What to pack when travelling to Iceland

FarmersMarket

The picture above is from Farmers Market, an Icelandic design company and clothing brand. I can’t decide if these clothes should be in Little House on the Prairie or in a fashion magazine. Either way, I love them and that’s part of the reason why I love Iceland.

Everything is stylish and cool in a chilled out kind of way. It makes you wonder if Icelanders were born with this understated fashion sense or if they’re just really good at hiding how hard they’re trying.

Packing for Iceland is tough because you can experience so many weather conditions in one day. We’re talking about outfits that can go from bright sunshine and mild temperatures to icy winds that are harsher that a slap across the face with a particularly cold Icelandic fish.

The weather in Iceland makes the British weather seem calm and mild. It takes unpredictability to whole new level and likes to trick you into a false sense of security and whip it away again just as you remove your fifth layer.

Iceland is the perfect place for knitted jumpers, wool dresses, thick tights and chunky boots. There are a few more practical things you’ll need to put on your list that aren’t quite so stylish.

I learned a few things about what you should pack for Iceland and also a few things you have to pick up while you’re there.

Here are 8 things everyone should pack for Iceland:

1. Waterproof Jacket

What to pack for Iceland

No matter what time of year you visit Iceland, you’re definitely going to need a good waterproof jacket. As I’ve mentioned before, the weather in Iceland can flip in seconds and switches from bright and sunny to cold and rainy or even snowing so I’d recommend a light waterproof jacket that you can wear over your warm jumpers.

I have a North Face waterproof jacket that has a soft fleecy lining around the neck and a good hood which came in very handy. It also packs up really small so I could stuff it in my backpack when I didn’t need it. These jackets are expensive but they’re well worth it because you’ll keep it for years.

2. Icelandic jumper

icelandic jumper

The Icelandic jumper is basically a uniform for locals and you definitely need to be wearing one to be in the cool crew.

They’re usually patterned around the neck, come in neutral colours and are made with natural materials. The jumpers are so warm that you don’t need to wear a jacket on top and this is why you feel like you see them EVERYWHERE.

Many of the jumpers are handmade and this is reflected in the high price. Their popularity ties in with a recent popularity in knitting and has become something of a national symbol. This is more than just a jumper, it reflects the nation’s ability to cope after the economic crisis in 2008 which hit the country hard. This jumper says that they can look after themselves and they value their traditions. It’s also interesting that this style is spreading and every visitor to Iceland wants a slice of the homemade action.

Top tip: Icelandic jumpers are itchy as hell. They’re also hot as hell so make sure you have something light to wear beneath or you’ll be itching like mad.

3. Layers

It’s all about the layers in Iceland to make sure you stay warm but still stylish in this unpredictable climate. My top secret here is thermals. I know what you’re thinking, ‘Thermals aren’t sexy’, right? I know, I know. But when you’ve got thermals underneath you can wear whatever you like on top.

I usually wear thermals and then I’ll put leggings with cute jumpers or dresses on top. I don’t look like I’m bundled up but I’ll be super toasty!

4. Waterproof trousers

I had real issues buying these trousers for a number of reasons. Firstly, they’re ugly. Secondly, they were quite expensive at £45. Thirdly, they’re ugly. Did I mention they’re ugly? But I was grateful for these trousers when the heavens opened.

We usually spent all day on the road visiting different places in Iceland so it would have been horrible to sit in soggy trousers while driving from place to place.

Some people opted for waterproof trousers that are lined but I had a thin pair that can be slipped over whatever you’re already wearing. These are cheaper and mean you can take them off if the sun decides to shine. These also mean you can be wearing a cute outfit underneath.

5. Comfortable shoes/walking boots

Walking boots with crampons in Iceland

If you’re travelling in the summer you’ll definitely want to get out and about in the mountains and do some hiking so a decent pair of walking shoes is a must. If you’re visiting in the winter then you might not be doing so much hiking but there will be walks to waterfalls and around national parks.

If you’re planning to go glacier hiking (more on this coming soon!) then you will need very sturdy boots in order to attach your crampons.

I actually didn’t take hiking boots and I wore my cosy Ugg boots for the entire trip because I’d left my boots at my parent’s house in Wales. I was able to hire hiking boots for glacier hiking for 1,000 Icelandic Krona which works out at about £5.00 – much better than buying new ones and even a good option if you don’t want to lug around a heavy pair of boots.

6. Colourful bobble hat

Hat with a beard attached in Iceland

A bobble hat with a beard attached is optional but if you want to fit in with the locals then a cute and cosy bobble hat will be your favourite accessory.

7. Sunglasses

It might seem strange to have sun glasses and cashmere bobble hats on the same list but, trust me, you’ll need them. When the sun shines off a fresh layer of snow it’s the most beautiful sight in the world but it doesn’t half make you squint.

8. GoPro Camera

I’m usually more than happy using my iPhone and DSLR camera when I’m travelling but a combination of the wet weather and underwater activities in Iceland made a GoPro really handy.

If you aren’t familiar with what a GoPro is, it’s a tiny camera that comes with a waterproof case and can be easily attached to a head, chest or wrist strap. They’re great for activities like snorkelling, visiting hot springs  or the Blue Lagoon or when you’re around waterfalls.

What do you think to the Icelandic style and is there anything else you think that should be on this list?


 

Read more:

Tips for visiting the Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Snorkelling between tectonic plates in Iceland

Tips for road tripping and car hire in Iceland

Exploring the Golden Circle in Iceland 

Glacier Hiking in Iceland

KEX Hostel Review: A stylish stay in Iceland

Visiting Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

First impressions from Iceland

12 things you didn’t know about Iceland


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TheTravelHack

Monica is the founder and editor of The Travel Hack. She began the blog in 2009 when she left the UK to travel around Asia and Australia for two years. She's now a professional blogger and has travelled around the world in search of stylish adventure travel. Monica has recently had her second baby and is determined to prove that travelling with a baby is possible!

SHOWHIDE Comments (30)
  1. O man, totally agree about those waterproof trousers! They were on my To Buy list for New Zealand and I went to the shops with full intention to buy them. I just couldn’t do it. Left the shop only with a waterproof jacket and will be risking going about in wet trousers instead. 😛

    I ummed and ahhed about getting a gopro for my travels as well, still deciding!

    Icelandic fashion is brilliant IMO!

  2. This could not have been better timed! I’m off to Iceland in a few months and have been struggling with what to pack – other than a cute hate and some gloves with an animal on them – can’t wait to read more! So far I’m off to the Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle and Northern Lights and if I have time I’ll fit in a Whale watching tour – but I’ll definitely pack my waterproof now!

  3. Some great suggestions! I’m really glad to hear you can actually rent hiking boots. That would save so much space in my backpack!

    Also, those bobble hats! 🙂

  4. I LOVE my lopapeysa (Icelandic wool jumper) but sad I only bought it on the last day so didn’t wear it in Iceland. It was perfect for the drizzle that confronted me when I got back to Melbourne though. 🙂

  5. You were able to hire/rent hiking boots?? WHERE? This would be awesome, since one week in Iceland is just about the only time in my life I will need real hiking boots, and paying hundreds of dollars (not to mention having to use up precious packing space) for them is kind of off-putting.
    Thanks!

    1. I rented the boots through the company I did the glacier hiking with. They’re called Extreme Iceland. I doubt you’d be able to hire them in any old shop but if you’re doing any activity through a tour company I think they’ll have the option.

  6. Where can I get waterproof trousers that arent super ugly? I’m going to Iceland in June and I have no idea what kind of pants to wear.

    1. I bought mine from Millets but most outdoor stores stock them. I’m not really sure if you can get waterproof trousers that aren’t super ugly unless you pay a lot of money for a nicely fitted pair. I opted for cheap ones you can wear over your normal trousers so you can just take them off when you don’t need them.

  7. Hello! Thank you so much for this post! I’m going to Iceland in January and booked the same tour as you with Extreme Iceland. My questions is, when you rent the hiking boots, did you wear them the whole 2 days trip or only for the hiking part? If only for the hiking part, did your Ugg boots provide enough grip when you do other activities in the tour? I plan to take a pair of Uggs as well and rent the hiking shoes but a bit worried that they’d only give me the shoes for the hiking part and that the Uggs would be too slippery when it’s wet/icy since I’m going in winter. Thanks so much in advance 🙂

    1. Hi Amy, I rented the hiking boots for the whole of the trip but I only wore them for the glacier walk part. You needed proper boots for this part to attach crampons to. For the rest of the tour – and the rest of my time in Iceland – I was perfectly happy in my Uggs. When visiting waterfalls I did find the ground to be slippery but this was mostly because it was muddy and I don’t think walking boots would have made a big difference.

  8. Hello!
    I’ve just discovered your blog and love it! My friend and I are off to Iceland in a fortnight and this packing list is really helpful! What did you wear in the evenings for going out for dinner etc? I’ve got thermals and waterproofs for the daytime but am not sure about evening! Our hotel is about a 20 min walk from the centre of Reykjavik. Also, I read on another post that it is cashless? Do you think it’s ok to pay in cash? I’ve already changed some!
    thanks so much! Olivia x

    1. Hi Olivia, you’re going to have such an amazing time! For dinner, I’d just make sure you have an enormous warm coat. Walking between bars and restaurants will be very cold but once you’re inside it’s going to be boiling hot so you don’t want too many layers or you’ll end up spending the first 5 minutes stripping off. Reykjavik is pretty casual so you won’t need any formal or overly smart clothes. You could probably go to the bars in whatever you were wearing in the day (not waterproof pants though!)

      And yes, they do accept cash everywhere, it just might take a little bit longer.

      Have a great time!

  9. Sooooo helpful. Finally! I’m going to Iceland in October. I need to pack super light because of the budget airline I picked. I’m off to Scotland and Ireland after. What I’d like to do is only bring my waterproof trainers, and a light pair of casual shoes. Do you think I should buy heftier waterproof boots in iceland to use and take with on to UK?

    1. Unless you’re doing serious hiking then I doubt you’ll need waterproof boots. I think it’s personal preference – some people always hike in proper boots but whenever I can I’ll hike in trainers because they’re so much lighter and easier.
      Also, Iceland is expensive so buying something like a good pair of boots will cost a lot. I’d probably opt for lightweight walking shoes and the light, casual shoes for evenings out.

  10. great post! I had been searching for non-ugly waterproof pants for ages and came across women’s waterproof horseriding jodhpurs from decathlon.co.uk they are black and tight and kind of look like leather pants.. they stretch too. i’m not sure how well they will work but they are pretty comfy and look wayyyyy better than ski pants! fingers crossed they keep me warm-ish next week in iceland.

  11. I’m off to iceland in 3 weeks and this has been really usefully. We are going on northern lights tour, gullfoss and geysers trip and sightseeing . We have bought snow boots but not sure what other footwear. Not going climbing or too off road as my mum is nearly 70. Any ideas?

  12. Hi Heidi,
    If your snow boots are comfortable then I’d imagine you’d wear these throughout the day – so you’ll just need some shoes to wear for the evenings to go out for dinner. Iceland is very casual so you won’t need to dress up at all so I’d just pack something warm and comfortable – maybe a pair of ankle boots or something. I hope that helps and you have an amazing time!

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The Travel Hack

The Travel Hack is a blog about stylish adventure travel and affordable luxury.

We believe luxurious travel can be affordable and isn't just for the rich. Follow along with our worldwide adventures as we share our trips and tips for incredible travel experiences on a modest budget.