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I spent 12 days in Iceland in January and it was everything I expected: dark, beautiful and a true adventure through rugged landscapes. It was also cold – so, so COLD.
Although the icy temperatures can be off-putting, winter may just be the best time of the year to visit Iceland. Not only will you get to avoid the summer tourist surge, but you’ll get to see this beautiful country at its wildest of all. Iceland is wet, windy and wild all year round, but it’s even more unpredictable – and even more humbling – during the winter months. There’s nowhere better to ogle giant waterfalls, be swept away by nature (almost literally at times!) and feel incredibly small against the world around you.
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Winter in Iceland is brutal
If you’re planning to visit Iceland in winter, one thing’s for sure: you’ll need to be prepared. The changeable Iceland winter weather is no joke and having the right gear will make or break your trip. Packing well is always a good idea, but it really isn’t negotiable on this one. Well, unless you want to fork out a fortune in super expensive Icelandic stores… and as nice as the clothing is, I don’t recommend that.
What I do recommend is packing some sturdy essentials. Know what you need. Forget fashion. Make sure you’re prepared for everything the Iceland winter weather can, and most likely will, throw your way. Here’s what to pack for Iceland in winter.
What to wear in Iceland in winter: an overview
If it’s not your first time travelling to a cold climate, you probably already have most of the clothing you need. If it’s your first time visiting somewhere like Iceland in winter, you probably don’t. They’re not the cheapest (or most fun!) items of clothing to buy, but they’re be worth the money. I promise! I hate buying clothes that don’t excite me, but I was so grateful to have every last boring thread when we were out exploring.
Layers are EVERYTHING
Layers are always a good idea! Especially if you’re travelling Europe in the winter months. If you’re visiting Iceland in winter, you’ll want to pack those layers three times over.
The hardest part about travelling to Iceland in winter isn’t the cold or the rain – it’s the wind. The wind will be your biggest struggle, and the best way to protect yourself is with warm layers. When in doubt, add another layer.
Essential clothes to wear in Iceland
You can layer up with pretty much anything you like if you have the essentials. What are the essentials you truly need, though? Well I’m glad you asked…
Thermal leggings: If you’ve never worn them before, you might be wondering what on earth I’m talking about. Thermal leggings are exactly what they sound like: heat-keeping leggings that you can wear under your clothes. They might not look like they’ll do much, but believe me when I say you’ll notice the difference! I used these ones from Uniqlo’s HEATTECH range and they’re incredibly cosy (even if they don’t look it).
Water- and windproof layers: I said you’ll need to forget fashion, and that’s especially true when it comes to the outer layers. Having waterproof jackets and trousers should go without saying, but make sure they’re windproof too if you want to get more for your money. It’ll be worth spending a little more on these! I basically lived in my waterproof trousers from Mountain Warehouse for the whole trip. Something like this would also do the trick.
A really warm jacket: Good jackets cost a lot of money, and it’s well worth spending the extra money when you’re visiting somewhere like Iceland in winter. A lightweight but functional jacket that’s waterproof and insulated is your best bet. I took my Eddie Bauer Igniter jacket and it was surprisingly warm.
Sturdy waterproof boots: If you want to see anything in Iceland in January, you’ll spend much of your time with your feet in puddles. Pick up a decent pair of waterproof boots that cover at least your ankle and calf. These fleece-lined wellies were perfect for me.
Other things to add to your Iceland packing list
Not something you expect to pack for winter, but a must for Iceland! Even if you don’t head to the Blue Lagoon (we didn’t), many hotels have saunas and hot tubs. And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you just how amazing it is to slip into one when it’s snowing outside… even if you don’t get the northern lights overhead. I packed my Forever Unique bikini for the trip.
It doesn’t really matter what else you pack for Iceland in winter if you have all the essentials. You’ll spend most of your time wrapped up in weather-proof outer layers, so nobody will really see what you’re wearing underneath. And that means you can pretty much wear whatever you want! Just keep in mind that Iceland is a country for outdoor activities and adventure, so it’s never a bad idea to prioritise comfort.
Iceland is one of the most photogenic countries in the world, and its beauty is largely to blame for its recent popularity. Make sure you pack a camera to capture its incredible landscapes. I recommend the new Canon PowerShot SX740 HS if you’re looking for a budget-friendly travel camera that will work for every scene. If you’re wondering what cameras I travel with, you can see all my photography gear here.
If you own a DSLR, you’ll definitely want to pack a tripod, too. It’s DARK in Iceland in winter, so a tripod is pretty much essential for sharp images at all times of day.
A waterproof day pack
If you plan to carry a hiking bag or any other kind of backpack in Iceland, make sure it’s ready for the weather. I packed a couple of rain covers for my camera bag, but having a waterproof bag to begin with would have been even better.
It’s worth investing in a good pair of gloves for a winter trip to Iceland. If you’re a budding photographer, you may want to splash a little more for some photography gloves. And hey, even if you’re not, you might still want some that let you use your phone. The important thing is that you pack them.
Essential tours & transfers:
You’ll want to make sure you have as much of your body covered as possible – and that basically means everything but your face. Don’t underestimate how much of a difference a toque or warm hat like this one can make.
Something I wish I’d packed more of is hand and toe warmers. You know the ones I mean – the little white things that you can put inside your gloves and shoes. They give you a dose of warmth when you need it most, which is likely to happen at least once if you’re visiting Iceland in January. They’ll come in extra useful if you want to stay up and spot the northern lights, too!
A European adapter
If you’re not from a European country (or a country that uses European plugs), make sure you pack at least one adapter. This one offers every kind of conversion and will last beyond your trip to Iceland.
Tips for packing for Iceland in winter
Don’t bother with a scarf. If you pack warm layers, you probably won’t have room for a scarf. Pack a roll-neck top or a cosy fleece that covers your neck instead.
Pack a water bottle. You can drink the tap water in Iceland – and you’ll want to. Just like all food and drinks, bottled water in Iceland is expensive. Take your own bottle and refill it in your hotel every day.
Don’t forget your toiletries. I never travel with soap or shower gel because pretty much every hotel and Airbnb has them. Not in Iceland – in fact, it’s very rare to find shampoo and shower gel in your hotel room. Icelandic hotel rooms are aesthetically pleasing in that typical Scandinavian way, but they’re also very basic. Pack your own if you don’t want to be stuck without.
Make sure you have travel insurance. I never go anywhere without travel insurance that covers me for all kinds of adventures. Click here to find out more about my recommended insurance for travel or get a quote below. They cover activities that other insurance providers don’t, so you’ll be able to enjoy all your Iceland adventures with peace of mind!
RELATED READ: If you’d rather visit when it’s (a little!) warmer, check out this post on travelling Iceland in May.
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