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:
Iceland winter packing list (for women)
(Scroll down to see some of the things I recommend for men!)
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!
(Iceland is a suitable destination for a suitcase or rolling bag since you're likely to either be basing yourself in Reykjavik, or self-driving. See all of my favorite luggage here.)
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 (I usually take silk leggings, which are the best!)
- 3 sweaters
- 1 long-sleeved thermal shirt (I LOVE this top!)
- 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
- Lighter hiking boots (I love these Kodiak ones)
- North Face winter coat (this is one of those three-in-one coats, which is great for Iceland!)
- 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.
(Not too concerned with photo gear? Then my carry-on pick is the STM Haven, which is a great carry-on-friendly backpack with great protection for things like laptops and tablets.)
In this bag:
- Macbook Air
- Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with 12-40mm Pro lens
- My GoPro (I currently have the GoPro Hero 7 Black, which is great for outdoor activities)
- My Vanguard VEO tripod
- My headlamp (essential for being outside at night, like when taking Northern Lights photos)
- Various chargers
- Kindle Paperwhite
- Electrical plug adapters
- My Belkin power strip
- My purse with wallet, passport, etc.
What was I glad to have in Iceland in winter?
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. (And 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, meaning I can easily wear them under other pants), 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. (Alternatively, you could also go for some merino wool leggings, or some fleece-lined leggings.)
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.)
Waterproof pants – Most winter coats will be pretty water-resistant, but in Iceland you'll want a waterproof layer for your legs, too. It could snow, sleet, or rain (probably sideways) at almost any time in Iceland, so you want to be prepared. On both my winter trips to Iceland, I packed my Columbia ski pants, which are both warm and waterproof. If you don't like feeling so bulky, you could try some regular rain pants instead.
And what should men pack for Iceland in winter?
My packing guidelines for men are pretty much the same: Warm, waterproof layers are where it's at!
Here's a look at some of the things my partner, Elliot, had in his bag:
- A Columbia 3-in-1 coat
- Merino wool top and bottoms for a warm base layer (he can wear wool – I'm so jealous!)
- Warm ski pants (these are the men's version of the Columbia pants I use and love)
- Heat Holders socks for men
- Winter hiking boots by KEEN (or you could go for these regular waterproof hiking boots with warm socks)
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 MORE ABOUT ICELAND
- Tours Worth Paying for in Iceland (and When to Save Your Money)
- A 10-Day Itinerary for Iceland in Winter (Without Renting a Car)
- 12 Crazy But Cool Things You Can See in Iceland
- 48 Hours in Reykjavik, Iceland
Have you been to Iceland in winter? What else would you suggest packing?
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