Before You Go: How to Pack for the Icelandic Summer

Two people walking along Akureyri coastal path.

Summer in Iceland can be the best thing ever, with beautiful, not-too-cold sunny days and endless bright nights. But it can also be quite rainy, somewhat foggy, a bit windy, or even all of those in the span of 24 hours. So, how do you know what to wear for your summer trip to Iceland? Well, it depends on where you‘re going and what you‘re doing. If glacier trips and hikes in the Highland are on the itinerary, the things in your suitcase will be slightly different from what you might pack for a city trip in Reykjavík. Let‘s take a look at some of our best packing advice.

The basics of dressing for the Icelandic summer

One might assume that it‘s always cold in Iceland, and while that is somewhat true, it‘s not freezing cold all year around. In the summer season, typically considered to last from late May/early June through August, temperatures will likely be in the 8-15°C [46-59°F] range. Depending on other weather factors, such as wind and sun, these might feel both warmer and cooler. This is why the key to dressing successfully here in Iceland is layers.

For the upper half, have something sleeveless or thin as your baselayer, add a thicker jumper or cardigan, and finally, a jacket or coat, ideally water and wind-resistant. This way, you can easily adjust to circumstances. For the lower half, bring pants or tights. If the forecast looks good, you might want to bring shorts, and if the forecast looks particularly rainy, water resistant overtrousers. For footwear, bring both lighter shoes, such as sandals or sneakers, and some that are slightly more waterproof. For those who tend to feel easily cold, pack a pair of thin mittens and something to cover your ears.

Adventure add-ins

If your plan is to venture far out into nature or up to the Highland, there are some additional things that you should or might want to pack. Thermal underwear is the first on that list, followed by a warm sweater, preferably made of wool, as that will keep you warm even if caught in a downpour. Stay away from cotton clothes, which will get very cold when wet. A water and wind-resistant jacket and overtrousers are essential, as well as waterproof hiking shoes. Throw in a pair of mittens, a hat or headband and some extra socks as well. 

Additional items that might come in handy

As you might have heard, the water in Iceland is exceptional and drinkable no matter where you are. Bring your refillable water bottle to avoid buying bottled water at the store. In terms of enjoying the water, pack your bathing suit to enjoy Iceland’s geothermal baths and natural hot springs! You should also pack sunscreen, particularly if you‘re going to spend time on a glacier or by the sea, as the sun reflects in the snow and water, increasing your exposure to UV radiation. Lastly, you might consider bringing insect repellent spray, as the Icelandic summer comes with midges, a tiny species of flies that bite. They tend to be in areas where trees or other things offer a shield from the wind. The midges are not dangerous, but you might experience slight swelling and itching if you’re sensitive.