I’ve just returned from one of the most incredible adventures of my life, road tripping around Iceland’s Ring Road, with one of my best buddies… in a campervan.
I saw the Northern Lights dancing above my head on a windy mountain pass, climbed to the top of waterfalls in the rain, walked along black sand beaches in the glorious sunshine and petted Icelandic horses in the snow. It was out of this world!
But the weather is the craziest weather I’ve ever experienced. It changes constantly. It can be raining one minute and sunny the next so know what to pack for Iceland can be a little overwhelming, especially if like me, this is your first real ‘winter holiday’.
But I’m here to help!
We were there for 8 days in late October, but much of the below will apply to anytime of the year, you may just want to adjust a few things based on the length of your trip!
In Iceland, keeping warm and dry is really important, especially when you are moving constantly and don’t have much time or space to dry your things.
But I found that the key to packing for Iceland is layers (lots of layers), quick drying and warm inner clothes and waterproof outer clothes.
Waterproof and Windproof Jacket
A good jacket is absolutely essential for travelling in Iceland (in all seasons) as the weather changes often and rain and high winds are a frequent occurrence. Mine is the Didrikson’s Covert Jacket that I bought from ebay and it’s the best jacket I’ve ever owned. I love it!
It’s quite a heavy coat, but it was usually warm enough to wear alone and kept me completely dry. You’ll be so much happier if you’re not soaked all day.
For extra warmth, I wore my Marmot down jacket underneath my big coat. It was too warm when hiking, but perfect when I was stood still trying to take photos of waterfalls and the Northern Lights. I also wore it alone on drier days, in the campervan after we’d been out for a while and were waiting for the heater to kick in.
If you go in summ
Long Sleeved Shirts/Tops
I took two long sleeved checked shirts, that I wear all the time at home. I pretty much wore them every day (one was from Sainsbury’s and the other from H&M) and a long sleeved thin stripey jumper.
I took a 2 thermal vests and a long sleeved top from M&S (Heatgen make) and also a Merino Wool Icebreaker Oasis Crew Thermal Top that I’ve had since climbing Kilimanjaro.
A jumper or fleece is good to have if you can fit it in. I took my old North Face fleece which I wore at night to sleep in and also under my dry suit when I went snorkelling between tectonic plates in the Silfra fissure.
Icelanders are also very fond of the lopapeysa otherwise known as the Icelandic sweater. They are super warm patterned jumpers made from Iceland wool. They are sold everywhere in Reykjavik and all over Iceland, including lots of tourist shops, but they’re not just for tourists, most Icelanders have one! The only down side is that they are really expensive (over £100 usually) but they are good quality and will last for years.
I wore leggings every single day, taking a few pairs and layering them. For the outer layer I wore Heatgen Plus Leggings from M&S and on the inside I alternated between Heat Holders Thermal Leggings and Opaque Fleece Lined Leggings from John Lewis (which I think are out of stock now but you amy be able to get them in store). As a combo, these were all brilliant. They were really comfy, I was never cold and they dried really quickly even when they got a bit wet. Plus if you wear two pairs of leggings, it holds in all ya wobbly bits – winning!
In summer you might want to bring some fast drying but non fleecy leggings too.
I borrowed a pair from my friend, but I didn’t wear them. I know some people swear by them, but I was fine with just my leggings, which dried quickly with our heated seats. Waterproof trousers will usually save the water from running into your boots and wet feet would be the worst, so if you can take a pair just in case! Cotswold Outdoor have a great selection!
I took one pair of black jeans. I wore these on the plane, around Reykjavik and on drier days.
Not essential but… Reykjavik is a cool, hip city, with cool, hip people and cool, hip bars. If you are planning to go ‘out out’ in Reykjavik, you might want to bring some more nicer outfits – either a top to wear with your jeans or a simple dress and tights!
Iceland is full of hot springs and pools so forgetting your swimsuit would be a travesty. If you’re staying in a campervan like I did and driving the ring road, the public pools are a godsend. Just remember in Iceland, it’s the done thing to shower thoroughly and naked in communal showers (don’t worry, they’re split out male and female) and then get into your cozzie before you get into the pool! Nowadays some pools (including the Blue Lagoon) have private showers too.
I took 6 pairs of Glenmuir 1891 Fairisle wool socks which were great for keeping me warm and then I just took a couple of pairs of normal socks too. Take at least two bras, in case one gets wet and underwear for every day.
I took a couple of wool beanie hats for the trip and pretty much lived in them, even wearing one when I went to bed in the camper. My colourful one is from Primark last year and the black one from Accessorize.
Your hands will get really cold in Iceland so a warm pair of gloves is essential. I had a pair of wool touch screen gloves which were perfect as they were warm and allowed me to use my phone whilst wearing them. If your hands get cold really easily, I would maybe consider getting another pair of gloves or mittens to go over the top.
A pair of waterproof boots is a must, so if you only bring one pair of shoes, bring these. Mine are the Sorel Women’s Meadow Premium Snow Boots, which are suede but oil treated so they are completely waterproof and warm, so perfect for a winter trip to Iceland. These were really comfortable from the first wear (no blisters) and kept me warm and dry throughout my trip.
If you have waterproof walking boots, these would also be fine (especially if you have good socks), unless you are walking through deep snow or rivers.
My Sorel boots are amazing, my favourite boots ever in fact, but they are very warm so I wish I’d had another pair of shoes to change into for driving to give my feet a bit of rest or for when I just needed to pop out of the camper for a quick bathroom break. A lighter pair of boots or trainers would do the trick. A spare would also be good in case your feet get wet, luckily mine didn’t (thanks Sorel boots).
I was originally intending to travel carry on only, but I realised even before I started packing that there was no way I was going to fit it all in. So I travelled with a carry on, a small day pack (which I could fit pack flat inside my carry on) and my backpack.
On the way there I was flying WOW Air who only allow a carry on for free, so I paid extra for a checked bag. On the way back I was travelling with Icelandair, so I had a checked bag and hand luggage included. They also let me bring my umbrella on too.
Top Tip: With WOW Air, it’s a lot cheaper to pay for your checked bag online (£22.99) rather than at the airport (£39).
I took my 60l Gelert Jet-Set Backpack (which I don’t think is available anymore) but I also love Osprey packs as they’re really comfy and easy on your back and as soon as my 8-year-old Gelert pack finally gives in (it’s still going stong-ish), I’m going to buy an Osprey Atmos AG 65.
I took quite a lot of camera gear, so I also took my Revelation! carry on suitcase. In here, I also packed a spare outfit including my down jacket and a small day pack.
Small Waterproof Day Pack
Having a small, waterproof or at least water resistant day pack is a good idea. They’re great for keeping your camera gear dry whilst you hike and can double up as your handbag whilst out and about in Reykjavik. Mine wasn’t waterproof so I ended up wrapping everything in plastic bags inside.
One that fits in your hand luggage is best or maybe this can even be your hand luggage if you pack lighter than me (we took loads of Super Noodles and Pasta n’ Sauce with us – don’t ask)! I love Osprey packs and these Fjällräven Kånken packs which are stylish and water repellent, rather than waterproof, but they also have the Bergen 30 which is waterproof.
I use my Eagle Creek Pack-it Cubes on every single trip I go on and they’re especially handy when you are living in a van and need to keep it as neat and tidy as possible. I also sometimes wrap mine in a jumper and use it as a pillow.
Aside from your usual toiletries and make up, I’d recommend making sure these items are in your bag, especially if you’re camping or out in the cold night taking pictures like I was!
The chances are you’ll be out in the cold evenings taking pictures of beautiful skies and Northern Lights, which is great, but the weather plays havoc with your skin, so bring a really good moisturiser. I use Benefit Total Moisture Facial Cream but another good (and much cheaper) moisturiser is Aveeno Daily Moisturising Lotion.
I’d also suggest taking a good hand cream too.
Face Wipes/Baby Wipes
These aren’t neccessary, but I was wild camping for much of my trip, so washing wasn’t always possible. Having wipes made me feel a little bit fresher in between showers. If you’re staying in hotels the whole time you won’t need them.
Clarifying Shampoo & Deep Conditioner
If you are planning a visit to the Blue Lagoon, you should know that the ingredients in the water can really dry out your hair. Put conditioner on your hair before you get in, then wash it thoroughly with a clarifying shampoo when you get out and follow with a deep conditioner. In a day or two your hair should be back to normal!
Electronics & Camera Gear
Iceland is the most photogenic place I’ve ever been, so you’ll want to take your camera. If you want to photograph the Northern Lights, having a camera with manual settings is also important. I use an Olympus OMD and travel with 3 or 4 lenses – my 14-42 mm lens every day lens (this is the one I use the most), my wide angle lens for landscapes and indoor and my 25mm lens for people and food shots. I left my zoom lens at home this time.
Top Tip: You may also want to a bring spare battery as the cold temperatures can make them drain quicker.
If you’re lucky enough to spot the Northern Lights, a tripod is needed to get those amazing shots you see on Instagram! I borrowed a lightweight tripod one from my dad, but if you don’t want to carry one around, a small Gorillapod may do the job. Also great for getting solo shots (like the one of me above) and long exposure shots of the waterfalls. Just remember to keep hold of it in the wind!
I took over 2000 photos whilst in Iceland so make sure you have enough memory cards. SanDisk are my go to!
Whilst an adventure proof camera isn’t a necessity, it can come in pretty handy. I don’t have a waterproof case for my main camera so my GoPro was good when I was getting soaked walking under waterfalls or snorkelling between tectonic plates in Silfra.
I ended up taking a lot of my pictures on my iPhone as it was often just easier and quicker in the cold and also used Google maps to get around, rather than hiring a sat nav.
I wanted to get my iPhone unlocked, so I could use a local SIM card, but I left it too late (it can take between 72 hours – 7 days apparently to get it unlocked), but my provider, 02 does a travel bolt-on where I pay £1.99 a day for all the data I need so it worked out quite reasonable and I had coverage from Vodafone pretty much everywhere.
But, if you don’t have this facility, it’s a good idea to get your phone unlocked so you can get a local SIM. Siminn, Vodafone and Nova are the 3 main local providers.
If you have a waterproof cases for your camera or phone, it’s a good idea to bring them. It rains a lot in Iceland and even when it’s not raining, there’s spray from the waterfalls to contend with. Lifeproof make good waterproof cases for iPhone, Samsung and LG phones.
If you’re waiting for the Northern Lights to make an appearance you may want something to read so bring a Kindle or book. In case you are wondering, I read The Girl on the Train and it was very good!
European Plug Adapter
In Iceland they use European plugs, so bring at least 1 with you to charge all your electronics.
An umbrella isn’t essential, but it kept me, my camera and phone dry, especially around the waterfalls and when the rain blew in sideways with the wind! I bought this one in Reykjavik, although it’s the same as my other rainbow umbrella from Amazon! Just remember that the wind is strong, so be careful where you put it up and always face the top of it towards the wind – you don’t want to be blown over a waterfall!
First Aid Kit
I heard that some medicines are hard to get over the counter in Iceland and thankfully I never found out if this was true but I had my own first aid kit just in case as we were also travelling to very remote places. I topped this up with a few of the usual medicines I travel with, ibruprofen, rehydration salts, Immodium etc.
When the sun comes out, it really comes out and it’s low in the sky so can shine right in your face when driving.
I always travel with a bit of gaffer tape. You never know when that stuff is gonna come in handy to fix a broken car door or backpack.
Having a head torch is good for for dorms, staying in a campervan or if you are going on any night time excursions.
You’ll need a towel for the pools and hostels. You can hire them in a lot of places but they are relatively expensive. A quick drying travel towel would do fine or just bring one from home like I did.
I found it useful to mark everything I wanted to see on a paper map, before I left home. You can get them on online, in bookshops usually and sometimes in Iceland guide books. But you can also do this when you are there, as most rental companies provide you with a map and you can pick them up in hotels and hostels. Between our paper map and Google Maps on my phone we got around just fine.
Bring a refillable water bottle. The water from the taps is perfectly fine to drink (just choose cold, not the sulphur-smelling hot water), so it will save you buying a lot and you can also fill up from lots of rivers and streams too as the water is really clean!
If you’re going in the summer when it’s light most of the time or staying in a dorm at any point, an eye mask would be pretty useful for helping you sleep!
I stayed in a hostel in Reykjavik during the weekend and whilst it was lovely, it was loud!
Reykjavik is one of the best party cities in the world and each weekend they have the ‘runtur’, which is basically 48 hours of partying! People go out around midnight, so there will be people coming and going all through the night.
We were also on the same floor as a group of kids who were going on early morning trips and thought it would be fun to play loud music at 7am in the kitchen next to our dorm, so if you’re a light sleeper these will come in handy.
If you’re staying in hostels or hiring a campervan, I’d suggest that you take your own sleeping bag as a lot of places charge you for bedding hire and the costs start to add up. I have a 4 season Marmot sleeping bag that I travel with. It’s the same one I used for climbing Kilimanjaro so it’s really warm and toasty. I’d recommend a 3 or 4 season sleeping bag!
I always have a couple of Pacsafe padlocks hanging on my bag. I used mine for my locker in the hostel in Reykjavik.
I brought a few plastic bags with me and they came in really handy to put wet clothes and boots in and also be our bin bags in the campervan. If you go shopping you’ll also get some for free. Just don’t be the dorm rustler.
READ NEXT: My Epic Iceland Ring Road Itinerary
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So there you have it – my complete Iceland packing list. I hope you have an amazing (and well prepared) trip!
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