So you’ve decided to take a trip to Iceland in Winter! This is an excellent time to visit – fewer tourists, gorgeous winter landscapes and a chance to see the Northern Lights. Don’t miss our seven day guide to visiting Iceland in winter for inspiration, as well as our guide to planning a trip to Iceland. Once you’ve done those, you’ll probably be wondering what should be on your Iceland packing list for winter.
Well, we’re here to help. Based on our experiences travelling in Iceland in winter, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to what you should pack for your winter trip to Iceland. We’re going to cover everything from what clothes you’ll need to wear in Iceland in winter through to footwear, accessories, and suggested photography equipment.
Iceland is a country where the weather can change very quickly no matter what time of year you visit, so packing layers is always a smart option. The layer system is designed to let you modify your clothing to meet a range of temperatures without needing to pack too much, with warm air generated by your body trapped between the layers to keep them warm.
It’s worth remembering that you don’t have to pack like you are going to Antarctica, as despite what many people think, most winters are relatively minor in Iceland, especially the southern part, thanks to the Gulf Stream.
Essentially, all you need to do is pack for Iceland as you would for any cold weather destination, factoring in any activities you may be doing that may require special items (e.g., hiking, snowmobiling, diving, fishing, visiting hot springs).
We also highly recommend checking the weather forecast before you go so you are prepared. Also we’d recommend packing and buying all the main things you’ll need in advance of your Iceland trip as buying items (e.g., winter clothing, boots) in Iceland can be very expensive.
Now, let’s get started with our:
Iceland Packing List for Winter
1. Windproof Gloves
You’ll notice a theme with the first few items in our packing list. The wind in Iceland can be bitingly cold – even if it’s not particularly cold outside, the windchill can make it feel like it is well below freezing. So you will want a nice pair of warm, windproof gloves.
Water resistance is also nice to have, but not essential unless you are planning to do snow-based activities in Iceland (e.g., skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowman building) or planning longer hikes where you might have prolonged exposure to rain, sleet, or snow.
I have a pair of Isotoner windproof gloves which do the job just fine, plus they let me operate my smartphone without taking my gloves off. They have style options for both men and women – the pair I link to (and wear!) are listed as women’s gloves, but I would suggest they are unisex.
2. Windproof Hat
We think you are definitely going to want a hat for your winter adventure in Iceland. Ideally this will be windproof and warm, and will protect cover your head and ears from the cold weather.
We have a collection of hats depending on our moods, and there are plenty of warm hat options out there to keep your head toasty warm – in all kinds of styles! Here is one I personally like in a style that keeps my head and ears warm. Jess likes this one. Just make sure it fits snugly, and isn’t liable to blow off your head in a gust!
You may also want a scarf to keep your neck warm, we both like to use a nice warm scarf to keep the drafts out, something like this for me and something like this for Jess. A scarf is easy to pack, and definitely helps to keep the heat in. We prefer wool scarves if possible.
4. Wind and Waterproof Jacket
Continuing the theme of staying wrapped up warm against the weather, a windproof and waterproof jacket is going to be your best friend in Iceland in winter.
You have a few options – you can invest in a lighter “shell” jacket that keeps out the wind and water, and then layer up underneath that with warm fleece layers that don’t trap moisture.
Or you can buy a heavier jacket that provides warmth as well as wind and waterproofing.
Finally, you can also invest in a jacket like this that does everything by coming in multiple layers, so you can pick and choose. It’s really up to you!
Jess and I have gone for the first route for our waterproof clothing, and for the last couple of years we’ve been wearing jackets from Trespass. These are reasonably priced and well made, plus we like how colourful they are. If you choose this option, make sure you buy a jacket that is a little loose, so you have plenty of room to add layers underneath.
5. Waterproof Shoes or Boots
Even if you’re not planning on doing much hiking in Iceland, I’m going to suggest you have a good pair of hiking boots or walking shoes that are waterproof – especially for winter travel in Iceland.
You will often find yourself walking across snow or slushy ice, and the spray from waterfalls tends to blow everywhere! The worst thing is getting wet feet when it’s cold, so investing in a decent pair of waterproof boots, be they hiking boots or snow boots is definitely a wise idea.
When it comes to buying boots, it’s definitely worth trying them out before settling on a pair. If you do decide to order online, make sure you do so through a company that lets you return or exchange them. Here’s a full list of boots to get you started.
6. Thermal Baselayers
Now, onto your base layers, which are the layers you wear closest to your skin under your regular clothes.
You’ll want a long-sleeved top and a set of bottoms. You are going to want thermal baselayers that are breathable and will wick the moisture away from your skin. So you definitely don’t want cotton.
We like merino wool baselayers, as they are really warm and super comfortable. Laurence in particular loves this top. However, some folks find wool can be itchy, in which case you could look at either synthetic or bamboo baselayers, both of which will perform well. Jess finds wool to be itchy, so wears something like this.
If you are going to be traveling for more than a few days, you’ll probably want to invest in at least two pairs of tops and leggings for your trip, so you can wash them as needed. Or get something that is quick dry (not wool) so you can wash it and then let them dry overnight in your hotel room.
In between your base layer and your coat you’re going to want mid-layers. Our recommendations would be some fleece sweaters that you can layer up. Usually you would wear a thermal baselayer, a fleece midlayer and a wind and waterproof outer jacket.
If you have a thick outer jacket, then you won’t want too thick a fleece midlayer. On the other hand, if you are only investing in a thinner shell outer layer, you will probably want thicker midlayers, or even to wear two – one thinner, one thicker.
We think that for your lower half, a good pair of hiking pants will do. These will be comfortable and fast drying, which is the most important aspect.
Of course, jeans are an option if that’s how you roll, but we find that they dry really slowly, and can be very uncomfortable if wet. You can always pack an extra pair of pants in your day bag or car though that you can change into as well.
We don’t often travel with a towel any more, as most guest houses and AirBnB’s have them available. But you are probably going to want to bring a towel to Iceland. There are so many fantastic hot spring fed thermal baths and public swimming pools, and having your own towel will save you having to hire one each time.
It’s worth noting that some thermal baths do include towel rental in their fees, such as the Blue Lagoon. However, some do not, including the much cheaper Reykjavik city baths, and some locations don’t even have the option to rent either.
We forgot our towel, and bought one in Ikea in Iceland when we realised we didn’t have one. You can benefit from our mistake, and just pack one in advance. Ideally a nice big fluffy one, but if you’re economising on packing space, a travel towel will do.
9. Swimming Clothes
Along with a towel, you’re absolutely going to want to bring your swimming outfit to Iceland, even in the dead of winter. The naturally heated geothermal pools like the Blue Lagoon are open year round and wonderfully warm, and taking a dip in one of these is a must for any Iceland trip. There are even snorkeling and diving opportunities year round.
Your choice of swimwear is of course entirely up to you, there’s no shortage of choice out there!
10. Hand / toe warmers
These are inexpensive items that actually generate heat, last for a number of hours, and will keep your extremities warm. So if you want to avoid cold toes or fingers, these are definitely a good idea.
11. Electronic Gear
That’s the majority of the clothing covered. Now let’s take a look at some electronic items you might want to take with you.
Obviously you’re going to want your smartphone when you go to Iceland. Iceland has a pretty good cell network, and you can buy SIM cards in Iceland if you have an unlocked phone – see a list of Iceland pre-paid SIM options here.
UK travellers on the Three network will be able to get online using their home data allowance as Iceland is included in the Feel at Home countries, and US travellers on T-Mobile can use their data roaming here as well.
If you’re thinking of upgrading your phone, I have a guide to the best smartphones for photography in this post, plus a full guide to getting online when you’re travellling here.
Iceland can be cold in winter, and cold weather means that your smartphone battery isn’t going to last as long as it would usually last. So we recommend you invest in an external powerpack that you can use to recharge your smartphone on the go.
You can also prolong your smartphone battery life by keeping it in a warm place, like an inside pocket close to your body, and not leaving it in the cold for prolonged periods of time.
Travel adaptor plugs
Iceland has European style two pin plugs, so if you’re travelling from the UK, the USA, or anywhere else with a different power socket, you’ll need a travel adaptor like this. We have one of those, but to be honest, we actually prefer a simpler and cheaper solution like this.
Then if you’re like us and have a lot of electronic gear, we suggest you travel with a power strip like this, which you can plug into your adaptor. Many places we stay never seem to have enough sockets for all our chargers, so a power strip is usually invaluable.
Sometimes you just want to chill out and listen to some music or watch a movie, and for that you’ll need a pair of headphones. Laurence’s absolute favourite headphones that he travels with everywhere are these, and they’re the only pair which have survived countless years of travel abuse without failing. Which is quite impressive.
12. Photography Gear
You’re going to want to take a lot of pictures when you’re in Iceland, so some sort of camera is going to be a must. Going into what camera you should take to Iceland would pretty much be a whole post in itself though!
If you are looking for a new camera, I’ve already written a detailed guide to picking a travel camera, which should help you decide, with options on everything from smartphones through to DSLR’s.
When you’re visiting Iceland in winter, there’s a good chance that you’ll experience the beauty that is the Northern Lights.
To get photos of the Northern Lights, you’re absolutely going to want a tripod, as night time photography usually requires exposures that are too long for hand holding.
We also have a full post on why you might need a travel tripod and how to pick one here, which should give you some good options. You will likely find a tripod with spiked feet, as suggested by a reader in the comments, will be more stable in some situations.
You’re going to take more pictures than you think, so we suggest stocking up on memory cards for your camera before you go. Memory cards are pretty cheap these days, so there’s no reason not to.
As previously mentioned, batteries don’t like the cold, so you might find your camera battery doesn’t last as long as normal. We’d advise picking up a spare battery for your camera before you go – there’s nothing worse than being half way through a day of gorgeous landscapes and having your camera battery die on you!
Other Camera accessories
You will likely want a lens cleaning cloth to keep your lens clean and to remove moisture that will likely gather when you photograph waterfalls. If you’re more serious with your photography, a set of neutral density filters will likely come in handy – read why you might want a neutral density filter here.
13. Luggage & Backpacks
There are so many incredible bag options out there. Jess and I use a number of bag brands. For my camera / electronic gear, I use a Vanguard Alta Sky 49, which works well as both a carry-on and day pack.
Jess loves her Eagle Creek bags, and has both a carry-on sized backpack and a larger wheeled backpack that we check-in. I have an Osprey Sojourn 60, which has been travelling with me since 2013 through multiple countries, and is yet to let me down.
We’re happy to recommend all of those brands if you’re in the market for a new bag.
For serious hikers and climbers, we’d also pack waterproof pants, a travel first aid kit, and waterproof covers for your packs and gear – we find large ziploc freezer bags work really well for keeping electronics dry.
If you’re visiting any of the thermal springs or pools, you’ll also likely want a pair of sandals or shower shoes, and a waterproof case or bag for your phone and/or valuables.
If you are planning to do a specific activity (e.g., skiing, diving, hiking), then you may want to bring along some additional things like prescription goggles or a waterproof hiking pack.
Iceland Winter Packing List Checklist
To help you out, here’s all the above in list form, plus we’ve included all the regular stuff you’ll want to pack like underwear and toothpaste! We’ve also got a downloadable Iceland Winter Packing Checklist here for you to print out and keep.
- Outer Layers of Clothing
- Wind and waterproof jacket
- Warm winter coat
- Mid Layers
- Fleeces, sweaters, hoodies
- Base Layers
- Waterproof Shoes or Boots
- Other Clothing & Winter gear
- Wool socks
- Windproof warm gloves
- Windproof warm hat
- Swimming Gear
- Sandals/Shower shoes
- Waterproof bag
- Electronic Gear
- External powerpack
- Travel adaptor plugs
- Other ______________
- Photography Gear
- Memory cards
- Spare batteries
- Camera Accessories (lenses, case, strap, chargers, etc.)
- Luggage & Backpacks
- Day bag
- Sun protection
- Cosmetics / Haircare
- Hygiene Products
- Other ______________
- Other items
- Jewelery / Watch
- Travel Journal
- Reading materials
- Other ______________
- Day pack
- Waterproof cover for bag
- Medical first aid kit
- Safety gear
- Skiiers/Winter Activities
- Waterproof pants
- Waterproof gloves
- Ski goggles
- Ski boots
- SCUBA divers
- Waterproof camera
Further Reading for your Iceland Trip
Well, that brings us to the end of our guide to what to pack for Iceland in winter. Before you head on though, here’s a summary of some of our best Iceland content to help plan the perfect trip to Iceland!
- Our guide to planning a trip to Iceland
- We’ve put together a list of some of our favourite photography locations in Iceland to give you some ideas of where to aim to get the best photos
- Jess has put together a detailed post outlining a seven day Iceland itinerary to give you some route ideas.
- If you’re visiting Iceland in Winter, check out our guide to the best winter activities in Iceland
- We’ve also got a guide to the best day trips from Reykjavik should you wish to base yourself in the capital
- We travelled with Iceland Travel – check out their website for tour options and prices
- The weather in Iceland can be fickle – the best website for real-time cloud cover is this one from the Icelandic Met Office.
- Whilst Iceland is a safe country to travel in when it comes to things like crime, the country itself is home to extreme conditions and all sorts of seismic activity. So to stay safe as you go, check out the safetravel Iceland page
- As you’re visiting in winter, you’ll want to read through my tips for cold weather photography to help you get the best photos from your trip
And that’s it! We hope you found our guide to packing for Iceland in winter useful. As always, we’re open to comments and feedback in the comment section below!