What to pack for Iceland in winter? In our Iceland packing list for winter we share tips on what to wear in Reykjavik, what to wear for winter excursions in Iceland and must have items for visiting Iceland in winter.
Iceland is magical in winter. Translucent ice, powdery snow, Northern lights: you can fill your days (and nights) with infinite outdoor activities but you must be prepared.
Nothing kills the joy of outdoor pursuits faster than being cold and packing the right gear can make the difference between a dream holiday and a very tiring, potentially dangerous one.
I put a lot of thinking and a lot of research into this packing list for Iceland in winter and I am glad I did.
It worked really well for me, kept me warm and comfortable at all times and it allowed me to travel light, something that I love but that can be a bit of a challenge when preparing for colder climates.
This is my packing list and notes on what to wear in Iceland in winter.
Iceland winter temperatures: how cold is Iceland in winter?
Despite Iceland’s Northerly location, Icelandic winters are a lot milder than people think.
During its coldest months, November to January, temperatures average around 0 and while this is not exactly mild, it is significantly warmer than the weather in other countries in similar latitude such as Canada.
Temperatures vary significantly between day and night and with altitude: a trip to see the Northern lights or sports pursuits will require more layers and possibly technical gear, but for a visit to Iceland, you don’t need to pack anything excessive.
I am always cold no matter what but I was OK in Iceland: a trip to Reykjavik and surrounding areas does not require packing as if you were going to the Arctic!
What you need to know, however, is that weather in Iceland is exceptionally changeable and you can literally find yourself going from being in the sun to be battered by incessant rain (or even snow!) in a matter of minutes.
No matter how mild or dry the day seems to be when you wake up, be prepared: in the city and outside, the weather turns quicker than anywhere else I have ever seen.
It also comes as a surprise for many how wet Iceland is and how rainy. In February, when we visited, we expected precipitations to be snow and found ourselves under rain and crazy wind: a waterproof and windproof layer is a lifesaver!
This is the Iceland packing list that worked for me. You may want to check our Iceland itinerary to see the range of activities we used our gear for.
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What to pack for Iceland in winter: basic layer
The key to stay warm in cold climate is to invest in a good base layer. In my Iceland packing list for winter I included:
- thermal long sleeve tops,
- thermal legging (I love silk ones: they are really thin and super smooth on the skin)
- tall thermal socks
You can find my selection of thermal layers here. For travel, I find the best choice is thermal underwear in merino wool: it absorbs moisture quickly, it keeps you warm and doesn’t require daily washing.
I am also fond of silk, because how nice is feels on the skin: when packing for Iceland in winter, I brought silk tops too, to wear as under garment in the evening in Reykjavik.
What to pack for Iceland in winter: mid layer
For my mid-layers, I selected a combination of:
- Long sleeve tops
- Short sleeve tops (for a splash of colour)
- A selection of fleece and warm jumpers
- A woolen dress: I am fond of these for winter travel. In Iceland, I wore mine on top of my ski trousers with legging underneath. When in restaurants, all I needed to do was to take off the ski trousers to feel if not stylish, at least somewhat city-appropriate!
What to wear in Iceland in winter:outer layer and shoes
A good outer layer and sturdy shoes are a must have in Iceland in winter and unless you have the right gear from winters back home or snow holiday, it is worth investing in good quality stuff even just for your Icelandic trip.
On a winter trip to Iceland you need:
- Warm, waterproof winter jacket, long enough to cover you below your waist
- Winter hat
- Snow gloves
- Warm, comfortable water and snow proof shoes. I am very fond of my adidas (they are for men, technically, but they are super comfortable and warm and gender neutral enough for me to ignore the gender label!) which proved invaluable both in the city and on excursions.
- A second pair of lighter, city-style boots for the evening in Reykjavik
Iceland packing list: gear, gadgets and must haves
On top of my basic winter gear my packing list for Iceland included:
- Swimsuit and shampoo for the Blue Lagoon (conditioner is provided)
- Lightweight towel, quick drying
- Flip Flops
- Chap stick
- Oil based moisturiser. Water based are not recommended for cold weather as they might crystallize and damage your skin. I opted to use a ski safe sun cream while in Iceland as daily face cream.
- Snow safe sunglasses
- Usual Toiletries, pajama, underwear
- Extra battery pack for camera and phone (cold affects battery power)
- Power bank (see above)
- Travel converter
- Tripod, necessary for photographing the Northern Lights
- Iceland apps (Appy Hour, Northern Lights Photo Taker)
- Ziplock bags: I find these very useful to protect gear from moisture, especially when re-entering a warm room or bus after taking photos outside
- Day pack
- City crampons: they can come in handy in Reykjavik to stabilise you on icy pavements
- Water bottle: water in Iceland is delicious and you don’t need to spend money to enjoy it. With your own water bottle, you can fill up from the tap at home and have water with you all day long.
What to wear in Reykjavik in winter
I love to feel like a local, when I travel, or at least: I love to feel I don’t stand out for all the wrong reasons when visiting a new city. This means that after I made sure I had all my basics for my excursions, I turned my eyes to my evening in Reykjavik. You can find my itinerary around Reykjavik here.
What to wear in Reykjavik in winter? Were the same clothes I had on excursions ok, to go out for for dinner, or would I be the only one in full snow gear while the locals are be sporting pumps and cute dresses?
The answer is somewhat in between. Reykjavik is a relaxed, chilled city and the weather constraints do affect locals and tourists alike: dressing sensibly is the most important thing so you will not find yourself out of place all wrapped up in your visitor’s gear.
During my days and evening in Reykjavik I noticed women wearing ‘normal’ city clothes (woolen dresses, trousers or skirts with leggings) and always paired them up with cute but good snow boots.
In general, the style of the city seemed to be casual and somewhat quirky: in one of the bars we noticed the waiter was wearing a glittery black blazer!
In very bad weather, like the one we got, the advice I gave above stands true: in doubt, always wear an extra waterproof layer and take it off once you get to a restaurant or bar. I hid in the bathroom for this operation in all restaurants and I was far from the only one.
Protecting yourself for the cold, in Iceland in winter, comes before awkward maneuvers any day!
I hope you found my Iceland packing list for winter useful. Safe travels!