What to Pack for Iceland

15 January 2015

Having 5 days in Iceland was truly unbelievable, but for approximately 1 month before I left, I couldn't stop stressing about one thing. What on earth do I pack?!

What to Pack for Iceland | The Brave Little Cheesehead
It was March, and in most places of the world, March is winter. This is also the case for Iceland, and I am sure this doesn't surprise you given that the country's name literally starts with "ice." But most of what I wanted to do during my trip involved being outside. I'm from Chicago, and we are certainly not strangers to cold weather. However, during the annual takeover of the frozen tundra, I try to avoid outside places as much as any other human.  I wasn't sure whether I would have the appropriate attire for a 5-day trip to Iceland. So, I started to do what I'm sure every girl does in a wardrobe crisis: panic. 

Typically, I like to conduct a lot of research before I leave for every trip, so I assumed there would be a lot of girls out there like me who wanted to avoid frostbite while also not appearing to be wearing a sleeping bag. I was surprised to find so very little accounts by others, so I thought I'd share with you what I scrounged up for my trip.
What to Pack for Iceland | The Brave Little Cheesehead


Make sure to pack plenty of warm things for your body. 
I don't think you can pack too many of these, especially for a trip in March. I was trying to be somewhat fashionable while also being sensible. The most important thing is to make sure you have a water-resistant or waterproof down coat. I bought a new one right before my trip by Columbia. I am a curvy girl, so I especially like this coat because it has a buckle at the waist, which is more flattering for me. It was very warm, thanks to Columbia's Omni-heat thermal technology, without feeling too bulky. Iceland weather in winter is very unpredictable and will go from snow to sleet to rain and back within a 2-hour period of time, so I can't stress enough how important it is to have a water-resistant outermost layer and hood.

Mostly, I wore sweaters or layered tees with my chambray shirt. I always wore my Patagonia base layer bottoms under my thick Lululemon leggings for added warmth. If I knew I was going to be outside all day, I'd throw on my North Face fleece jacket or Lululemon athletic jacket as well. Layering is especially important in Iceland. Just like you can always count on the weather to be crazy outside, you can also always count on anything indoors to be well-heated. And it makes sense, given that Iceland is known for having such a great source of renewable energy for heating!

I also brought two thick scarves with the intension of layering just for the look, but I actually was sincerely glad I had them for added warmth. I never left my hotel without my North Face knit hat and sweater mittens.

What to Pack for Iceland | The Brave Little Cheese Head
You should also pack the necessities for keeping your feet warm. 
I can't say enough about wool socks. Bring as many as you can fit into your suitcase because you will go through all of them! I especially love the ones by Smartwool that are moisture-wicking.

A girl can never have enough shoes, but when you're packing for a trip, you should try to limit the amount you bring. For Iceland, I really only needed two pairs; either I rocked my KEEN hiking boots, or I stomped around in my SOREL snow boots. For trips to climb a frozen waterfall, hunt for the Northern Lights, or hike out to touch a glacier, your best bet is to go for something a bit more equipped for harsher weather. While walking around Reykjavik, I opted for the hiking boots to be a bit more comfortable.

There were a handful of other items that I was glad I'd packed. 
Because I'd read so much about the weather being so unpredictable, I invested in a small 4 liter Sea to Summit dry sack pack. This was especially helpful for keeping my DSLR camera and iPhone in my bag from getting wet while exploring. I didn't have a waterproof backpack with me, but this little guy came in handy several times!

Whenever I know I'm going to do a lot of hiking or walking around, I always bring my Marmot Kompressor packable backpack. What I like most about this pack is that it's a top-loader, so it's easy to get things in and out. It also has a nice, extra pocket in the head to store small things for easy access. I put my wallet and iPhone in here a lot. It has a removable pad for extra back support, and the straps adjust nicely.

You might be wondering about that swimsuit up there on that list. What could I possibly be doing with a swimsuit in a place like Iceland? I knew I would be taking a trip out to the Blue Lagoon, so this was on my must-pack list. Even if you're passing on one of the world's weirdest and coolest spa experiences ever in life, I still recommend bringing a swimsuit for your trip. A really popular thing to do in Iceland is to visit their naturally heated public pools, or their natural hot springs, called "hot pots." I did not have a chance to do either of these things while I visited, but they are very pretty, and this will definitely be on my to-do list when I go back.

And obviously I am glad I brought my camera! Iceland is so beautiful, and the landscape is very unexpected. I was taking pictures on both my Nikon DSLR and iPhone 4s because I couldn't wait to share them with my friends and family!

Things I could have done without:
Generally speaking, I'm a pretty smart packer, so there was really only one thing that I brought that I didn't need. My sister and I had done tons of research about what to wear in Iceland, and although we kept drawing blanks, the one common item that kept popping up was waterproof pants. It tends to rain and snow sideways in Iceland, so a lot of travelers mentioned they wished they'd brought waterproof pants to keep them dry. We were also planning on hiking behind a waterfall during one of the day trips we took, so we thought they might come in handy. While I was glad I had them on hand (as sort of a security blanket type thing), I never once used them. I actually ended up taking them back to Erehwon for a full refund when I returned home. 


I may have missed certain things that would be important to you. For example, I'm not a huge partier while I travel because I try to do it on a budget, and alcohol has become a bit of an unnecessary expense for me. You might opt for a fancier pair of shoes or something that you might feel more confident wearing for a night out in Reykjavik. To be honest, if I had spent more than one or two nights out at bars listening to music, I would have been fine with the wardrobe I had. Icelanders have a very laid-back style. I didn't once feel out of place in a chambray shirt, leggings and hiking boots.

What to Pack for Iceland | The Brave Little Cheese Head

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6 comments

  1. I'm heading to Iceland in March, and this list is absolutely what I need in order to prepare. Thank you!

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  2. I'm heading to Iceland in two weeks (early March). Thoughts on taking rain boots?

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    1. Hey Carrie! I think it comes down to personal preference. My rain boots are actually Teva De La Vinas (waterproof leather boots) because I tend to lean on the side of a minimalist wardrobe. So, for this particular trip, I thought hiking boots and snow boots would be better for me. What did you end up deciding? Hope your trip is awesome!

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  3. Thanks so much for this list! I head to Iceland next week. Question: I was actually going to either bring my sorel boots or my hiking books. Is it necessary to bring both?? Thanks!

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    1. I'm so jealous, Jessica! I just recently saw sale flights to Reykjavik and almost booked because I would love to go back. I think it depends largely on the activities you'll be doing. I wore my winter boots while we were hunting for the northern lights because it was very cold at night, and I was happy to have the added warmth. I also wore them when we hiked out to Solheimajokull glacier for similar reasons. Walking around Reykjavik, though, I usually wore my hiking boots. Those were primarily the two pairs of shoes I wore the whole trip! Have so much fun. :)

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