When I started researching what to pack for my summer Iceland trip, it felt like I read a million blog posts and was left just as confused. The same three items kept popping up on every packing guide: hiking boots, waterproof pants, three jackets.
OK, guys, but I don’t have any of that stuff. Will I need to drop $500 on gear before I’m even on the trip?
And there’s no room for three jackets, anyway. I don’t like the idea of other people handling my stuff, so I always try to pack everything in a carry-on suitcase, no matter how long the trip is.
Now that I’m back from my trip, I’m throwing my hat in the ring and recapping my own packing post, which will hopefully be #usefulcontent for anyone trying to figure out how to pack for Iceland. And so it’s not a straight packing list, I also looked back and analyzed which items I thought were worth bringing, which weren’t, and what I wish I brought.
First thing I do is think about the season I’m going, plus what I’m going to be doing there. Having an idea of the activities I want to do helps me bring only what I need.
The Season: Summer (August)
The Weather: 45-55° F (7-12° C), which feels like March/April weather in New York City
How Long? Six days
The Activities: Sightseeing, walking behind waterfalls, swimming in outdoor hot springs and pools, 3-hour hikes. No fancy stuff.
What to Know About Summer Weather in Iceland
The surprising thing about Iceland weather is that summers aren’t hot. So put those tank tops and shorts away. Since I was currently sitting in 95-degree NYC weather, I couldn’t remember what cooler weather felt like in March or April. So I went through the photos on my phone to see how warmly I dressed. Was I so cold I wore a winter jacket still? Now here’s my favorite tip: a few days before the trip I went onto Instagram and looked up some Iceland hashtags to see how people who were recently there dressed. I saw a girl with similar style as me wearing puffy jackets, leggings, and Nike sneakers. OK, confirmed–I don’t have to dress like the Michelin Man.
Also, don’t underestimate how unpredictable Iceland’s weather can be. You need to be prepared for all kinds of elements, even in summer: high winds, heavy rain, and sunny days. While we were driving, the weather often turned from sunny to rainy in a matter of minutes. We were so lucky to have two sunny days in a row. But then we spent three hours hiking in the rain. So even if it’s sunny when you set off on your hike, you should still bring rain gear, just in case. And consider it a miracle if you don’t get at least one rainy day on your trip.
Minimalist Packing Strategy: Layers, Naturally-Warm Fabrics, Multipurpose Items
It’s so easy to go crazy buying new stuff for your trip, but I’m telling you, you probably have most of what you need already. I personally don’t like buying things specifically for trips, because whenever I’ve done that, I always felt let down–like I would have been fine using what I already have. So I was determined to Tim Gunn it and “make it work”. If you come from a place where it gets cold and snows, there’s a high chance you’ve already got most of what you need, too.
I’ve also learned to take packing lists with a grain of salt. What people mean when they say “you need a fleece” actually just means that you need “something warm.” Last time I went on an outdoorsy trip, I almost fell into the trap of thinking I needed a fleece. It turned out that I didn’t need any of that stuff. Instead, I could use layers.
So instead of buying fleece-lined leggings, I would layer two pairs of leggings if it got cold. Rather than buying a down vest or winter jacket, I’d layer my tops so I’d stay warm.
When it was sunny and warmer, my layers looked like this:
- Layer 1: Heat-tech tank top
- Layer 2: Flannel shirt
And when it was windy and cold:
- Layer 1: Heat-tech tank top
- Layer 2: Longsleeve merino wool T
- Layer 3: Sweater or sweatshirt
For max efficiency, I also tried to bring clothes that were made out of naturally-insulating materials, like wools for base layers, and flannel. This meant I could wear just two layers and still be warm.
If you want to keep things minimal, think about items that can be used for more than one purpose. My leather sneakers are naturally water-resistant, so not only do they look sleek enough for city walks, but I can wear them in light rain, too.
The Packing Lists
*Some affiliate links below
I brought 15 pieces of clothes, not counting underwear or socks.
- 1 water-resistant jacket (Helly Hansen)
- 1 sweatshirt (T by Alexander Wang, similar)
- 1 fair isle sweater (Proenza Schouler, similar)
- 1 flannel shirt (6397, similar)
- 2 cotton T-shirts (Rag & Bone)
- 1 longsleeve merino wool T-shirt (Tracksmith)
- 1 heat tech long sleeve T-shirt (Uniqlo)
- 1 shortsleeve merino wool T-shirt (Tracksmith, similar)
- 1 pair of leggings (Outdoor Voices)
- 1 pair of merino wool tights (Falke)
- 1 pair of jeans w/stretch in them (6397, similar)
- 1 pair of sweatpants (Gap)
- 1 bathing suit (Ann Taylor, similar)
- 1 pair of pajamas (Sleepy Jones, similar)
- 2 pair of wool socks (Falke, similar)
- 5 pairs of socks
- 8 pairs of underwear
The rain jacket I bought for my New Zealand trip, and I got it for half off from REI garage.
My Proenza Schouler sweater was my one vanity item, since it’s made out of cotton. I could have brought any number of warmer wool sweaters, but I thought the fair isle print was just spot-on for Iceland.
The jeans and cotton T-shirts were for the plane ride, especially as August is heatwave weather in NYC. The jeans I brought weren’t my favorite, but they were the stretchiest and the softest, which is perfect for flights. I don’t dare wear my 100% cotton jeans on planes!
I didn’t bring a purse, and I was totally fine carrying my backpack everywhere.
- 1 pair of waterproof winter boots (Sisii)
- 1 pair of flip flops (similar)
- 1 pair of water-resistant sneakers (similar)
I debated for the longest time over whether to buy legit hiking boots, but then I saw this article and felt fine using the boots I have. My Sisiis are winter boots, similar to Sorels or L.L. Bean duck boots, but they are much softer and flexible, so they were comfortable to hike in. So glad I brought them! I did see plenty of people hiking in sneakers, although their feet definitely must have gotten wet while crossing streams or when it rained.
My outfits were a variation of the same three looks, depending on the activity, which made getting dressed super easy.
I decided not to bring face makeup, since I’d be spending most of my time being active outside. The extent of my makeup was an eyelash curler (a must!) and my wedding lipstick, just to add little color to my face.
- Cotton swabs
- Hand cream/sunscreen
- Face wash
- Body soap*
- Lip balm
- Extra hair ties
- Comb or brush
- Nail clipper
- An extra pair of contacts
- Contact lens solution and case
The Airbnb did have shampoo and conditioner, but I always bring my own now. I’ve had to scramble around pharmacies a few times when I wrongly assumed all Airbnbs stocked hair supplies.
*I forgot to bring the body soap, but thankfully my husband brought some.
- Eyelash curler (Shiseido)
- Lipstick (Hourglass)
- Vitamin C serum (Sunday Riley)
- Glycolic acid serum (Drunk Elephant)
- Face mask (Ole Henriksen)
I brought the house laptop, because I don’t feel ready to unplug from the blog just yet (sad, but true). I also bought two waterproof phone bags to protect our phones for walking under the waterfalls.
- Laptop, charger and case
- iPhone for pictures, plus an adapter and 2 cables
- International adapter
- 1 portable charger*
- Waterproof phone bag*
*I bought these specifically for the trip
I use the phrase “outdoor gear” loosely, haha, but these are all things I brought especially for hiking and spending time outdoors.
- 1 backpack (similar)
- 1 pair of sunglasses (similar)
- 1 wool scarf (similar)
- 1 water bottle
- 1 hat (similar)
- 1 pair of gloves (similar)
- 2 reusable bags
- 1 Ziploc bag
People also recommended bringing a fast-drying towel, but I made sure the Airbnb was stocked with enough towels, and just used those for the pools/hot springs.
What I Wish I Brought
It’s impossible to pack perfectly, but there were a few items that would have been nice to have.
A small amount of laundry detergent. My swimsuit got a little dirty from some of the natural hot springs, so it would have been nice to be able to properly clean it in the sink. Instead, I used the hand soap that was available in the bathroom.
A waterproof bag. We went hiking on a rainy day, and the contents of my backpack felt a little damp. My husband’s thin nylon backpack got completely soaked through. For things like phones and travel papers and other important items, a waterproof bag would have been nice to have.
A pair of water-resistant touchscreen gloves. I packed a pair of cheap knit gloves I had laying around. If I had to do it over again I’d wear more technical gloves made out of fleece with those fingertips so you can use your phone. I kept having to take my gloves off to take pictures, and my hands were freezing on that one rainy day.
Merino wool leggings. I brought merino wool tights, because that’s all I had for warm legwear, but they were a little bit see-through, so I had to make myself a skirt by tying my flannel shirt around my waist. I’ve realized how useful wool pants can be, even for winter back home in NYC, so now I’m on the look-out for a pair.
An extra T-shirt to sleep in. The Airbnb got really hot at night, and it would have been nice to have another top to wear since I woke up sweaty a couple times.
What I Didn’t Use
I’m proud that I used almost everything I brought, but there were a couple items that never really saw the light of day.
Sleeping eye mask. The checklists told me to bring this, but in August, the sun sets around 9:30 pm and rises at the normal time I’m used to. Since my bedtime is past 9:30pm I didn’t use the eye mask. I do think eye masks are worth considering if you’re going to Iceland in June or July when the sun almost never sets.
Short-sleeve merino wool T-shirt. I mostly wore the long sleeve tees, but if you’re someone who gets warms easily, T-shirts might be better for you.
Waterproof phone bags. I bought these because I thought our phones would get too wet at the waterfalls, and also because I wanted to take pictures while we were in the hot springs. But the phones didn’t get that wet at all, so I felt like these were a pretty silly purchase.
Ponchos. We used these, but they were a $3 impulse buy at the supermarket and they really weren’t necessary. They also both ripped almost immediately, so when buying a poncho, keep the price in mind when judging quality. If you’re really on a budget and don’t want to buy a rain jacket, I think a higher-quality poncho would be fine.
What I’m Really Glad I Brought
I had a couple “clutch” items that I was so thankful for every time I whipped them out.
Flip-flops. I always bring flip flops no matter where I’m going, even in the dead of winter. They not only double as house slippers, but they came in real handy for the pools we went to and the hot springs where you could hurt your feet stepping on rocks.
My less expensive bathing suit. I swam in some water with algae in it and went down a waterslide in mine. If I had my nicer suit I would have worried about it ripping or getting it dirty.
Waterproof boots. I didn’t think these were necessary for the waterfalls, but it was nice that my feet were totally dry on the rainy hike we did. We also had to cross a small stream and walk through some muddy paths.
Ziploc bag. So my wet bathing suit didn’t mingle with other things in my bag. Imagine bathing in a hot spring in the valley, then having to hike down with a wet bathing suit.
Portable charger. Some days we were gone for 12 hours, and I take a ton of pictures with my phone, so having this portable charger in my bag was a lifesaver.
Other Helpful Blog Posts
I read a lot of Iceland packing posts. A LOT. But I found these two blogs to be particularly helpful, because they talk about how to think about packing, and aren’t just lists of stuff to buy:
Tortuga Backpacks – I love how realistic and full of personality this post is. And most importantly, the recommendations are clearly informed by experience. This is written by a guy, but the info is still useful for both genders.
The Mom Edit – For inspiration on outfits that are city-stylish AND practical, The Mom Edit has got that down on lock. If you’re going to Iceland with your family, she also includes looks she packed for her husband and kids, too.
I spent about $45 total on pre-trip gear, all on electronics. I’m happy that I didn’t feel like I needed to buy any actual clothes, and made do with what I have. This was a pretty long post, so here are some TLDR points:
- Use Instagram hashtags to see what people in your destination city are wearing.
- Layers are your best friend.
- Use your existing workout clothes as a base to build outfits around.
- Avoid cottons for warmth; instead, go for naturally-insulating materials like wools.
- Flip flops and a bathing suit are a must.
- Don’t stress out if you don’t have waterproof pants and shoes. If you’re not doing hardcore outdoor activities, bring an extra pair of socks or leggings to swap out if you get wet.
- But don’t count on buying things you need in Iceland. Iceland is an expensive country overall, and quality clothes will set you back hundreds of dollars.