Iceland is a bucket list destination for so many people. Whether you want to join in the annual chase for the Northern Lights, relax in a natural hot spring, or just follow in the footsteps of your favourite Game of Thrones characters, the Land of Fire and Ice always has plenty to offer. The big question is: what do you need to pack? We’ve done the research for you and put together a list of Iceland travel essentials. Now, all you need to do is catch that flight and meet us in Reykjavik!

Packing for Iceland: a seasonal affair

Before you dust off your suitcase, consider what time of year you’ll be visiting Iceland. Some of our favourite destinations, like Bali or Sri Lanka, enjoy the same climate all year round. That’s definitely not true of this Nordic gem! Even at the height of summer, Iceland rarely sees a daily average above 15°C. That might not sound like much, but with winter averages of -10°C in the north of the island, the locals find it positively tropical!

In the south, daily winter temperatures are a somewhat more tolerable 0°C. Still a shock to the system, but nowhere near as bad as in the north of the island. If you’re travelling in winter, you’ll want to wrap up warm. The lowest temperature on record is a whopping -39.7°C. We’re shivering just thinking about that!

Green moss cliff with river in the middle.

Your Iceland summer packing list

Summer in Iceland is a picture-perfect season, with gorgeous waterfalls, greenery all around, and stunning scenery. Don’t expect the warm temperatures that you’ll find in southern Europe, though. Iceland’s black sand beaches are absolutely beautiful in summer, but swimming in the sea is only for the extremely brave. Still, you might want to add a swimsuit to your summer Iceland packing list — not for the sea, but for the hot springs!

Aerial photograph of the falls.

Even in summer, your focus should be on keeping cosy. Here are some things we suggest:

  • Waterproof gear: This includes a rain jacket (go for a windproof one if you plan to hike), waterproof pants and waterproof boots
  • Layers: Bring fleece jackets or lightweight jumpers made from merino wool or a similarly insulating fabric.
  • Warm, thick socks and gloves: Yes, even in summer, you will want to pack these!
  • A snug hat: Think beanie rather than sunhat, and it will need to stay in place during high winds.

Although the temperatures never really sizzle, you’ll still want to bring sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen for a summer break in the Land of the Midnight Sun. It’s worth remembering that the sun never truly sets in an Icelandic summer, which can really play havoc with your circadian rhythms. Many travellers like to bring an eye mask with them, just like you might wear on a plane. If you need darkness to get some decent sleep, then be sure to add this to your packing list.

Man with backpack standing on river beside waterfall.

If you’re taking a trip around Iceland in summer and you want to travel light, there are some ways to do it. There’s no way you can get away with a t-shirt and shorts like in many destinations, so instead, opt to layer up. Carry lightweight but warm layers that you can peel on and off throughout the day. Fabrics like merino wool, which are lightweight and non-bulky but offer serious warmth, are a great choice. Look out for merino jumpers, vests and socks.

In the summer months, horse riding holidays are common in Iceland. Some people opt for a full equestrian adventure, while others prefer a day trip riding one of the rugged local horses. If that’s on your itinerary, don’t worry about adding riding gear to your Iceland packing list. In fact, using horse riding equipment or clothes from other countries is forbidden in Iceland. This rule is designed to help protect the local horses from diseases, and it means that you’ll be able to rent clothes and equipment before saddling up. Don’t try to circumvent this rule, whatever you do. Iceland’s horses are an island breed, so they are particularly vulnerable to illnesses from outside.

Your packing list for Iceland in winter

Winter in Iceland is very cold indeed. The good news is that you won’t need to worry about sunburn. The bad news? Well, that’s because you won’t see the sun for the duration of your trip!

A green field with a mountain in the background.

One important thing to think about when packing for Iceland in winter is the Northern Lights. Most people who travel so far north at this time of year are hoping to spot the Aurora Borealis. This natural light show is never guaranteed, but it’s most likely to appear when the sky is at its darkest, usually between 11 pm and 2 am. That means you’ll need warm enough clothes to survive not just the Icelandic winter, but the Icelandic winter in the middle of the night! Prepare your best Inuit chic look — here are a few of the things you should add to your Iceland packing list for winter:

  • Thermal underwear: Yes, we know, there’s literally nothing less sexy than a pair of long johns, but they’re an absolute must in the Icelandic winter.
  • An insulated jacket: You’ll want to bring plenty of layers and waterproof gear, just like in the summer, but a fully insulated jacket as your outermost layer will make life a lot easier.
  • Something to stop you from slipping when you walk: Some shoes have anti-slip soles, which can be enough, but you might prefer the added security of ice cleats. If you can’t buy these locally, you can pick them up in Iceland.
  • Lip balm and moisturiser: The winter winds can be bitingly cold, and the cold gusts will dry out your lips and skin in no time.
  • A headlamp: When people say that the sun doesn’t come out during the Icelandic winter, that’s not a figure of speech. Be prepared for long, dark days. Your mobile phone lantern won’t cut it.

Depending on where you’re travelling from, you might find it hard to buy suitably warm clothes for Iceland before you leave. Remember, you can always buy warm, cosy clothes in Reykjavik, but prices in Iceland are often more expensive than in most other parts of the world. Plus, you’ll be shivering all the way to the outdoor shop!

What to pack year-round in Iceland

As well as plenty of outdoor-friendly warm clothes to wear in Iceland, you’ll want to pack something you can wear in bars or restaurants. Let’s be honest: Reykjavik isn’t exactly known as one of Europe’s fashion capitals. Locals are too busy worrying about staying warm! If you want to embrace the Icelandic look, then go for a hand-knitted wool jumper. You can buy local Lopi jumpers, which have beautiful, colourful patterns on the yokes and make great souvenirs. Of course, you could also bust out your knitting needles and make your own jumper before you even arrive!

Hiking backpacks on grass with mountain backdrop.

If you’re travelling in the spring, bring sunglasses and sunscreen. You might not think you need them, but when the first sunlight of the year hits the snow, you’ll be blinded. Yes, it’s possible to come back from a springtime trip to Iceland with a sunburn!

There are a couple of other practical things to add to your Iceland packing list. Iceland uses European two-pronged plugs, just like you find across continental Europe, so buy an adapter if necessary. You’ll also want to bring a pair of flip-flops to wear when getting in and out of hot springs. We promise you won’t want to slip your wet feet straight back into your hiking boots! Finally, a microfibre towel is also an essential packing item. You can rent towels at most hot springs and natural swimming spots, but bringing your own will save you a little cash. A microfibre towel dries quickly and is less bulky than a traditional towel. Many come with their own little travel bags, so they’ll take up even less precious space in your suitcase.
Iceland is one of those destinations that delights so many travellers. As long as you’re well prepared, you’re bound to have a great time. If you’re up for the challenge of the Icelandic winter, join us on a trip in search of the Northern Lights. Not quite ready for eight days of darkness? Fear not! We also have a nine-day summer itinerary, which will allow you to marvel at the gorgeous scenery in the Land of Fire and Ice.

WeRoad Team
Written by WeRoad Team