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A Smarter Iceland Packing List + What to Wear in Iceland

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Putting together the right Iceland packing list is one of the most important things you can do before your trip! Iceland is a destination known for its cold and windy weather.

Not only that, Iceland is wet, wet, wet — and if you’re not adequately covered in waterproof clothing on a rainy day, you’ll be miserable.

Additionally, Iceland is a rural country. Most of the time, I recommend buying things locally if you need to. That’s not as easy in Iceland. Unless you’re in Reykjavík or Akureyri, you won’t be able to easily find decent shopping.

I know this sounds tough — but please, don’t worry! I’m here to make your trip to Iceland easier. I’ve been to Iceland several times, including a two-week road trip around the Ring Road, and I’ve figured out what to pack for Iceland, what to wear in Iceland, the items that you really need, and the items you can leave at home.

This guide has four sections: Weather in Iceland, The Most Important Items to PackWhat to Wear in Iceland, Winter in Iceland, the Iceland Packing List, and What Not to Bring to Iceland.

And as you plan your trip, don’t forget to check out my other Iceland posts: the best things to do in Reykjavík, things to know before you go to the Blue Lagoon, and the details on how much my Iceland road trip cost.

Amanda walks to Dettifoss waterfall on a rainy, foggy day in Iceland.

Weather in Iceland: What to Expect

Iceland has cold weather year-round and is frequently rainy. The forecast changes often and weather conditions can turn dangerous when you don’t expect it. In short, you need to be ready for anything — but especially precipitation!

You might luck out and get a string of sunny days (I certainly have on all four of my trips). You may be here two weeks and not see the sun once. You might have dreadfully foggy or rainy days when you least want them. In short, be ready for anything.

If you’re visiting during the summer (May-September), the best time to visit for good weather, you should be ready for average temperatures around 40-60 F (7-15 C).

If you’re visiting during the colder months, you should be prepared for average temperatures to fall below freezing (often 15-32 F, or -9-0 C). The wind chill can bring that much lower.

This Iceland packing list is primarily targeted toward summer travelers, who comprise the vast majority of Iceland visitors, but I’ve added a supplemental section for winter Iceland travelers as well.

Kate in a bright yellow raincoat over a bright pink coat, standing in front of a canyon of tall thin rock columns.Soaked through at Studlagil Canyon, East Iceland!

Most Important Items on Your Iceland Packing List

Some items on your Iceland packing list are critical. Here is the list of items that I think should be on every Iceland traveler’s list, no matter what the time of year is.

Do not skip any of these — except possibly the tripod and light makeup.

Kate standing in a cave with a waterfall falling through it, wearing a yellow raincoat and holding her arms up in joy.Enjoying getting soaked at Gljúfrabúi waterfall!

Head-to-Toe Waterproof Gear

Waterproof gear is the single most important thing you need to bring to Iceland. And not just a waterproof jacket — you need rain pants, waterproof hiking boots, and a waterproof backpack cover.

It WILL rain at some point on your trip to Iceland. It might rain every day, and heavily. I know people who were rained out every day of their Iceland trip.

There are also some waterfalls that you can walk behind or get close to, like Gljúfrabúi and Seljalandsfoss, and you’ll be drenched afterward. Going behind them is super cool — so you need outer layers that will keep you dry.

But the fastest way to being miserable in Iceland is being soaked to the bone in a sweatshirt, like that one family I saw at Kvernufoss waterfall.

An in-car selfie of Kate and Amanda in the front seats, and a girl in the backseat. All three are wearing brightly colored raincoats and grinning.Three girls, three colorful raincoats!

Waterproof Jacket

You have two options for a waterproof jacket to wear in Iceland: an all-in-one insulated raincoat, or a rain jacket shell worn over an insulated jacket.

There are arguments for both. I wore a basic raincoat shell (I wore a local Czech brand but this Columbia one is excellent) and a Uniqlo ultra light down jacket. We had a lot of sunny days and it was nice to only wear my pink Uniqlo jacket.

But it’s definitely more convenient to have one jacket that you can wear in all weather, like this one.

Top Tip: Get a brightly colored coat; it looks amazing in photos against the gray-green Icelandic landscape. Reds, oranges, yellows, and hot pinks especially stand out.

Kate standing facing a waterfall in a yellow rain jacket, holding her hand up in a peace sign.Check out my rain pants, baby!

Rain Pants

I never wore rain pants in my LIFE until my most recent Iceland trip — and they ended up being lifesavers. What are rain pants? They’re waterproof pants you wear on top of your regular pants. Such a good idea!

You don’t have to wear your rain pants all day. Just throw them in your backpack, and if it starts to rain, throw them on top. You don’t even have to take off your boots!

Since that trip, I’ve been extolling the benefits of rain pants to anyone who will listen, and one of my readers told me she bought them for her Iceland trip with skepticism but couldn’t believe how much she loved them!

A person's feet in hiking boots walking through a wet path.Prepare to rock out in waterproof shoes. Via Shutterstock.

Waterproof Hiking Boots

You are likely going to be hiking through mud or rain at some point. That’s just an inevitability in Iceland. Regular hiking boots or trail runners are not enough: you need good quality waterproof hiking boots.

Additionally, there are some places where you might be walking through ankle-deep water, like Gljúfrabúi waterfall or Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

Some people bring one pair of waterproof hiking boots to Iceland, and some bring one pair of regular boots and one pair of waterproof boots. Take my advice: bring one pair of waterproof boots (ideally made of Gore-Tex).

You never know when a sunny Icelandic sky will suddenly cloud over and begin raining.

A hiker looking over a canyon, wearing a big backpack with a bright yellow waterproof cover over it.A rain cover for your backpack makes life so much easier. Via Shutterstock.

Waterproof Backpack Cover

Imagine being 30 minutes into a two-hour hike and it starts to rain. And you’ve got an expensive camera just sitting in your fabric backpack.

That was me at Studlagil Canyon this past August. Whoops.

You absolutely need a waterproof backpack cover. It costs less than $10 and keeps all your camera gear dry, even if you’re hiking for hours!

I usually recommend a dry bag for travelers, especially if you’re taking rides on small boats, but most people don’t take small boats in Iceland, so I think a waterproof backpack cover will cover you.

A woman sleeping with a face mask on.Fall asleep easily with a sleep mask! Via Shutterstock.

Sleep Mask

Most people who travel to Iceland go during the summer months, when you can have a little bit of daylight as late as 2:00 AM. Ever slept through that? It’s not easy!

Surely, every Iceland guesthouse must have high-quality blackout curtains, you’d think. You’d be wrong. (And don’t call me Shirley.) I was surprised how often the midnight sun peeked in from Icelandic curtains.

You’ll want to bring a sleep mask if you want to sleep peacefully. Ear plugs are also helpful, especially if you’re staying in dorms or other shared room accommodation.

I love my Trina Turk swimsuits!

Multiple Swimsuits

One of the most fun things about visiting Iceland is visiting all the different hot springs! From the classic Blue Lagoon to the sexy Sky Lagoon in Reykjavík and my personal favorite, the Vök Baths in Egilsstaðir, East Iceland, they are everywhere!

Even if you skip the pricey thermal resorts, there are plenty of hot tubs and natural hot springs throughout Iceland. And nearly every town in Iceland has its own heated outdoor swimming pool. These pools are a cheap, fun, and very local activity.

Translation? You’ll be in your bathing suit a LOT.

One mistake I see people making frequently is only bringing one swimsuit to Iceland. The reason? A bathing suit takes a long time to dry and you might be constantly putting on one that’s cold and damp.

For that reason, it’s a good idea to bring a minimum of two bathing suits to wear in Iceland. I brought three. We would hang our bathing suits in the car, on the back of the front seats, but often 24 hours wasn’t enough to dry them.

All of my bathing suits are by Trina Turk — she’s all I buy. They are gorgeous, colorful, and last for years. Some come in plus sizes.

Quick-Drying Travel Towel

Almost every hot spring or swimming pool in Iceland charges you for a towel if you don’t already have one. And fees are often around 900 ISK ($6 USD). Those really add up!

So what do you need? A travel towel! A quick-drying microfiber travel towel will save you lots of money.

Top Tip: Shower at night in Iceland. Your towel will dry overnight, you’ll be able to get a fast start the next morning, and if you’re staying in a place with shared bathrooms, you won’t have to wait for everyone else to finish.

A bright pink plastic water bottle

Reusable Water Bottle

The tap water in Iceland is safe to drink. Don’t add to the plastic problem by buying bottled water in Iceland. Just bring your reusable water bottle and fill it up whenever you have a faucet.

I use a BPA-free Blender Bottle. It’s big, it’s durable, and it comes in lots of colors (I have it in hot pink). Mine is sitting next to me as I write this.

Eye drops, lip balm, and hand cream

Iceland can dry you out — especially if you’re visiting multiple hot springs during your visit. I ended up with bright red eyes halfway through my most recent trip and needed drops badly. It wasn’t fun trying to track down an open pharmacy in the middle of nowhere!

You might want to bring eye drops, lip balm, and hand cream.

Sunscreen

But it isn’t that sunny in Iceland, you say. Hey — if you’re spending lots of time outside, even if it’s a cloudy day, even if you’re not fair-skinned, you need sunscreen. You can easily burn when you’re not expecting it.

I always wear moisturizer or BB cream that contains sunscreen. If not, bring sunscreen with an SPF of at least 45. I like Neutrogena SPF 55 sunscreen.

Extra SD Cards, Camera Battery, and External Hard Drive

You will take far more photos than you usually take on trips. Iceland is one of the most visually spectacular places I’ve ever visited.

It’s always smarter to have multiple SD cards rather than one big card, just in case it fails. A few SanDisk 64 GB cards should hold you over.

It’s good to have some backup batteries, and if you’re packing for Iceland in the winter, know that batteries drain quicker when it’s below freezing.

Back up your photos in multiple places if you can. A tiny thumb drive probably won’t be enough — instead, bring an external hard drive.

A camera on a tripod in front of an Iceland waterfall with a rainbow.Sometimes it seems like everyone in Iceland has a tripod! Via Shutterstock.

Tripod

A tripod is an optional item, but one that more serious photographers should pack. If you’re looking to do long-exposure photography on Iceland waterfalls, or take advantage of low-light situations, you will want to have a tripod.

However — if you’re not a photographer, you don’t necessarily need this. (Plus, lugging your tripod and setting it up everywhere can be a huge pain if you’re not passionate about photography.)

Top Tip: If you have an iPhone, set your camera up to take Live Photos. Hold your camera as still as you can when photographing a waterfall. On your photo, touch the “LIVE” putting in the top left corner and change it to “Long Exposure.” Hello, smooth waterfall!

It takes a bit of practice, and I recommend shooting on a wide-angle because this can chop off a lot of the edges.

Kate in a pink jacket taking a selfie in front of a black beach studded with grass and jagged black mountains of Stokksnes.Taking a selfie at Stokksnes in light makeup — and feeling good!

Enough Makeup to Look Extra Nice in Photos

Obviously this is optional as well, but if you wear makeup in your day-to-day life, you will probably appreciate wearing a bit in Iceland. Not a full face — just enough to look a little bit nicer than you would be bare-faced.

Each day in Iceland, I wore BB cream, mascara, brow shadow, and lip balm. Not much, but enough to make a difference.

For the same reason, I wore earrings — little stud earrings that I kept in the whole trip. I like having a bit of shimmer in my photos.

Kate standing in front of a craggy green mountain in Iceland. She wears a pink jacket and has her hands in her pockets, grinning.

What to Wear in Iceland

My outfits in Iceland were pretty much the same thing, over and over. Pick a formula and stick with it!

In the photo above, taken at Hvalnes Lighthouse in southeast Iceland, I wore a medium-weight sweater, Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket, leggings, merino wool socks, boots (these ones are a discontinued style of Hunter boots but I would get waterproof hiking boots next time), and sunglasses.

That’s an ideal outfit for a sunny day in Iceland in the summer.

For the day I hiked into Múlagljúfur Canyon, one of my absolute favorite places in Iceland, I wore my typical hiking outfit: an Icebreaker merino wool pullover, hiking pants, rain pants on top just in case, merino wool socks, and trail runners (again, should have worn waterproof hiking boots).

For the hike I wore my two jackets — the Uniqlo Ultra Light Down jacket and my rain jacket shell — and tied them both around my waist when I got hot.

They’re out of the frame in this photo, along with my backpack.

A woman in a winter coat and hat stands on a snowy Icelandic road.Bundle up for winter in Iceland! Via Shutterstock.

Packing List for Iceland in Winter

Traveling to Iceland in winter requires additional items. It’s all about staying warm and dry in a cold, wet environment! Let’s take a look at the most important items for your winter Iceland packing list:

Base layers (thermal underwear). Base layers are essential — these are what keep you actually feeling warm when it’s cold out! I am a huge fan of Uniqlo HeatTech Base Layers (top and bottom). They are so comfortable, so warm, and surprisingly affordable!

I recommend two pairs of each for your trip to Iceland. Good base layers can be worn several days in a row.

Mid-weight layers. This extra layer is what you wear between your base layers and outerwear. I prefer a warm sweater on top and warm leggings on the bottom.

Warm parka. You’ll want a heavyweight winter coat with a hood. I recommend one that goes to mid-thigh or lower; coats that stop at your waist let in a lot of cold air. (People from Texas and Florida: talk to your cold-weather-living friends. They know better.)

Waterproof, windproof snow pants. Like rain pants, except built for low temperatures.

Warm hat. I’m a fan of North Face beanies, but anything cozy and wooly will do well.

Waterproof, windproof gloves or mittens. I actually prefer mittens, like these ones from Outdoor Research. You may want to wear glove liners or running gloves as well.

Warm scarf. I’m a huge fan of Speakeasy Travel Supply scarves that come with a hidden pocket — and they have a collection of warm heavy weight scarves that are perfect for Iceland in the winter!

Base layer socks and warm socks (I recommend merino wool socks if possible). Base layer socks, again, keep you warmer than just regular socks.

Hot Hands hand warmers. Crack these and they’ll keep you warm for hours. These saved my life in Antarctica! They sell special toe warmers as well, but I don’t think you need them — hand warmers work for both.

I recommend wearing the Hot Hands between your base layer socks and heavier socks, or between your glove liners and mittens. You can also keep them in your pockets.

Northern lights photography gear. The Northern Lights are one of Iceland’s biggest draws during the winter months. If you’re hoping to see them, you’ll need a tripod, as you need to take long exposure shots to make the colors really pop.

(You might want to see my Antarctica packing list for examples of my winter outfits for being active in a cold environment.)

Kate making a goofy jump in the air on a rainbow striped street leading to a church.Be sure to pack your adventurous spirit!

Iceland Packing List

Here it is: the full packing list for Iceland.

Clothing

Outerwear

Winter Travelers

Toiletries

Medical

Items to Pack

Camera Gear and Tech Gear

Optional

Should you do laundry in Iceland?

If you’re staying in Iceland for less than a week, you probably don’t need to do laundry. But if you’re staying for longer than a week, you will probably need to.

Top Tip: Book accommodation with laundry included halfway through your trip. Amanda and I booked an apartment in Akureyri that had a washer and drying rack. This was perfect timing and we didn’t have to go find a laundromat!

You can also do laundry in the sink if you’d like. Bring travel laundry detergent if that’s the case.

Kate in a leather jacket standing in front of Gulfoss waterfall in Iceland.Dear 2015 Kate: WHY did you wear a leather jacket to the Golden Circle?!

What NOT to Bring to Iceland

Here are some things that you absolutely do not need to bring to Iceland:

Umbrella. If you packed proper rain gear — hooded raincoat, rain pants, waterproof boots, and backpack cover — it completely negates the need for an umbrella. You won’t use it!

Cash. Iceland accepts credit cards for almost everything (there are a few exceptions, like city buses in Reykjavík). On my most recent two-week trip, neither Amanda nor I used cash once.

Dressy clothes. You do not need dressy clothes — not even for that nice-looking restaurant in Reykjavík. Wear your nicest sweater and your black hiking pants and you’ll fit in just fine.

Horseback riding gear. Icelanders do not allow any riding gear from foreign countries to be worn in Iceland. This is to protect the horses from outside pathogens. Please do not think they’ll make an exception for you. They won’t.

A camera you don’t know how to use. A lot of people get fancy new cameras for their Iceland trip — but they don’t know how to use them. Make sure you spend a good amount of time getting to know your camera’s settings and practicing before you go to Iceland.

More on Iceland:

My Favorite Places in Iceland:

Have you been to Iceland? What did you appreciate bringing?

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