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In the past few years, Iceland has suddenly shot to the top of many travel bucket lists. The little island country is unlike any I've ever been to – sometimes in Iceland you'll feel like you're on a completely different planet.
People, therefore, often ask about the “best time” to visit Iceland. And I always respond: “It depends.”
Summer in Iceland means super long days and usually mild temperatures. It means having plenty of daylight for road trips and sightseeing. The winter, on the other hand, has very short days and colder temperatures. But the winter allows the opportunity for seeing the Northern Lights and exploring ice caves beneath glaciers.
I've been to Iceland in the winter twice now, and have put together the ultimate packing guide for you:
In My Backpack/Suitcase
Iceland in winter isn't nearly as frigid as many people assume it will be. But it still IS cold – winter temperatures in Reykjavik, for example, usually hover right around freezing. Add in some strong winter winds and blowing snow, and you'll definitely want to be prepared to bundle up.
On my first trip to Iceland I took a backpack. On my second trip, I took my Osprey Sojourn 60, which is the best rolling bag I've ever owned!
Here's what was in my Osprey bag on my most recent trip to Iceland:
- 1 pair of jeans
- 3 pairs of thick leggings
- 1 pair of long underwear (including silk leggings, which are the best!)
- 3 sweaters
- 1 long-sleeved thermal shirt
- 2 tank tops for layering
- 1 North Face fleece
- Plenty of warm socks (Heat Holders are my current fav)
- Swimsuit/quick-drying travel towel for the Blue Lagoon
- Underwear/bras (including my favorite quick-dry Ex Officio undies)
- Heavy-duty winter hiking boots
- North Face Aeliana winter coat
- Columbia ski pants
- Gloves/hat/earmuffs/a chunky scarf
In My Carry-On
My carry-on these days is photography focused – the Pacsafe Camsafe V25, which has a dedicated compartment with separators for camera lenses and gear. It also has an upper section in which to pack other things, like my Kindle and purse. I like this bag because it's sturdy, water-resistant, and very tech-friendly.
In this bag:
- Macbook Air 13″
- Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with 12-40mm Pro lens
- GoPro Hero 4 Silver
- My Vanguard VEO tripod
- Various chargers
- Kindle Paperwhite
- Electrical plug adapters
- My purse with wallet, passport, etc.
What was I glad to have?
My boots – I bought my Merrell winter hiking boots a couple years ago for a trip to Manitoba in the dead of winter. Not only are they great for gripping snow and ice, but they kept my feet SUPER toasty throughout my whole Iceland trip. Whether I was hiking on a glacier or splashing through partially-frozen puddles, my feet stayed warm and dry. Get yourself a good pair of boots. (If you don't want to shell out for new boots, consider picking up some Yaktrax that you can affix to your regular boots for more traction in slippery conditions.)
My silk leggings – I bought silk leggings years ago at REI, and they've become my go-to for cold weather climates. They are thin (not much thicker than panty hose), and yet really comfy and really warm. Silk makes a great insulating layer without adding any bulk. And, if you're like me and can't really wear wool, silk is the best alternative.
Heat Holders socks – These Heat Holders do exactly what they promise: they keep your feet incredibly warm even when it's really cold out. I don't go anywhere in winter without these anymore. (You can also grab some HotHands for your hands and feet if your extremities tend to get cold easily.)
The key to packing for a trip to Iceland in winter is to more or less pack for ANY weather. Pack warm layers. Pack waterproof layers. Iceland is filled with mini micro-climates – it could be clear and sunny in one area, but then sleeting sideways 30 minutes away. Pack warm layers, and you'll be set!
And, even though it's not a tangible item, I also always recommend packing a good travel insurance policy! That way everything from lost luggage to a bad accident is covered – because you just never know! I recommend World Nomads for basic (and really affordable) travel insurance.
Have you been to Iceland in winter? What else would you suggest packing?
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