What to wear in Iceland in winter

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Planning a trip to Iceland in winter and wondering what kind of weather to expect, what to wear and what to pack? This Iceland winter packing list contains everything you need to bring.

 

With its snowy mountains, icy glaciers, thousands of frozen waterfalls and steamy natural baths, Iceland in winter is breathtaking. Adding fewer tourists and the chance to see the Northern Light, it doesn’t get much better.

I can highly recommend a winter trip to Iceland, but before you embark on your journey, you should make sure to pack the necessary stuff. Even though Iceland doesn’t get extremely cold in winter, you might experience freezing temperatures and strong winds that can make your trip a nightmare if you aren’t fully prepared and dressed for it. So packing properly is crucial.

Based on my own experiences of travelling the land of ice and fire in January, I’ve put together a comprehensive post to what to wear in Iceland in winter that covers everything from clothes, accessories and camera gear to my best Iceland winter packing tips.

 

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The Icelandic winter weather

No matter what time during winter you decide to go to Iceland, you will most likely experience that it’s cold. However, due to the North Atlantic Current, the Icelandic winters are fairly mild compared to other countries’ situated on the same latitude.

In the southern and western parts, the average temperature during winter is around 2 to -3 degrees while it’s colder in the northern and eastern parts with around -2 to -7 degrees on average between November and February. Adding the strong winds throughout the country, I probably don’t have to mention you need solid winter clothes to “survive” the cold and enjoy your time, right?

 

Iceland winter packing tips

Before getting into the specifics of what to take on your epic Iceland winter trip, here are a few packing tips to keep in mind:

Bring only what you need: You don’t need to pack your whole wardrobe for a winter trip to Iceland, but you shouldn’t pack light either. Choose warm and practical clothes and rather bring a little too much than not enough. The Icelandic winter weather can be tricky, and you don’t want to have to stay inside because you aren’t able to cope with the cold due to the clothes you have chosen to bring.

Layers upon layers upon layers: The Icelandic weather is everchanging, so pack and dress in a way so that you can throw on more layers if necessary. If you are travelling through Iceland by car (which I can highly recommend), you can always leave winter pants and extra layers in the boot.

You can buy everything you need in Iceland: Across Iceland and especially in Reykjavík, you can buy all kinds of winter clothes. However, you should prepare yourself for it to be quite expensive, so I won’t recommend relying on buying a whole new winter wardrobe upon arrival.

/Related: 18 essential Iceland winter tips

 


 

What to wear in Iceland in winter: The ultimate Iceland winter packing list

 

Iceland winter packing list: Luggage essentials

 

Medium size suitcase

I bring a suitcase on most of my travels and also in this case where my mum and I spent 10 days road tripping Iceland in January.

When it comes to suitcases, I’m a firm believer that price and quality are related – you simply get what you pay for. I’m a big fan of Samsonite and especially their hardcover models. I brought this medium-sized Samsonite S’CURE Spinner (affiliate link) with me to Iceland, and it was perfect for the purpose. It could easily hold all my stuff, it was easy to bring everywhere and it even passed the test of being dragged across all kinds of surfaces, including ice and snow.

 

Daypack

More or less all attractions in Iceland are outdoors, and you often need to walk a bit to reach them. While it varies for how long you need to walk, it’s always a good idea to bring a proper daypack with your most essential things.

I brought this waterproof and spacious Rains Field Bag (affiliate link) and liked it a lot.

 

Drysack

The Icelandic weather is everchanging and to secure that all your most important belongings don’t get wet, bringing a dry sack is a really good idea.

I like Osprey’s Ultralight Drysacks (affiliate link) that you can get in pretty much all sizes you would want – from three to 30 litres.

 

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Iceland winter packing list: Clothing essentials

 

Wind and waterproof winter jacket

The most essential piece of clothing you need in Iceland during winter is a high-quality wind and waterproof winter jacket to keep you warm throughout the days.

You can either go for a heavy all-in-one jacket that keeps you warm and is wind and waterproof or opt-in on a lighter shell jacket that protects you from wind and water and layer up underneath.

Prior to our trip, I invested in this Fjällräven Övik 3-in-1 Parka (affiliate link) and absolutely loved it. Despite the -20 degrees we experienced a few times, my body wasn’t cold at all.

 

Wind and waterproof winter pants

I was really in doubt whether or not to pack winter pants. In the end, I decided to bring some, and I was so glad I did. The freezing temperatures and especially the strong winds you might experience in Iceland in winter can be hard to cope with, but it helps a lot if you wear proper winter- or ski pants.

I really like these Fjällräven Karla Pro Winter Trousers (affiliate link) that seems perfect for a winter trip to Iceland.

 

Waterproof winter boots

Not much is worse than dealing with cold and wet feet, so you really want to bring good waterproof winter boots with you to Iceland.

From time to time you will most likely find yourself walking across snow and slushy ice regardless of where in the country you are, so I would recommend buying a pair with a good grip that you can use in all situations, including on hikes. Alternatively, you can go with a regular pair of winter boots and supplement with warm hiking boots/shoes for when you are going to be active – it’s up to you.

No matter what you choose, bring two pairs just in case one of them get wet.

I used a regular pair of winter boots from Gardenia and supplemented with these Salomon Walking Boots (affiliate link). Next time I would love to bring a pair of Danner Mountain Boots (affiliate link) as my main footwear. 

 

Wool socks

I can highly recommend packing a few pairs of wool socks for those extra cold days – especially if you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors.

Every morning I put on regular socks, but I always had a woollen pair in my daypack to put on too if one pair wasn’t enough.

 

Thermal base layers

As mentioned earlier, dressing in layers is a really good idea when visiting Iceland in winter. However, how you throw on the different layers aren’t insignificant.

The layer you wear closest to your skin is the base layer. This layer’s function is to keep you warm, wick the potential moisture away from your skin and dry fast. Thus, you want tops and bottoms to be made of thermal materials, such as merino wool that is super comfortable and warm at the same time. Alternatively, synthetic materials like polyester can also do the job.

I used this Helly Hansen Comfort Dry Set (affiliate link) that did the job perfectly. However, I also really like this merino wool top (affiliate link) and these merino wool pants (affiliate link) also from Helly Hansen.

 

Wool or fleece sweaters

In between your base layer and your outerwear you want a comfortable wool or fleece sweater that helps you stay warm.

This layer depends a lot on which type of winter jacket you are going to wear. If you wear a thick version, you want a thin sweater you can easily pull on and off. On the other hand, if you wear a shell jacket that isn’t that warm in itself, you want a thick sweater or maybe go for both a thinner and thicker one.

I wore a heavy winter jacket and was really satisfied with my wool sweaters from Bloomingdale’s.

 

Jeans/pants

When deciding what to wear in Iceland in winter, most people wouldn’t recommend you to bring jeans. However, I wore my Levi’s 721 High Rise Skinny Jeans (affiliate link) most of the time and actually really liked them. They aren’t the fastest drying but despite that, they were my preferred bottom mid layer.

Alternatively, a solid pair of hiking pants like these ones (affiliate link) can do the job, as they will both keep you warm, be comfortable to wear and dry fast.

 

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Iceland winter packing list: Essential accessories + toiletries

 

Waterproof gloves, beanie and scarf

When the temperature often is below zero degrees during the Icelandic winter and the frequent strong winds make it feel even colder, you want a solid pair of gloves, preferably in a warm and waterproof material like for example Gore-Tex. It’s a good idea to buy them in a size bigger than normal so that you can have a thinner pair underneath. I’m a huge fan of the Markberg Carianna Leather Gloves that has touch function, which is really smart when you have to take a photo with your phone and don’t want to take off your gloves to do it.

In addition, you want a beanie to keep your head and especially your ears warm. I brought two of my favourite FWSS Badlands Hats that did the job alright. However, when the winds were too strong, I had to use the hood on my jacket. In retrospect, I wish I had brought a proper beanie like this one (affiliate link) too.

A scarf is a necessity, especially on those windy winter days. I brought a thick Holzweiller lambswool scarf and supplemented with a thinner scarf similar to this one when the weather was worst.

 

Sunglasses

Although the days are short in Iceland in winter, the sun might appear. When it does it’s very low, which is why you really want to bring a pair of sunglasses.

I was very satisfied with my Ray-Ban Clubmaster sunglasses (affiliate link) that made especially driving in sunny weather much more comfortable.

 

Swimwear

The way in which to survive the long, dark and cold winter days in Iceland is to heat up in the natural pools and hot springs you find all over the country. Thus, it’s really important that you bring your swimwear.

In addition, it might be a good idea to bring a pair of flip-flops that you can wear to and from the natural pools and hot springs so you don’t get frozen feet and a quick-drying travel towel in case it isn’t handed out to you or you have to rent one.

 

Crampons

I really wish we had invested in crampons prior to our winter trip to Iceland, as it would have saved us from many “Bambi on ice”-moments. Even in Reykjavík and in other cities and towns throughout the country it might be so icy that not even shoes or boots with an especially good grip can handle it.

 

Reusable water bottle

The tap water in Iceland is pure and tasty, it’s safe to drink, it’s tasty and it’s free. So bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up wherever you can and feel like it.

 

Guidebook

Although you can find all the information you might need about Iceland online through various blog posts and articles, I like bringing an old school guidebook with me on all my travels – especially when going to rural places where you don’t know if there is service or not.

I’ve always been a Lonely Planet girl, and my mum and I used the Iceland Travel Guide (affiliate link) every day on our trip.

 

Medication and firstaid kit

When you are travelling in Iceland, you will most likely find yourself in some very rural places with limited people and no shops, let alone pharmacies. Thus, it’s a really good idea to pack pain killers and other types of medicine you think you might need plus little first-aid kit should any accidents occur.

 

Moisturisers, SPF and lip balm

During winter in Iceland the humidity is low, so to avoid dry skin and cracked lips, bringing a good facial cream, hand cream, body moisturiser and lip balm with you are essential.

Dermalogica is my preferred skin care brand, and I especially like their Intensive Moisture Balance facial cream (affiliate link) that does magic on my sensitive skin. Even though days are short in the dead of winter in Iceland, the sun might be strong, so I mix it with a little bit of SPF to be protected from the sun.

Tromborg’s Lip Balm is the best lip balm I’ve ever tried, and I keep buying it over and over again.

 

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Iceland winter packing list: Essential camera gear

 

Camera

All over Iceland, you find incredibly beautiful and almost otherworldly sceneries that you definitely want to perpetuate. Thus, bringing a camera is essential. There are tonnes of different cameras on the market, and which one you choose is completely up to you. However, I would recommend a weather sturdy one so that it can withstand the harsh Iceland winter weather.

I brought my Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II (affiliate link) with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm PRO Lens (affiliate link), which is the combination of camera and lens I use for most photos on this blog.

 

Wide-angle lens

If you plan to photograph for example the Northern Light, you need a good wide-angle lens like the M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm Pro Lens (affiliate link) that has a large maximum aperture.

 

Tripod

A tripod is also a must to take photos of the Northern Light and if you want to take the dreamy long exposure shots. Which tripod you choose isn’t insignificant, as price and quality often are related.

I’ve only heard good things about the Manfrotto tripods (affiliate link), and I’m seriously contemplating buying one and bring on my next adventures.

 

SD cards

You can’t bring too many SD cards with you on a winter trip to Iceland, as there will probably be thousands of interesting landscapes and motives you would want to capture.

 

Lens cleaning kit

I can highly recommend bringing a lens cleaning kit with you to Iceland so that you can keep your lenses clean and easily remove the inevitable moisture from all kinds of precipitation and waterfall mist.

 


 

Where next?

Hopefully, I’ve made you a little excited to visit Iceland in winter! For more practical information, take a look at these 18 essential Iceland winter tips or check out these 10 incredible Iceland winter attractions for more inspiration.

Or simply peruse my other Iceland articles.

Alternatively, if you are a fan of the Nordics, take a look at this perfect two days itinerary for Copenhagen, Denmark.

If you have any comments or questions, please leave them in the comments section below. But before you go any further why not follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter and sign up to my monthly newsletter?

 


 

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