack and are looking to make the jump, this is a great pick.
How to Pack a Carry-On for Iceland
Taking a carry-on for the first time can be challenging.
If you’re used to having a lot of room, suddenly being restricted to a carry-on will force you to choose what you really need.
When figuring out what to pack for a trip to Iceland, you also need to learn how to pack it.
Here are my rules of thumb:
- Bigger isn’t always better. Don’t look at a smaller bag as inferior. You have a lot of space to work with as long as you use it correctly. Check the maximum size and weight that you’re entitled to. Use up to (but not beyond) that limit. The last thing you want is to get hit with an overweight fee.
- Less is more. Under pack clothing just a little bit. You can be a little bit dirty when traveling. You can wear the same t-shirt more than once, and as a worst-case scenario, you can find somewhere to do laundry. Lay out everything you want to pack and then cut it in half. You can thank me later.
- Roll your clothes. This is the most popular space-saving technique. Google the “Army roll” for how to do it and save space in your suitcase.
- Invest in compression bags. If you’re really tight on space, sucking the air out of the puffier items in your wardrobe can be a space saver.
- Fill empty spaces. Store underwear and socks inside shoes or hats. Make sure the very bottom of your backpack doesn’t have any gaps. Push until you can’t push anymore. After you get good at it, you’ll realize your bag has a lot more space than you thought.
What About Bringing Money to Iceland?
While many people may not think about money when considering what to pack for Iceland, this is obviously something that’s going to be a central part of your trip, and without it you’re not going to have a very good time.
The first thing you should know about money in Iceland is that its official measure, the Krona, is extremely strong.
In fact, it’s stronger than most other currencies in the world, which means that generally speaking, you’re going to find Iceland expensive, even when you’re purchasing ordinary things at the grocery store and the like.
However, one of the fortunate aspects of money with regards to what to pack for a trip to Iceland is that for the most part, you’re not going to need cash when it’s time to pay for something.
The Icelandic finance industry is not only extremely centralized, but it’s also very modern.
That means that for you, a debit or credit card should do the trick almost every time.
That’s good, because on the other side of the coin – pun somewhat intended – you may be traveling the country in a manner that brings you through a lot of remote places.
That means that ATM machines are going to be few and far between, even though credit card scanners are almost always around, so merchants can get paid by tourists and locals alike.
That said, you should still plan on having some local cash on hand, as you never know when you’re going to need it.
Any list of what to pack for a trip to Iceland should include your cash card, and the best way to go about getting that cash is to simply withdraw it at the ATM at the airport when you land.
Yes, there will be a small fee for doing so, but you’re going to pay that anyway if you change your money in-person, and that fee may be even larger.
Should I Bring Some Food?
For some people, what to pack for Iceland is going to include food.
That’s because the cuisine in Iceland is quite unique and it can take some getting used to if you haven’t been there before.
You should know that like with any country, there are limits as to what you can bring both in terms of weight and type.
You can bring up to 3 kg of food, and there are strict limits on meat.
Be prepared to show the ingredients when you land.
That said, it may not be a bad idea to bring some snack-type foods to get you through if you’re having a hard time adjusting to the meals there or you find yourself out on a hike and you’re famished, which isn’t uncommon.
Most people who travel to Iceland are going to wind up adjusting to the food that’s served there, so you should feel confident that you’ll find things that you like and that by the time you’ll leave, you’ll want to take a piece of every menu with you.
There you go!
What to pack for a trip to Iceland in a single blog post.
You may need to add a few things to the list here or there based on weather and where you’re headed.
But, for the most part, you’ll be well-equipped to handle whatever the country has to offer.
For more information on where to go, read my blog on How to Plan an Iceland Adventure.
Do you have any additional tips on what to pack for a trip to Iceland? If you do, comment below!
If you are still feeling overwhelmed, or simply do not have the time to plan your trip to Iceland, why not let us help you? We will create the perfect bespoke itinerary just for you!