I recently went to Iceland in the middle of March and, like most people, I was furiously googling on what to pack leading up to the trip. The weather is so unpredictable that Iceland can get three seasons a day, if not within a few hours. Even though my group went in the middle of March, the weather was winter in some areas and early spring in others making it difficult to pack efficiently. Furthermore, I do not own any real gear for trekking through uneven terrain and the unpredictable weather of southern Iceland. At the same time, I did not want to spend more money on a new wardrobe that I only wear once. This packing list is what I ended up bringing and is what works for the Icelandic weather.
Ski or snowboarding gear
If you have snowboarding or ski gear, you are half way done. It rains in Iceland…a lot and at random times. It can be sunny one minute and pouring the next. I ended up bringing a waterproof and windproof Marmont shell that was perfect for this weather. The shell allowed for layering during the “winter” moments and was light enough for spring-like weather. Most importantly, it was windproof! Do not even think of using an umbrella. Locals were not kidding when they said “it’s windy”. Waterproof snowboarding or ski pants are also perfect for Iceland and I ended up wearing my one pair almost every day over my tights. The snowboarding pants provided warmth and protection from the wind and kept me dry. Additionally, I also brought along my snowboarding gloves, which worked nicely for Icelandic winter and spring. Basically, I did not have to buy the expensive stuff because I had my snowboarding gear.
If you do have a good puffer, you can wear it and get a poncho to layer over the jacket when it rains or at waterfalls. My friend did that and it kept her dry and warm. It was also cheaper than buying a new waterproof jacket. A poncho is recommended for Iceland and it is cheaper to buy it in the US as I found out. The basic poncho that I purchased in Iceland was close to $40! You will get drenched near certain waterfalls, so it is just smart to have a poncho available.
Thermals / Base Layers
This is the first time I have ever contemplated thermals, but now I’m obsessed. I had a set of base layers from snowboarding, but that was not enough for 5 days without laundry. I searched around for cheaper alternatives and discovered heat tech layers from Uniqlo. In the winter, they have extra warm and ultra warm shirts and leggings. These thermals retail for approximately $15 each and Uniqlo seems to have 40% off sales all the time…so it is affordable to stock up. Uniqlo currently has a thermal version for spring on its website. These thermals are thin, comfortable like pajamas, keep you warm but not overheated and somehow windproof. I wore the tights every day and put my snowboarding pants over them when I arrived at the site and took them off for the long road trip. They are so comfortable that I still wear them all the time in NYC.
I had a few cashmere sweaters from Everlane that I lived in all winter. I just wore them over my thermals and was able to wear the sweaters a few times since we didn’t have access to laundry on this trip. Additionally, cashmere sweaters are so soft and provide just enough warmth for the spring and winter weather.
I did not own a pair of hiking boots and they are generally very expensive. I splurged on a pair of “hiking” winter boots (Sugarbush) from Merrell that were stylish, warm and waterproof. I was so happy with these as they are ridiculously comfortable. They made walking on the ice, dirt, pebbles, you name it terrain easy. Do not wear UGGs as you will sprain your ankle and the boots will be soaked within hours.
Good warm socks
I had thick socks from LL Bean and Merrell and also my snowboarding wool socks. They kept me warm and comfy the whole trip. My snowboarding socks are so colorful that it was great to have them over my tights since they cover most of my bottom leg and add a dose of style to a basic outfit. Again, the trick is not to buy new stuff for this trip and still look stylish so wear what you have.
Your favorite stylish beanie, scarf and sunglasses
It’s windy and cold in Iceland. I have a favorite black beanie that just made any outfit street chic and kept my head warm from the wind. I also had a “turtle” scarf from snowboarding that was perfect for this trip. See what I mean when I said if you have snowboarding gear, you are halfway done. It is also very bright in Iceland due to the reflecting snow and glaciers, even when the weather is cloudy. Sunglasses are a necessity and are another way to add personal style to your winter utilitarian outfit.
I used my Tumi’s Voyager Halle backpack the entire time I was in Iceland. I generally used it to carry my work laptop around NYC, but it worked well for this trip. It was waterproof, light and I was able to carry everything that I needed for the road trip. Another plus for me was that it did not look like I was carrying the typical “wilderness” backpack.
Usually you can depend on hotels to have decent shampoo, conditioner and other toiletries. I found this not to be the case in some of the hotels that we stayed at in the country. One hotel only had shampoo and soap while another had toiletries that did not look to be of decent quality. I was happy to have my own toiletries after a long day on the road.
Slippers or Flip Flops
Bring your own slippers since you never know the cleanliness of the floors in some of the country hotels. Hotels are not as abundant or “luxurious” as they are in Reykjavik.
Most Icelandic folks live in Reykjavik, which means towns outside of the city are far apart from each other and do not necessarily have everything you may need. Besides, who wants to hunt down medicine in the middle of a scenic road trip? I usually carry medicine for allergies, cold and flu, headaches and stomach aches or anything else I would need.
If you have room in your luggage, I would suggest bringing your favorite snacks for the long southern road trip. I spent a lot of time in the car and that usually means munching on snacks like dried fruit, nuts and chips. This just saved time and money while I was in Iceland.
I brought more than the items listed above on my trip but only ended up using the aforementioned. Hopefully, this article has help you packed more efficiently and easily instead of over packing like me. Check back for more articles on my trip to Iceland.
For our 5 days road trip to the southern coast of Iceland, click here.
Author: Chau Hoang
Featured Photo: Gleb Chuvpilo
*This post contains all my personal recommendations and I was not compensated for them.