With its extreme weather, Iceland is not a country where you want to be unprepared. This Iceland packing list shows you what to pack to stay warm and dry and avoid paying high prices to buy extra clothes in Iceland.
We visited Iceland in late September, officially autumn, but it felt distinctly wintery with temperatures from –2ºC (28ºF) at night up to a maximum of around 5ºC (40ºF) during the day.
Iceland’s weather is unpredictable, and at any time of year, you should be prepared for cold weather, rain, and strong winds. Seriously, the wind is intense!
- What to Wear in Iceland
- Our Iceland Packing List
- More Iceland Tips
What to Wear in Iceland
The best way to dress for Iceland is with layers. This packing list could work as a basis for a trip at any time of year. In the summer you could add some extra t-shirts in case the sun comes out (and maybe skip the thermal underwear), and in winter just add a heavier jacket.
Merino wool is our favourite fabric for layering as it’s warm but lightweight, dries quickly, and is odour-resistant so you can wear it multiple times before washing. We love Icebreaker tops and Smartwool socks.
Merino wool is quite pricey, though, so I also packed cheaper alternatives from Uniqlo. Their Heattech thermal range isn’t as warm, but it’s soft and comfortable and works well for layering.
I feel the cold so wore quite a few layers. On a typical day I wore a long sleeve base layer, sweater (or two), fleece, lightweight down jacket, thermal leggings under jeans, hat, gloves, thick socks, and hiking shoes.
Simon usually wore a t-shirt, long sleeve merino wool top, fleece, down jacket, Bluffworks trousers or jeans, hat, gloves, thick socks, and hiking shoes. He often wore waterproof over trousers as extra warmth for his legs.
It can rain at any time so you’ll also need a waterproof jacket. Umbrellas are useless because of the wind.
Do You Need Hiking Boots for Iceland?
Even short walks to major sights in Iceland can involve rocky, muddy trails so you’ll want decent shoes or boots with rugged, non-slip soles. It’s best if they are waterproof—look for shoes with GTX in the name to show they are made with Goretex.
Many visitors wear hiking boots in Iceland, and if you already have a comfortable pair then bring those (wear them on the plane to save space). We were fine with hiking shoes, even when walking on snow on the glacier. In winter you might prefer boots.
Packing For Iceland in a Carry On
Despite the cold weather, we still managed to pack for Iceland in one carry-on backpack each. We wore our bulkiest items on the plane and used compression packing cubes to save space.
We were in Iceland for 12 days and did laundry after a week (our Airbnb had a washing machine and dryer).
Our Iceland Packing List
Here’s exactly what we packed for our 12 days in Iceland:
Many of the budget airlines that fly to Iceland (we flew with Easyjet from London) charge for checking luggage, so you’ll save money by travelling with just a carry-on bag.
- Tortuga Setout Backpack (Simon) – It’s the maximum size you can take on a plane and fits a ton of stuff. It looks stylish too.
- Osprey Farpoint 40 Backpack (Erin) – A smaller and cheaper alternative to the Tortuga. Mine is still going strong after four years of constant use.
- Tortuga Setout Daypack – We took this on the plane as a personal item (mostly full of food) and used it as our daypack when exploring each day.
- Packing cubes – Essential to organise your things and fit more clothes in. I have two ultralight Eagle Creek Spectre compression cubes, while Simon fits all his clothes in one medium Eagle Creek Pack-It Original compression cube.
- 3 long sleeve tops – I had two Uniqlo Extra Warm Heattech tops which are soft and light and a thicker Icebreaker merino wool crewe. Both are quick-drying and odour-resistant.
- Tank top – I mostly used this for yoga and sleeping in, but it could have been an extra layer.
- 2 Sweaters – One lightweight merino/cashmere blend (which dries quickly) by Woolovers and one a thicker cotton/nylon/wool blend. I wore them both for extra warmth.
- Hooded fleece (North Face Mezzaluna) – Light but warm and the hood was useful when it was windy. The wind was so powerful I often wore a hat and two hoods.
- Jeans – I wore these most of the time. They are not a good choice on rainy days as they take ages to dry, but you could wear waterproof trousers over them. Since visiting Iceland I have discovered Aviator jeans which would be great—read more about them in my post on the best travel pants for women.
- Hiking trousers – I have PrAana Halle trousers but I don’t find them hugely flattering so didn’t wear them much. They are more practical than jeans for long hikes (which we didn’t end up doing) and rainy days. Fleece-lined leggings would be a good alternative.
- 2 Leggings – To wear under trousers, around the house, and for yoga. My Uniqlo Heattech ones are really light and comfy, but in winter warmer thermals would be better.
- Waterproof overtrousers – I didn’t actually use these, but they are a good idea in case you get a lot of rain.
- Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody Jacket – This synthetic down jacket is warm but amazingly light and it packs down into a small pouch.
- Berghaus Stormcloud Waterproof Jacket – A lightweight jacket that packed down easily into my daypack (although it doesn’t have a stuff sack) with a decent hood and two pockets. I wore it over my Patagonia jacket on rainy days and when I needed any extra layer against the wind.
- Beanie Hat – I had a lightweight cashmere hat but could have done with a thicker, fleece lined beanie to protect my ears from the wind.
- Fleece headband – I mainly brought this for running but sometimes wore it under my fleece hood as it stayed in place better than my hat.
- Gloves – I had cheap thin magic ones but could have done with warmer gloves like these as my hands got cold.
- Scarf – I rarely wore it and wished I’d had a Buff or neck warmer instead as it’s more practical in the wind.
- 7 underwear – Mostly ExOfficio which are the best for travel as they are comfortable, lightweight, quick-drying, and odour-resistant.
- 7 socks – Mostly merino wool. My favourites are the cosy Smartwool medium crew hiking socks. The only time my feet were cold was on the glacier despite wearing two pairs of socks.
- 2 bras – One was a sports bra.
- Bikini – Don’t forget a swimsuit for the many hot springs and outdoor swimming pools. They are heated so you can swim at any time of year.
- Sunglasses – Essential as the sun is often low in Iceland.
- Running clothes – Fleece-lined leggings, t-shirt, fleece-lined top, sports bra, Asics Dynaflyte 2 running shoes and socks.
- Merrell Moab 2 GTX hiking shoes – They kept my feet dry even when walking through snow on the glacier. I had issues with them on our long Dales Way hike, but as we didn’t walk for more than two hours in Iceland I didn’t have any problems.
- Winter Boots – This second pair of shoes wasn’t necessary, but I brought them as a backup as I’d had issues with my hiking shoes. They are faux-fur-lined Ugg-type boots that aren’t waterproof so were fine around town but not appropriate for rough trails.
I also brought a few t-shirts but didn’t wear them.
- 5 T-shirts – His favourite is an Icebreaker Tech Lite made from merino wool which regulates temperature and doesn’t smell.
- Icebreaker long sleeve merino wool top
- Bluffworks Meridian shirt – The most practical travel shirt as it’s wrinkle-free and odour-resistant. Useful if you want to sample Reykjavik’s nightlife and restaurant scene.
- Bluffworks Originals Pants – The most functional and stylish travel trousers Simon has found. They are lightweight, wrinkle-free, quick-drying, and have hidden zipped pockets. He has worn them hiking, horse riding and to weddings. They were a little thin for Iceland so would be best with thermal underwear underneath. Bluffworks chinos are thicker.
- Regatta Packaway waterproof over trousers – Inexpensive, light, and they fold up into a small pouch.
- Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket – Super lightweight and warm but packs down small.
- Windbreaker – Simon brought a tiny water-resistant jacket that packs down to the size of an apple, but a full waterproof would be better. He also had a poncho in case of heavy rain but didn’t need it.
- Beanie Hat with fleece lining
- Scarpa Margarita GTX shoes – He wears these practical but smart shoes everywhere. They are waterproof so were ideal for Iceland.
- 7 underwear – A mix of ExOfficio and M&S Microskin trunks.
- 7 socks – The best are Smartwool medium crew hiking socks.
- Swimming shorts – For hot springs and outdoor pools.
- Sunglasses – Necessary especially for driving as the sun is often low.
The only thing he missed was thermal underwear for under his trousers, but the waterproof over trousers worked.
Other Iceland Essential Items
- Travel towel – For hot springs and pools.
- Water bottle – Tap water is very pure in Iceland. We love the foldable Vapur water bottle and each brought one.
- Travel coffee mug – There was often nowhere to stop for coffee so Simon made his own each morning and brought it in the car.
- Camera – You’ll need a camera with manual mode if you want to take photos of the northern lights. My Olympus OMD-EM5 mirrorless camera and tiny Panasonic 12–32mm f/3.5–5.6 lens were great.
- Tripod – I borrowed a lightweight one for northern lights and flowy waterfall photography.
- Moisturiser and lip balm – My skin got surprisingly dry.
- Head torch (flashlight) – In autumn and winter this is useful when trying to set up your camera for northern lights photos.
- Universal travel power adapter – We use one with two USB sockets so we can charge three devices at once. Iceland uses the European style two round pin plugs.
- Sleeping mask – In the summer it never gets dark so you’ll need this to sleep (we didn’t need one in September).
- Reusable grocery bags – We were self-catering so brought a few shopping bags. The discount Bonus supermarket charges for bags.
- Ziploc bags – Very useful for packed lunch sandwiches and snacks.
- Food – We brought a fair amount from the UK for easy meals including Merchant Gourmet Tomatoey Lentils (delicious in wraps), flavoured couscous, cup a soup, instant noodles, granola bars, homemade granola, and coffee. The Bonus supermarket is well stocked so we could have managed without, but it did save us some money (and the lentils weren’t available).
- Chip and pin debit or credit card – Cards are king in Iceland (you can get away without any cash) and you’ll need one with a pin to use the self-service petrol pumps.
- Yoga Paws – I did yoga every day and these little yoga mats for hands and feet stopped me slipping and took up hardly any space.
We also packed our usual electronics and toiletries which you can see in our carry on packing list.
Don’t forget travel insurance—it’s essential in case anything goes wrong and you need medical treatment or to be evacuated home. We used True Traveller (for UK/EU residents) as always but World Nomads (worldwide) is another reliable option.
More Iceland Tips
Read our other Iceland posts to help plan your trip:
- Planning a Trip to Iceland: DOs and DON’Ts
- Iceland Itinerary: Off The Beaten Path on a Snæfellsnes and Westfjords Road Trip
- 14 Places Not to Miss on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
- How Much Does an Iceland Trip Cost? Our Road Trip Budget
- 10 Best Books About Iceland to Read Before You Visit
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