Iceland’s national slogan should be “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”. Generally, Iceland climate is cold and windy for most of the year but the temperature is fairly moderate due to the ocean and Gulf Stream. The winter months average around 0 °C (32 °F) in southeast Iceland and about -10°C in the north. If you are planning on driving, be weary of blizzards and blowing snow – the wind in Iceland is fierce! If you don’t like the colder winter months but want to enjoy the unique experiences Iceland has to offer in the winter, stick to the southern part of Iceland.
What to Wear in Iceland in Winter
You are going to want to pack a lot of layering options. Because the weather changes so frequently in Iceland, having options to bundle up in more layers if you’re cold, or stripping off layers when you get warm will help you have a pleasant experience in the country. If you’ve heard of a clothing capsule, you’ll want to make one. Choosing a small variety of items that can all be styled together is the perfect packing tip I can think of. I typically stick with neutrals and one bright jacket.
Depending on the length of your trip, and whether you like to bring a carry on or checked bag, you may wish to increase the amounts shown below. Most people travel to Iceland for as little as a 24 hour stopover or up to 5 days. This Iceland packing list would be great for anywhere from the 2- to 5-day range, and add more options if you plan to go for longer.
What to Pack for Iceland
– 2-3 short-sleeve shirts for layering
– 3-5 long sleeve shirts
– 1 sweatshirt or cardigan
– 2 pairs of pants
– Warm pajamas (the hotels can get cold)
– 2 bras
– 7 pairs of underwear (I don’t know about you but I always pack extra pairs)
– 5 pairs of warm socks (preferably wool)
– 1 pair waterproof hiking boots (if planning on doing your own hikes but hiking boots are available to rent if you book a tour for a glacier hike)
– 1 pair waterproof winter boots
– 1 dress or skirt and top if your plans involve going somewhere that requires dressing up
– 1 bathing suit if you plan on visiting the Blue Lagoon, hot springs, or guesthouse with a heated outdoor pool
A winter coat is necessary for being comfortable in Iceland in the winter, but a light warm waterproof jacket is also recommended. I have this down filled rain jacket that I bring everywhere. It packs up in a small bag, is bright for awesome contrast in photos (see my link here for how much you need a yellow jacket for travelling) but warm. I often wore the bright yellow jacket during the day in February in Iceland and my winter parka in the evenings outside.
If you get cold easily, I also recommend a pair of mittens, a scarf, and a hat. If you plan on trying to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, you are going to want to have these items. You could be standing on a pile of snow for hours waiting for the lights. You can wear these items on the plane to save room in your baggage.
Warmth will be key for comfort in winter in Iceland. Having a merino wool base layer is ideal, with a few layering options like long sleeves or a sweater. If you can create a clothing capsule and pack items like sweaters/cardigans that will be warm on an outdoor adventure but nice for a dinner outing, you’re set!
Iceland is wet year round, so waterproof or quick drying pants will be your best friend. These pants from Aritzia are my favourite travel pants because they’re stylish but very comfortable and pack up tightly without wrinkling. I also love travelling with a pair of leggings. You can also bring a pair of rain pants or snow pants but I found I was comfortable without them. I don’t recommend jeans because they’re likely to get wet from rain or snow and they are not fun to sit in wet.
Shoes for Iceland
Waterproof Winter boots/rain shoes. I recommend wearing these on the plane to save space. You may also want to pack a pair of waterproof hiking shoes; however, they can be rented if you book a tour like a Glacier Hike or Ice Cave Tour.
I organize my packing lists with an app called Stylebook. I use it daily, but it’s also really helpful to visualize the items you’re packing in your bag.
Other Essentials for your Iceland Packing List
– A reusable water bottle. This is one of the top items that should be on every list!
– Waterproof case (for taking pictures in Blue Lagoon).
– Toiletries/makeup: toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, soap, face wash, moisturizer, a comb/brush, etc.
– Hand warmers: or my hands but also for my camera!
– Photography equipment: including my camera, lens, tripod, remote (for shutter), extra SD card, extra batteries and camera bag.
– Electronics and their chargers. This will include my camera battery, iPhone, Fitbit and Kobo chargers.
– Universal adapter.
Non-essential Packing Items
– Hair straightener – can double as a curling iron
– Especially these days, I pack these sanitary wipes in my bag to wipe down any plastic surfaces on the plane/public transport
– Cold medicine and Advil (considered a non-essential because you can buy some in Iceland if you need to).