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By now, I should know how to pack for pretty much anything. After all, I’ve been traveling more or less full-time for the better part of the last two years, from climates as diverse as the tropical beaches of Bali to the arid summer deserts of Morocco to the far Arctic north of Sweden in the middle of winter.
And yet somehow, nothing had me spinning my wheels in confusion than figuring out what to pack for Iceland in summer.
I had packed pretty carefully for a 6-week summer trip that would encompass Eastern Europe (warm but rainy), the Faroe Islands and Iceland (cool, windy, and occasionally stormy), and Portugal (hot AF). But still, the day before I left Kiev for Copenhagen to begin my Iceland and Faroe Islands trip, I found myself tearing through the city’s malls hunting for extra clothing.
Spoiler: my summer Iceland packing list that I originally made sucked. I had to pick up some emergency leggings in Denmark at a premium, right before heading north. And I spent my first two days in Iceland freezing my ass off as a freak wind storm made the normal-seeming temperatures feel like ice cold daggers. Luckily, the weather picked back up and I didn’t succumb to hypothermia in Iceland in the middle of summer.
The Dumbest Mistakes I Made When Packing for Iceland in Summer
Since I screwed up so royally on packing for Icelandic summer, I thought I’d outline a few of the most bone-headed mistakes I made so you don’t do the same.
Underestimating the wind
The enemy in Iceland in summer is not the cold, but the wind. I made one of the worst jokes of my life when I joked to a friend that Iceland should be called Windland, not Iceland. I know, I cringed too. The first two days I spent in Iceland were some of the windiest days I’ve ever experienced.
Not packing a hat
I remember wondering if I should bring my hat with me to Iceland and then apparently deciding against it. Well, I surely regret that on my first days in Iceland which I spent with my flimsy hood of my rain jacket drawn as tightly as I could aroound my head. If there is any wind or cool weather, it will feel even colder because the combination of high humidity and low temperatures can get nasty quickly.
Not bringing enough layers
Despite the wind my first two days in Iceland, I had objectively good weather for the rest of my time. Daytime temperatures in August were pretty stable around 10 °C / 50 °F, with a few days even exceeding that. Mornings and evening were a little chillier but not by much. Still, like I said about the humidity, 50 °F in Iceland feels a lot colder than it will somewhere else. I had packed a nice rain jacket and some long sleeve Ts but I was often cold on top. Meanwhile, had I not packed some last-minute leggings to layer under my jeans on the colder and windier days I would have been quite unhappy. So, even though the weather report in the week before packing may seem warmer than expected, it doesn’t mean that you should suddenly bring a bunch of light clothing. The wind and humidity from being surrounded by ocean will make everything feel much chillier, even in summer.
What to Pack Everything In
Most people who travel to Iceland do a road trip around the country, which is by far one of the best ways to experience Iceland. This is what I did, embarking on a 7-day road trip through Western Iceland. If you are doing a road trip, you’ll want to be sure you have an organized packing system, because you’ll be changing hotels every night or every few nights, and packing and repacking your bag will get annoying.
Meanwhile, I usually swear by having a backpack for travel, but if you are doing a road trip I think having a suitcase isn’t a big deal as you’ll never really have to take your suitcase much further from the parking lot to the hotel. Still, I’ve included my best backpack recommendation below, which is carry-on friendly.
- Travel Backpack (carry-on size or check-in size): Iceland is actually pretty friendly for people with rolling suitcases, because most people end up road tripping through the country. I don’t really like using rolling suitcases so I am team backpack all the way. Since I am a light packer, I end up using my Tortuga Backpack. I’ve also seen lots of recommendations for Osprey backpacks, so if I ever needed a larger travel backpack, I’d probably opt for one of those.
- Packing Cubes: I mentioned above how indispensible quality packing cubes are for travel, especially on road trips where you are often moving from night to night. These useful zipping pouches help organize your luggage, so that you can easily find what you need without getting stressed every time you open your backpack or suitcase. I use these packing cubes for every trip I take.
- Laundry bag: In addition to packing cubes, I like having a separate laundry bag to keep my dirty stuff separate. I do like having a cute one like this travel-themed bag from Kikkerland though, because I’m impractical and like cute stuff.
- Hanging Toiletry Bag: If you’re moving around a lot you’ll want a way to keep your toiletries organized and tidy. I like to keep my toiletries in a simple hanging toiletry bag. This toiletry organizer has the most insane ability to fit a ton of stuff while keeping it ultra-organized: perfect for the organizationally obsessed packers amongst us. It fits a ton without taking up space – I swear I feel like it manages to compress things. The shape is perfect for travel because it’s flat so it’s easy to squeeze into an outer pocket of your backpack or lay it on top of your clothes in your suitcase.
- Comfortable daypack : My everyday backpack is this awesome PacSafe Citysafe backpack – it has a lot of awesome security features that make it insanely useful for city travel. While Iceland is insanely safe (as in, people leave their keys in their cars and leave it running in the winter) and you don’t really need these security features, I find them useful for other trips. I still used this bag in Iceland because it’s great at fitting all the things I need for my day (mine can fit my camera and lenses, my drone, a bottle of water, some snacks, and a few other odds and ends).
Most Essential Things to Pack for Summer in Iceland
When packing for Iceland, I actually recommend to overpack rather than underpack. Things in Iceland are so expensive that it’s better to pay for extra baggage than to go shopping once you arrive. I needed to buy a hat in Iceland and the cheapest one I could find was $40 – until I got lucky and stopped in a gas station and found one for around $10. So, better to pack well beforehand and avoid any surprise expenses.
- First, travel insurance. While this isn’t something you pack, it is indispensible and should be part of the packing and planning process. Iceland is an unpredictable place: weather can change quickly and dramatically, and I only need to remind you of the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruptions in 2010 that caused havoc on air travel for more than 6 days, stranding travelers in Iceland and beyond, to convince you that being protected against flight delays and cancellation is ultra-important. I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for years and recommend them highly for travel in Iceland. The contract is very clear as to what it covers, the prices are affordable, and the deductible is low if you find yourself needing to make a claim.
- Reusable water bottle: The tap water in Iceland is drinkable everywhere and of the highest quality. If you don’t carry a reusable bottle, you will spend a ton of unnecessary money on bottled water, and you’ll waste a lot of plastic in the process as well. While in the past I’ve carried a water bottle with a filtration system, for traveling in Europe where the tap water is drinkable, I like a simple streamlined metal bottle, like this one from Klean Kanteen. If you want to further reduce your footprint, I recommend bringing along a reusable tote bags as well if you plan on doing any grocery shopping during your Iceland trip.
- Basic medicine: I like having a few basic medicines on hand because I hate having to deal with pharmacies abroad. I carry Pepto-Bismol tablets for standard stomach troubles as I find it can be difficult to find in some countries. I also carry some sort of painkiller like ibuprofen for headaches and minor pains, and also some sort of motion sickness tablets for boat or long car rides as I am prone to travel sickness. I also suggest bringing some kind of cold medicine as Iceland summer can really wreak havoc on your immune system – I left Iceland with a bad cold.
- Travel towel: You’ll want a lightweight, packable microfiber travel towel for impromptu hot springs dips!
- Bathing suit: For aforementioned hot springs dips and the Blue Lagoon – you won’t be doing any ocean swimming in Iceland in summer (unless you’re well and truly crazy)
- Granola bars and other snacks: Eating out at restaurants in Iceland is extremely expensive, and I was so glad that I brought a ton of granola bars for my trip to minimize my expenses.
- Waterproof and warm layers: I’ll go into more detail on this in the section below, but make sure you pack for the worst and hope for the best!
What to Wear in Iceland in Summer (Women)
Like I said above, I found it surprisingly hard to pack for Iceland in summer. I felt like I was getting mixed messages: the weather patterns suggested that Iceland would be warmish, but knowing Iceland, I felt like I’d need to dress even warmer than what I would normally wear in those temperatures.
I ended up underpacking for Iceland because I was trying to keep my backpack light and Iceland was but one small (cold) part of an otherwise warm, European summer trip. That was a mistake and as I checked the weather reports for Iceland in Kiev I ended up panicking and needing to buy a bunch of extra clothes as well as new hiking boots for Iceland a few days before my trip.
I ended up needing all of those things (and still could have done with some extra layers) so learn from my mistake and pack extra for Iceland.
This part of the packing list is for women but for men, just bring plenty of layers and a waterproof jacket and waterproof boots and you’ll be good!
- 1 rain and windproof jacket: Trust me, if there is one thing you simply can’t forget for Iceland travel, it’s a durable jacket that will keep you warm against wind and dry against rain. I love my Marmot PreCip rain jacket and wore it every single day in Iceland. Just bring a nice sweater or fleece layer underneath as it isn’t exactly super warm on its own
- 1 warm hat: I love tight-knit beanies in colorful colors or with pom poms for keeping my ears warm and adding a bit of color and cuteness to my photos. I forgot to bring one and had to buy an ugly one in Iceland that I didn’t like much. Here’s a cute choice!
- 1 pair touch-screen friendly gloves: In case it’s super cold but you still want to be able to touch your phone and use your camera.
- 3-5 sweaters: Thin but warm is your best bet. Pullover style acrylic or wool sweaters would be ideal. You can wear your chunkiest, coziest sweater on the plane.
- 3-5 tees: I often layered a thin cotton T-shirt under my pullover so that I could wear the same pullover multiple times before it got funky.
- 1-2 hoodies or fleeces: Having a hoodie or fleece as an additional layer between your sweater/long-sleeve and your rain jacket or outer layer will come in handy. This simple fleece jacket would be a good addition.
- 2-3 pair jeans: In summer in Iceland, it’s too cool to want to wear anything but jeans.
- 2-3 pairs leggings: I needed to layer leggings under my jeans for some of the trip. On some of the other days, I just wore my thicker, more structured “jegging”-like leggings as pants.
- 1 pair hiking boots: Hiking boots will serve you. well in Iceland: I was glad to have them for hikes, caves, beaches, waterfall walks, etc. They keep your feet nice and toasty and the right pair can look quite cute. I love my Ahnu boots but if you have a pair at home already bring those so you don’t have to break them in. Sneakers could work in a pinch but I much prefer boots for the added warmth and ankle stability (volcanic gravel is not the most steady surface).
- 1 pair sneakers: For days when you spend a lot of time on your feet, but aren’t necessarily traversing difficult ground, these will do the trick. I usually wear a pair of black Nikes which are good for warmer days.
- 1 pair flip flops or sandals: If you are staying in a hostel or hotel and just want something quick to put on your feet, I find it helpful to have slip-on sandals even if the weather is too cold to put them on. I’m obsessed with my Birkenstocks but rubber flip flops will do, especially if you are staying in a hostel and need to use communal showers.
- 1 thin down jacket: Nights can get cold so a small packable down like the UNIQLO ultra-light down (cheaper knockoff available here) would be a great but tiny addition to your Iceland summer packing list.
- 1-2 bras: I trust you’re all big girls and you know what you need when it comes to bras!
- 1 pair of underwear for each day of travel: Bring one for every day you’ll be on the road
- Bathing suit: Visiting a hot spring in Iceland is a must, so don’t forget a cute bathing suit!
What to Pack for Staying in Hostels in Iceland
If you plan to stay in a hostel in Iceland, there are a few extra things you should be sure you have on your Iceland packing list.
- 1 pair flip flops: Athlete’s foot is not an urban legend and it’s miserable to get rid of. I’ve had ringworm before (which is basically athlete’s foot on any part of your body that’s not your foot – I got it by touching a street cat) and I can readily confirm that it is absolutely miserable to get rid of. Save yourself the trouble, trust me. Buy a pair of cheap waterproof rubber flip flops if you don’t already have a pair. /end PSA
- 1 travel towel: You’ll want to bring this anyway for hot springs in Iceland, but be doubly sure to have one if you are staying in a hostel as many hostels do not provide towels and will charge you extra to rent one!
- 1 eye mask: Great for inconsiderate bunk mates AND that pesky midnight sun!
- Some earplugs or good noise-canceling headphones: I bring Hearos ear plugs when I stay in hostels, but if you like to listen to music while you sleep, I recommend some noise-canceling headphones.
- Combination locks: In ultra-safe Iceland, you’re probably at the greatest risk of theft from your fellow travelers. Prevent crimes of opportunity with simple measures like having a combination lock and keeping your valuables locked away. When I stay in hostels, I always check hostels on Hostelworld to ensure they have lockers available because I travel with so many valuable electronic that it’d be idiotic to leave them unlocked.
What Toiletries to Pack for Iceland
You should bring pretty much everything you need so you can avoid high Icelandic prices. Here’s a quick cheat sheet, but bring whatever you would for your normal trip but pay extra close attention that you have facial sunscreen and a moisturizer, my two biggest travel essentials for Iceland in summer.
- Sunscreen: My skin is really sensitive on my face, so I use this fancy Japanese sunscreen to prevent acne on my face. Don’t forget this – I actually got a really bad sunburn in Iceland one day because the sun is at its closest to the earth in the far north in summer.
- Moisturizer: The wind and the sun did a number on my skin in Iceland and I felt like my skin was always insanely dry there. Do your skin a favor and pack something ultra-moisturizing for your time in Iceland. I love a moisturizer with SPF for day like this one from Aveeno and then I use a thicker moisturizer like this Olay night cream for replenishing moisture over night.
- Hand sanitizer: In case of a lack of soap in gas stations or restaurant bathrooms, I like having hand sanitizer just in case.
- Kleenex packets: In case of a surprise cold or lack of toilet paper in public restrooms.
- LUSH solid shampoo: Life-changing. Just trust me. Buy online or in store from LUSH and you’ll save serious money over Amazon, but you can also source it on Amazon for convenience. My favorite is the Seanik seaweed shampoo – it makes my hair gorgeous and it also doesn’t take up any space in my liquid toiletry allowance.
- Face wipes: Great for nights when you’re too exhausted to take your make-up off properly or for a quick face clean up after a dusty hike.
- Menstrual cup or your favorite tampon/pad brand (if applicable): If you have a specific brand allegiance, you may not find it in Iceland. I switched to a Diva Cup for travel and love it!
- Deodorant: I can’t rant enough about how much European deodorant sucks, plus I absolutely hate the smell of the aerosol deodorants that are so popular in Europe. Do yourself, everyone around you, and the planet a favor and buy some decent deodorant from home. I love Secret Clinical Strength and stash up on it every time I’m home in the US, but then again, I am sweatier than most people are.
- Travel-sized liquid toiletries: If you want to bring your favorite toiletries from home, I recommend these awesome reusable silicone GoToobs.
- Lip balm with SPF
What Electronics to Pack for Iceland
Obviously, you’re going to want to bring plenty of photography gear! I highly recommend having a professional-grade camera as opposed to your smartphone if you are serious about getting the best photos. A tripod and some ND filters will also come in handy if you want to step up your photography and get good waterfall photos, high quality selfies, and sunset/sunrise shots.
Of course, what you will want to bring on your trip will depend on how seriously you take photography and how much you want to “unplug” on your trip. As a travel blogger, I bring my entire life with me on the road, which includes a laptop, camera, multiple lenses, smartphone, GoPro, and more.
- Laptop, if necessary: I bring my 13″ MacBook Air everywhere but other people may prefer a tablet or an inexpensive netbook. I work on the road so a user-friendly, lightweight laptop is a must for me.
- Kindle Paperwhite: I love having a Kindle for travel but if you don’t think you’ll be doing much reading on your Iecland trip or your flight over than you can give this a pass.
- Travel camera: I use a Sony A6000 because it’s lightweight for a professional caliber camera, inexpensive, and a HUGE step up from a smartphone.
- Extra camera batteries: Trust me, you’ll use plenty of battery taking photos in Iceland!
- Portable hard drive: You’ll want to back up your photos to keep your memory cards uncluttered and protect your precious photos. After my previous hard drive failed even though I never damaged it (never rely on WD My Passport) I am extra paranoid with my hard drives. I recommend Transcend hard drives instead – they are drop resistant and super sturdy.
- Travel tripod: If you are serious about your photography you should invest in a sturdier tripod as wind in Iceland is no joke. There were several days I didn’t use my tripod because it didn’t feel steady enough in the gusts. I have a cheap tripod from Amazon but a sturdy tripod with a hook so that you can use that to hang your camera bag on and balance the camera would be your friend on windy days.
- ND filters: The size of ND filter you will need depends on the size of the lens you’ll be using so check it before buying. I use these ND filters.
- GoPro or similar camera for video: If you plan on doing anything adventurous like snorkeling in Silfra or if you want video of your trip then I recommend bringing something like a GoPro
- Portable charger: You’ll use your phone battery more than you thought in Iceland – whether it’s using it to take photos or videos, or to navigate as you drive around the country. Bring a portable charger to save yourself many headaches! Anker is a reliable brand and what I personally use – make sure you get one that can hold several charges at once so you don’t have to charge it every single night.
- Adaptor, if necessary: Iceland uses the standard EU adaptor so purchase an adaptor beforehand if necessary.
While this sounds like a lot, I was able to fit it everything on this summer Iceland packing list into my 44L backpack and my daypack – mostly because of packing cubes, picking multi-purpose clothing, and wearing my heaviest layer on the plane!
Is there anything I’ve forgotten? Is there anything else you’re wondering if you should bring? Let me know in the comments!