What to Pack For Iceland in Winter

How to keep warm and look cool on your trip to Iceland…

Congratulations! You’ve decided to travel to one of the coldest countries in the world in the dead of winter. Brave the elements of Iceland in February and you will be rewarded with a surreal landscape of other worldly beauty that is more than worth the wind chill. The secret is that you won’t feel uncomfortable in Iceland if you pack properly. Trust me, I hate the cold and with the right gear I was snug as a bug in a rug (almost) the entire time I was there, even on the side of a glacier in a hail storm!

Travel Fashion Girl has some great advice for Iceland in March which I totally agree with. She also states that when packing it’s important to consider which type of activities you’ll be doing once you arrive. I rocked a sweater dress, fleece leggings, angora leg warmers and my favorite fleece lined Rieker ankle boots for nights out in Reykjavík. During the day though, I did a lot of outdoor adventures including volcano hiking, caving and snorkeling so I built my travel wardrobe around more active pursuits. Since adventure travel is a little outside my usual latte sipping and gallery spotting wheelhouse I was a little nervous about what to bring. I ended up packing just fine though! Here’s my list of essential gear for outdoor adventures in Iceland:

 

Bart’s Hat and Infinity Scarf

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This girl knows how to dress for winter. Image via hatshopping.co.uk

I’ve become obsessed with Bart’s chunky knits since I moved to Switzerland. They’re soft, lightweight, colorful and super warm. The infinity scarf can be wrapped tightly around your neck whilst exploring windswept lava fields, or worn lose for a casual drink in the city. Bring an extra set of hat, scarf and gloves just in case you end up soaked on your adventurers!

Roxy Snowboarding Jacket

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My Roxy snowboarding jacket is without a doubt my most prized winter possession. It is ultra warm, sporty and utilitarian, with lots of clever features including zip vents to keep you from overheating and steratgically placed pockets for stashing all of your stuff. I only had one issue with this jacket, and that was after spending two hours on a glacier in a downpour/hail storm. When people tell you to pack a waterproof layer for Iceland, listen to them. I thought a snowboarding jacket with a Gore-Tex exterior would be idea for Iceland in February and for the most part, it was. I was warm whilst hiking up on the glacier, but my coat sopped up water like a sponge and by the time I got back to the base it was soaked through which made the rest of my day extremely unpleasant. It also took forever to dry again! What I would have given to have packed a waterproof shell or even a simple poncho that day! My friend who packed her Patagonia Nano Puff and Marmot PreCip Jacket was definitely the driest and happiest that day. That’s a combination I’ll be trying on my next winter outdoor adventure!

Gloves

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I had three pairs of gloves in Iceland and I was not unhappy for the variety! Maybe together they make the perfect glove? 

1) Burton snowboarding mittens for the glacier, which really let me down by soaking through. They were great for caving though because they didn’t catch on anything whilst scrambling between the narrow lava rock walls!

2) 1 pair of Manzella fleece gloves with touch screen compatible fingertips which were great for less extreme expeditions. The touch compatible fabric isn’t 100 percent functional which means I still occasionally had to take a glove off to access my camera, but they were warm, light and fast drying.

3) Pook Dukes knit mittens with fleece lining. Super warm but they get waterlogged quickly and don’t give you the manual dexterity of gloves.

Smart Wool Socks

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I have terrible circulation in my fingers and toes which means winter weather can be downright painful for me at times. Discovering Smart Wool socks a few years ago was a game changer in terms of my comfort level in cold weather. Now I have almost a dozen pairs and wear them pretty much everyday once the weather turns chilly.  For Iceland, make sure you get socks of the hiking/skiing variety for your outdoor adventures. I suggest packing enough wool socks so that you can have a double layer for each day you spend outside. This ensures you’re ready if your feet get wet. Pair the lighter everyday sock with the ski sock to avoid bulk.

Ice Breakers or other lightweight wool base layers

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You’ll be as warm as these sexy models are in your Merino wool base layers!

You know how I feel about multi-functional layers! They’re light, sleek, super warm and go effortlessly from the trail to the bar afterwards. I had both crew neck and mock turtleneck varieties on top and wore silk long johns on the bottom.

Ibex merino wool underwear

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I know what you’re thinking, and no, they’re not scratchy. Wool underwear is a blast to wear!

I was so happy I had these on this trip, especially when I was separated from my checked luggage when my flight took an unscheduled detour to Oslo and my baggage didn’t come with me. I was able to wash my Ibex underwear out in the sink and they were fully dry within a few hours. Travel debacles are so much easier to face with clean skivvies!

A good pair of ski pants

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Trust me. You need them. Mine are a European brand. My American travel buddies had nothing but great things to say about Columbia women’s ski pants though!

Fleece mid-layer.

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There’s tons of these available out there at many price points. I’ve always had a bit of a crush on Patagonia’s Retro X Jacket, but I just can’t bring myself to spend the dough on it. For the budget conscious among us, I’m quite pleased with the K-Tec one I got in Switzerland.

I suggest bringing two, since you are going to be wearing it almost all day, everyday and these things can get stinky! Plus, you’ll have an extra one lest your first one gets wet. There’s tons of these available out there at many price points. I’d also suggest picking up an Icelandic sweater while you’re there. They are beautiful, highly functional and will serve you well on your trip.

Hiking boots

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I saw a couple places on the Internet suggest that you can get away with waterproof hiking trainers in Iceland. I heartily disagree with this statement, especially as far as Iceland in winter goes. In fact, I’d leave the trainers at home completely. I brought the super warm and heavy duty Salewa hiking boots I got in Germany and I was so happy to have them. They gave me more traction and arch support than traditional snow boots and they were just as warm!

A bathing suit and flip flops

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I’m an absolute sucker for a flattering vintage cut, which is why Mod Cloth’s Esther Williams bathing suits will always rule the pool to me!

(image courtesy of Unique Vintage)

You’re going to want to hit at least one hot spring whilst you’re in the land of Ice and Fire. A bathing suit is a must and you’ll be happy you  brought flip flops on those wet and slippery locker room floors. Both the Blue Lagoon and the secret lagoon rented towels for a small charge so you can do that, or bring your Tavel towel with you.

Dakine Backpack 

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I love my Dakine backpack. The design is super sleek and it has a hidden media sleeve for your iPad, laptop or travel docs. If you bring it with you on your outdoor adventures, pack a full change of clothes in it, including socks, base layers, mid later and extra hat gloves and scarf. If you chill easily I would even suggest brining a sweater along that you only wear in the bus to warm up tween excursions. When in doubt remember that if you dress correctly, the worst part of these outdoors adventures is getting in and out of your gear at the bus. The rest should be smooth and cozy sailing! Need more inspiration? Here’s what a real live Icelander can’t get through winter without!

What about you? What are your most beloved pack able items for colder climes?

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