A San Diegan's Guide to Packing for Winter In Iceland


There are two types of people in this world: those who grew up with snow and those who did not.

When it came to packing for Iceland, I am the former and my "I had Surf PE in high school" San Diego boyfriend, Ryan is the latter. Needless to say, it was up to me to figure out what each of us would need to get through several days of winter weather. But still... it's been 5 years since I've experienced "cold," let alone lived in it. In fact, I've actively tried to mentally block out all of those childhood winters. The warmest thing I own these days is a lightweight fleece jacket. So when we decided to visit Iceland in February, I realized that there's a hidden cost for any Iceland tourists who hail from warmer weather climates: winter gear. 

For us, with the exception of me forgetting a hat, I feel like we did pretty good. We packed light and smart. We did our homework and learned all about all the non-clothing items we'd need to make it through our stay. And most importantly, we stayed warm and dry. 

Which is why, in my (biased) opinion? This guide to packing for a few days in Iceland is as good as it gets!

  • Merino Wool Base Layer - I would just like to share that an alternative title for this post was going to be "It's All About That Base." Because seriously. It is. Anyway, Merino wool is expensive for a reason: it keeps you warm and it keeps you dry. This base layer shirt is a bit pricy at $65, but now that I have it, this thing will be a lifer for me. It'll definitely come in handy for races and hikes even during our mild "winters." 
  • Merino Wool Long Underwear - Again, pricy, but necessary. I wore these with only some fleece lined leggings over them and was pleasantly toasty the whole time. Do not, I repeat, do not go to Iceland without some kind of long underwear or thermals. 
  • Fleece Lined Leggings - Speaking of which, these leggings were awesome for the trip and a steal at only $7-16 a pair. Fairly water resistant as well... I made a snow angel in these and the snow just brushed right off. A couple of pairs will take up less packing space than jeans or snow pants and will transition easily between indoors and outdoors. Also, don't be scared by the fact that they only come in one size... they'll fit.
  • Waterproof Pants - I did not bring any waterproof pants for myself, but I did order these for Ryan to pull over his jeans. Had we been doing more hikes, I might have considered getting a pair for myself. 
  • Fleece Pullover - Basically my top layers went: Merino Wool, t-shirt, a fleece zip-up jacket, a thin down jacket, and a lightweight windbreaker/waterproof jacket. The fleece really locks the warmth in.
  • Thin Down Jacket - This is the biggest investment for anyone from Southern California. Chances are unless you moved to Southern California from the East Coast or are active in winter sports, you don't have one of these. You have three options: borrow one from a friend, rent one from an outdoor store in Iceland, or buy your own (and maybe be super shady about it and return it right after your trip... I might have a friend who is doing that... and that friend might be me). If you decide to buy, this North Face jacket did the trick for me. 
  • Waterproof/Windproof Outer Shell - This was one purchase I did not feel too bad about making for this trip. This jacket is amazing and will come in handy in San Diego too, so it was money well spent. But this is definitely one of your must have's for Iceland and I did a lot of research to find the best one
  • Bathing Suit - Yes, even in the winter. Iceland is riddled with natural hot springs for soaking and of course, there's the Blue Lagoon. 

  • Waterproof Hiking Boots - Full disclosure: I convinced myself that I would be fine in my Tom's, then panicked the night before and bought a pair of $20 Boy's Size 4 waterproof hiking boots at Target and thank god I did. But if I was rich and could do it all over again, I'd probably opt for something like this.
  • Trapper Hat - I crochet wool hats for fun, I have dozens of skeins of wool yarn and yet, I somehow forgot to bring a hat. Don't be like me and get to Iceland only to have your ears feel like they might have to be amputated on account of frostbite, then panic and buy a $70 hat because you couldn't think about how to human, let alone calculate weird krona conversion rates. Also: ear flaps. Necessary. 
  • Sunglasses - Snow glare. The struggle is real. 

Gear and Other Essentials
  • Travel Converter - Iceland is one of those fun countries with different electrical outlets. These are the converters we used after Ryan did a little research. Worked perfectly for all of our electronics. 
  • USB Car Charger and AUX In Plug - Even if you don't plan on road tripping in Iceland, once you get there someone will probably convince you that it's a great way to get out of Reykjavik and see the country and it is. If they have them, rental car companies will typically charge extra for these add-on's for essentially the same price of buying your own. Just saying.
  • Waterbottle - People will laugh at you if you buy bottled water in Iceland. Their tap water is delicious. Make sure you fill up before day trips!
  • Waterproof/Coldproof Camera - So many tourists were walking around Iceland, nay, floating in the Blue Lagoon (!!!!) with their DSLRs. While I don't blame them, I don't think I would have braved it myself. It's often misting, it's windy, there's a chance you may get startled by a geyser and drop your camera into a puddle... I mean the elements are against your electronics in Iceland. And should you want pictures in the Blue Lagoon or while snorkeling Silfra, you need to have the right camera. I took a Sony Cybershoot on my trip, which is no longer being sold, but that's what I shot my underwater Silfra pictures on. Note: get the extra protection plan.
  • Tripod - Bottom line: if you're braving Iceland in the winter, you're coming to see the Northern Lights. And you know what they say: (good) pics or it didn't happen. This is a touchy subject, since we were not lucky enough to see them during the 3 nights we were there, but if we had, I was prepared. My tripod is super lightweight and I didn't mind lugging it around on Northern Lights tours if it meant getting more than a hazy green fuzz on my camera (Today, I would settle for a hazy green anything... sadface).
  • Travel Towel - The Blue Lagoon charges extra for towels and while that may be worth it to cut down on packing space, with a towel this thin, you might as well bring your own. Could always come in handy if you're staying in an AirBnB that doesn't provide towels (ours did but they were a little dried out and rock hard from the water there) or going to thermal pools that are off the beaten path.
  • Printed Out Trip Vouchers - If you book the Flybus airport transfer from Keflavik to Reykjavik or day tours through a company like Reykjavik Excursions, make sure you print your vouchers out at home for each of your trips. These will be your ticket for the bus. 
  • Driving Directions - Whether or not you get a SIM card to connect your phone in Iceland, one thing I wished I had done was print out all of my driving directions for the road trip I had planned. Google Map it out from Reykjavik before you leave the U.S. and print the directions out with maps included to bring with you on your adventure. 
  • Sleeping Mask and Advil PM - If you go during the summer, this is a must because the sun never totally sets. But even during winter, the long flight from California and the time zone changes will mess you up if you don't take jetlag into your own hands.
  • Cold Medicine - We didn't test this theory but supposedly it's hard to find cold medicine in Iceland without a prescription. So I packed some just in case. Fortunately, we didn't get deathly ill until after we left Iceland.
  • Chargers - All the chargers. iPhone chargers, camera chargers, Mac chargers... 
  • Headphones - Icelandair has some pretty great free movies and television to watch on the flight.
  • Snacks - Coming from a city where you can't go a block without finding a place that serves amazing food, Reykjavik is a bit of a (pricy) culture shock. Sure, there's the weird stuff you hear about like fermented shark and sheep's head, but even the Americanized dishes we tried sadly weren't what we're used to, not to mention expensive. By Day 2, we knew the locations of the two closest Subway sandwich shops in Reykjavik. Either way, between the long flight and day trips, packing some granola bars and jerky can't hurt. 

For a San Diego blog, there sure will be a lot of snow gracing my next few posts as I share our adventures in Iceland... stay tuned!