I’ve traveled to Iceland twice in the past year now, so expect some more posts about my favorite country to visit (so far, anyway). I haven’t gone trekking in the highlands or done any off-the beaten path explorations, so this list will be more suited to the average road tripping traveler. Iceland is rapidly developing into a tourist-friendly destination and has become very easy for anyone to visit. Still, it helps to know what you’re getting into. I’m fresh off the plane, so while it’s on my mind, here is a list of the essentials you’ll definitely want in your bag.
- Windproof/waterproof shell & pants
- Waterproof/durable hiking boots or shoes
- Weather resistant daypack
- Toilet paper or tissues
- Plastic shopping bags/ziploc bags
- Reusable water bottle
- European outlet adapters and associated charging cables
- 112 app
- Wool socks
1. A windproof and waterproof shell and pants
If you’ve done any research on the climate in Iceland, you’ll know that it changes rapidly and without warning. On my last trip, it rained every single day. It wouldn’t necessarily be a light misting, either – it would sometimes be full-on heavy rain accompanied by a helping of gale force winds. Heck, even my expensive Arc’teryx shell nearly soaked through on a 20 minute impromptu hike in Reykjanesbaer. I don’t care if you’re visiting in the summer or winter – this shell will save the clothes you’re wearing underneath, not to mention blocking out the wind chill and flying sand, rocks, ice, or snow.
You’ll probably survive without the pants, but you will definitely not regret having them if you’re doing any hiking, especially near waterfalls that will blow water in your face, and if you’re driving the Ring Road, you’ll probably be foss’ed out by the end of the trip anyway. So just suck it up and invest in a gore-Tex shell that can be worn over any base layers you’re bringing with you.
2. Waterproof, durable hiking boots or shoes (if winter: consider crampons)
Especially in the winter. You’re going to be roughing it in the terrain there, tramping over wet sand, mud, rocks, gravel, deep puddles, and maybe snow and ice. I’ve stepped in pretty deep mud on leisurely strolls – most of the trails aren’t paved. Get something with treads and a durable upper if you’re going to slip on some crampons. Unless the forecast calls for ice, snow, and below freezing temperatures, you probably won’t need crampons, but if the ground was icy, they will come in handy. I brought these, but if you’re going to wear crampons, you’ll need something with a stiffer upper.
Make sure that if you’re bringing crampons that you learn how to wear and walk in crampons before going to Iceland.
3. Weather-Resistant Daypack
I’ve talked about my Patagonia Travel Tote Pack before, and that was the daypack I brought. It was suitable for dumping extra clothes, my battery bank, camera gear, and so on.
4. Toilet paper or tissues
Iceland has been cracking down on nickel and diming tourists, charging a buck or two for using bathrooms at some of the tourist attractions. You’ll also occasionally find yourself at odds with your bladder in extremely remote stretches of road, which means it’s pretty handy to have a pack of wipes in your coat pocket. Just sayin’. Also, there have been several occasions in which the bathrooms in the touristy parts had no more toilet paper, so even if you didn’t have to hunker down in the wild, you’ll probably need them anyway.
5. Plastic shopping bags and ziploc bags
For dirty clothes, dirty shoes, leftover eats – you *will* find a use for these on a road trip like this. I guarantee it. Also, none of the grocery stores in Iceland give you shopping bags, so if you buy more than what your daypack can fill, they will come in handy for the extra foodstuffs.
6. Reusable water bottle
If you spend any time around locals, they will likely make it a point to boast about their exceptionally clean and pure drinking water which you can get straight from the cold water tap (would not recommend the sulfur-y water from the hot tap in geothermal regions). This basically means there is no point in buying bottled water. Heck, I ate glacial ice and filled water bottles at the streams in Skaftafell – and that water is exceptionally tasty.
7. European outlet adapters and associated charging cables
Most of my devices are charged by USB, so I brought this. It’s a bit on the chunky side, but I like having an all-in-one.
8. 112 app
Not really a “thing,” but you should definitely download the 112 app to your smart device if you have one. This app can send your location to the Iceland emergency authorities if you get caught in a bad situation.
9. Wool socks
I’ve probably raved about wool already in my previous post. Nothing beats a nice pair of wool socks in a wet and potentially (very) cold climate like Iceland. If you’re still a cotton sock person, you’ll never go back after wearing wool socks. They are naturally insulating and dry more quickly than cotton.
Mainly for winter travelers – you’ll find that having a good hat or earmuffs and windproof/waterproof gloves will greatly improve your resilience in the harsh arctic climate. I spent less than $20 on a hand-knit Icelandic sheep wool (known as “lopi“) beanie from a local knitter and it kept me warm when the wind blew.
OPTIONAL/NICE TO HAVE
1. Swimwear and towel
If you’re taking a dip in any of the country’s hot springs or the famed Blue Lagoon, keep in mind that swimsuit/towel rental are add-on costs. I’m of the opinion that soaking in the springs while checking out the barren landscape around you is an experience worth having after long drives and days packed with sightseeing. You don’t need to bring a bulky one, necessarily – this waffle towel from REI worked perfectly for me.
Not really something you can “pack…” but you’ll want to do this in advance anyway: reserve a handy little hotspot with the Trawire Basic plan for having unlimited data in Iceland. I kept it in my daypack linked up to my battery bank because its battery life is only a few hours. Some of the more remote stretches of the Ring Road don’t have service, but for the most part, this is super useful if you want to stay plugged in. It’s very easy to pick up at a gas station of your choice and it comes with a prepaid return envelope that you can drop off at any post box in Iceland.
4. Battery bank
Your rental car will probably have a plug, but if you have travel buddies with you, it is likely that you’ll want to charge multiple devices at a time, and this will usually be a useful backup. I recommend this one.
This is a must if you’re going to be taking any long exposure photos of northern lights or waterfalls. I highly recommend this one for portability and ease of use (if you’re more professional though, I’m sure you’d prefer to bring your full kit).
6. Eye mask
If you’re going to be in Iceland when the midnight sun is around, this might be a good idea to have if the curtains where you sleep are not adequate for blocking out light. You can also use the highly versatile wool Buff which doubles as a thin scarf.
7. Shower slippers
These are great in shared bathroom guesthouses. I like having an extra layer of protection between me and the floor in case someone spills oils or soap water on the floor, so I always make sure to bring a pair of cheap rubber flip flops. Generally, when going into Icelandic guesthouses, you are expected to remove your shoes (similar to Asia) and wear indoor slippers anyway.
Mainly for the summer, but the reflection of the sun off bright snow can be pretty blinding as you’re driving.
What items have you found invaluable when traveling to remote places with harsh climates like Iceland? Let me know in the comments!