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Planning a trip to Iceland this winter? You’re in for a right treat! With incredible landscapes, unique natural beauty (like, you’re essentially visiting a giant volcano) and the chance to see some amazing wildlife, it will be a trip you won’t forget any time soon. For me, it turned out to be one of the best trips I’ve ever taken!
But for many of you, it’s probably not a standard kind of trip you’ll take which in turn creates one heck of a question…
what on earth do I wear in Iceland in Winter?
The thing is with Iceland is that, yes, it’s cold, but it can also feel like you’re getting all 4 seasons in a day. Actually, it’s more like in 15 minutes. The weather can be a bit crazy on this island which definitely gives another aspect to packing for Iceland in winter. Which is exactly why I’ve put together this super easy to follow, ultimate Iceland winter packing list.
Tom and I spent 5 days in Iceland and hit up all the top attractions. We did the Golden Circle tour, visited the Blue Lagoon, spent days wandering around beautiful Reykjavik and of course went out hunting for the Northern Lights so I know exactly what you’ll need for your bucket list trip to Iceland.
This guide is going to give you tips on what to wear in Iceland in winter and how much you’ll actually need to see you through your trip. Here’s my top tip to start with – you really don’t need as much stuff as you think and you can definitely get away with hand luggage only, which is a great way to help you do Iceland on a budget!
You might also like:
- My epic 5 day Iceland itinerary
- 6 things to know before you go to Iceland
- A day trip exploring Iceland’s Golden Circle
- My top 10 tips for going on a Northern Lights tour in Iceland
How cold is it in Iceland in Winter?
Winter runs from December through to March and temperatures easily stick around the 0 degrees Celcius mark. Although there are far colder places you could visit, it’s not so much the temperature that gets you in Iceland, it’s the fact that it rains and snows there and wet clothes will mean you’ll freeze your backside off. I can also safely say the coldest night I experienced was on our trip hunting for the northern lights. Standing around waiting in the snow made my feet feel like they were going to drop off!
You should know about the daylight… or lack of it
The weirdest thing to wrap my head around was the fact that Iceland has super short days. In January when I visited, the sun didn’t rise until 11 am and would set around 4 pm. Having such little daylight is something that takes a little bit of getting used to.
General Travel Essentials for Iceland in winter
Before I go into the nitty-gritty of absolutely everything you need to bring, here are a few general essentials for Iceland.
- Day bag: Because Iceland is all about being outdoors, I found a backpack to be the best bag to use during the day. As I was going on tours I liked to take some snacks with me as well as my camera and the usual day to day items. I used something like this backpack which is lightweight, really waterproof and strong so I knew my camera and gadgets were safe.
- Umbrella: Yes, it might rain, so don’t get caught out and make sure you have a compact brolly with you.
- Rechargeable hand warmer: OK, I didn’t take one of these with me because I had no idea they existed when I went, but these rechargeable hand warmers look awesome and have great reviews! My hands really struggle in the cold so this would be perfect and more sustainable than using the disposable hand warmer.
- Adapter – I switched out my old school set of adapters for this all-in-one universal adapter ages ago and have never looked back. It has all the pins for every socket in the world incorporated into it, as well as USB charging ports. Perfect!
- Power bank – Really handy to have if you’re going to be out all day and want to keep your gadgets topped up. Mine can even charge my Sony a6000 camera on the go if I need it to.
- Water bottle – I recently invested in a Chilly’s Bottle and will not look back. These bottles are insulated to keep hot drinks hot for 12 hours and cold drinks cold for 24 hours. Perfect for when you’re out and about in Iceland no matter what you like to drink. They also come in great designs as well.
- Travel Insurance with World Nomads – These guys are one of the most popular and also comprehensive travel insurers. Their policies not only cover the standard stuff but also take into consideration adventure activities and you can also buy it when you’re already travelling (which is rare AF, trust me). I’ve been lucky enough to never have to claim on my insurance but I’ve heard good things about World Nomads from people who have. Use the search box below to get a quote.
5 day Iceland winter packing list overview
As I mentioned above, for 5 days in Iceland, you can definitely get away with packing hand luggage only. The budget airlines such as RyanAir and EasyJet all fly to Reykjavic but they charge extra (sometimes more than the cost of the flight ticket if you find a good deal) to check in a bag. So here is a quick overview of what you actually need.
- 2 x jeans
- 1 x ski trousers
- 1 x pairs of boots
- 1 x extra pair of shoes
- 7 x socks and pants
- 3 x long johns (men)/thermal tights (women)
- 3 x thermal tops
- 5 x t-shirts
- 3 x jumpers
- 1 x coat
- 1 x hat, scarf and gloves
- Camera and tripod
- Day bag
What to pack for Iceland in winter
To wear underneath
- Thick tights or long johns: When Tom and I were in Iceland we found that jeans weren’t enough to stay warm. I opted for thick fleece-lined tights to wear under my jeans and Tom brought a couple of pairs of long johns with him.
- Undies – I’m not going to tell you what to wear here.
To wear on your feet
- Warm boots: It’s really important that you don’t scrimp too much on a decent pair of boots for Iceland. My feet really feel the cold and in low temperatures and on snow and ice it can be painful if they get too cold. I think the best pair of boots for Iceland is something like these boots for ladies or these for guys as they are waterproof, durable and have a really good grip.
- Second pair of shoes: As your main boots are going to be getting a bit of a beating out in the rain and snow, it’s a good idea to have a spare pair for walking around your hotel or going on in the evenings.
- Warm socks: My little feet really feel the cold so I would recommend getting some wool or thermal socks as you’re going to be outside a lot. Personally, I think the longer the better for everyone!
To wear on the bottom half
- Jeans: Be sure to pack your comfiest jeans as you’re going to be layering thermals and socks underneath them.
- Ski trousers: If you really, really feel the cold, you could also pack ski trousers which will keep you dry when it rains as well as warm.
To wear on the top half
- Thermal tops – Is it just me who doesn’t understand how this layer of material works? Well anyway, you’re going to want a few of these with you as they really do help you keep warm. These lightweight ones for women and men are a great option.
- Jumpers: A nice woolly jumper is perfect for winter in Iceland. It’s worth investing in a decent jumper or two made from cashmere as this type of wool actually keeps you warm rather than the cheapy jumpers you find in the normal high street shops. Alternatively, Tom used his North Face fleece like this one which is super soft and really warm as well, without being too bulky.
- T-shirts: As you’re going to be layering up, I recommend cotton t-shirts to wear under your jumpers as they are breathable and light. Personally, I don’t see the point in having any fancy tops so just go for some plain ones like these for women and these ones for men.
To wear over the top
- Coat: It’s important to note that not only is Iceland cold but it can also be windy and quite rainy too. You’re going to need a coat that is warm, waterproof and windproof to make sure you stay warm. The best coat for Iceland is something like a long ski jacket like this one for women and this one for men.
- Hat and scarf: It’s a great idea to find a hat that has a fleece lining as I found that a normal woolly hat wasn’t keeping my head warm. You can still get cute ones like this one that comes with a matching scarf for women and this one for men. Both are super affordable too!
- Waterproof touch screen gloves: My hands felt like they were going to drop off when I was taking photos in Iceland, so I would highly recommend getting some of these touch screen gloves. This pair can withstand temperatures down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit and are waterproof which is essential to keeping warm.
- Swimwear: Sounds crazy but Iceland has some incredible hot springs all over the country, including the famous Blue Lagoon near Reykjavic so swimmers are a must!
- Microfiber towel: Ah, the good ole’ traveller favourite has made it yet another packing list. Trust me though, you won’t regret getting such a compact, lightweight towel for your Iceland trip!
Camera essentials to photograph the Northern Lights
- Camera: Iceland is insanely beautiful! If you’re looking for a great camera to take with you then I would highly recommend the Sony a6000. I love this camera as the photo quality is awesome and it’s small enough to fit in a day bag. I took this trip before I bought my Sony camera but if take a look at any of my more recent posts, you’ll see examples of what it can do. It’s also a great idea to learn how to shoot at night so you can try and capture the northern lights!
- Tripod: To capture the northern lights, you’ll 100% need a tripod for long exposure shots. I use this Manfrotto tripod which weighs less than 1kg and can easily fit in a day bag.
- GoPro: If you’re planning on doing trips like snowmobiling or ice water swimming, a GoPro is an awesome camera to record your adventures. The GoPro Hero 6 and 7 both record 4K video and the most recent 7 has stabilisation so your shots will be clear and crisp.
- Refillable bottles: Getting your hands on a set of refillable toiletry bottles is a great way to cut down on your single-use plastics. I like silicone ones like these as they squash down as you use them up to make more space in your toiletry bag,
- Hanging toiletry bag: I love a hanging toiletry bag that zips up nice a compact as it’s just way more practical when you’re travelling. This is the one I use and as I’ve had it for well over 5 years now, can highly recommend it!
- Lip balm: No one likes chapped lips and Iceland’s weather is prone to causing them. Grab yourself a tube of plain ones like these, or tinted lip balm like these Burts Bees ones which double up as a great make-up item.
- Moisturiser: Whatever your favourite moisturiser is, be sure to bring it (in one of your refillable bottles of course)
- Solid shampoo and conditioner: A great way to get around the liquid limits when travelling hand luggage only is to use shampoo and conditioner bars. I love the Lush bars and they have such a great variety for all hair types.
Phew! Well now you know what to wear in Iceland in Winter, all that’s left to do is plan your time there. Don’t worry though… I’ve got that covered in my epic Iceland guide you can check out here. You’re going to love it!