What To Wear in Iceland in Winter

What to wear in Iceland in Winter
In Akureyri, North Iceland

“If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes,” this common Icelandic phrase is more than just a cliché that makes an appearance on fridge magnets in souvenir stores all over Iceland. And then there are terms such as ‘window weather’- the kind that looks great from a window but is downright ridiculous when you step out the door. On my recent winter visit, I found that the weather and visibility anywhere in Iceland can change drastically within a few minutes. This being my first time in snow and ice and real winter, I spent a lot of time researching packing lists for Iceland. Apart from the obvious question of how to pack for Iceland and what to wear in Iceland in winter, I had specific questions like:

  • Do people dress up to go to dinner in Iceland?
  • What do people wear to bars and pubs in Iceland?
  • What is the winter fashion in Iceland?
  • What kind of boots to wear in Iceland in winter?
  • Do you need waterproof pants for Iceland?
  • What could I miss in my Iceland winter packing list (it’s not like I could buy it there for cheap)?

You can’t blame me- I’d never seen snow like I did in Iceland, and I was anxious about being well-prepared for my trip. Plus I knew I’d be spending time in the capital Reykjavik and didn’t want to look at least acceptably fashionable while going to dinner or pubs.

I’m happy to report I enjoyed every minute of my trip and was comfortably warm at all times, even while hiking in a snow-covered national park in North Iceland or on a glacier on the South Coast.

A common misconception is that Iceland is unbearably cold in winter. Due to the North Atlantic Drift of the Gulf Stream, winter in Iceland is relatively mild, especially in the south and west, compared to the extreme temperatures in parts of Finland and Sweden. Still, winter temperatures are around or below freezing, and if you take into account the wind chill, it feels like much below freezing point.

So why would anyone want to visit in winter?

I couldn’t be happier that I chose to visit Iceland in winter, especially now that tourism is booming in the country and everything, from accommodation to tours, is expensive in summer. Plus I got to see the Northern Lights (only in winter) which was a huge bonus. In February, I still had plenty of daylight to explore outdoors (8-9 hours) and many parts of the country felt remote with hardly any other tourists. Prices were affordable and that was important to me as I was on a strict budget. After seeing the Icelandic snow-covered landscape of mountains and frozen waterfalls under the beautiful wintertime Arctic light, there’s nothing I would change about my experience- it was more perfect that I could have imagined.

Of course, this wouldn’t have been the case had if my Iceland packing list for winter wasn’t well-researched and on point, especially as a winter newbie (yes there’s such a thing if you grew up somewhere it doesn’t snow, or rain much, or get cold ever). If you’re not warm and toasty, there’s no way you can enjoy hiking on a glacier, exploring a lava-tube or an ice cave, or wandering the snowy streets of Reykjavik in winter. And with shopping in Iceland being as expensive as it is, there is no way I could have bought any big items locally such as a winter coat or boots. The price tags on the clothing stores in Iceland are ridiculous.

Here’s what I packed for a two-week long trip to Iceland in winter.

What to Wear in Iceland in Winter

Clothing and Footwear

Outerwear

What to wear in Iceland in winter

North Face Suzanne Winter Jacket, Columbia Fleece

  • 1 North Face Suzanne Tri-Climate Winter Coat   This solid waterproof winter coat is totally worth the price! I was super warm even at the lowest  temperature that I experienced during my visit (-15 degrees Celsius) and in the dead of the night hunting for the Northern Lights. With a few additional layers underneath, this coat would work amazingly even in much lower temperatures. Plus the design is great- simple, classic and with a nice nipped fit at the waist that flatters the body. What I love most about it is that it works well for both wet outdoor activities as well as walking around in trendy downtown Reykjavik.
  • 2 Dressy Sweaters (sequined and all-to wear to nice restaurants or pubs in Reykjavik)

Pants

What to wear in Iceland in winter

Columbia Anytime Outdoor Pant, Salomon Hiking Pant, Columbia Waterproof Pant, Saucony Hiking Pant

  • 1 Columbia Waterproof Pant (these are the ones I took but this cheaper alternative from Columbia would have worked just fine.)   You need them to tread behind waterfalls because you will get drenched from the spray or if you plan to go skiing.
  • 1 Columbia Anytime Outdoor Pant (Warm, water-resistant)  I absolutely love how warm and comfy these pants are and how well they fit. They’re perfect for outdoorsy activities and look great if you have them on in the city under a nice sweater and winter coat.
  • 1 Pair of Jeggings and 2 Pairs of Trendy Leggings (to wear in the city)

Base Layers, Underwear and Accessories:

What to wear in Iceland in winter

Don’t forget your swimwear for the hot springs

 

What to Wear in Iceland in winter

Base layers

  • 3 Base Layer Bottoms/ Long Johns (2 Columbia Mid-Weight Tights and 1 Icebreaker Merino)
  • 3 Base Layer Tops (1-Merino Wool, 2 from Marks & Spencer)
  • Underwear and Lingerie
  • 1 Bikini (you want to carry this so you can experience the magic of a hot spring or a thermal spa such as the Blue Lagoon. Even in winter. Especially in winter.)
  • 2 PJs and a couple Tank Tops
What to wear in Iceland in winter

Knit Cap, Columbia gloves, Camelbak bottle

  • 2 Knit Caps (get something cute for the photos!)
  • Fast-drying Microfiber Travel towel
  • 2 Warm Buffs/Scarves (when the wind threatens to slap your face, you will be so thankful for one of these)
  • 2 Pairs Gloves (1 from Columbia which were useful in the snow and 1 thick woolen)
  • Make-Up, Sunscreen, and Lip Balm (Your lips will get chapped a lot because of the dry wind, so this is a must)
  • Sunglasses (In winter, the sunlight reflects on the snow and you’ll need sunglasses when you’re outdoors)
  • CamelBak Water Bottle (The water in Iceland is fresh and pure and you can fill up your bottle as you go. There is absolutely no need to buy bottled water in Iceland, please don’t be that tourist.)

Shirts/Tops:

  • 4 Long-sleeved Active Wear Tops (for layering on outdoor activities)
  • 2 Nice Tops and 1 Turtleneck (to wear to dinner or somewhere nice in Reykjavik)

Footwear:

Iceland WinterPacking List

Columbia Hiking Boots, Icebreaker socks (Merino wool) and Yaktrax

  • 5 Pairs of Warm Icebreaker Socks.  Generally, base layers and socks of Merino wool are highly recommended for two reasons. One, they’re super warm and comfy, and two, they’re moisture wicking so you don’t sweat. You can wear them repeatedly and they remain odor-free. Though they might be slightly more expensive than other base layers, they’re totally worth it.
  • 1 Columbia Winter Hiking Boots    I wore these ankle-high boots while hiking and also to pubs and restaurants in Reykjavik. They didn’t cost a fortune and I think they could be the best hiking boots for Iceland that can also be worn in the city. They’re waterproof, warm, super comfortable, and work well in snow and rain. I hate paying extra luggage fees to airlines and there was no way I’d carry more than one pair of boots- I couldn’t have made a better choice because of their versatility.
  • Since you’re visiting in winter, consider getting an affordable pair of Yaktrax for your hiking boots. These prevent you from slipping on the snow and ice while walking or hiking and making a complete ass of yourself. Like I did. Just saying.

Tips:

 

  • I also like the base layers, gloves, boots, and socks offered by Columbia. I find that Columbia is relatively affordable versus other brands and it has the Omni Heat technology that works very well in extremely cold conditions.
  • Don’t count on buying warm clothes in Iceland because shopping is very expensive. Though, you can buy hats, scarves, socks, or warm mittens made of Icelandic wool. You might also want to splurge on a traditional Icelandic sweater called Lopapeysur but don’t expect anything under $200-250. If you have your heart set on one, check the Red Cross second-hand stores in Downtown Reykjavik. If you want a sweater made of Icelandic wool, check out Geysir- I bought a tan colored sweater for 8000kr.
  • Finally, remember that layering is important while dressing in the Icelandic winter. Also, note that people in Reykjavik are smartly dressed. In restaurants and pubs, though the vibe may be laid back and casual, you don’t exactly want to look like you just showed up from a day-long hike. So pack at least a few neutral colors, basics, and pieces that are multifunctional. If it were summer, I’d probably pack one nice dress or a skirt that I could wear under a sweater and over leggings for a slightly more glamorous look.
  • You will most definitely need a Day pack for when you go hiking or just about any outdoor activity- get a proper Day pack because bringing your purse or tote along is just not a good idea. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen and it’s not pretty.
Iceland Packing List

Osprey Daypack and Under Armour Backpack for my laptop and camera gear

Camera and Gear

What to wear in Iceland in winter

My beloved Mefoto Roadtrip Tripod

I carry most of my gear in my Carry On- the Under Armour Storm Undeniable II Backpack except for my tripod that goes into my checked-in bag.

  • Mefoto Roadtrip Tripod
  •  If you’re into photography, or traveling during the Northern Lights season, then a tripod is a must to photograph them and to get those amazing long exposure shots of silky smooth waterfalls and dramatic stormy skies. I bought the Mefoto Roadtrip Tripod in January for my Sony Alpha a6000 and couldn’t be happier; it’s lightweight, packs up nice and compact, and is way cheaper than other travel tripods with the same level of functionality.
What to wear to Iceland in winter

Sony A6000 Mirrorless Camera, MeFoto Tripod, Sigma wide-angle lens, ND Filter, Hard drive, Remote shutter, and GoPro Hero 4

  • Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Camera
  • Lightweight, compact, beautiful, and super functional; for me this is the ideal camera for travel photographers. I would never carry anything heavier than this on my travels. To get the best photos of Iceland’s amazing landscapes, those long-exposure silky-smooth waterfall photos and most of all the Northern Lights, I ordered this affordable wide angle lens -the Sigma 19mm f/2.8 DN Lens for Sony NEX E-mount . I also got a ten stop ND Filter at a good price to experiment with long exposure photography and was happy with the results.
  • Remote Shutter
  • I knew I’d be doing long exposure photography and photographing the Northern Lights, so I got myself this cool wireless remote shutter by Foto&Tech, which is also great by the way, for using a tripod to take nice photos of yourself when traveling solo.
  • Extra Batteries
  • Filming and photographing in extremely cold temperatures, such as those when you’re trying to photograph the Northern Lights, can drain out your batteries very quickly. Imagine waiting for a few hours to see the Aurora, setting up your tripod, braving the cold, and having your battery die on you. That would be an epic face-palm moment and something I wanted to avoid, so I bought extra batteries for my Sony Alpha a6000.
  • GoPro HERO 4 Silver
  • I bought my first GoPro- the HERO4 Silver specifically for my Iceland trip as a birthday present to myself because I knew I’d be doing adventurous things like hiking on a glacier, walking behind waterfalls, and exploring lava tubes.
What to wear in Iceland in winter

A GoPro goes everywhere, even behind waterfalls!

Plus, the wide-angle feature makes it easy to film the beautiful panoramic landscapes, and you can     take it into a hot spring, into waterfalls, or shoot a drivelapse even in snowy, dusty conditions. To me, it was a no-brainer. I was on a budget, so I ordered this set of mounts and accessories from Amazon at a great price and used the different mounts while filming.

Here’s a video that I made from the trip, shot both on the GoPro and my Sony a6000.

  • Macbook Air 13”

 

 

That was my packing list for Iceland in winter. If you’ve been to Iceland or somewhere with similar temperatures in winter, what would you add to this list?

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What to Pack for Iceland in Winter 

Some links in this post are affiliate links. That means if you purchase any items using these links, I get a tiny commission at no extra cost to you, so please consider doing that if you’re already looking to buy one of these items.

Planning a trip to Iceland? Check out my Ultimate Guide to Reykjavik for First-Timers, 2 Day Itinerary for the South Coast, Day trip to Landmannalaugar and Highlights of West Iceland. Or go to my Iceland Travel Blog.

 

24 Comments

  • Darlene says:

    Hi Natasha! Your blogs has been very useful while planning for our upcoming Christmas holiday in Iceland. I am also based in the UAE. Did you purchase most of your stuff (winter jacket, shoes, etc) in Amazon? Any stores where we can purchase these in the UAE aside from Sun & Sand, Columbia Adventure HQ. Thank you in advance.

    • Natasha Amar says:

      Hi Darlene! I bought some stuff at the Columbia store in Dubai Mall when it was on sale and ordered the others on Amazon (such as the Merino socks, leggings, fleece etc because I found it cheaper online). I tried the North Face jacket in the store (to confirm my size) in Dubai Mall but they did not have the color I wanted and later they were out of that model of jackets so I ordered it online- best investment I made because I wore that jacket (sometimes with a merino base layer plus a fleece jacket underneath) everyday. But you can try the sales at Adventure HQ, Columbia and North Face you might be able to find them in Dubai at a good price.

  • Caroline Harrison says:

    Hi , this list is fantastic thank you x Iv just booked to go to Iceland in January, my only concern is what footwear will be suitable for the city and bars/resturants, only going for 4 nights so don’t want to pack too much 🤔

    • Natasha Amar says:

      Consider the boots I’ve mentioned in my post- perfect for activities, hiking and the city when it’s snowing like it will be in January. I took just that one pair of boots- I travel light and you could do the same.

  • Angela Lavan says:

    Hi everyone,I I live in Singapore and obviously don’t have any of the necessary outerwear you’re recommending…!

    The winter gear I have will be of little use whilst there and the last thing I want to be is naturally cold or worst still freezing.

    A lot of the clothing suggested could be very expensive to buy here,especially shoes ..I’m a tall Australian girl who can’t find my size at all.

    We decided to visit for a few days before going back to London so careful packing will be very important .

    Any advice ,suggestions or recommendations would be hugely welcomed..

  • Melia says:

    Thanks for sharing;) I’m going to Iceland during Winter season as well next year Feb. Your post is truly the great tips for me during the preparation!
    Btw, I like your knit cap in the last 2 images (the blue and white combination with cute knit balls). Any link for me to get it?

    • Natasha Amar says:

      I’m glad you found it useful and enjoy your trip! I bought the knit cap in Iceland actually, you’d find it in many shops on the main shopping street in downtown Reykjavik 🙂

  • Carl says:

    Great article! You need a large suitcase for so much stuff haha 🙂
    I love your point about merino wool socks. They are the only ones that are warm, and prevent my feet from sweating. I love them so much, I never go hiking in the winter without them.

  • Francisco says:

    Hello Natasha,

    Thank you so much for your post. My wife and I and are planning a trip to Iceland in December/January and she loves your jacket. She noticed that it is pretty long and would like to know how tall you are, so she can gauge how long it would be on her. (She is super scared to post a comment, thus why i’m doing this for her 🙂 )

    Thanks for your post, it helped her a lot.

    Francisco

    • Natasha Amar says:

      Hello Francisco,
      Happy to be of help. I am 5 ft 7 inches tall. And it is a great jacket with a flattering fit that gathers at the waist making it perfect also to wear in the city. 🙂

  • Rose says:

    This may sound a stupid question but I’m really curious…^_^
    Leaving from Dubai I assume you were not wearing all those layers and boots yet…
    Did it mean you had to change and bundle up upon reaching KEF airport?

    • Natasha Amar says:

      Hi Rose, that is a fair question and yes that is exactly what I did. I had my winter jacket, boots, winter hat, socks, gloves and a pair of thermal underwear in my carry-on and I changed into them when I got to KEF. As soon as I stepped out of the airport, I was glad I did.

  • Lauren Maltz says:

    heading to Iceland on Sunday and I know everyone says you dont need to dress up at night but what about at clubs? should i bring a flat pair of boots? or are snow boots what everyone wears?

    • Natasha Amar says:

      Reykjavík has more pubs and bars than clubs. I wore snow boots to bars but mine are ankle length so it worked. You could carry a flat pair of boots if you have the space.

  • Olivia Wood says:

    Thanks for the helpful post! I’m planning an Iceland trip in March in hopes of catching the Northern Lights and am actually looking at getting the Sony Alpha a6000 for it. Just curious, what lens did you bring, the 16-50mm it comes with?

  • Jen Carr says:

    Thanks for such an awesome post! Did you rent a car and driv around on your own (black sand beach, smaller towns, etc.) or did you do tours? I’m traveling to this amazing country for ten days in December/January and would love any suggestions!!

    • Natasha Amar says:

      I have zero winter driving experience so I did not drive, my local friend drove and we road-tripped together the entire time. You should rent a car and drive if you’re confident about driving in snow and icy road conditions. But get a tour for activities like lava caving and glacier hiking (must). Enjoy your trip!

  • Great to meet you in Stockholm! Based on our conversation I am really thinking about Iceland –in the winter–! Nice post on what to wear. This should come in handy if we go. xo

    • Natasha Amar says:

      It was nice to meet you too Marissa! I’m actually heading back to Iceland after Sweden 🙂 feel free to ask for any recommendations or tips if you do go for your birthday 🙂

  • Sarah Sloan says:

    Thank you, thank you for sharing your packing list! This is so helpful. Me and a friend are visiting Iceland in November and we are so excited!

  • Renuka says:

    Quite a helpful post on an Iceland winter. I believe wearing the right kind of clothes makes a big difference in how well you enjoy a place. Thanks for sharing!

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