What to pack for Iceland in winter: a winter packing list
If I’d get one euro for each time I’m being asked what the best Iceland winter clothes are, I’d be rich right now. Or at least I’d be able to book another trip to Iceland for it. So I figured that after my third journey to Iceland in winter I’d share my Iceland in winter packing list with you. In case you’re heading to Iceland in another season: stay tuned as I’ll publish a packing list for winter soon as well. If you want, please subscribe to my newsletter –> so you’ll receive an update once it’s live! For now, enjoy this article with what to wear in Iceland in winter!
Know before you go about Iceland winter weather
Let me start this article with some more information about Iceland in the winter. Many people have the idea that during a winter trip to Iceland they are only going to see big piles of snow, but nothing could be further from the truth. As previously mentioned, I have been to Iceland three times in the winter and only once I had a lot of snow. The other times it was a thin layer of snow as we sometimes have in the Netherlands or sometimes just nothing at all. In other words: it can freeze yet there can be little snow. Or you can have plenty of snow. Nobody knows what it’s going to be (btw, I traveled in November, January and February, so right in the heart of winter).
However … keep in mind that the Icelandic wind is very unrelenting. Even though the weather looks pretty good and not too cold on your weather app, it can still be ice cold due to the wind. During my most recent trip (February 2019) I went to Iceland with David and we saw really bizarre things from people who had not been well prepared for what they were doing. People who went into the mountains on sneakers or without a raincoat. Curious? In this article I tell more about the bizarre things that we have experienced on our recent winter trip.
The best winter jacket for Iceland
There’s two main items you should invest in while traveling to Iceland in winter: a decent jacket and warm boots. The winter jacket for Iceland must be wind and waterproof, preferably with a hood to protect you against the wind. I myself was wearing the Fjällräven Singi winter jacket, which protected me well against the wind and cold. David was wearing the North Face Mens Evolution TriClimate outdoor jacket that also worked well.
Now I hear you thinking: is a waterproof jacket really necessary? Ehm well … that is not necessary of course, but there is a good chance that you will experience snow and / or rain in Iceland and then it is so nice that you can just go out without getting wet and cold. Just good weather for days in Iceland is virtually impossible and being outside is a lot more fun when you are protected from the weather. Don’t underestimate the Icelandic weather and invest in a decent jacket for Iceland in winter.
If you do not want to invest in an expensive jacket, you can also choose to combine a normal winter jacket (for example a small down jacket) with a wind and waterproof rain jacket that you then wear over each other. For example you could wear the Apex Flex Gore-tex jacket by The North Face on top of your down jacket which should keep you warm and protected as well. I did this combo in Nepal and worked well for me and you then can use this jacket again the next summer for your mountain hikes.
Best boots for Iceland in winter
Then the shoes. Here you really have countless options and I leave up to yourself to decide what is the most convenient. You may opt to bring snow boots but since it’s not guaranteed there will be snow, you may end up not using them which would be a bit of a waste I guess.
I myself am a fan of just taking my high hiking shoes (the Lowa Lady Light GTX) with me, partly because I often go winter hiking in Iceland for a few hours, where comfort a must. Last winter, for example, I made the hike to Reykjadalur – the hot springs in the Hengill mountains just outside Reykjavík. Since there was still some snow (especially at the top of the mountains), I was happy with the choice of my hiking boots, although you can also do this short walk on sturdy snow boots as well. So if you are planning to do some kind of walking or hiking, the best shoes for Iceland in winter are you (ankle high) hiking boots.
You can also choose to take mini crampons with you. You tie these under your shoes or snow boots and protect you from slipping. Especially at tourist attractions, many visitors quickly see ice forming on the ground (instead of a pack of snow), and although scattering is common in most places, it can be insidiously slippery. Here are a few options, but I would really only make such an investment if you go hiking and for the rest just walk carefully. Also don’t forget to bring warm socks!
Iceland packing list winter: what else to wear
As mentioned, your footwear and jacket are the most important, but what you wear underneath also needs some attention. I myself am a fan of wearing multiple layers, so that you can always put something extra on or off when you get cold and / or hot. For my upper body I have the following with me as standard:
– 1 Icebreaker merino tank (has been around for 10 years and I literally use every trip I make!)
– 1 merino long sleeved shirt by Kari Traa
– A fleece sweater of your choice
Both thermal pieces are made of merino wool which keeps warm but also absorbs. Wool dries quickly, so if you start sweating, you don’t have a sticky back for the rest of the day, which may end up giving you a cold back once you cool down again.
In terms of pants for Iceland in winter, you can choose the best that you wear. I often get the question if ski pants are sufficient and I think that is certainly an option, but my ski pants are frankly quite bulky and that doesn’t make me as happy as I have to wear it all day. So last time I wore my winter leggings from Fjällräven and below that a simple thermal legging from Icebreaker. I have hardly had any cold weather and in this case you can put on or take off a layer. In addition, I had my rain pants with me as extra protection against the rain, but I didn’t need them. The Fjällräven leggings mentioned are definitely the best leggings for winter hiking there are and very much worth the investment in my case!
Hats, scarves, gloves
Finally, I definitely recommend that you bring a hat, scarf and gloves. I do not have specific guidelines for this, as long as it is warm, right? If, like us, you are going to do the Ice Caves & Lava tour, for example, it is handy to take waterproof gloves with you because you regularly crawl on the floor and it is nice if your hands stay warm and dry. Tip: also bring a few sets of hand warmers for cold moments during the day! By the way, I never wear a scarf myself but actually always a merino woolen Buff: a great investment if you ask me and at least as practical as a scarf as I use it as a bandana in the summer as well.
Iceland winter packing list: what else to bring
Furthermore I always take the following with me, but that of course depends on your own preferences as well:
– Bikini and lightweight towel for the hot springs
– Underwear (just normal because I have already adjusted the rest of my clothing)
– Slippers for the warm baths
– First aid kit
– Iceland travel guide
– Electronics + chargers
– A book (tip: read the books by Arnaldus Indridason during your Iceland trip!)
– A daypack -> think for example the waterproof Fjällräven Ulvö Rolltop
Buying you Iceland winter outfit in Iceland itself
Would you like to buy something on the spot? You sure can! Iceland has some very nice outdoor brands, but start saving because it’s not cheap. The most famous brand is 66 North, I personally find this a beautiful brand with fine clothing that generally lasts a long time, I have a fleece sweater and gloves, among other things. A lesser-known brand is Cintamani, their clothing is recognizable by the orange logo. Then there are Zo-On Iceland (I have a lovely warm down jacket from them), Ice Wear and some smaller brands.
You can buy these clothes everywhere in Iceland, but the best way to do this is in the outlets just outside Reykjavík. The 66 North outlet can be found on Faxafen at Reykjavík, the Cintamani outlet can be found in Garðabær just outside Reykjavík. You need a car for both places because they are not in the center. Check rates here for your rental car in Iceland and please don’t forget to note your deductible and other additional costs!
Conclusion and disclaimer
This was my article about what to pack for Iceland in the winter. Hopefully it will help you prepare for your Iceland trip and give you an idea about the best clothes for Iceland in winter. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them via the comments below.
This article contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a modest commission, of course without extra costs for you!