Coming from sunny California, packing for Iceland took a lot of effort. I grew up on the tropical islands > the first time I saw snow was barely 7 years ago. I have no winter gear and no clue on what the differences are. If you’re like me, these items are usually borrowed and never thought of again. There are many sites that will provide you with a comprehensive list. So rather than writing another list, I think it would be most helpful to share things to consider when packing and highlight the items that was most useful to me and unique for this type of travel.
How much more you need to pack will depend on the time of the year you are traveling. We were in Iceland on the last 2 weeks of September, so fairly mild weather according to the locals (50 F at highest and 20-30s F at the lowest). You’ll hear from many that the weather is pretty unpredictable – which is true. Please resist the temptation to over pack and challenge yourself.
Though we rented an SUV, I wanted to keep in mind that the trunk space will not be enough for four girls. So I kept my packing to a minimum:
- 22 inch rolling luggage – for all my clothes, toiletries & shoes
- 18 inch backpack – for my camera gear and day hikes
- zipped shopping bag – holds my jacket, food for the flight & souvenirs
Don’t just pack for the weight you are allowed in flight > you must also keep in mind the space it takes up. Below you’ll see a picture of the trunk. In the passenger seats were backpacks & purses. During this trip a friend of ours lost her luggage. I would not wish this terrible experience on anyone > but this was a big lesson. I cannot imagine how we could have fit all of our stuff + still be comfortable in the car – I would have killed for sure!
Check the weather
There are some of us who have a very low tolerance of the cold, so having an idea prior to your trip will help you better prepare to make yourself comfortable. Information is readily available to you so do not make this rookie mistake and leave things to chance.
AccuWeather: I love their extended forecast. Typically, I start following the weather 4 weeks from the trip. I know it’s a little long, but I figured it gives me enough time in case there’s gear that I need to purchase which will require some time to look for. Also, note the sunrise and sunset times for the best lighting for your pics!
Weather Underground: I like to check out the weather history from the year before to confirm the forecast for this year. I’m a nerd about these things LOL!
There’s one universal truth when going to Iceland – you need waterproof stuff. Water is most certainly in the cards anywhere you go – rain, waterfall, pools, lakes, streams, etc.
Jacket – This is a given, it’s just a matter of how warm of a jacket you need to bring. So I will not spend much time on this. Instead, I urge you to invest on getting something waterproof. Umbrellas are no match to the winds and you want to have your hands free when you’re hiking through rocky areas. For this trip, I brought an insulated jacket and supplemented this with a hooded outer layer to protect me from the rain and wind. Both items not only delivered as advertised – I also loved that it was super lightweight and compact.
Hiking shoes – I contemplated not bringing hiking shoes because I’ve always been able to get away with tennis shoes + after buying the jackets, I did not want to make another big purchase. Luckily, I was able to borrow a pair from a colleague. There was not a day I didn’t wear these shoes! They were bulky, yes. But it kept me stable when hiking through rough terrains and my feet were always warm and dry.
Gloves – Its no fun trying to take pictures when you can barely feel your fingers. I had light running gloves which allowed me to work the touchscreen of the phone and got some mittens to supplement. While this was ok for the most part, it was not a good solution when it rained. Once your gloves gets soaked, the cold is unbearable. At night, it gets even worst. This is definitely something I’ll be on the lookout for the next trip.
Camera cover – JOTO cellphone bag pouch is the best $7 purchase I’ve made so far. This is a must for your phone if you are going to the Blue Lagoon. You don’t want to miss out on capturing this awesome place. I also bought Altura Rain Cover for my DSLR. For this cover, make sure to practice taking shots as it takes some getting used to.
Don’t be surprised to happen upon a geothermal heated pool. There’s nothing like reveling in the warmth of the water and laughing away all your stresses. Don’t rob yourself of this experience by forgetting your swimsuit. Also, invest in a antibacterial travel towel to bring along with you. They are simply the best – fast absorbing and dries quickly.
Merino Wool Sweaters
Every fall and winter season, I’m always on a lookout for sales on merino wool sweaters. They are pricey little things but they are pretty reasonable from Uniqlo or on sale at Banana Republic. I highly recommend them for traveling in cold places because they are:
- Super soft and comfy like cotton
- Not itchy like regular wool
- Fast drying from washing
- Great insulator
I read somewhere that they never accumulate body odor > there hasn’t been any situation to test this theory. They do take a little bit of TLC but are great investment for your travel and your wardrobe.
Other Notable Gears
Thick Socks – Remember that your feet will always be touching the cold hard ground, take care of them.
Scarves – I always bring a large scarf for traveling. I use it as a blanket on flights and an extra cover while we were out at night.
Beanie – Hoodies are tough for me because I have a large head- LOL! While on the island, I was admiring some cool angora beanies fashioned by the locals. It took me a while to find a black on black but I was able to snag one at the airport.
Flask for water – No need to buy bottles of water on the island, you just need to be on a lookout for a stream. If you can, try to bring something can hold hot water.
Travel Adapter – You should never forget this but I’ve observed on many occasions people will miss this. Iceland uses European plugs – get it and have it always packed in your bag.
Head lamp – I bring these anywhere I travel and keep it on my bedside. You need these to navigate the trails if you are going outside the city to take some pictures of the northern lights.
The Laundromat Cafe
Maybe Iceland is a stop over on your way to Europe and you need to freshen up your clothes. The Landromat Cafe in Reykavik is available. The place offers food, drinks, free wifi, board games and an area for the kiddies. It is pricey, but what isn’t in Iceland? Outside of Reykavik, your options are limited to guesthouses and hotels who might offer laundry service.
You will see many articles that lists plenty of musts with good reason. Don’t be shy to ask your friends and family for things you can borrow so you don’t have to purchase it. Give yourself plenty of time to narrow down the things you need and time to acquire them.