What to Pack for Iceland?
Updated: Jan 24
Traveling to Iceland is still a trending destination trip for 2018-2020. And if you’ve already scanned through all the photos on our 11 day Ring Road Itinerary for Photographers and Explorers, you already have a hint of what to expect for weather. If you are a fair-weather traveler, the variability in Iceland may be somewhat of a shock. But if you are an adventure-lover, you will be excited just for an excuse to root through all your gear. However, many airlines have lighter bag weight allowance these days. Which means that you may need to cherry pick your gear to fit into a bag that weighs between 45 - 50 pounds. So let’s get started.
Let me preface by saying that no matter what time of year you go to Iceland, there is a good chance you are going to be hit with wind, rain or hail at some point. In summer months, the likelihood of getting a few blue sky days is improved. But I went to Iceland on my first trip in August and it rained 6 of the 8 days I was there. So there is no guarantee. This trip we went mid-May, and although we were lucky enough to stay ahead of some major storm fronts, the ‘typical’ day had > 40mph winds at times. In the South, I wore three layers up top and my rain pants over hiking pants/tights for added warmth almost every day. By contrast, in the North and Western Peninsula, I actually had a few days that I was able to hike in a t-shirt and wind-breaker. So it’s to your advantage to be prepared for both.
Layering is key. So is picking items that can be cross-functionally used. In other words, something you can be active in during the day but still wear to a casual dinner, or double as your lounge wear the night before you actually use them. One benefit of Icelandic weather was that I didn't sweat as much as I typically do with activity, simply because the temps were only in the 40’s and 50’s most days. So I was able to reuse my base layers more often before they got stinky. Aside from ‘undies’, I re-used everything at least twice, including socks.
Before we continue, I want to show you one of my most valuable pieces of gear – a portable luggage scale. Before I had one of these, I used to try to balance my luggage on my scale in the bathroom and try to read the dial under the overlapping sides of the bag. Or I’d try the hold it and weight myself, then subtract the difference. Neither was very accurate and the latter was a bit awkward too. Once I got this little gizmo, I never looked back. It's precise and easy to pack. Seriously, its one gadget every traveler would benefit from. Click on the link above to get one.
So here is my gear packing list for our 11 day trip in Spring/Summer in Iceland and some thoughts behind each choice. The list below is not all-inclusive. But it will get you further than you think. So leave some room and weight in your luggage for toiletries and and a few pieces of non-gear clothing items. But remember that traveling to Iceland is an adventure and not like going to a resort where you need to dress up. Active-casual wear is the 'norm'. And it's perfectly acceptable to wear the same outfit more than once. Besides, these days stylish, cross-functional outdoor wear is everywhere. Which means you can wear something during the day to hike or explore and still wear it out for a beer or dinner later!
NOTE - All gear type that I have listed below are items I have purchased and have found to be excellent. For simplicity, I tried to find all the specific brands that I personally use on one site. If I couldn't find a particular brand through Amazon, I did some research and chose one that looked similar in quality and price. None of the listed items are brand sponsored. Recommendations come from my own personal experience. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. But there is no extra cost to you. So if you do find this blog helpful and decide to order any of the items on my list below I will get a small commission. However, my philosophy is ‘you get what you give’. So for every purchase made through these links, Paradox will contribute 20% of the profit to one of the charities highlighted on our site. So not only does this facilitate the continued sharing of great travel tips and recommendations, but your purchase will contribute to something bigger than the both of us. Thank you.
Weather/Gear Packing List
Upper body (base wear)
1. Sport bra (women) (4) – in hindsight, I think I could have gotten away with only two, I use a variety of brands based on fit.
3. Medium weight long-sleeve base layer (2) – same here, choosing a stylish color or pattern doesn’t matter when it’s under a jacket. But it can make the item cross-functional. Women love Smartwool too, as they are always coming up with
4. Fleece vest – versatile option for added warmth, without being too warm, and with less bulk under a jacket.
For women, a black vest as it goes well with those colorful patterned tops you packed. ;)
5. Short-sleeve technical shirt (non-cotton) – 1 I only wore this one time outside. Mostly used as a indoor option when the places we were staying had the heat turned up too high for my preference. Here is one for the guys.
Upper Body (outer wear)
1. Light weight synthetic down or down jacket. – I prefer synthetic down like this one in wet weather, it lightweight, dries faster and is just as windproof. I have owed the one from the linked brand for more than 7 years and still love it. It compresses nicely into a small stuff sac as well. Here is one for women.
2. Waterproof/wind shell jacket – light to medium weight *** Essential gear. I prefer laying a light – mid-weight, packable Gortex jacket worn over additional layers, like the synthetic down above. But if all you have is a ski jacket, at least that is waterproof. But it may take up more space in your suitcase. For women, here is one similar to mine.
TIP - bright colored jackets like RED, Orange, and Pink stand out in photos.
3. Softshell – this was perfect for windy days with light rain. It wasn’t waterproof enough in a downpour, but it was warmer. I replaced the old one I packed with this one that I bought in Iceland. I worn it almost as often as my rain shell. It's awesome.
1. Undies – these are lightweight, so I’ll let you decide numbers for yourself. For myself personally? I like a new pair every day. But I know there are many who use the ‘inside-out-wear’ with ½ the number.
*for the ladies - I typically wear thong undies except when I am hiking or running, then I wear these as they don't give me a 'wedgie' and are wicking.
2. – Hiking pants or hiking tights (2 pair) – the hiking pants that both my husband and I wore were double-functioning, as we also wore them to dinner. These Fjallraven hiking tights are the BOMB! A bit of a gear investment but the reinforced knees and seat, as well as the flexible fabric and leg pockets has made them one of my all-time favorite gear pieces.
3. – Lycra tights or yoga pants (1-2 pair) or long underwear for the guys– they fit more easily under rain pants, which I worn for warmth almost every day due to the wind. I also liked wearing these more than jeans, when driving.
4 – Jeans – my husband brought a pair of jeans. But keep in mind that cotton doesn’t block the wind that well.
5– Light weight rain/wind pants *** essential gear, not just for rain, but for wind chill! I wore these almost every day for rain or wind protection. My husband and I both love brands that have the vented/ zip sides, which makes them easy to get on over shoes or boots. We ordered one size up from regular pant size. Here is a pair for women.
2. Lighter weight beanie (if you get head-hot easily or for women who simply want a more attractive option, try this one.)
3. Buffs (2) these are probably the most versatile piece of gear I’d recommend. You can wear it as a neck warmer, face/chin mask, headband or hat and when doubled up, is wind-resistant, I think I own at least 8 Buffs. I collect them now, as they keep coming up with cool new designs and I use them so frequently.
4. Activewear ball cap – I personally like Headsweats brand as it’s designed for active wear and wicks sweat and dries faster than a cotton sports cap.
5. Sunglasses (preferably with changeable lenses)
My hands get cold easily, so I bring options for all weather conditions!
1. Fingerless wool or wind-resistant glove/mittens (I wore these the most) – I like the fingerless mitts as I can pull off the top and still shoot my camera without exposing my entire hand.
3. Windstopper or waterproof over-mitt (with liner gloves above) – I like this combo either when raining. They are lightweight and not bulky, easy to pack.
4. Optional mid-weight wind-stopper gloves - this is a nice alternative to the first pair I mentioned. But you probably still need to take them off to shoot with a camera. My husband and I both own Serius brand gloves and have used them for years. They are soft, fit well and great wind-stoppers in cooler (but not super cold) weather. If you are simply taking Iphone photos, get a pair that are touch-screen friendly. Here is an example. I haven't tried their touch-screen fabric option, so can't vouch for that aspect.
1. Socks – synthetic or smart wool – medium weight (6 pair) – I was able to get 2 wears out of my socks as the my feet didn’t sweat in the colder temperatures. I have worn Fox River for more than 10 years because they are great wicking socks and have kept their shape for years of rugged use.
2. Athletic walking or running Shoes (1) –shoes with vibram soles. This is really a personal choice.
3. Sandals – I love, love, love these Taos sandals for women because they are as rugged but look good with dresses as well! I can hike in these and then wear them to dinner for a less androgynous look. I've owned this pair for 2 years and keep waiting for them to wear out so I have an excuse to buy another pair. I may be waiting a long time for that. My husband still prefers his classic Teva sandals.
4. Wool slip-ons – if you have room. These were a luxury. They are so comfortable, warm, lightweight and they can be worn out doors for quick trips to the car, due to the foam soles. You can put them in the washing machine too. My husband bought me Allbirds brand last year and I cant' stop wearing them. But these are similar if you prefer Amazon shopping.
I hope this list was helpful. Have fun!
Go here if you'd like to see our full 11 day Itinerary for Photographers and Explorers