In the land up above, where fuming volcanoes meet glistening glaciers, and where weather is as fickle as it could possibly get, lies one of the most isolated places in Europe. A beautiful country and a land of contradictions, Iceland has risen above its geographically imposed isolationism and became a prominent tourist haven. Swaths of visitors arrive throughout the year, yearning to get the taste, and a photo, of this savoury Nordic country.
Embracing the magnificence of Iceland’s nature is quite difficult to do if you’re not properly prepared for it. The weather is volatile and winds powerful, and can dissolve your carefully laid out plans in an instant. However, if your plans include the 30 essentials that we’ll present you with here, you will be able to go about exploring the picturesque landscapes in peace.
Read more: 5 Beautiful Waterfalls to see in Iceland
Such an ultimate packing list is really necessary, for a multitude of reasons, most important of which are weather and temperature. Another relevant thing to keep in mind, which is more often than not overlooked by travelling enthusiasts, is that Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in the world. The prices are so high that you would do well to bring all the items from the Iceland packing list with you, lest you find yourselves in a situation where you need to obtain some of them during your stay, harming your budget. So, let’s get you properly equipped with excellent packing tips, ensuring the quality and enjoyment of your upcoming trip.
Iceland packing list
1. Waterproof Boots
Let’s start with a clothing item that is an absolute necessity in the place you’re about to visit. Rains are a very frequent occurrence in Iceland, and they can happen unexpectedly and catch you off guard – multiple times in a row. Besides rains, there’s also a good chance there’ll be snow, more so if you’re closer to the south of the country, making waterproof boots or shoes a must if you don’t want to catch a serious cold. On the inside of your footwear, you still need warm, thick socks, preferably made out of wool.
2. Waterproof Jacket
After you’ve made sure your feet are not in danger of getting wet, you need to provide your upper body with the same benefits. Waterproof jackets and coats are a must for the reasons stated above. If you don’t want sudden rains to ruin your discovery of great, new lands, you will wear clothes that are resistant to them. There is another reason why you need a good, warm jacket though, and that’s the wind, which can appear abruptly and fiercely, further reducing the temperature.
3. Thermal Long Sleeve Shirt
Base layers are clothes that are closest to your skin when you’re wearing multiple layers, which is an absolute must when you’re travelling to Iceland. The more layers the merrier! Thermal long sleeve shirt is perfect for maintaining your body temperature and also at keeping it dry. Of course, you’ll need an additional layer of clothes between your waterproof jacket and this shirt, which is a role best suited to fuzzy, warm sweaters. You don’t want to end up looking like a pile of rocks, so if you decide to wear a thick sweater, get a thinner jacket and vice versa.
4. Thermal Long Underwear
Just as you need a base layer to cover your upper body, you need one to cover the lower section as well. Thermal long underwear provides dryness and doesn’t let your body warmth dissipate as much. These go perfectly under hiking pants or some other waterproof leggings that are more than required for this journey. Thermal long underwear is preferred in comparison to fleece-lined leggings simply because it absorbs moisture better. However, if you’re more interested in warmth, then the next entry is better for you.
5. Fleece-lined Leggings
Oftentimes, tourists visiting Iceland make sure to come well prepared, warmly dressed, they check their packing lists several times to see if they missed any steps and then they put their jeans on. Now, there’s nothing wrong with jeans, of course, they will keep you warm and comfortable enough while you go about exploring. However, in case they get wet you’ll end up in a very unpleasant situation because they will stiffen up quickly and take their sweet time becoming dry again. Instead, put on some fleece-lined leggings that are bound to keep you warm and also relaxed about potential weather changes.
6. Fleece Hat
No less important than waterproof boots, a warm hat will go a long way when you’re outside, taking part in as many activities as you want. Try to pick a hat that looks like it’s going to be able to withstand the constant beating of the wind without flying away. A fleece hat will keep your head warm and you won’t even know it’s there, plus you can try different styles of hats, turning it into something more than protection against cold. It is a clothing item that you must have if you plan on taking part in whale watching tours or other excursions.
Read more: How to Plan a Trip
7. Fleece Gloves
Plain mittens can be enough depending on the time of the year when you’re visiting, but most of the time you’ll be wanting actual fleece gloves. This is especially true if you plan on holding a smartphone or a camera out for a long time. It doesn’t take long for fingers to start going numb on cold days that you can count on when visiting Iceland.
Find a scarf that is as warm and sheltering as possible. Tie it tightly around your neck and face because of harsh winds that threaten to blow it away. It is a vital part of any expedition to cold areas, and it won’t hurt to have it packed, even if the weather doesn’t seem so bad at first glance. It will also keep you warm on freezing tours of ice glaciers.
It doesn’t really matter if you’re coming to Iceland during winter or summer. It’s going to be very bright, either because of snow or sunlight, making it difficult to keep your eyes open. Just like all the other things, make sure to pack them before the trip or you’ll overpay them quite a lot! Moreover, they ought to be a priority of yours if you plan on renting a car, otherwise, you’ll be driving on a hunch and that’s not a good idea no matter where you are.
10. Bathing Suit
Believe it or not, Iceland has so many local swimming pools that it’s difficult to count. Each town probably has its own pool, so make sure to bring a bathing suit or you will miss out on a very cool experience. Although it might seem intimidating at first due to the freezing temperatures, it’s actually very enjoyable. A plethora of hot springs with thermal baths are waiting to be found and they are simply a part of the whole Icelandic experience.
11. Sleeping Mask
If you come during the summer, which is mostly July and August, long days are probably going to take you by surprise. During the summer solstice on June 21, the sun doesn’t set at all. Some travellers have experienced sleep-related issues because of the long days that happen around this time of the year, so make sure that you pack a sleeping mask to ensure good rest. Otherwise, you won’t be able to recover your strength properly from all your exploring, and the rest of your trip, and possibly your health, will suffer.
A great way of invigorating your freezing body is through consumption of hot beverages. Whether you prefer coffee, tea or hot chocolate doesn’t matter, as long as you’re getting it inside of your system. Thermos is naturally a perfect choice for such a need, increasing the body temperature, your energy levels and elevating diminished mood.
13. Reusable Bottle
Besides carrying a thermos around, you also need a supply of fresh water. This is not going to be an issue since there’s clean and healthy water to be had all around you. For that reason, you would do well to bring a bottle that you can reuse as many times as you want, to ensure that you remain hydrated and avoid spending money on actual bottled water. Rumour has it that it’s all tap water anyways, and you don’t want to be spending money on that.
14. First Aid Kit
Obviously, this one is a must-have regardless of where you’re travelling. When it comes to Iceland, you’re most likely going to need a way to reduce fever or something to bring an end to incessant coughing. However, it won’t hurt if you’re prepared for other kinds of injuries as well, so make sure you’re packing bandaids, analgetics and anything else you might need. This includes any kind of medication that you personally need.
Light backpacks are your best friend. Find the one which is just the right size for you and which won’t start tearing at the first sign of harsh weather. Consider what you will be bringing with you on your expeditions through the wilderness, and decide what kind of backpack suits you best, without slowing you down or being more burdensome than helpful. Any kind of small bag will do, you have plenty of options.
16. Waterproof Backpack Cover
After you’ve decided on what the right backpack for you is, you’ll want to grab a waterproof backpack cover. Getting caught out in the rain is not going to be a fun experience either way, but at least your things are going to be protected. If, for any reason, you don’t get your backpack covered, at least make sure that your passport and wallet are properly isolated.
17. Quick-dry Towel
Not only do you need extra towels for a day out at the swimming pool, but with all the rains coming to get you, a towel that is easy to carry around with you and also dry quickly is really high on any list. It also doesn’t take up much space in your luggage.
18. Hand and Foot Warmer
Hand and foot warmers are all the rage among partakers in outdoors activities, especially those who like to take such activities to colder extremes. There are different kinds of these nifty little items that are able to keep your hands and feet warm. Most common form available requires users to shake the hand warmer while exposed to air. It takes some time before it warms up though, sometimes even up to half an hour, so be patient.
Cold winds, low temperature and dry air are all abundantly available during an Iceland trip. Dry skin and lips can really get sore and painful quickly, so pack some lip balm and skin moisturisers for your trip. They will most certainly come in handy, and you won’t have to regret overlooking such a helpful remedy against cold weather.
There are so many gorgeous, almost magical sights to behold in Iceland that it’s a shame not to bring a decent camera. After you spend a couple of hours on this new adventure of yours, you’ll realise that it would be a waste if you didn’t photograph every step of the way, and smartphones can only capture so much. With a good camera, you’ll be able to at least bring some of that wonderful experience back home with you. Northern lights, glaciers, plateaus, mountains and even fields of lush, green vegetation – all of these things tell a story of an untouched island waiting to be explored.
If you do decide to take a camera with you after all, then there’s a good chance that you’ll be needing a tripod as well. Northern lights require the camera to be still for a much longer time than a human hand can withstand on a cold day, especially when combined with biting winds.
22. USB Cables
You know how much you need them. There’s always a dozen of these lying around until that one moment when you actually need them – then, they’ll be nowhere to be found. Pack them, and don’t worry for a second.
Bring an extra set of batteries for your camera because, frankly, there’s nothing worse than running out of juice when you’re just about the capture the most amazing aurora borealis the world has ever seen. Out there, surrounded by cold, your gadgets won’t have as much battery available as usual. Make sure that you bring along an external charger that will keep your smartphone battery alive for as long as you need it.
24. Memory cards
Additional memory space should be a part of a modern First Aid Kit, especially in a place as breathtaking and stunning as Iceland. Hardly anyone gets enough of this land so fast that they spend only one memory card. If you happen to forget, and you really need one badly, head out to the capital, Reykjavik.
Read more: 10 Tips for Traveling with Kids
25. Waterproof Passport Wallet
After you’ve gotten your body and backpack covered, the next thing we recommend that you shield is your passport. You ought to have it on you at all times since that is your only viable document in a foreign country. Thus, protecting it should be of utmost importance to you, so much that you get a waterproof passport wallet to safeguard your only ID out there.
26. Guide book
Don’t know where you’re going? If you aren’t sure which way you should head first, grab a guide book. Even if you spent some time planning your route beforehand, there is no harm in obtaining a guide book that can often get you introduced to the area much better than the maps you looked up online, or occasional outdated reviews by other people. Get your bearings in an up-to-date guide book and ensure that your visit was complete and all-encompassing.
27. Travel Adapter
Much like the rest of Europe, Iceland has different, 220-volt electrical outlets. You’re going to need a travel adapter plug for your devices, but keep in mind that they don’t convert voltage. This means that you should stick to using the adapter to charge your smartphone or maybe even a laptop, but you should avoid plugging any other appliances.
28. Travel Insurance
This item should be on any list, not just this one. Getting travel insurance is a vital step in making plans when you’re going abroad, and it shouldn’t be skipped no matter where you’re going or how long you plan on staying. It’s peace of mind, and that is as an equally important part of the journey as your passport. You will know that you’re covered no matter what happens, ensuring that not one of your experiences becomes a harrowing tale without a happy ending. It is better to be safe than sorry!
29. Driver’s License
You’ll be able to rent a car in Iceland using your regular driver’s license, so make sure to bring it with you if you plan on taking a little road trip. Sometimes, renting companies prohibit drivers from taking certain roads that they deem to dangerous for foreigners who aren’t used to the Icelandic roads. Remember this important bit of information though – you’re generally not allowed to go offroad, so don’t go driving where you shouldn’t if you don’t want to face heavy fines or even imprisonment.
30. Personal Hygiene
Finally, you should always pack items that you need in order to maintain a good and healthy level of personal hygiene. It might seem like a frivolous item on the list, but consider the heavy prices we’ve discussed. A toothbrush and a shampoo are an unnecessary strain on your travel budget and you should avoid it if possible.
What NOT to Bring to Iceland
We’ve discussed all of the 30 essentials on our Iceland packing list. All that’s left is to see if there are some items that you’re thinking about bringing with but don’t need to.
It’s very easy to get carried away when you’re packing, every little thing suddenly seems important and an absolute must. Sure, there are those that you will need, but despite having to take so many things with you, there are some that you can skip altogether. After going over the entire list of what to pack for your journey to Iceland, let’s see what you can leave behind. Some of this you already knew, but there are those that will probably surprise you.
Appliances such as hair dryers or straighteners are usually not recommended as they cannot be safely used in conjunction with travel adapters that you absolutely must have. Instead, ask around the hotel where you’re staying if you really need to use something like that.
There’s no real reason to bring any actual cash with you. Most credit cards are an accepted standard of payment, and even if there’s any need for cash, you can always get some at an ATM.
Even though we’ve done a thorough job of warning you about constantly imminent rains, an umbrella should not be on your checklist. Why? Well, because winds are even more powerful and more frequent than the rains. Your umbrella would not win that fight for long.
- Heavy luggage
Don’t bring unnecessary baggage with you. Pack lightly and avoid bringing tons of books or gadgets. Use this time to stay away from all the technology and just enjoy nature and life.
There’s no need to bring a fridge’s worth of food with you. Try the local cuisine, meet the people, communicate, discover.
The most important item to stay off of your Iceland packing list. You’re planning on visiting such a fragile and gentle ecosystem. Keep it that way, don’t pollute or disturb what nature has worked hard accomplishing. Leave Iceland as you found it so that other people can experience the magic all over again.