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Before You Go: How to Pack for Winter in Iceland

By Tanja Rasmussen

A person with two children walking in heavy snow.
Photo: A person with two children walking in heavy snow..

Iceland in the wintertime is a marvellous experience. With its northern lights, stormy weather, snow-covered mountains and cosy darkness, it’s the perfect place to get the winter vibes. That being said, it can also be cold and wet, making appropriate clothing a critical part of your trip.  As the Icelanders say, there is no such thing as bad weather, only wrong attire. So, before you go, here is our guide on what to pack for your winter trip to Iceland.

The basics of dressing for the Icelandic winter 

The first thing you should do before you start packing is check the weather forecast. While the average temperature during winter in Iceland is 0 °C [32 °F], the actual temperature may be anywhere from -10°C [14 °F] or lower to 5°C [41 °F]. Adding to that, the varying levels of wind change your perception of the cold. This means that a still day at -5 °C [23 °F] might feel perfectly lovely, but a windy one at 0 °C [32 °F] will feel bitterly cold. Due to this unpredictability, layering is the way to go here. Bring:

  • Long trousers
  • Long sleeved tops
  • A woollen sweater
  • A thick winter jacket
  • Thermal underwear, particularly if you‘re not used to the cold
  • A warm hat
  • Gloves
  • A scarf 
  • Water-resistant winter boots
  • Woollen socks
  • Overtrousers to fend off rain and snow – these can be either a thin shell or, if the forecast looks extremely frosty, ski pants.

For the adventurous spirit

Knowing what you‘ll be doing is crucial when dressing for outdoor activities in Iceland. Are you hiking a glacier or doing some other high-energy activity? Pack:

  • A thermal baselayer
  • Woollen socks
  • A woollen sweater
  • Comfortable pants 
  • A breathable, water-resistant jacket
  • Overtrousers of the same sort
  • Good hiking shoes
  • A warm hat
  • Mittens
  • A scarf or warm buff

Avoid heavy-duty and non-breathable jackets and overpants. Those will make you sweat more and trap moisture inside your clothes, lessening your chance of staying warm. If you‘re worried about getting cold, bring an extra sweater or fleece jacket in your backpack.

If you‘re primarily going to be standing/sitting still or moving very slowly, e.g. when looking for the northern lights, bundle up a bit more with a down jacket, parka or extra sweater, as well as ski pants. 

In both cases, prioritise wool and leave cotton at home. Wool will keep you warm even when wet, whereas cotton will not. 

Other items to consider

  • You‘ll want to bring your reusable water bottle along, as Icelandic tap water is drinkable and high quality wherever you are. There‘s no need to spend unnecessary money on bottled water from the store. 
  • Bringing sunglasses is extremely important for drivers! It might seem odd, considering the winter sun is only up for a few hours in Iceland, but with the sun’s lower position in the sky, it‘s more likely to be in line with your eyes. This can leave you half-blind to your surroundings, which is extremely hazardous when driving.
  • For those planning to ski, spend time on a glacier, or go on a boat trip, you should pack a bottle of sunscreen. The sun reflects in the snow and water, increasing exposure to UV radiation. 
  • Moisturisers and lip balms are lifesavers when cold and windy, as those conditions tend to dry out the skin.
  • Bring extra gloves, socks, and a hat if your luggage has room. It‘s nice to have something dry to put on if you get caught in a snowstorm or heavy rain.
  • Lastly, bring your bathing suit to enjoy Iceland’s geothermal baths and natural hot springs!

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