PACKING FOR ICELANDIC WINTER

If you are preparing for a visit to Iceland during winter prepare for an experience of a lifetime! There is something magical about experiencing Icelandic winter. Racing against the few hours of daylight, staying up to hunt for Northern Lights, walking in the freshly fallen snow and exploring the frozen sights.

Iceland sure does not go to sleep during the winter season, rather it comes alive once again. With winter is just around the corner along with it’s swift change in weather it’s time to dust off the winter coat. The winds get stronger, air becomes colder and precipitation transits from rain to snow, but with the crisp and still winter days that happen in between you forget all about the frost bites on your nose.

Glacier Rivers | Winter Lights photo tour with Tom Archer & Wahyu Mahendra | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Tom Archer
Glacier Rivers | Winter Lights photo tour with Tom Archer & Wahyu Mahendra | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Tom Archer

Winter temperatures

Iceland follows the old Norse calendar consisting only of two seasons; 26 weeks of winter and 26 weeks of summer. The tradition goes that on the first day of winter the merchants on Skólavörðustígur, the street leading up to Hallgrímskirkja church, serve Icelandic meat soup, for free.  What a wonderful start of the cold days ahead! The first day of winter is on October 27th and it’s last day is on April 18th, with the first day of summer being a national holiday! Who cares if it’s likely snowing on the first day of summer?

Icelandic winters are fairly mild and only slightly colder than other western European countries. Temperatures in Reykjavík can drop down to -10°C with highs reaching 10°C (14°F – 50°F), average temperatures hover around the 0°C mark.

Generally, quite a bit of snowfall can be expected during the winter times and the wind can be expected to throw a spanner in the works, so always be prepared for the ever changeable weather and keep up to date with weather forecast and road conditions!

Gullfoss in winter | Golden Circle: Platinum Tour | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Norris Niman
Gullfoss in winter | Golden Circle: Platinum Tour | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Norris Niman

What do we wear during the cold Icelandic winters?

Icelandic brands such as 66 North have kept us dry and warm since 1926 with their high quality outdoor wear. Their attire takes you from a casual walk in the city to hiking on a glacier to walking through a blizzard without a blink of an eye. Our team of guides wear 66 North while guiding all year around as it’s a brand that we trust and love. Go shopping (tax free for visitors!) when you arrive to keep you prepared for whatever kind of weather Icelandic winter throws at you!

Have you heard of the saying there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes? Words to live by when travelling to a colder climate! Before packing your bags make sure your winter wardrobe is complete. Let’s talk through it.

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Three-layer method

The key to staying warm is staying dry, this is where the three layer method comes to good practise.

The inner layer. Preferably one of wool (merino is ideal) or polyester is to be worn directly in contact to your skin. These kind of fabrics breath well and manage to keep in the moisture. We can recommend something along the lines of these.
The middle layer. Usually consists of a wool or fleece layer to keep you warm. Wool and fleece perform best as they also keep warm even if they manage to get wet.This layer insulates the heat and maximises the warmth. We like wearing a down jacket of some sort as our middle layer.
The outer layer. A jacket or a large, wool sweater. You need the other layer to be resistant to water and to protect you from the wind. So if if your top layer isn’t that waterproof then a shell or rain jacket is another necessary layer. A good Goretex outer shell like this one that is still breathable is what we like to opt for. If you have a waterproof winter jacket then this is perfect!

And shoes!

Absolute essential for Iceland’s rugged terrain. I cannot stress this point enough, there is nothing worse than exploring the spectacular sights in Iceland with cold and wet feet! Wear a good, sturdy and waterproof shoe that preferably goes above your ankle.

This should keep you warm for even the coldest winter blizzards that Iceland can throw your way. Additionally, don’t forget to pack your hats, mittens and wool socks!

Sólheimajökull Glacier Hike | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Berglind Jóhannsdóttir
Sólheimajökull Glacier Hike | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Berglind Jóhannsdóttir

Winter activities

Visiting Iceland in the midst of winter offers a wide array of spectacular tour options with activities only available (and visible) during winter. Winter is the best time to see the northern lights dancing across the night skies and it’s also the time of year where the ice caves are accessible.

Experience the two in our Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Ice Cave Discovery 2 Day Tour where we travel the entire south coast of Iceland over the span of two days. We’ll visit the true highlights along the way dressed in winter uniform; Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, the black beach of Reynisfjara and the gorge with the impossible name, Fjaðrárgljúfur. After coming into our accommodation for the night and having a taste of the local produce in their restaurant we’ll put on our warmest clothes and try find the northern lights if the forecast is favourable. Often we can see them from right outside the guesthouse.

After resting easy over night we set sails for a visit to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon where the ice bergs peacefully float about and wash up on the black beaches of the Diamond Beach. We then meet our partners from Local Guide of Vatnajökull and together we visit a remote part of the glacier in their amazing super jeeps, so we can access one of the more secluded ice caves in the region. From the jeeps we hike across the astonishingly beautiful blue ice to reach the ice caves. The hike is spectacular and well worth it, getting us to see the most amazing blues and textures within the ice caves. This is always a highlight of any trip to Iceland!

Have a read through our 4 day winter stopover itinerary for a further read on winter tours that we offer.

If you are joining one of our tours you can hire waterproof pants, jackets and hiking boots from us! Make sure to do so in the booking process, if not then just get in touch!

Dagný Björg Stefánsdóttir | Hidden Iceland

Hi I’m Dagný Björg, a twenty-something Reykjavík-dweller, mother, designer and freelance journalist who loves getting lost in nature, coffee and easy Sunday mornings.

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