Iceland is an incredibly beautiful and unique location. You should expect terrible weather for the majority of your trip…but that’s actually a great thing! Unlike anywhere else, Iceland’s rugged natural landscape becomes more beautiful and exhilarating as the weather worsens.
Below is a list of 10 items that you’ll definitely want to pick up before your trip to Iceland. These aren’t obvious travel items for every destination, but please don’t take the suggestion lightly. You can thank me when you get back.
The weather can turn on a dime in Iceland. One minute it’s raining sideways and the next minute the sun is making you sweat inside your rain coat. You’ll want to carry a day pack so you have the ability to shed layers during your outings. Make sure your day pack is waterproof so your clothes aren’t soaked when you need them. Matador makes a great waterproof backpack that will keep your gear dry and won’t weigh you down on your trip.
If you go to Iceland in the summer (especially in the northern regions) the sun never sets. This can make it extremely difficult to sleep. An eye mask will help ensure you get the rest you need to make the most of those long days during your vacation.
It’s not unusual to see 60+ mph winds in Iceland. These high winds can howl through the night and make sleeping very difficult. This would be amplified further if you’re touring in an RV or camping in an tent. Bring along a set of travel earplugs to get a good night’s rest.
Wool baselayers and socks
With all the rain, wind, and changing temperatures, you’ll want to take a cue from the Icelandic sheep and cover yourself in wool. Wool maintains its insulating properties when it gets wet, and it will get wet. Ideally you’ll bring two entire base layers consisting of 80% or higher merino wool. This includes a long sleeve shirt, underwear, and socks. Socks are the most critical if you don’t want to spend on the full baselayer. Icebreaker makes some of my favorite Merino wool baselayer products.
GoreTex everything – waterproof jacket and pants with seam seal
You need a great shell system to protect you from the wind a rain. Get a waterproof breathable jacket with a hood. Also get waterproof pants to go along with it. A jacket alone (or an umbrella or ponhco) is not enough to protect you from the sideways rain you’ll undoubtedly encounter throughout the trip. When buying the jacket and pants, take a close look at the internal seams to ensure they are sealed. You should see a line of “seam tape” along every internal seam. This is a key sign of a great waterproof jacket or pant. If you can afford it, GoreTex makes some of the advanced waterproof and breathable materials on the planet. You will be significantly more comfortable with the extra breathability you get from a good GoreTex shell.
Seriously waterproof boots
When I say waterproof, I mean waterproof. Do yourself a favor and opt for some seriously technical footwear over the stylish retro leather options. Sneakers won’t do; you need real boots. If you do Iceland right you’ll be out for hours in pouring rain, walking through glacial rivers and massive puddles. You don’t want wet, cold, heavy shoes ruining your fun. I recommend these Arcteryx boots with a full removable GoreTex liner for maximum comfort and performance during your trip. They’re pricey but worth every penny.
A weather sealed camera
You’re about to have your mind blown by natural scenery, so you’ll want to take some photos. Whether you travel with a full DSLR setup or just a cell phone, make sure your rig is weather sealed. The rain can be relentless and it’s easy to end up ruining your gear.
A travel towel
Your hotel may provide towels, but you’ll need a compact towel for your outings. Use this to keep your gear dry, dry off the car seat, dry out the inside of your jacket, etc. With so much inclement weather, you’ll find a million uses for a great travel towel.
A 4wd vehicle rental
In my experience it’s a bit overkill to rent a 4wd vehicle for summer excursions in most locations. Iceland is truly an exception to that. The best destinations in Iceland often involve driving through rivers, traversing rutted gravel roads, and steep climbs up a mountainside. Having a capable rental vehicle allows you to access areas that the tour buses can’t. This gets you away from the crowds and into some of the most exciting destinations Iceland has to offer.
Many countries (especially in the hotels) accommodate the U.S. outlet system these days. This isn’t the case in Iceland. Pick up a good international travel outlet adapter to ensure you stay charged along the way.
Bonus item: Portable power source for your phone
The cell reception throughout Iceland (outside of Reykjavik) is extremely poor. This lack of reception makes your phone work really hard to stay connected to the sparse cell towers. Expect your phone battery to only last a few hours in these conditions. Pick up a good TSA-friendly portable power pack for your trip to keep things running.