What to Pack for a Trip to Iceland (in Winter)

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:

Packing for Iceland in Winter

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!

Backpack Iceland

Trip 1 to Iceland in 2012

Here's what was in my Osprey bag on my most recent trip to Iceland:

Amanda at Reynisfjara Beach in Iceland

Decked out in my winter gear in Iceland in 2015

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:

Packing for Iceland

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.)

Amanda in Iceland

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.

READ NEXT: A 10-Day Itinerary for Iceland in Winter (Without Renting a Car)

Have you been to Iceland in winter? What else would you suggest packing?

 

Book your accommodation in Iceland:



Booking.com

*Note: There are affiliate links in this post, meaning that if you click on a link and buy anything, I get a small percentage. It doesn’t cost you any more, but contributes a little bit to my travel fund!

57 Comments

  • Maria D. says:

    I love “What’s in my bag” posts. Your large travel bag looks really cute, I love the color.
    Maria D. recently posted..Vacation Photos: Stop Looking and Start Taking!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I always find myself clicking on these sorts of “what’s in my bag” posts, so I figured I’d try writing one myself! I love the planning part behind traveling, and packing is definitely included in that!

      And thanks! I found that bag and knew it would be perfect for traveling.

      • Veronica (Eli) Alvarez says:

        How many days is this for Amanda? When I packed for NZ, I overpacked and took crap that I didn’t need and I want to do a better job at that. I’m planning another trip next January….that’s if the world doesn’t end before that 🙁

        • DangerousBiz says:

          This is only for 6 days. I know it looks like a lot, but it’s still very much winter in Iceland, and winter clothing (especially boots and coats!) takes up a LOT of room. I also wanted to make sure to take more than 1 pair of pants and extra socks in case I get wet. I plan to pack somewhat lighter for this summer!

  • Dave Williams says:

    In reference to your full size tripod, I have a mini tripod made of 10″ long bendable metal/wire legs….. fits in your pocket and works well but you may have to find a suitable elevated place to set it….. the full sized tripod is much too cumbersome……

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I have a mini one like that, too (though the bendy legs on mine are only about 5 or 6 inches long). Right now my big tripod (which folds up to be just over a foot long) IS packed, but I may take it out before I leave depending on the weather forecast.

  • Kieron says:

    You’ve probably already seen our packing list for Iceland – http://www.donteverlookback.com/2011/11/a-packing-guide-for-iceland/ – and it’s good to see you’ve got all of the essentials! You’ve done really well! 🙂

    The only thing I would add would be a remote shutter release for your camera to go along with the tripod so you can really get some stunning pics of the Northern Lights. Fingers crossed you get to see them!
    Kieron recently posted..Sydney Accommodation With A Spectacular View

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yes, I did look at your list a few weeks ago! Very helpful.

      I don’t have a remote shutter release for my camera, but I usually just set the timer, which still ensures you’re not actually touching the camera when it begins taking the photo. 🙂

  • I’m a journalist and seasoned traveler who hosts digital entertainment conferences around the world. I have to tell you I love your newly discovered blog. You have a fresh, wonderful attitude and the comparison of Chicago deep dish pizzas was absolutely stellar. I like you as presented in your blog…you are going places and I don’t mean just around the world. That’s important because world travel can get boring and exhausting unless you make each trip an adventure. I recommend studying elephants in Thailand and the rainforests in Costa Rica. Drakes bay is special there. I’ve been to Iceland and I know you’ll like the people as well as the amazing terrain. Thank you for freshening a jaded soul.
    -P-
    Peter Plantec
    OrdinaryMagic.com

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Hi Peter. First of all, welcome to my blog! Secondly, thank you so much for your kind words. Honestly, your comment here has just made my night!

      I agree that travel can become just another routine if you don’t approach it with the right attitude. I certainly try to approach each trip thinking positively, no matter how far I’m going! And, I can assure you that this blog is all me; what you see/read here is just me, plain and simple! 🙂

      Elephants in Thailand and rainforests in Costa Rica sound amazing. Right now though, I’m super excited about Iceland!

  • John says:

    Can’t wait to see the shots with your new camera and lens, especially in somewhere as beautiful as Iceland.
    John recently posted..Exceeding Travel Expectations at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I can’t wait either, John! I took some of the photos in this post with it, but I don’t think indoor photos are a good representation of what a camera can do. I also took it outside today to photograph some new flowers, though… and the pictures came out fabulous! Can’t wait to capture Iceland with this baby.

  • Jeff Broman says:

    I thought I brought too many gadgets when I travel but you have me beat. Why do you need 2 cameras and a separate video camera? Also why a kindle and an iPad?

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I do have a slight gadget addiction. 😉

      The video camera is waterproof, so I take it everywhere, just in case it’s really raining and I don’t want to risk my camera getting wet. I’m taking the back-up point-and-shoot camera because this trip is a trial-run with my new micro 4/3 camera. If it turns out I hate my new camera, I want to be sure I can still get good shots. And as for the Kindle and iPad, that’s just personal preference — I hate reading books on my iPad. 🙂

  • Suzy says:

    Love packing posts! I believe we have the same mini hairbrush. I love it. Not sure how cold cold Iceland is this time of year, but for my recent trip to Eastern Europe I really wished I had more cold weather accessories. I ended up wearing a giant coat everywhere and the same hat, gloves and scarf for two weeks. If you have room, I would suggest just two options of these just because they can get old in cold weather places.
    Suzy recently posted..Suzy Stumbles Over Travel: Week of March 12, 2012

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yay $1 brush from WalMart! I love that thing.

      And I’m not too worried about the accessories since I’ll only be there for 6 days. I think I can cope with 1 hat and scarf for a week. 🙂 Plus, it’s not going to be frigid there; I may not even need everything everyday — but I want to have it all, just in case!

  • Zoe says:

    May I ask why you have gone from the Cannon to the Olympus? I’m trying desperately to find a good camera and have no idea what to get.
    Thanks

    • DangerousBiz says:

      It was actually a tough decision, because I really love Canon cameras. I had an Olympus point-and-shoot a long time ago and actually hated it. But I wanted to get a micro 4/3 camera (almost like a DSLR with interchangeable lenses and everything), and Canon does not currently make any. Out of the options I researched, the Olympus seemed like the best fit for me, both with the features included and the price. Camera shopping definitely is tough!

      • Zoe says:

        Have you ever had any trouble with the cannon camera in low light conditions such as in dark museums or at night? Thanks

        • DangerousBiz says:

          Sometimes at night I’ve had problems, but it’s just a matter of playing around with the settings to get the photo right. There is a manual mode on the camera, so you can really do quite a lot with it to adjust for lighting issues.

          • Zoe says:

            Thank you for your responses. I’d like to develop my photography so it sounds really good for that. I’m hopeing to go to the Harbin Ice festival next year which is the main reason I want a camera that does well at night. Do you think that if I practised before hand with changing the settings that it could be ok for the festival?

          • DangerousBiz says:

            Possibly, but I really couldn’t say for sure, Zoe. My advice is to go online and read reviews of a few different camera, and then go to a store and try some of them out for yourself!

  • Andrea says:

    You’re a very neat packer =) How exciting that you’re going to Iceland – over the summer I’m guessing? I’ve always wanted to go there and am hoping that our living in Norway so close will facilitate that. Be sure to wave to us! Look forward to reading about it.
    Andrea recently posted..Scenes From Singapore (Part 1)

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Haha I’m a bit OCD when it comes to being organized. Though, this is the first time I’m using packing cubes — I’m not sure how I ever survived without them!!

      And no, actually I’m going to Iceland next week! I arrive on Sunday morning. 🙂

  • That green purse is adorbs. Cold destinations are the hardest to pack for because everything is so dang bulky — boots take up so much room! The fact that you can fit yours (plus the coat) in your backpack is proof that you’re an expert packer, imo. 😉 Only one pair of pants, though? What happens if/when they get wet?
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Strange Street Foods in Thailand

    • DangerousBiz says:

      LOVE my green purse. And the fact that it can double as my camera bag wins it extra points!

      Cold weather packing really does suck though. I was amazed I fit all of this into a 60L backpack!

      As for the pants, I’ll be wearing one pair of jeans the day I leave. So I’ll actually have 2 pairs of pants total. 🙂 3 if you count the yoga pants I’m bringing as pajama bottoms.

  • Arti says:

    Looks like you have packed everything important! I have never been out of India but then there is so much to see and do in India itself!!
    And I love the color of your purse, its cute!
    Have a wonderful journey:)

  • Yes, I have been to Iceland. You might want to rethink the jeans and go for something warmer and quicker drying. REI will advise you! Iceland is cold and wet and all the good things to do are outside.

    But it’s a fabulous country and you’ll have a great time.
    Richard Tulloch recently posted..WINDMILLS – blots on the landscape?

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Sadly I don’t have the time nor money to go pick up good outerwear pants (nor would I probably ever wear them again!). But, luckily, most of the outdoor activities I’m thinking of doing provide you waterproof gear to wear if you need it. 🙂

  • Laurence says:

    Looking forward particularly to your photos and your thoughts on how the new camera is 🙂 Have an amazing trip!
    Laurence recently posted..To Barcelona! (Your input required!)

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I’m looking forward to that, too, Laurence! I’ll be sure to share my thoughts on the camera (along with everything else) once I get back!

  • Jodi Brown says:

    Loved the packing list. Can I just mention that I like the colour of your new backpack?? I’ve never seen a blue one before!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks, Jodi! I didn’t really care what color backpack I ended up with, but am actually really excited that it’s a pretty blue one!

  • Hey there! I’m planing a trip to Iceland for June to take pictures. I’m looking froward to getting all night to shoot as I drive around. Looking forward to hearing more about your trip and any recommendations on what to do and see!
    Johnny Peacock recently posted..Stone Hole Bay, Bermuda

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Awesome! I’m sure it’ll be fantastic in the summer, especially for photos! Stay tuned here over the next few weeks — I’ll be sure to share all my suggestions!

  • Looks like you successfully packed all the necessities! We are headed on a backpacking trip to New Zealand in May, just as winter starts over there. We were getting worried about only having a backpack when we have to bring winter clothes, but this just gave us a bit more confidence! If you can do it, we can do it 🙂
    Claire and Laura recently posted..Oahu, Hawaii

    • DangerousBiz says:

      You can definitely do it! And, for what it’s worth, most of New Zealand doesn’t get THAT cold in the winter. May is actually still autumn, and the weather can be quite nice! (I was there last year in May, and as long as I layered up on the South Island, I was fine). My advice is to bring plenty of things you can layer!

  • Darla Snow says:

    nice job! I too am an overpacker… usually with more than one pair of shoes and outfits to match…. lol

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yeah, I like to have lots of choices in my wardrobe, even when I travel. So a trip like this is tough!

  • Becki Orth says:

    Thanks so much for having a post like this! Andy and I are getting ready for RTW trip next year, and we have started looking a packs and boots for me. But I have seriously been wondering what I will need to pack for a trip like that. I know it’s a little bit of a different situation, but it is still neat!
    Becki Orth recently posted..What’s Up With Andy & Becki?

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I’ve never done a RTW trip, but I can only imagine how daunting the packing would be since you have to take so many different climates into account! Good luck!

  • Lydia says:

    More of a question: Is there anything you packed that you wish you wouldn’t have or anything you wished you had packed and didn’t? I’m heading there in March. Will be a part of an organized “Northern Lights Tour” and many activities on the itinerary are outside. Your post has been most helpful so far. I’m completely stressed out about packing!
    Thank you!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      On this list, no there wasn’t anything that I didn’t use, or that I was missing. I would just tell you to bring plenty of warm (and perhaps waterproof) layers! I went on a Northern Lights trip to Canada last March and packed quite similarly, but with more layers (including some ski pants). Also bring good, waterproof boots!

  • David says:

    Nice photos! Great advice on whats inside your pack.
    David recently posted..Best Hikes in the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland

  • sheri kalvin says:

    LOVE this post, especially the photograph of what you packed. we are light packers as well choosing to only take one rolling bag (carry on size) and a backpack each. we are cruising out of copenhagen in early may with a stopover in keflavik on the way over. this will be my packing guide. i know it might be a bit warmer then, but research shows that the wind and rain are ever present. i so enjoy your blog, fellow buckeye (though i am now transplanted to sw fla).

  • Menorca says:

    Excellent!Hoping to visit Iceland this year..which backpack did you carry as your main luggage?
    Thanks!

  • Caitlin says:

    Great post and THANK YOU for actually posting links of everything. We’re going this September 23 – October 4. Do you think a pair of LL Bean Boots (the traditional 6-inch Bean Boots) will be enough of a hiking/waterproof boot? I am also planning on taking my Roxy snowboarding pants and Pulse snowboarding jacket and my husband is worried they won’t be enough waterproofing. P.S. Here is my packing list so far: http://www.polyvore.com/iceland_packing_list/set?id=204200517

    • Amanda says:

      I think that should be fine. And, honestly, you may not even need super cold-weather gear at that time of year; they usually don’t start getting snow until the end of October. You might want to go to your local outdoor/sporting goods store and see if they have some waterproof over-pants you can pick up for a decent price. That’s what I bought for a hiking trip in Utah earlier this year, when it was chilly but not cold enough for ski pants.

  • Kim Jones says:

    Amanda! Thank you for this great, detailed pack list. I LOVE the pictures you included and the Amazon picks. You’ve made me feel a lot more confident in my choices for the trip I’m taking to Iceland this January. If you ever make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, look me up!!

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