When two of my girlfriends and I decided to travel to Iceland, my first thought was “what am I going to wear?” South Africans aren’t exactly sartorially prepared for Arctic weather conditions. So I did what everyone does, and hit up Google. “What to pack for Iceland” I typed, and found the same advice over and over again; layers and waterproofs.
I was in Iceland for 10 days at the end of their winter (14-24 March) and the weather was pretty consistently cold and windy. This is a great time for South Africans to go, since it’s out of tourist season and prices are a bit cheaper (although recently, the tourist season has been almost as long as the year), there will still be lots of snow (magical!) and you’ll still have a chance to see the Northern Lights.
The temperatures ranged from -12 to 5 degrees celsius. It snowed often and I found myself soaked to the bone more than once (especially when trying to photograph mighty waterfalls). I also found myself submerged in geothermal water more than once.
We spent a lot of time in the car, and a fair amount of time indoors, which is where the layering came in handy. As soon as we stepped inside, I had to peel off my beanie, gloves, scarf and jacket. And then layer them all back on again before I went back into the cold.
What to pack so you’re covered for almost any weather conditions (or activity) in Iceland
1 Heat-generating long sleeve spencer or vest & Long Johns
This will insulate your own body heat and provide a great base layer to protect you from the icy wind that often blows.
2 Light knit jerseys & thick shirts
This will be what you wear indoors most of the time, since it’s always warm once you’re inside. Polo necks are good (if they don’t make you feel like you’re being strangled) and so are flannel or denim shirts.
3 Wool socks
These should be proper thick wool, and above the ankle. You’ll likely be wading through snow, and if your feet are warm, you’ll be warm.
4 Jeans, chinos or leggings – with Long John’s underneath
I sometimes wore jeans without thermals, but that was pretty cold. It’s also a good idea to take a pair of waterproof pants if you plan on walking up close to the many powerful waterfalls around the country. I was so surprised by how great Duesouth’s jeans are! The fit is super comfortable and they are really well-priced. My favourites are the jeggings, which are stretchy and soft, perfect for long road trips like our 3000km drive.
5 Body warmer or sleeveless puffer jacket
This adds another layer of insulation without puffing up your arms and making you look and feel like the Oros man. However, if you enjoy the extra protection nothing beats a warm puffer coat.
6 Waterproof jacket
It snowed a lot while we were there, so I was happy to have a waterproof jacket. It can also rain a lot and the wind is pretty wild.
7 Multi-layer jacket
If you have limited space, this is great, because it offers three jackets in one. You can zip out the inner lining and wear it indoors as a fleece jacket, or wear the waterproof outer over something else.
8 Packable down or Thermoball jacket
These are so warm and take up hardly any space in your bag.
9 Beanies (or as I like to call them: Skateboard Hats)
You’ll definitely need one to keep your head and ears warm! I even wore mine in the geothermal pools!
The wind gets right in there, so keep your neck warm.
Some days I couldn’t even go a few minutes without a pair – especially when I was outside at night, trying to take pictures of the Northern Lights. If you can, get a pair with touch pads on the fingers, so you can use your phone without taking them off.
12 Waterproof boots
These are a must! There’s loads of snow and water and melting snow to walk through, so you’ll want to be protected. Also make sure they have good grip, so you don’t slip on the ice.
13 Swimsuit and towel
The whole country is blessed with hot springs and geothermal pools, so you’ll want to have this on you at all times!
14 Luggage with wheels
We stayed in a different hotel every night, so I was really happy to have a bag on wheels! There were three of us in the car, so we went for soft bags to save space. I always pack every single valuable item in my carry-on, like cameras, batteries and even my ghd. Also take a backpack with you, so you can carry around your camera, swimsuit and towel and something dry to keep you warm in case you get wet.
What not to bother packing for Iceland
1. Jeans with ripped knees (too easy for snow to blow into your pants)
2. Shoes that aren’t waterproof (you’ll probably end up wearing your waterproof boots the whole time!)
3. Socks that you could wear in summer in South Africa without feeling too hot
4. Fingerless gloves (too cold!)
5. Super warm pajamas (I packed a long sleeve t-shirt and long pants in a light fabric and even that was a bit too hot some nights)
Iceland is an amazing country and I highly recommend adding it to your travel wish list immediately!