You’re all set for your Iceland holiday; flights are booked, accommodation is confirmed and tours are all lined up. A glacier hike is on your agenda and you’re really excited about it and have seen the pictures of the incredibly blue ice, the bottomless crevasses and captivating textures and features in these moving giants. For you to get the most out of your tour, we have put together all the answers to your burning questions.
What are the best glaciers to hike on in Iceland
Sólheimajökull glacier | The glacier is sandwiched between the Katla and Eyjafjallajökull volcanoes, two of Icelands most active volcanoes. Sólheimajökull glacier is one of the outlet glacier that flow down from Mýrdalsjökull glacier ice cap and is easy accessible and located close to the town of Vík on the south coast.
Falljökull glacier | Located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vatnajökull National Park, Falljökull literally translates to ‘The Falling Glacier’. We explore the glaciers unique glacier features and textures, walk along the bottom of crevasses and hike all the way up to the spectacular ice fall. This glacier is one of our favourite glaciers.
How long are the glacier hikes?
The glacier hike on our South Coast: Fire & Ice tour is around 2.5 hours in total with around 1 hour spent on the glacier ice, hiking around 3-4 kilometres (approx. 2 miles). The hike requires a moderate fitness level where you will hike up and over uneven terrain.
The glacier hike on our Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 2 day tour is a longer hike, about 4 hours in total with around 2,5-3 hours on the glacier ice. This glacier hike is considered of moderate to hard level of difficulty and you’ll be covering about 6 kilometres (approx. 4 miles) over uneven and ascending terrain.
The glacier hike on our Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & Ice Cave Discovery 2 Day Tour is also a longer hike and involves walking on uneven terrain and is therefore considered reasonably physical, so a higher level of fitness is required when compared to shorter ice cave tours in the area. The walk is over mostly flat terrain, but it’s sustained walking for at least one hour. You should be prepared with food, drink and clothing to be out in the elements and away from facilities for 5-6 hours. The ice cave tour lasts for 5-6 hours, with around 1 hour spent in the cave. The wind in Iceland on the glaciers can be cold and fierce so please be prepared with appropriate clothing. You will have an opportunity on day one to buy snacks for the ice cave tour.
What fitness level do I need to hike on the glacier?
The glacier hike on our scheduled trips are aimed for people who have never been on a glacier or worn crampons before. With that said the ice can be steep and uneven in sections, so if you struggle with walking for one to two hours or walking on uneven and sloped ground, the glacier hike may not be for you. Each guide on the trip will make the final decision at the time of the hike. If they refuse to let you on the ice please know it is purely for the safety of not just you, but also for the rest of the group. Read more under our terms and conditions.
If I have an existing illness or injury will that stop me from taking part in the glacier walk?
It is your responsibility to notify the guide before departure of any pre-existing illness or injury that you have that may affect the tour. This does not necessarily preclude you from taking part, it is mainly to give your guide the best chance of making the tour fit for purpose and safe. The lead guides are well trained and will know if your existing condition is likely to cause concern. If they don’t feel comfortable taking you on the glacier then it is, again, for the safety of you and the other guests. The majority of ailments will not exclude you from taking part.
Is it safe to hike on a glacier?
Many travellers are surprised to find out that glaciers in Iceland are easily accessible within the rugged Icelandic terrain. Although the glaciers are easily accessible, it must be noted that it can be dangerous to venture onto the glacier by yourself. Under the guidance of a trained professional glacier guide, it is a perfectly safe and enjoyable experience.
Are the guides experienced glacier guides?
All of our guides are experienced and well trained glacier guides. Our guides have years of experience working across a number of glaciers in Iceland and have completed extensive in house training and certified wilderness first aid training.
What is the minimum age to go on a glacier hike tour?
The glacier hikes we do as part of our South Coast: Fire & Ice and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 2 Day tours are classed as moderate level of difficulty with a minimum age requirement of 10 years old. If you are hoping to go on a more difficult glacier walk, like the one on our Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & Ice Cave Discovery 2 Day Tour the minimum age required is 12 years old. For private tours the minimum age can be lowered down to 8 years old, as long as shoe size is at least EU 35 to work with our crampons.
What equipment do I need on a glacier hike?
The technical safety equipment needed for walking on ice is crampons, harness, helmet and an ice axe. This equipment will be provided to you, and any protective rain gear or hiking boots can be provided at an additional cost and can be booked in the booking process of the tour.
What do I wear on a glacier hike?
Biting cold, powdery snow and slick ice always spring to mind whenever people think of glaciers, but Iceland’s infamous ever-changing weather means it can be even harder to know what to wear. If you are struggling to decide, here are some golden essentials to bring with you.
Waterproof ankle-high boots | You should pack some comfortable yet relatively sturdy, waterproof or GORE-TEX boots, preferably ones that go above the ankle. These are necessary to wear with the crampons as sneakers won’t work.
Thermal socks | Thin cotton socks won’t keep your toes nice and warm in the biting cold winter, so opt for some good, thermal socks instead.
Warm layers |A light merino t-shirt or another type of thin base layers can be good as well as a good fleece mid layer. A warmer outer layer of primaloft or down jacket is also good to keep you warm in the evenings and on colder summer days and a winter coat is necessary in winter.
Your best waterproof jacket and hiking pants | The key to staying warm is staying dry and if there is one item you should never wear on a glacier hike, it’s jeans. If denim gets wet, it stays wet and cold for the rest of the day which is nothing but an unpleasant experience. Instead, pack a good waterproof jacket and some flexible, breathable pants that will work with you as you move.
Waterproof jackets, pants and hiking boots can be hired from Hidden Iceland, you select in the booking process of your tour or contact us to add this to your booking. We have waterproof jackets and pants from 66 North in unisex sizes XS-XXL and these AKU Superalp hiking boots in sizes EU 36-48.
When is the best time of year to go on a glacier hike?
Glacier hiking is an activity that can be done all year around. The glaciers look completely different in summer and winter. In winter the glaciers wear it’s stunning bright blue colour, as opposed to summer it’s more of a white colour. During winter it’s possible to combine a glacier hike with an ice cave as part of our two day tour operating during winter.
What if the glacier or ice cave become inaccessible?
If we are not able to do the glacier hike then we will still walk up the glacier valley to the glacier as far as we can safely go to get a view of the icy giant. From here we will then continue our tour along the south coast, adding in a couple of our favourite hidden sights as we go to make up for not doing the glacier hike. These are stops that we otherwise would not have time to visit on the tour, especially with the shorter daylight hours in winter.
All ice cave and glacier tours are completely dependent on weather. Sometimes ice cave tours have to be cancelled at short notice due to strong winds or warm, wet weather which can force the ice caves to fill with water. If we are unable to visit one ice cave we will attempt to visit another if conditions there are better. If ice caves are unavailable then we will attempt to go on a glacier hike if weather conditions allow that. We will offer partial refunds of the full tour cost, for the cost of the ice cave tour, if we cannot visit an ice cave. Yours, and our, safety is our top priority, so we will only go on a glacier hike or ice cave tour if conditions allow us to do so safely.