Are you planning an Iceland road trip in winter? This Iceland winter packing list has you covered for top Iceland in winter activities including whale watching and northern lights photography!
There’s a saying in Iceland that if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. It will change. This makes it hard to figure out what to pack for an Iceland winter vacation.
Add in the fact that prices are high in Iceland and forgetting to pack everything you need becomes an expensive mistake!
I’ve been to Iceland twice, both times in winter. Research into Iceland winter weather and careful preparation helped me figure out the perfect Iceland winter packing list for a stopover in Iceland.
The following list is my tried-and-true Iceland winter packing list. It’s perfect for an Iceland road trip. Feel free to mix and match based on your favorite winter activities.
How Cold is Iceland in Winter?
Iceland is close to the Arctic Circle. So it must be pretty cold in winter, right?
Actually, the average winter temperature in Iceland is around 32 Fahrenheit (0 Celsius).
Winters are actually colder where I live, in the northeast United States, than in Iceland. As long as you pack the right clothing for the weather, you should be pretty comfortable. And if you’re cold, there’s a hot tub nearby where you can warm up!
What Can You Do on an Iceland Road Trip in Winter?
An Iceland winter vacation is the perfect time for outdoor activities like:
- Dog sledding
- Skiing and snowboarding
- Exploring an ice cave
- Walking on glaciers
- Iceland whale watching and seal spotting
- Light walks and hikes
- Ring road self-guided tour
- Northern lights viewing
- Snorkeling or scuba diving between continental plates
- Exploring Iceland’s world-famous lagoons
There are a few activities that aren’t suited for an Iceland winter vacation.
Horseback riding is better in the summer. So is birding. You won’t be able to see the puffins in Iceland in winter!
While you can take a self-guided Ring Road vacation any time of year, driving in Iceland in winter can bring surprises.
On our first trip to Iceland, we weren’t able to drive to our ice caving excursion near Vatnajokull Glacier National Park because a whiteout closed the road.
Should You Take a Bag or Backpack to Iceland?
This depends on your personal preference. If you’re planning on traveling outside of Reykjavik, you’ll need a rental car. I find suitcases easier than backpacks to wrangle in and out of cars.
My favorite suitcase is the Cre VersaPack™ Global Carry-On from TravelPro.
I used their waterproof zip-in insert for my Iceland trip, since I knew I might be flying home with a wet bathing suit from visiting Iceland’s famous lagoons.
Iceland winter packing list – What Clothes to Bring?
At Keflavik Airport, I overheard a man complaining about the cost of t-shirts he bought as souvenirs – around $90 USD each!
Trust me, Iceland is not one of those places where you want to pack light. It’s best to take everything you think you might need for your Iceland road trip, especially if you’re traveling on a budget.
For a 5-day Iceland road trip in late November, here’s what I packed:
- 1 winter jacket
- 1 scarf
- 1 winter hat
- 1 pair of gloves
- 1 set of long underwear tops and bottoms – lately I’ve been enjoying 32HEAT, which is lightweight and warm
- 2 long-sleeved shirts for base layers
- warm sweater for layering
- 1 activewear hoodie – my fave is the High Route Grid Fleece Full-Zip Jacket from Eddie Bauer. It’s incredibly lightweight and so warm! I’ve worn it as a lightweight jacket, sleepwear and extra layer in cold climate.
- 1 pair of jeans
- 1 pair of fleece-lined pants
- 1 set of warm sleepwear
- 2 bathing suits for Iceland hot tubs – this way, you never have to put on a damp bathing suit
- 1 microfiber towel for Iceland hot tubs, so you don’t have to pay to rent a towel
- Sufficient undergarments for your preference – I recommend bringing extra so you can change into clean sock and undies after a hot springs experience. I brought 6 pairs of really warm socks (wool socks, alpacpa socks, and a silk liner for extra warmth), 2 sports bras (with 1 washable travel bra), 4-5 pairs of underwear including washable travel undies
- Waterproof hiking boots
- 1 pair of crampons for safe walking on ice
- Reusable water bottle
- Universal travel adaptor (Iceland uses European plugs)
Iceland winter packing list – Toiletries
I always bring extra toiletries just in case the hotel room or vacation rental doesn’t have enough. This was one time where I actually didn’t bring enough. The wind chapped my skin, so I had to buy lotion.
My toiletries bag usually includes:
- Refillable travel bottles for shampoo, conditioner, and body wash – I just bought bar shampoo and conditioner to try on my next trip
- Facial cleanser and moisturizer
- Facial wipes
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Ibuprofen, Tiger Balm, Kinesiotape/bandages and any other pain relief/drugs you need
- Lip balm
- Laundry detergent pods or wipes – If I’m traveling for 2 weeks or more, I take laundry detergent so I can wash my clothes.
How do I Pack for an Iceland Northern Lights Tour? What is the Best Photography Gear for Iceland Holidays Northern Lights?
The northern lights in Iceland are visible from September to March, but the best time to see northern lights in Iceland is winter. I’ve seen the northern lights in Iceland in November, December, and February.
Iceland is a perfect place for a northern lights photography trip. It’s a small country, so it’s easy to get out into nature and hunt for the auroras. I’ll write up my best tips for northern lights viewing in Iceland separately, but here’s my northern lights photography gear packing list:
- DSLR or mirrorless camera (phones can’t capture the northern lights well) – I am currently shooting with a Nikon Z50 mirrorless camera.
- Low aperture lens – Without getting too technical, a low aperture lens opens wide to capture more light, so you can take aurora photos without adding a lot of noise. The lens I use is TK.
- Backup batteries – I took along 2 backup batteries since they lose power faster in cold water.
- Travel tripod – I bought a travel tripod several years ago for my first northern lights photo trip. It works well enough, and it fits in my suitcase. The TSA allows tripods in both checked and carry-on luggage, for trip planning.
- Remote shutter release – If you touch the shutter with your hand, you risk causing micro movements that blur the shot. A remote shutter release allows you to click a button and trigger the shot so you don’t have to worry about blurry photos
- Headlamp – I brought a Petzl headlamp so I could set up my camera gear in the dark. Since it gets dark in Iceland in late November-early December around 4:30-5 pm, this is also a nice-to-have item just in case!
- Power bank – Batteries drain faster in the winter, so it’s nice to be able to recharge during a photo shoot.
One thing that’s helped me is to coordinate a capsule wardrobe where I can mix and match from my layers. This way I don’t feel like I’m wearing the same thing every day.
Even after all my travels, I often have a hard time narrowing down what to take and what to leave behind. I always get out everything I think I might want to bring and lay it out. Then, I take away at least one-third of what I think I need.
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