Packing for Iceland – even in the summer – is a bit tricky. You’ve got the weather to contend with – expect to see rain, mist, sun, biting wind, and freezing cold all in a single week – and the fact that Reykjavik is a very cosmopolitan city. The only folks walking around Reykjavik in their Patagonia and hiking boots are the tourists.
I found it helpful to make two small capsule wardrobes: one for Reykjavik, and one that I loftily named Icelandic Adventuring. The idea was to have at least one complete outfit for city hangs (that I would wear on repeat), yet be completely ready for whatever Iceland threw at me while hiking. That way, once we hit the smaller towns outside of Reykjavik, I could just blend the two together and be good to go.
Packing For Reykjavik
We went to Reykjavik in August, and ended up having some really nice weather. That said, it did rain every day (even if it was just that misting stuff). My standard outfit for Reykjavik was black skinny jeans, cute (and comfortable) ankle boots, a cashmere sweater layered over a graphic tee, and a leather jacket.
NOTE: I also brought my Adidas Superstars – they’re a perfect sneaker for day-to-night, too.
When it was cold (and it was often cold), I’d layer one of my long-sleeve hiking tees under my cashmere sweater, and add a scarf, hat, and mittens. Done. This outfit was insanely easy, and cute enough to wear out to dinner. And I could replicate a version of this outfit for my little guys and husband, too.
I know someone is going to ask me about leather jackets in the rain, but for exploring downtown Reykjavik, even when raining, they were pretty darn perfect. If there was ever a day of constant downpour, we may have swapped our leather jackets out for our North Face, which brings me to my next point…
Packing For Icelandic Adventuring
We rode horses, went whale watching (NOTE: they give you the survival suits so wear whatever you want), and did a ton of hiking. The hiking in Iceland is so good that it may have ruined us for all other hiking. We hiked up to hot springs, we hiked underneath waterfalls and through rivers, up a volcano, and on a trail that followed something like 26 different waterfalls (this one was our favorite). It. Was. Glorious.
It was also, sometimes, really, really wet. We don’t seem to make decent, functional rainpants here in the US (not that I could find, anyway), but Iceland definitely does, and they did make a difference. Mike and I both picked up a pair in Reykjavik (try Cintamani or 66 North) – they’re pricey, but worth it.
So. For Icelandic Adventuring, I made sure we each had a waterproof jacket, pants, and hiking boots (waterproof boots are hugely important). I also made sure we each had one warm layer – a thick fleece (for the kids), or a slim down insulator (for myself, since I’m always cold).
Under all of that, I had leggings, and all forms of wicking tees. I also wasn’t shy about grabbing one of my cashmere sweaters from Reyjkavik – they’re an amazing midlayer (I use them skiing, too), and wash up beautifully. For the little guys, I had found some decent layers from UA.
Packing For The Smaller Towns
For the rest of Iceland, I just mixed my city pieces and my hiking pieces together and was totally comfortable.
We also heavily relied on traditional Icelandic sweaters. They really are pretty darn perfect for the climate. Mike picked up one in Reykjavik at chic boutique called Farmer’s Market. I had better luck at….wait for it….the gift shop outside of the Seljalandsfoss waterfall! No joke – they’ll all handknit by locals, and are amazing.
What If I Was Going In The Winter?
To be honest, even if I were going to Iceland in the winter, the only change I’d make is to swap out the rain jacket and rain pants for snowpants and a parka. I’d keep the leather jacket for Reyjkavik (warm it up with layers and hats and scarves, etc.), and maybe pack snowboots instead of sneakers. I’d probably just wear my ankle boots on the plane, too.
The Ultimate Packing List for Iceland
So. Based on everything above, here are the packing lists I created for myself, my boys, and my husband. There’s a section for the city, and a section for adventuring (and a section for what we wore on the plane).
NOTE: The travel towels are important for hikes to hot springs, and dips into geothermal pools – NOT to be missed.
Hope this helps!
Cheers to family adventures.