If you're planning a visit to Iceland, you might expect perpetual snow and ice spread across a beautiful but intimidating tundra.

How do you pack for Iceland's weather? What conditions should you expect?


What Clothes to Pack for a Trip in Iceland

Packing for Iceland Based on Your Plans

What to Wear in Iceland During the Winter

Shoes to Wear in Iceland

What to Wear at Night (Going Out)

What Do Locals Wear in Iceland?


Key Findings

  • Iceland is not as cold as you might think, with winter temperatures typically hovering around freezing.
  • Packing for a trip to Iceland begins by determining which season you'll be travelling in. Icelandic summers often mean packing clothing you probably already have.
  • Pack for the occasion—based on the planned activities, the clothing you pack might include outdoor clothing and camping gear.
  • Watch out for quick weather changes, especially precipitation. Snowy trails can be slick, and rain can leave anyone wearing jeans or cotton t-shirts soaked, cold and uncomfortable.
  • Remember to pay attention to the importance of wicking and waterproof clothing, especially when planning outdoor sports or activities where your body temperature will rise.
  • Acquire the best outdoor gear where you can ask for local help. Shopping in Iceland gives you an automatic souvenir and the opportunity to equip your wardrobe with the best-quality clothing designed for the Iceland season.
  • Know your footwear, too. The right shoes can make or break your comfort and safety on more expeditious trips.

The island hanging onto the arctic circle isn't the destination travellers choose when hoping for beaches and sunshine; it's true. But the weather isn't as harsh or extreme as many travellers think.

In the summer in Iceland, temperatures usually fall between 15 and 20°C (60-68°F), and the streets of the capital city, Reykjavik, and towns dotting the coastline are filled with people dressed in clothing you might see in the spring or autumn, where you live.

In Iceland's wintertime, the temperatures drop but generally hover around freezing. Precipitation is, nonetheless, something to plan for with a mix of snowfall and rain.

The trick to dressing for the Icelandic climate is to be prepared for quick changes in the weather. In Iceland, people often say, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes." Temperatures can fluctuate rapidly and a snowstorm can seem to come out of nowhere. It's easy to underestimate the power of the Nordic wind that prevails over the island, and it's common for visitors in Iceland to be caught unprepared and get lost in bad weather. In these cases, exposure to the coldest winter days can cause bodily harm if you aren't prepared.

Packing and wearing the right gear means you can avoid weather-related misfortunate entirely.   Part of that is safety preparation by letting your friends know where you're going whenever you go out. The other part is knowing how to pack and what to wear in Iceland.

What Clothes to Pack for a Trip in Iceland

If your trip starts like most tourists, you'll fly into KEF National Airport. One of the most popular tours visitors begin with after that is the Golden Circle Bus Tour, which gives you your first vantage of beautiful natural formations like the Geysir hot springs and the Gullfoss waterfall, the Blue Lagoon, and a tour through Reykjavik.

For tours like this and shorter trips focused on the city, you can probably get by with the clothes you already own. If you plan to acquire any clothes for your Iceland trip before you arrive, the first lesson to preparing for Iceland weather is to bring a warm waterproof jacket and a hat. If you come with something equipped for rain, you might avoid taking that Golden Circle Bus Tour (or others like it) with very wet trousers. Harmless things like "a little rain" or even the wind blowing on a whale-watching tour can fast become unpleasant without suitable clothing.

Packing for Iceland Based on Your Plans

What you wear in Iceland will ultimately depend on your planned activities. If you're going to stay in hotels and travel by tour bus or even rent a car, you won't need to acquire much new clothing, if any. In the summertime, these conditions mean that a waterproof jacket, lightweight walking shoes and comfortable trousers will fit the occasion perfectly. (If your trousers are quick-dry, all the better.)

Conversely, if you plan on trekking the highlands, you'll have to leave the light shoes and jeans at the hotel. Trousers designed for day-long hikes with ample pockets and natural stretch will keep you comfortable and dry as you explore. You'll also want to change footwear to hiking shoes with more support, including higher ankles.

Invest in quality outdoor shell clothing that protects against the cold and all kinds of moisture for even more adventurous activities. For example, if you plan on hiking the Laugavegur trail from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk, think about overnight camping gear, too.

For activities like camping and multi-day treks, you'll need the following:

  • A moisture-wicking inner layer
  • An insulating middle layer
  • And a wind- and water-resistant outer layer

When travelling to Iceland for hiking expeditions, a waterproof hardshell jacket and trousers should be part of anyone's suitcase. Also, plan on packing your tent, mat, and sleeping bag with a water column of at least 5,000mm.

Clothing for hiking should all be quick dry and capable of wicking moisture off the body. Jeans and cotton t-shirts are comfortable enough for the city, but both trap moisture against your skin and can even lead to dangerous body temperature regulation problems if worn when hiking.

If you don't already own the gear you need for your trip to Iceland, spare yourself the uncertainty and buy it when you arrive in Iceland, where local shop merchants can advise you. Icewear staff are always happy to help tourists choose the best options for the planned activities. Plus, in the end, any outdoor gear you acquire will serve as the perfect souvenir for your Icelandic adventure.

What to Wear in Iceland in Winter

Most tourists come during the summer. There are those, however, who visit during the winter, when most clothing advice changes considerably due to the cold weather and different kinds of precipitation.

When travelling to Iceland in winter, you'll want to arrive already prepared and expect to acquire additional gear once you arrive, if necessary. Assuming that your itinerary includes tourist activities and tours, your core packing list to stay warm and dry (and have the essential flexibility to layer) includes the following:

  • A good parka
  • Gloves
  • A hat and neck snood
  • Warm socks

Jeans aren't ideal, even for city activities, because they retain moisture as your legs kick up snow. Cotton clothing isn't suited for Icelandic winter, either, due to holding moisture when you sweat under your layers. Cotton will grow cold, heavy and wet.

Layering is a pleasure in Iceland, using clothing explicitly designed to be used that way. Start with a thermal layer like long johns and socks that regulate body temperature (usually wool, which has natural temperature regulation and anti-bacterial qualities).

Depending on your scheduled activity, your next layer might be a wool sweater. (What better excuse to acquire that Icelandic souvenir sweater as soon as you arrive?)

Outer layers are any number of winter coats. Puffer jackets are popular for outings in the city, whereas wool-insulated coats are better for adventures in the highlands. All outer layers must be absolutely waterproof.

Shoes to Wear in Iceland

Shoes, too, are of significant importance when packing for your trip to Iceland. Your shoe selection will depend on the season and your planned activities.

If you stay in the city in the summertime, you'll get by wearing trainers. Bringing two pairs is still advisable: one for going out socially and one supportive enough for lots of walking.

For adventures elsewhere in Iceland, your shoes will depend on the specific activities you have in mind. Here's a breakdown you can use to determine the right outdoor shoes for you:

  • Trail running shoes provide superior cushioning, flexibility, stiffness where you need it, traction, and night-time reflectivity.
  • Hiking shoes are relatively lightweight but highly supportive. Hiking shoes are engineered to respond to changing environments and terrain types.
  • Backpacking shoes or boots have a high cut to support your ankle. They also offer even stiffer midsoles. They're suited for on and off-trail adventures.
  • Mountaineering boots are as heavy-duty as it gets. When the road gets highly technical, these boots offer support with even higher ankles and bottom grips suitable for slick rocks and snow. Your feet are kept warmer in mountaineering boots, too, with their added insulation.

What to Wear at Night (Going Out)

When you go out socially in Iceland, dress smart and don't worry so much about the cold. For a "local look," you can dress "Scandinavian modern" like Icelanders do, combining western favourite slacks and shoes with Scandinavian sweaters and headwear. Your hotel is probably just a block away! If not, then a taxi is the way to go.

You'll also want to consider the kind of place you're going to. Are you going to a restaurant to dine on some fine Icelandic fish for dinner? Are you going to a big event?

Have fun with your outings in Iceland. You'll enjoy yourself even more if you come prepared for the occasion.

What Do Locals Wear in Iceland?

The Icelandic people spend most of their time indoors. Houses are heated with some of the cheapest heating in the world, powered by thermal hot water (used to heat swimming pools, kitchens, bathrooms, and floors, indirectly or directly). Even car parks are kept accessible when it snows due to the thermal heat billowing underneath.

When you knock on someone's door in Iceland, don't be surprised to see the door open and someone greet you in shorts and a t-shirt. It's that toasty inside! At home, locals in Iceland wear the same clothing you would expect in most other European countries.

The difference, of course, is in the Icelander's preparedness for the outdoors.

When Icelanders go out, they rely on their cars to get safely and comfortably from point to point. Shopping is done mainly at shopping centres or supermarkets. When they go out, Icelanders usually use a combination of sturdy shoes, a parka or lightweight insulated jacket, and a fleece jacket or wool sweater.

Icelanders do, of course, have their own fashion taste and culture. That fashion taste tends to change with each generation, too. The larger clothing culture was inherited from the Scandinavian roots of the island nation, so expect to see lots of Nordic wool knit patterns. In most cases, kids and teenagers worry more about their looks than the weather, so you'll see more fashion statements in that demographic.