Iceland Packing List: What to Pack for a Trip to Iceland (in Winter)

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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:

Packing for Iceland in Winter

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 wheeled bag, 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.)

Backpack Iceland
Trip 1 to Iceland in 2012

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

Columns at Reynisfjara beach
Decked out in my winter gear in Iceland in 2015

In my carry-on

My carry-on these days is photography focused – I usually carry a backpack with a dedicated compartment for camera lenses and gear (like this Thule camera backpack or this one from Lowepro).

(Not too concerned with photo gear? Then my carry-on pick is the STM Haven or the Pacsafe Venturesafe, both of which are great carry-on-friendly backpacks with lots of pockets.)

In this bag:

Packing for Iceland
My Pacsafe Camsafe V25

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.)

Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

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:

Amanda and Elliot at Skogafoss
Me and Elliot at Skogafoss (Nov. 2015)

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. Pack things that will dry quickly if you get wet.

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?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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64 Comments on “Iceland Packing List: What to Pack for a Trip to Iceland (in Winter)

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  1. What about for summer????

      I haven’t been to Iceland in summer yet! (Though I’ll actually be going next month!) Iceland’s summer weather can still be wet and cold, though, so I honestly wouldn’t change many of these recommendations. You’ll still need warm layers, a waterproof coat/pants, and solid boots that will keep your feet dry!

    Thanks for sharing this useful information through this blog. I was also planning to go to Iceland in this upcoming winter. It will really help me in my packing.

    This was very helpful, thanks! My friends and I will be in Iceland for three days next February before we go on to Paris, and even though I live in snowy Colorado, I’m a bit scared I’ll be unprepared. I hear the wind can really howl over there!

      Definitely bring lots of layers, as you just never know what you might run into!

    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!!

      So happy to be able to help, Kim! I hope you have a great time in Iceland!

    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:

      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.

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

    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).

      I’m so glad you’ve found this helpful, Sheri! And yes, it’s always a good idea to pack layers whenever Iceland is involved!

    Nice photos! Great advice on whats inside your pack.

    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!

      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!

    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!

      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!

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

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

    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 🙂

      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!

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