Part of what makes Iceland so incredibly beautiful is how extreme it is. From hot springs and geothermal activity to glaciers and snow-capped mountains, you’ll see and experience it all, especially during the winter. How do you prep all these tempuratures? Here’s a gloguide to help:
The more waterproof you are, the better. Rain is common year-round and almost every activity involves water (snow, glaciers, beaches, hiking, hot springs, etc).
Layer up, buttercup. Not only is the weather is unpredictable, but you can also heat up quickly when you’re all bundled up. To prevent overheating, make sure you have layers that are easy to remove and replace.
Warning, if you start sweating in cold weather start to seek out a warmer, dry place. When your sweat starts to cool, you could risk hypothermia.
Thermals - These will be your best friend. I wore thermal tops under everything, and thermal bottoms as pants. I would recommend one pair (top and bottom) for 1-2 days.
Sweaters - This was my layer between thermals and jackets. Since this layer isn’t exposed or directly on you, you can probably get by with a single sweater for every 3-4 days.
Jackets - You will use all or some combination or all of these.
Thermals - Depending on your tolerance for cold (I think I have a moderate to high tolerance), I wore thermals as pants. One colder days, I wore double thermal pants.
Ski pants - Warm and waterproof, these are perfect for a place called “ice-land”. One note, ski pants on top of thermal pants actually got a little warm during hiking or in the car.
Waterproof pants - I only brought one pair of ski pants, and while they definitely came in handy, it would have been nice to also have a lighter pair of waterproof pants.
Waterproof, snow boots - I wore these everyday. You are looking for boots that are insulated (warm) and waterproof. The only bummer was when they got a little wet (I think a combination of snow and sweat), I had to wait for them to dry or else they would ruin my socks. I would recommend bringing a second pair of boots (like rain boots, below). PS. I can’t imagine wearing tennis shoes any day of this trip, I’d recommend leaving them home.
Rain boots - From rainy days to wet hikes, these will come in handy.
Flip flops - Seems odd, right? But yes, you’ll be glad you had these at hot springs. Rather than walk across freezing, icy rocks, pack some cheap flip flops to take you from the showers to the pool.
Socks - Yes, socks get their own category. Pack double what you think you need. After a hot springs, accidentally getting snow/water in your boot, sweaty feet, or just for lounging around the hotel, you’ll be glad you did!
Ice traction - This brand broke almost immediately after putting them on the boot. I would recommend a brand where the metal is not directly on the rubber. These are a better option.
Scarf - I only brought one scarf (expecting to buy more when I arrived), but it turned out to be the perfect scarf. It is a large, cotton, infinity scarf. The reason I love it is because I can use it as a blanket when I’m not wearing it. I would definitely recommend something like this. Especially if you are flying a budget airline that does not provide blankets on the plane.
Earmuffs - I brought several hats and headbands but opted to wear a pair of earmuffs for most of the trip. I would say it’s personal preference here, as long as you have something to cover your ears; they will ache if exposed to the wind and cold for more than a few minutes.
Gloves - 1 lightweight pair with touch screen fingers, 1 waterproof pair. For quick walks outside the car, or around the neighborhood, I used a lighter pair of gloves. Especially since I could stick my hands in my pockets when it got cold or windy. And in such a beautiful place, it was nice to be able to navigate my phone to the camera with my gloves on. I didn’t use my heavier, waterproof gloves at all but I was glad that I had them. If we did more outdoor hikes, I think they would have come in handy (glove pun).
Accessory tip: Almost every tourist shop sells amazing wool hats, scarves, sweaters, and gloves. I wanted to buy them all but my budget would not allow for that. Iceland was more expensive that I anticipated and I had to budget more once I was there. These items were no different. The amazing Icelandic sweaters were about $200. Gloves, hats, and scarves were $50-$100. If you are looking to buy, budget beforehand.
Accessory tip 2: If it’s not wool, it real fur. Everyone has different feelings about real fur, but I could not bring myself to buy any of this. Especially since I didn’t need it.
Swimsuits - With all the snow gear in your bag, it feels strange to add your yellow polka-dot bikini to the mix. But with all the hot spring opportunities, be sure to bring several suits.
Shammy - I can’t believe this sorcery exists. It’s such a small towel, how could it possibly dry anything? But it works! A single shammy will drive yourself as well as all of your swim gear.
Face/body lotion - Cold weather tends to dry out all skin types. Don’t forget all your creams and potions.
Extra conditioner - As much as you love the hot springs, they do not show your hair any love. The sulfur and silica will dry out your locks. Keep some with you for after the hot springs. Depending on your hair type, I would also recommend leaving some in.
Toilet paper - Remote restrooms are not always equipped. It’s safe to bring your own.
Body wipes - All kinds of uses for these. Never hurts to have a pack on hand.
Travel toiletries (toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion) - Most hostels/hotels/AirBNBs will not include this.
Dry Shampoo - On nights or mornings when it’s a little too cold to shower, add a dry shampoo will help you clean up and add some life to you locks.
Sunglasses - If there is any sun when driving or hiking, it will reflect off the snow and be painfully bright.
Reusable water bottle - Hydration is always key while traveling and, bonus, Iceland has the cleanest water in the world. Fill up every change you can.
Converter - A European converter works in Iceland. I would also recommend one with USB ports.
See Golden Rules of Travel post
Photocopies of important documents (passport, credit card, tickets, etc.)
Hotel address and contact info written down. You can show this to the taxi driver