The Ultimate Packing List for Your Iceland Vacation (No Checked Bag Required)

Sep 29, 2018

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Packing for a destination that can experience all four seasons in one day sounds like a prompt you’d see on the SATs. But it all becomes very real when you find yourself in Iceland during the spring or fall (or even sometimes the summer or winter) seeing snow, sleet, rain, wind, sun and hail all within a few hours’ time.

Packing for that kind of weather is difficult and there’s a good chance that if you’re visiting during the shoulder season — i.e. not summer or winter, when you’ll definitely expect a few snowstorms — you’re not going to get it right the first time.

I’ve been traveling to Iceland for years and my packing ideology has evolved quite a bit since the first time I visited in the middle of March (prime season for a truly mind-boggling mix of weather). And if you’re more of a carry-on-only kind of traveler, it gets harder. But it can be done.

I’ve put together a quick and easy list to help you pack for your next Iceland trip. The following items assume that you’re going to get a little bit of hiking in (hence the waterproof pants and hiking boots). If you’re embarking on a casual long weekend in the city, feel free to skip the heavy outerwear and factor in a fun dinner outfit or two. But for those of you looking to mix some city sights with hiking, read on:

Tops: 1 Tank Top, 2 Shirts, 1 Zip-Up Hoodie, 1 Pullover Sweater and 1 Waterproof Windbreaker

No matter when you’re visiting, you’re going to want the option of stripping a few layers. Even when you’re hiking during peak winter weather, you can get a little heated under all of those clothes. I tend to visit for week-long periods. For that amount of time, I’ll pack a tank top, one short-sleeve top and a long-sleeve top (preferably wool), a zip-up hooded sweater, a pullover and a windbreaker. I will also wear an over-sized puffy jacket on the plane (it doubles as a blanket). Your layers won’t take up much room when they’re rolled up and you’ll be wearing your bulkiest layer on the airplane. If you’re visiting during the spring or summer, ditch the heavy jacket or parka and lean more on your layers and waterproof windbreaker.

This mix of tops will give you a world of options, depending on the weather or temperature. Find a nice pullover turtleneck and you’ve got yourself the makings of a classic (and very hygge) dinner outfit.

Pants: 2 Thermal Leggings, 1 Pair of Jeans and 1 Pair of Waterproof Pants

Leggings are a necessity for your Iceland trip, no matter when you’re visiting. Not only do they work great on their own during warmer days, but they also provide a great layer of warmth when it’s cold out. (Look for lined leggings if you’re visiting in the wintertime.) Jeans are versatile and will look just fine with your hiking boots and a t-shirt, making it a good choice for days spent in the city. Something to keep in mind: If you’re going to be going on a guided tour that requires any amount of outdoor time (ATVing, hiking, kayaking), the company will most likely be providing waterproof pants — contact them ahead of time to check. It’s still good to have them on-hand in case you decide to do any hiking of your own.

Waterproof Boots or Hiking Shoes: Choose One or the Other

The thing to be cognizant of here is the treading on your shoes (it’s slippery everywhere after an unexpected snowfall). If you plan on taking a glacier hike with a tour company, they’ll provide you with the proper boots. If you plan on hiking on your own during the winter or spring, stick to waterproof hiking boots. Remember the key word here: waterproof. You can add layers of heat with extra socks. I’ve depended on my Mountain 600 hiking boots from Danner to keep my feet warm and dry during both the spring and wintertime. Your best bet is to find a happy medium: heavy duty hiking boots or waterproof snow boots that allow a little more movement. Sorel’s shorter boots — like the Tivoli boot — offer a great mix of flexibility and warmth.

If you’re really tight on carry-on space, consider wearing your hiking boots on the plane.

Socks + Underwear: One Pair for Every Day of Your Visit, Plus Two More

The last thing you want is to be stuck without any dry pairs of socks. Play it safe and bring a pair for every day of your trip, and then add two. They don’t take up much space and you’ll be in a world of discomfort if you try hiking through the snow with damp socks. When it comes to underwear it’s better to have too much, in all situations.

Snacks

When you’re outside of Reykjavik or any major city, grocery stores can be few and far between. Stash snacks wherever you can in your carry-on and personal item. Granola bars, rice cakes, trail mix, nut mixes, beef jerky, dried fruit and peanut butter packets are tiny and malleable enough to fit in the open nooks and crannies of your packed bag.

Swimsuit

You never know when you’re going to come upon a hot spring — some are widely known and others aren’t — so this is one item you won’t want to forget at home.

Misc: Toiletries, Hat, Scarf, Gloves, Camera, Phone, Chapstick, Water Bottle, and Chargers

If you’re staying in a hotel, ditch the travel-sized shampoo and conditioner. Bring your toothbrush, hairbrush, skincare necessities, medications and makeup in a small bag (buy a travel-sized toothpaste when you get there). Next, fit in an empty water bottle. Put all of your electronic chargers in a small bag and fit them in next. Finish up by fitting your hat, scarf and gloves wherever they’ll fit in your bag. And keep a tube of chapstick in an easy-to-access spot — the cool air will dry out your lips and that’s just uncomfortable. Make sure your phone and camera are in an accessible spot, as well; you may need to remove your camera during a security screening.

Getting all of this into a carry-on may seem like a daunting task, but I promise it can be done. My Away carry-on has seen all of this (and more) grace its interior on many a trip to Iceland. One thing that helps: packing cubes. Not only will it help you organize — which is key when you’re trying to make the most of your space — but it will also help you fit even more into your bag. (The Pack-it System from Eagle Creek is a personal favorite, if you’re looking for an unsolicited suggestion.)

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