Are you wondering what to pack for Iceland in winter? Wondering what to wear in Iceland in winter not to be cold? Or maybe you're asking yourself: “How cold is Iceland in winter, really?”
Don't worry, this Iceland packing list has gotten you covered!
It's based on my own experience traveling the south coast of Iceland for a week in February and talks I've had with people who've been to Iceland in the other winter months.
- What to pack for Iceland in winter: an Iceland packing list
- Accessories and clothes for Iceland in winter
- Other Iceland essentials
- Buy everything in advance
- Don't forget travel insurance
What to pack for Iceland in winter: an Iceland packing list
Before I started researching my trip, I honestly wasn't sure about what to wear in winter in Iceland. I knew the weather would be fickle and temperatures would be low but it was only after talking to my dad and checking the weather report, that I realized it wasn't going to be that cold.
So how cold is Iceland in the winter?
Well, Iceland never gets super warm, not even in summer, but it also doesn't get extremely cold. The temperature in Iceland in February, when we went, usually stays somewhere between -10°C and +10°C. When we were there, it was always between 4°C and 10°C during the day.
It does get colder inland but nobody really goes there in winter as most roads are closed off.
The south coast of Iceland also benefits from the Gulf Stream which means you don't get arctic conditions as you might in the north of Norway or Finland.
What is important to know is that you can experience four seasons a day, as the Icelanders themselves say. We've had days where the sun was shining in the morning, it got grey and windy over lunch and it was pouring rain in the afternoon. Add to that the chance of snow and you see what they mean.
So while it doesn't get unbearably cold, the conditions can be extreme and it's important to take that into account when you're packing for Iceland.
Below, I've created an Iceland winter packing list which includes all the Iceland gear my dad and I brought as well as some things we wish we'd brought and why. I hope this list will help you decide what to take to Iceland in February or any of the winter months, for that matter.
Accessories and clothes for Iceland in winter
Let's start with how you should be dressing for Iceland in February.
One thing I always advise, no matter the season or destination you're packing for, is to stick to a limited color pallet. Doing this allows you to easily mix and match all the clothes you have with you so you don't end up with a patterned pant that only goes with one sweater that you happen to spill coffee on the first day of your trip.
Another good thing to know is that you won't need any fancy outfits for Iceland. You might want to look a bit more urban than outdoorsy in Reykjavik but other than that, people dress very casually everywhere.
Dressing for winter in Iceland does mean dressing in layers. As the weather changes quickly and the heavy winds can make it feel colder outside than it actually is, you want to be able to take things off and put them back on as needed.
The best clothes to wear in Iceland are warm, breathable, and easy to put atop one another. Let's get to what to wear to Iceland in winter exactly and start with one of the most important things: your winter jacket for Iceland
Wind and waterproof outer coat
Whatever piece of clothing is directly between you and the outside air, needs to be wind and waterproof. Waterproof not just because of the chance of snow in winter but also because of the rain.
The rain in Iceland is often made worse by heavy winds that make it go sideways. An umbrella is useless and so the best jacket for Iceland is one that keeps out the chilly wind while keeping you dry at the same time.
I highly recommend getting a parka for Iceland, if you don't already have one. My dad had a good outdoor jacket but not a long one and he suffered more from the wind and the rain than I did with my Arc'teryx Patera Parka.
If you go and check this jacket out: it's super expensive but honestly the best winter jacket I've had so far.
It's warm yet super lightweight.
It doesn't let any rain go through and dries up super quickly.
It has an adjustable hoodie and handy pockets.
And it looks stylish on top of all that.
I'm not saying it's the best parka for Iceland as I obviously haven't tried them all but it won't be far off if it isn't.
Now, you may have a down jacket at home that you're thinking of bringing. While down jackets are nice and warm and you need a warm coat for Iceland in winter,they usually aren't waterproof and you really need a waterproof coat. I can't stretch this enough.
What you can do, if you really like your down jacket and/or don't want to buy a new winter coat, is combine your down jacket with a light but wind and waterproof jacket on top. Honestly, the most important thing is that your outerwear for Iceland is wind and waterproof and then you can play around a bit with what you wear underneath.
I'll get to the lower layers later but it's good to keep in mind that you will probably need to wear at least two layers underneath your jacket, so make sure it doesn't fit too tightly.
To help you, I've listed some of the best winter coats for Iceland below. All of these are jackets suitable for Iceland in winter and have received great reviews from other travelers.
Good coats for Iceland for women:
Good coats for Iceland for men:
Fleece or woollen top layers
Even with the best winter jacket for Iceland, you need to wear appropriate clothing underneath. A cotton sweatshirt and t-shirt aren't going to cut it. Not in winter, at least.
What you're looking for are top layers made of wool or fleece and however you layer your clothes, you don't want them to fit too tightly as it's the warm air in between the layers that keeps you warm.
I always wore fleece top layers on our trip as fleece is light, thin, and insulates well. I also brought a woolen top layer but I didn't wear that as I had woolen base layers underneath which I'll talk about below.
If you can't stand wool or fleece, look into some synthetic technical outdoor wear. I don't have any experience with this, though, as I just always pack fleece and/or wool when I need warm clothes.
Good top layers for women:
Top layers for men:
Warm middle layers
More warm clothes for Iceland! Now, a middle layer is actually optional and I don't think my dad has worn one when we were there.
Here's the thing: dad is easily warm, I'm very easily cold. At home, he always wears just a t-shirt or a t-shirt and something light on top whereas I wear three layers indoors until the daytime temperature stays steadily above 23°C. You get what I'm saying.
So dad's winter wear for Iceland consisted of a merino woolen base layer, a warm top layer and then his winter coat which consisted of a removable fleece and a wind and waterproof outer shell.
I, on the other hand, wore a merino woolen top, two long-sleeve base layers atop one another, then a regular t-shirt, then two fleece layers, and then my Arc'teryx parka. Just to say: bring a middle layer to be safe but you might not need it.
If you bring one, opt for fleece or wool again.
As mentioned above, you'll need thermals for Iceland in winter. I find the best thermal underwear for Iceland to be merino woolen underwear. It has all the warm benefits of wool yet doesn't itch.
If you really can't stand the idea of wearing wool or if you've tried merino and didn't like it, try a synthetic alternative. In any case, do not wear cotton as it will absorb your sweat and make you go all cold. It's also not warm and doesn't insulate.
Top base layers
As I mentioned, I love merino woolen base layers and I wear them both at the top (long-sleeve ones) and at the bottom (leggings). Decent base layers are absolute essentials for Iceland and while there are also synthetic alternatives, they won't work as well as merino wool to keep you warm and dry after you sweat a little so do take that into account.
If you're not a heavy sweater, two should be enough for a week. If you are, you might want to bring more. I didn't sweat all week but I had packed several so I could switch.
Most of these are also pretty thin and dry quickly. Just wash them by hand when you get back to your hotel and put them on the heating to be dry in the morning.
Wearing bottom base layers for Iceland doesn't actually mean wearing long underwear. I have merino woolen leggings from Icebreaker which I just put over my regular underwear and underneath whatever top pant I'm wearing.
Dad had long johns with him too but didn't need them. I wore mine every day. I have this pair from Icebreaker.
If you don't want to wear merino woolen leggings, synthetic or silk leggins can be an alternative but will be a little less effective.
Wind and waterproof pants for Iceland
If you're wondering what pants to wear in Iceland over your base layer (or underwear), the answer is again: something wind and waterproof.
I brought both my ski pants and regular rain pants and ended up wearing my ski pants over my merino woolen leggings all week long, except to go to breakfast and to dinner at the hotel. It wasn't warm enough for me to just wear thin rain paints over my leggings but if you have warm wind and waterproof outdoor pants, that's what dad had and that worked too.
Just remember: wind and waterproof. Windproof because the wind can make it feel so much colder than it actually is and waterproof because that same wind often makes the rain go sideways and so a jacket alone won't cut it when you're out all day.
Warm woolen socks
Once your feet are cold, it's ruined, so you need good socks for Iceland. Good means warm and moisture-wicking so your feet don't freeze after they've gotten a bit sweaty.
I had a variety of thick hiking socks with me, all with wool in them. You could also bring ski socks but I don't really like those as they go so high. Don't bring thin woolen socks, though, as they'll most likely won't be warm enough and might not be as comfortable in your winter boots.
Here are some of the best socks for Iceland in winter.
Waterproof snow boots
You could've guessed it: the best boots for Iceland in winter are waterproof boots and preferably warm ones. You'll most likely have to walk over ice and through the snow at some point and even if you don't, you'll want to keep your feet dry even when it's raining all day long.
You could wear regular hiking boots for Iceland. Just make sure they're warm enough and they're waterproof. Most good hiking boots are but not all of them and sometimes the water resistance disappears with age.
There's no need to worry about what regular shoes to wear in Iceland as you won't need them. You can bring some for at the hotel but I'll talk about that below.
The reason you won't need regular footwear for Iceland in winter is because of the snow, ice, and rain I mentioned before. On top of that, you'll be walking on gravel roads and hiking trails, going up and down and through potholes. No need to do that in your good sneakers.
I always borrow these Salomon snow boots from Boyfriend's mom when I go somewhere cold and they're really the best snow boots ever. I've gone hiking in the snow with these with a group and while everyone was wearing snow boots, everyone except me had wet toes at the end of our hike.
These are truly super warm, super sturdy, and super waterproof.
Here are some of the other best boots to wear in Iceland in winter.
A warm hat
When you're packing your clothing for Iceland in February, don't forget to bring a hat even if your jacket has a hoodie. I mostly just wore my jacket's hood as it was windproof but sometimes that was too cold and I put my hat underneath it.
Dad wore his hat almost all the time.
The best hat for Iceland is one that's warm and fits tightly. A loose hanging hat easily gets blown off by the wind and is harder to put underneath your hood when needed.
Here are some good hats for Iceland.
I found gloves to be optional but that's probably because it wasn't that cold when we were in Iceland. If the temperatures are around the freezing point and it's windy, my guess is that you'll need them.
If you want really warm gloves for Iceland, ski mittens or gloves are great as they're usually thick and waterproof. On the other hand, try handling a camera or smartphone with them…
The best gloves for Iceland, in my opinion, are those kinds of gloves that have a little hood over the finger tops that you can slide off to have your fingertips out in the open. That way, you can leave your gloves on while handling your smartphone or camera.
The ones I had with me are gloves that have touch-sensitive fingertips that are supposed to allow you to use your phone while keeping them on but I've found that that sensitivity decreases after a while and I think I only wore them for 30 minutes in total during the entire trip.
Here are some recommended gloves to wear in Iceland.
A buff or warm scarf
If you wear a turtleneck sweater as a top layer this might not be needed but even then, a warm scarf helps a lot in keeping you, well, warm.
Because it often rains in Iceland, though, I'd recommend bringing a buff rather than a scarf as you can keep that in your jacket and thus also dry. I have a fleece one that I wore all week. Dad wore base layers with a turtleneck.
Swimwear and flip flops
This is something you might not think of when you're deciding what to pack for Iceland in winter, but fact is Icelandic people love pools and you'll find pools in various towns.
Chances are you'll want to go to one of the many hot springs, though, and then a swimsuit and flip flops definitely come in handy. We didn't do this on our trip but I did bring my bikini.
Bring some regular trousers for Iceland to wear at the hotel. I brought jeans but quickly realized Iceland is really relaxed and so I always wore stylish (hey, they're velvet) track pants both to breakfast and to dinner.
I didn't find most restaurants to be particularly warm so you might want to play it safe and bring warm trousers for Iceland but in general, I'd say any type of regular pant will do.
Comfortable and warm, that's all your Iceland attire needs to be, really.
Warm sneakers or boots
Now, what about regular footwear for Iceland in February? Dad had a pair of low walking shoes with him and I brought my warm Adidas sneaker boots with fake fur inside as they're nice and warm.
Neither of us wanted to wear our clunky snow and hiking boots on the plane and it's nice to be able to change your shoes in the morning for breakfast and in the evening to go to dinner.
You don't need to bring your best shoes for Iceland as, like I said before, people dress casually everywhere, also for dinner. The exception may be if you've planned a night at a special restaurant in Reykjavik but I have no experience with that.
This isn't something you'll need while you're in Iceland, but it is when you're flying there. You'll be on the plane for over three hours and in that case, compression socks are recommended.
Why? I've dedicated a whole article to that here.
Sunglasses are another thing that may not come to mind when you're thinking about what to take to Iceland in winter but believe it or not, the sun does shine from time to time and when it does, you'll be happy to have your sunglasses with you.
Especially when driving, these can come in handy as the sun hangs low in winter and may blind you.
While you could take a backpack to Iceland, the chances are very high that you'll be renting a car or will be doing organized day trips from your hotel and then you can easily bring a suitcase.
I took my Thule Subterra which has two compartments, big wheels to easily roll it around and a separate space to hold small items I might want to get to easily. As we spent only one or two nights in each hotel, having a suitcase like this made it easy to just lay it open on the hotel room floor to get to all of of my things.
I also always bring one or two packing cubes. Not to pack my clothes in, as most people do, but for my dirty laundry. It's amazing how many dirty clothes you can stuff into a packing cube and they help keep your suitcase organized and your clean stuff clean.
I use these packing cubes from Eagle Creek for years and they still look like new. They're not the cheapest, though, so here are some other recommendations.
Waterproof daypack or daypack with rain cover
You know the drill by now: anything that will get exposed to the elements in Iceland needs to be waterproof so if you plan on carrying around a daypack, make sure it's either really waterproof (not just water resistant) or bring a rain cover for it.
Dad brought his water resists camera backpack and I both had this water resistant backpack and I also brought a smaller foldable daypack with a rain over (this became our snack bag) but we actually almost always left our backpacks in the car when we went to visit a site.
Yes, that includes dad's massive camera backpack.
We had the feeling it was pretty safe to do so in Iceland and we didn't get our car broken into so unless you want to go for long hikes, this is an option too.
If you do want to go for long hikes and don't want to get a new waterproof daypack, simply buy some big ziplock bags to keep your valuables dry inside your backpack. These are, unfortunately, made of plastic.
If you are on the lookout for a good waterproof backpack, check out the following.
Ladies, you might also want to bring a small handbag for when you're going to breakfast or didn't. I had one with me but honestly didn't use it as I just put my phone and some tissues in my jacket.
Alright, you know what clothes to wear in Iceland in winter and what kind of luggage to put them in. Now what to take to Iceland in terms of camera and other electronic gear?
This is where it gets personal because you might be fine just taking photos on your smartphone and don't need a laptop on your trip. If that's the case, just quickly glance over the following where I list the camera and other electronic equipment dad and I brought.
A mobile hotspot is probably not the first type of electronic device that comes to mind when you're thinking about what to pack for a trip to Iceland. After all, most places in Iceland have WiFi and it usually works pretty well.
However, when you get stuck in a storm like we did and you just happen to spend that day in the only hotel of your trip that doesn't have working WiFi, you'll be happy if you can connect to the interwebs through your own device.
Again, this isn't a must but we used it to get some work done and also to keep an eye on the changing weather and road conditions. Thanks to my Skyroam hotspot, we knew it wasn't safe to go out that day but also that we'd have great weather the next morning and so we could adjust our planning accordingly.
I've used Skyroam for a couple of years now. You can either buy or rent their hotspots and then you can buy as many day passes as you need for your trip or get a monthly subscription if you'll be traveling long-term.
There is a bit of bandwidth throttling when you use the day passes but it is mentioned in their T&C and after comparing, I've learned that this is something all hotspot providers do. It's never bothered me, though. I've always been able to check email, work on the blog, and upload and download smaller files just fine.
Camera and/or smartphone
While I have a nice Fuji camera (an older version of this one), I've barely taken it with me on my travels over the last year or so. I just can't be bothered lugging it around. Having a back plays a role in that but being a bit lazy and not that much into photography does as well.
So all of the photos I took in Iceland where taken on my Samsung phone.
Dad, however, did bring his big Canon, a couple of lenses, and a couple of filters. He also brought extra memory cards, a lens cleaning cloth, and spare batteries.
In general, batteries drain quicker in cold weather but as we didn't spend hours outside of the car at once, his camera's seemed to hold up pretty well.
Quick tip: you want to bring a camera lens that has a sun cap. It will be indispensable when it rains – and it will probably rain.
We didn't get to see them because of the bad weather conditions but if you want to photograph the Northern Lights, you need to bring a tripod. Dad had a big one with him which is ideal but you could also go for a smaller and lighter model.
If you're only traveling with your smartphone and still want to try and get a good shot of the Northern Lights, you can either bring a camera tripod and screw a phone holder to the top or bring a smaller smartphone tripod like a Gorillapod that you then put on the ground or even on the top of your car.
GoPro selfie sticks, for example, can usually be screwed onto tripods.
In Iceland, they use plug types C and F. Plug type C is the one with the two round pins and plug type F is the one with two round pins on the side and earthing clips at the top and the bottom. If your devices have different plug types, you'll need to bring a universal adapter.
Icelandic sockets work with 230V and 50Hz which is common in Europe but in the US, for example, the standard voltage is 120V and the standard frequency is 60Hz.
Most laptop, camera chargers, and USB charges support anything from 110V up to 240V but things like hair dryers might not so check this beforehand. The voltage is usually indicated on the device's charger cable.
It can be dangerous to connect devices with a different voltage and frequency to an electric socket. This could break your device or even ignite a fire. If you're unsure about the correspondence of voltage and frequency between your devices and the sockets in Iceland, make sure to bring an adapter that also converts these when necessary.
Our hotels always had enough sockets for us to charge our electronics but if I had also traveled with an extra camera, it might have gotten a bit difficult. If you plan to bring a lot of electronics to Iceland, consider packing a small power strip just to be sure you can get everything charged.
This is especially handy if you need to use an adapter because then you can just use one adapter that you connect to the power strip that corresponds with the plug types of your devices and your good to go.
I have one with three sockets.
Something I found indispensable as well, was a car charger. As I used my phone both to take photos and for Google Maps, its battery drained quickly. Having a car charger with me meant that I could just let it charge each time we drove to the next location.
Dad and I also each brought a power bank to charge our phones on-the-go. I tend to use this almost daily on my travels but in Iceland, I didn't use it that much as I always used the car charger.
It still came in handy, though, for example to charge my phone while we were having lunch somewhere.
If you don't have a power bank yet and decide to buy one, please don't go for the ultra cheap ones. I know it's tempting but I've gotten a lot of cheap ones over the years as presents at events and such and they either never work or die before your phone isn't even fully charged yet.
I've been using a Lemar power bank for years (Yes, for years again. Good stuff lasts :)) and can still get three or four full charges out of it. I'm sure they've produced even better power bank since I got mine, so here are some that I think look decent and are recommended by other people too.
Other Iceland essentials
Clothing, electronics, luggage… those were all things dad and I could easily think of when making our own lists of what to bring in Iceland in winter. But then there are also a few things we learned would've made our trip a bit easier while we were there.
Even the best hiking shoes for Iceland will slip away on an icy surface and while it wasn't that cold when we were there, we did get a taste of how slippery the paths can get at Thingvellir National Park. Unlike what you might think, not all paths to the natural sights in Iceland are cleared in winter and if it is freezing, crampons (also known as stabilicers or ice cleats) are a must.
At Thingvellir, dad didn't feel comfortable to walk up to the waterfall with me because it was so slippery and I saw some people fall. I managed to get up there but there was this lady who had crampons on and she walked up there as if walking on grass.
I highly recommend you put crampons on your list of things to take to Iceland in winter. They're easy to slip on, not that expensive and they don't take up much space.
I already mentioned to bring your swimming gear and flip flops in case you want to get in one of the hot pools so that's one place where a quick-drying towel would come in handy but we wished we'd had one with us because of the rain.
It rained for several days on our trip but one day it was so bad that we were truly soaked. No, let me rephrase that: we did bring the right jackets to wear in iceland so we ourselves stayed dry but everything around us got soaked – and our faces weren't spared either.
It was a bit silly as I have multiple microfiber towels at home but hadn't brought one.
Thermos and/or reusable water bottle
The Icelandic tap water is perfectly fine to drink so make sure to bring a reusable water bottle. I had a regular one and I brought that one that also serves as a thermos. We didn't use it for hot drinks but we might have had it been a lot colder than it was.
Think about it: sipping some hot coco or a morning coffee while parked with a view on a waterfall. Doesn't sound too bad, now does it? :)
Plus, using a reusable bottle is so much better for the environment and your wallet than always buying plastic bottles or throw-away coffee cups.
Hand and toe warmers
As I mentioned before, I didn't really use my gloves as it wasn't that cold and I was constantly taking photos with my phone. If you find yourself in the same situation on your trip, hand warmers might come in handy.
Again, I have some at home but I didn't bring them as you have to reheat them once you've used them but then later I realized I could have just done that using the hotel's water kettle. Plus, you also have single-use hand warmers like these hothands .
I wouldn't say hand (or toe) warmers are a necessity but again, they take up little space and might be a real treat if you do happen to go when it's -10°C in Iceland.
Lip balm and facial cream
Because of the wind in Iceland, your lips and face will suffer. It's as easy as that. So make sure to bring some nurturing lip balm and facial cream.
Many rental cars in Iceland won't come with an ice scraper which is kind of odd. So if you're going and there's a chance of snow and temperatures below zero, you might want to bring your own ice scraper to avoid having to spend 15 minutes in the car in the morning waiting while the heating does it work on the windows.
First aid kit
I always travel with my prescription medication and some things like pain killers, bandages, etc. Good thing I do because I learned that in Iceland, you need a prescription just to get some Ibuprofen or decongestant.
And it's not just that, but sometimes you'll be pretty far from anything so if you cut your finger on some ice then or suddenly get a bad headache, it's good to have a small first aid kit with you.
Flashlight or headlight
Lastly, a flashlight or headlight. Unfortunately, we couldn't use ours because of the weather but if you're driving away from civilization to find the Northern Lights, a headlight especially will come in handy.
It will allow you to set up your tripod and camera without hassle in an area where there's little to no light (you want to see the Aurora Borealis, after all) and takes up very little space in your luggage.
Buy everything in advance
Now that you know what to wear in Iceland in the winter, make sure you get everything you need before your trip. While you could go shopping in Reykjavik upon your arrival, you'll have to buy what you can find right then and there and Iceland isn't exactly cheap.
Where to buy your things and clothes to wear in Iceland in winter
That's it, you know what to pack for Iceland in the winter! But what if you don't have all these things at home, where can you get them?
- Amazon is great, especially if you're in the US or the UK.
- REI is also a good options for those of you from the US as they often have sales and also have an online outlet.
- For Belgians and Dutchies, Bol.com is a good option for electronics and other smaller items.
And that's it! Now you know what to wear in Iceland during winter, what electronics would be good to pack, what small items can make your trip easier and what to pack it all in. If you have any questions at all, don't hesitate to let me know in the comments.
Don't forget travel insurance
Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. No matter how well you plan and prepare for your trip to Iceland in winter, something can always happen. A flight can get canceled because of bad weather, your hotel might be overbooked, you might hurt yourself or get sick or you could be a little overconfident and land your rental car somewhere along the side of the road instead of on it.
These are worst case scenarios and they can happen, but if you've got good travel insurance, you don't need to worry about them too much. Good travel insurance even covers you if your camera crashes on a glacier or gets drowned in Icelandic rain.
I've had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I'm covered for every trip I go on.
Rather be safe than sorry too? Check out World Nomads. They cover a wide range of activities for people from 140 countries.
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