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. 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!

      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!

    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!

      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!

    Looking forward particularly to your photos and your thoughts on how the new camera is 🙂 Have an amazing trip!

      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!

    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.

      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. 🙂

    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:)

    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?

      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.

    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.

      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. 🙂

    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

      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!

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

          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.

            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?

              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!

    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.

      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!

    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?

      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. 🙂

    Can’t wait to see the shots with your new camera and lens, especially in somewhere as beautiful as Iceland.

      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.

    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

      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!

    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!

      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. 🙂

    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……

      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.

    I love “What’s in my bag” posts. Your large travel bag looks really cute, I love the color.

      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.

        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 🙁

          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!

            Actually it doesn’t look like a lot for 6 days!

              Haha, no? I was expecting to have seasoned backpackers telling me I’m taking way too much! 😉

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