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What to Wear: A Packing Guide for Iceland in Winter

After spending the start of the new year overseas in England and Iceland, I learned a few things about dressing warm. Normally, I travel with only a carry on, but made an exception this time so me and a friend could put all our stuff in one checked bag. It also allowed us to bring warmer, bulkier clothes.

Which is good, because we needed them. We thought England was cold when we were out well past midnight on New Years. Then we stood over a waterfall in Iceland, and suddenly nothing else seemed quite so cold.

Here’s a guide of what to pack on a winter trip to Iceland

…So you stay warm and toasty. No matta what.

Some links are affiliates, just FYI, but I only list things I think will be very useful for you!

Shirts

As you might have guessed, winter in Iceland can get a bit… Icey. Outside at least. The buildings in Iceland are very well insulated (we barely used the heater in our apartment in January) so you won’t need to worry about staying warm once you’re indoors. This means the key to staying comfortable in Iceland is LAYERS!

At the top of the hill at Gullfoss. EFFING COLD. For reference, I have leggings on under my pants, 2 pairs of socks, and 3 long sleeve layers. Not enough.

At the top of the hill at Gullfoss. EFFING COLD. For reference, I have leggings on under my pants, 2 pairs of socks, and 3 long sleeve layers. Not enough.

Things to consider when choosing what shirts to bring on your Iceland trip:

1) Are you spending most of your time in the city or the roaming around the island?

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get out and explore the outdoors. In fact, the winter landscapes in Iceland are pretty spectacular. Just keep in mind you’ll want to change up your wardrobe depending on if you’re spending your day exploring the outdoors or a city.

2) Do you run hot or cold?

In theory all humans have the same core temperature, but for whatever reason, we tend to vary quite a bit in how we regulate heat. Some get overheated easily (I speak from experience) and others get cold more easily. Think about you body when you choose what to wear for a day out in Iceland. That being said, as someone who overheats, I could have used some warmer clothes when exploring the countryside.

Wind. Wind makes it so much worse.

Types of shirts to bring:

  • A thermal
  • Fleece-lined
  • A standard ultra-warm baselayer
  • A lighter long-sleeve option
  • A flannel overshirt
  • A tank top – just in case (for my over-heaters/for sleeping)

Sweaters

Next up on your layers list should be at least one good sweater. Something comfy, that can go over your shirt, under your coat, and can be worn comfortably inside. So when you stop into a small cafe you can slip off your coat but still be cozy in your sweater!

Things to keep in mind for picking a sweater for Iceland:A detailed list to help you decide what to pack for a winter trip to iceland

1) A hood can be helpful if you find yourself in a momentary snowstorm (Iceland weather tends to change very quickly)

True, you can rely on your coat for the hood function, but keep this option in mind. Maybe your coat doesn’t have a hood, maybe you like the sweater hood better, maybe your a two-hood kinda person. No judgment.

2) Get something with thumb hooks if you can.

It’s a personal favorite option of mine when layering warm clothes. The hook lets you pull your sleeves up easily if you hands get a little chilly, and you can hook onto your sleeves while pulling your coat on, so your sweater sleeves don’t get uncomfortably bunched up.

3) Don’t forget you’ll be layering!

If your sweater is super thick (like those awesome sweaters you get around christmas) it could be difficult to layer them. You still want to be able to move your arms if you can help it.

Your sweater, preferably, will include:

  • An oversized hood – like this one – (so it won’t blow off and keeps some snow out of your eyes)
  • Thumb hooks
  • Material that’s warm, but not crazy bulky

Jackets

Getting the right jacket for winter in Iceland is super important. No pressure.

Just keep in mind:

1) It can be windy, rainy, snowing, cold af.
2) You don’t want your jacket to take up all the room in your luggage (or weigh it down)
3) It’s going to be on top of all your other layers, so it should be roomy enough that you don’t feel like a sausage being stuffed into its lining.

Really, if you can do a down jacket, do a down jacket. It’ll keep the amount of space your jacket (normally one of the bulkiest things to travel with) takes up to a minimum. It’s also nice and warm. AND there are a million and a half down jackets that are also waterproof.

So pretty much, do that.

But if not, just keep it warm, as light as possible, and at least water/wind-resistant.

Scarves

A scarf is a scarf is a scarf. You don’t need to scratch your head too much over this purchase honestly, even for Iceland winters. Just make sure it’s warm.

My only other recommendation that you might want to consider is an actual balaclava depending on how much time you’re actually planning to spend outdoors. For instance, if you want to spend a lot of time hiking around in the wind and snow taking photos, you might want something that covers a good portion of your face.

For instance if you decide to check out Gullfoss on the Golden Circle drive like I did. Standing over that waterfall in winter is no joke.

Gloves

Once again, look for warm and at least water-resistant. I don’t normally get waterproof gloves since I’m a fan of this convertible style, because I like the option of having my fingers free for food and my phone without taking the gloves totally off. But it can be hard to find really warm, water resistant, convertible gloves.

When it comes to Iceland during winter and your fingers, I’d say that warmth should be your priority.

Hats and such

Don’t forget about your poor poor ears! The wind can really do a number on those guys.

A nice warm hat and pair of ear warmers are MUSTS for Iceland in the winter. You’ll be so much happier if you at least have them as an option.

If you want, combine the two and get a warm hat with ear flaps. There are a lot of these for sale in Iceland if you feel like splurging on a cool souvenir, but be prepared to spend upwards of $80.

Leggings

I always wore leggings under my pants in Iceland. I actually got into the habit back home during high school because I usually had to wait outside before classes started and it was coooold.

I don’t care if you’re a manly man or not, I’d recommend trying some thermal tights under your pants. Just call ’em thermals or long underwear if it makes you feel better. There are certain points in Iceland where your jeans just won’t do it.

Your legs will thank you.

Pants

Most days you’ll be wearing jeans, or if you’re spending a lot of time outside, you might want to invest in a pair of windbreakers.

For warm comfy sweats I am a big fan of American Giant. I wore a pair of their sweats on all my travel days, plus during a couple Iceland days. I’m kinda in love with their stuff. They also have a new rain jacket I almost bought before the trip, but unfortunately they were sold out. Then as soon as I got back my cat decided to pee on my sweats which kinda destroyed them, so now I’m in American Giant withdrawal.

Socks

Don’t underestimate the power of good socks for an Iceland trip!

Get some that are:

1) Warm – seriously consider spending some extra cash on low-temp rated socks
2) Water-resistant (depending on your shoe)

I actually ended up layering socks for extra warmth because I only brought one pair of truly warm socks. You’ll avoid that problem by getting a couple pairs of quality socks, and the right shoes.

Shoes

I almost bought a new pair of Columbia boots specifically for Iceland that were incredibly light and warm, but couldn’t make up mind, then ran out of time… story of my life, man.

Things to consider when you’re choosing shoes for Iceland:

1) Are you doing a lot of hiking?

If you’re spending time hiking around the countryside (aka 99% of Iceland) you may want shoes that are going to be steady on rocky mountains, slippery snow (if you visit Iceland in winter), or wet grass.

Iceland is wet, so your shoes should at least be water-resistant.

If you might be walking on actual ice, consider getting a pair of attachable Yaktrax to keep you from slipping. We saw plenty of people slip and slide in the more icey areas.

2) What time of year is it?

If you’re visiting Iceland in the winter, warmth is going to be much more important than if you were visiting in summer. You also may want to concentrate on waterproof shoes, not just water resistant. Wet and cold feet could make you miserable.

3) How much time are you going to spend walking around? Where?

Weight is also something to consider when choosing shoes for Iceland. If you’re spending a lot of time walking around in Reykjavik you may want to bring a pair of shoes specifically for that particular activity. For instance, your perfect pair of city shoes may just need to be water-resistant, not waterproof or particularly warm, so you can find something a little more lightweight.

Set your heavy-duty hiking/waterproof boots aside for more intense outings.

Sperrys and Sorels were everywhere. They have a great reputation and offer several styles that are waterproof and warm.

A detailed list to help you decide what to pack for a winter trip to iceland

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I've had gelato in Italy, pizza in Egypt, crepes in Paris, and gruyere in Gruyere. I've rafted rivers, climbed canyons, been lost in foreign cities - and foreign museums :P - and road trip whenever I get the chance. I bring my camera and dog wherever I can, always looking for the next adventure, then I write about it here. Follow along and say hi!

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