What to Bring to Iceland: Ring Road Packing List

Svínafellsjökull

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.

TL;DR

  1. Windproof/waterproof shell & pants
  2. Waterproof/durable hiking boots or shoes
  3. Weather resistant daypack
  4. Toilet paper or tissues
  5. Plastic shopping bags/ziploc bags
  6. Reusable water bottle
  7. European outlet adapters and associated charging cables
  8. 112 app
  9. Wool socks
  10. Hat/gloves

ESSENTIALS

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.

10. Hat/gloves

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.

Purchased from my host while staying at Skogar Guesthouse.

Me in my new Icelandic sheep wool hat. Icelandic wool tends to be thicker as it is made of two layers. The outer layer is coarse and repels water; the inner layer is shorter and insulating.

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.

2. Trawire

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.

5. Tripod

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.

8. Sunglasses

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!

Closet Talk: Building an Active, 4-Season Wardrobe

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The boundaries of minimalism all come down to lifestyle choices, and one of those choices is where you live, because that is going to decide what you need to stock in your closet. I chose to live in rather UN-minimalist Chicago, where the lack of mountains discourage snow sports, and the harsh winters cause indoor hibernation in the form of binge-watching TV shows and car clowning rather than happy cycling. There are a variety of reasons why I chose Chicago out of all places, especially considering its completely off-the-charts property tax rate and pension disaster, but I’ve adapted reasonably well, and found ways to adapt to the overpriced cost of living for the amenities Chicago offers and appreciate the 4 seasons for what they are. After all, we are adaptable creatures, and we find our way.

That being said, clothing technology has come a long way, and active clothing is spurring innovation that is easiest to access at big-box outdoor stores like REI. Gone are the days of low quality sportswear (RIP Sports Authority) and hello, techwear. There is no a better day in age to find leisure in all sorts of weather conditions, no matter where you live.

It’s pretty much nigh impossible to get all my desired clothing features into one single jacket or one single shirt. You’re going to have to give or take somewhere. If you can at least get half of the desired features below in each item you own, it’s a win in my book..

  1. Packable
  2. Lightweight or ultralight
  3. Fashionable
  4. Water resistant or waterproof
  5. Quick drying
  6. Machine washable
  7. Fully featured
  8. Seam sealed(if applicable)
  9. Long-lasting
  10. Breathable
  11. Inexpensive
  12. Work-appropriate

Thankfully, I work at a casual office don’t need to stock up on suits or dress shirts (side note: career will also impact lifestyle choice and ease of adherence to minimalism). I also have the bonus of an onsite gym with showers, so sweaty cyclecommuting is not an issue.

Basic Layering System

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’re probably already familiar with the concept of layering, especially if you’re a backpacker or a cyclist. For the uninitiated, layering for active pursuits in variable weather works like this:

1. Shell – your outer layer, which will protect you against the elements of snow, rain, sleet, and wind. A good shell should be waterproof, windproof, abrasion-resistant, and allow room underneath for layering. An excellent shell should also be lightweight and have convenient, functional features. For example, a cyclist will want a shell that is cut longer in the back, reflective, and if it has a hood, be helmet-compatible. A rock climber would want waist pockets instead of hip pockets to allow room for a harness. Different manufacturers will cater to different sports and cut their pieces differently. For your average everyday use, these features might not matter so much, but if you do any specialized activity, you may want to consider them anyway. This layer is arguably the most important, as it is basically your first line of defense – a shield if you will – against bad weather. Everything underneath is not generally designed to hold up against the elements the way a shell does.

Look for these features in a shell:

  • Lightweight
  • Abrasion-resistant
  • Seam-sealed pockets
  • Waterproof
  • Windproof
  • Adjustable cuffs (for gloves)
  • Cinchable (for layering)
  • Hood

2. Midlayer – your insulation, which will hold heat in but let moisture out. This usually comes in the form of a down/synthetic puffy jacket or a fleece jacket. Most of the fashionable puffy jackets you’re getting from places like Nordstrom or Macy’s don’t meet the standard of a well-engineered puffy jacket and tend to be heavy and bulky because they prioritize form over function. Anyone who is fashion-focused cycles through clothing a lot faster anyway to keep up with trends.

Look for these features in a down puffy/synthetic puffy jacket:

  • 800-fill power or greater
  • Box-baffle construction
  • Lightweight, lightweight, lightweight
  • Packable (into a pocket or stuff sack)
  • Hooded, or you can wear a beanie
  • Comfort (not too restrictive)
  • Water-resistant

Personally, I prefer the comfort and snuggly properties of fleece jackets. There are quite a few lightweight options out there nowadays, and hoodless versions can be made classy enough to wear at the office or

Either way, look for these features in your midlayer fleece:

  • Flexible aesthetic
  • Lightweight/not too bulky
  • Functional pockets
  • Breathable

3. Base layer – next-to-skin layer which should not hold moisture from sweat. Base layers are tricky because they come in many different weights. Fabrics can be synthetic or natural, but usually a blend of synthetic and some grade of wool. I default to merino wool for my base layers, as it is naturally insulating, sweat wicking, odor-resistant, and quick-drying. Icebreaker makes plenty of options.

Look for these features in your base layer:

  • Odor-resistant
  • Lightweight
  • Quick-drying
  • Aesthetically pleasing (to allow for multiple applications)
  • Comfortable (no itchiness or overly tight areas)
  • Moisture-resistant
  • Not too bulky

The Bottom Line

The theme of this post is that we should expect more out of our clothing than just “making us look good.” If we’re spending more time outside of the 4 walls of our houses, we need be getting more out of what we own. Next time you’re out there “refreshing” your closet, give these thoughts a try, and see if it makes your outdoor time more enjoyable. I know I don’t want to let colder, harsher weather stop me from getting out there.

In a later post, I’ll recommend actual items I’ve tested in the field. Stay tuned!

The Advent of Women’s Techwear

via Pixabay

Techwear is clothing that uses technical fabrics and features to emphasize “movement, comfort, and presentability.” Let’s not confuse techwear with athleisure – athleisure clothing is simply athletic clothing worn in casual settings. This is a phenomenon that has only recently come to fruition, and I only discovered there was such a term for it when I began building my cycling wardrobe. Indeed, any outdoor sport or activity requiring special fabrics and features in attire and gear utilize techwear principles when designing products, but only recently have they also begun to consider aesthetics (a good example of this is ugly travel clothing). Numerous small companies are popping up and they cater mainly to the outdoor sport crowd, like backpackers and cyclists. Unfortunately, this also means they often only carry menswear or have a limited stock of women’s clothing. With stores carrying hearty stock of women’s clothing, it’s unfortunate that there aren’t more techwear companies out there that cater to women.

The Ridiculousness of High Maintenance Clothing & Accessories

I once worked for a company where I was told that skirts and dresses are considered more formal than pants and that high heels are basically required for formal occasions.  Huh. We need to require women to wear unquestionably uncomfortable attire that is proven to be bad for the posture? My working career is only 5 years, but I’ve noticed a shift to more casual offices, and I really appreciate that shift, because it reduces the time I need to spend getting ready in the morning and taking care of my clothes. Of course, there are always going to be some people who still find that a formal outfit is going to earn them more points in the business world (and it has even been proven), particularly if you’re trying to climb the corporate ladder, but I think that dressing well will not make up for a lack of a professional demeanor or business acumen.

The idea of dressing up or owning lots of formal clothes and accessories used to excite me, but I’ve started to see it as just another chore. There is nothing practical about formalwear. Suits have to be fitted to your ever-changing body, dry-cleaned, ironed, stored a certain way, and have to travel in a suit bag. Floaty blouses are often made with overly delicate fabrics and need to be hand-washed and often don’t travel well, as they wrinkle when packed in a suitcase. High heels are hard to travel with as they are a very particular shape and tend to be heavy and uncomfortable. Stilettos can’t be worn on anything other than hard ground. Excessive jewelry weighs you down and has to be carefully stored and taken care of (and comes with a need to buy specialty storage, cleaner, etc.). The more expensive the pieces are, the more obsessed you may become about keeping them pristine, and companies have latched onto this need by selling “specially formulated” cleaning solutions: example 1example 2, and example 3. Corporate offices are still hubs of Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, and J Crew catalog personas, arms full of dry cleaning and cubicles full of spare heels.

I was very relieved after getting rid of all my high maintenance clothing – almost everything I own can be machine washed – but that doesn’t mean I am by any means cheap. I’ve splurged considerably when building my wardrobe, because I care about a lot when it comes to clothing. I want to be able to wear the same dress to a fancy dinner and on my bike (thanks to Nuu-Muu, I can now achieve this). I want to be able to machine-wash all my clothes, pack them all down small, and wear them in multiple settings. I want clothes that last, don’t cost several thousand dollars, and don’t quickly go out of fashion.

Blending Aesthetics & Practicality

via Pixabay

Typical brand name designers take into account two things: aesthetics and durability, while techwear takes it one step further and adds an element of movement and ease of maintenance into their pieces. Their models are not just pretty faces and skinny bodies – they also tend to be athletic. “Fashion” focuses entirely on aesthetics and trends. It’s really an art form – meant to evoke a reaction or tell a story, perhaps, or meant to impress others with social standing. But unless your hobby is spending a lot of time experimenting with your outer appearance or trying to impress other people with your stuff, I find that stuffing your closet with tons of clothing, expensive or not, causes more stress than having only your favorite clothes.

The problem is, “practical” clothing also tends to be synonymous with boring, ugly, and just generally unflattering. A great example is “travel shirts” that are boxy and come in pastel colors only, despite being easily washed and packable. This is where techwear comes in to save the day. If we must wear suits, why don’t we make suits that not only fit well, but also can be machine-washed, packable, and lightweight? Why do jeans need to be heavy and take forever to dry? Why do we need to wear pants that require a belt? Why do athletic clothes need to only come in clashing neons and plastered with logos? Lots of major retailers have already picked up on this, but it is pretty rare to see it put into practice so far.

Techwear for Women?

People who know me well also know my obsession with Lululemon. I’ve been following Lululemon for 4 years now, and my first piece was a $42 (now $48) black Free-to-Be bra which I still use and wear every week.  Yesterday, my beloved Lululemon Heart Opener tank ripped to shreds while practicing an aerial silks triple star drop, and it is the only piece of Lululemon that has actually worn beyond repair. It lasted over three years of weekly use. Lululemon has a team of great designers, though their releases tend to be hits or misses. They regularly release thoughtfully designed clothes and accessories that intersect fashion and practicality. Uniqlo is another great example of a company that has begun to intersect all of my expectations for clothing, and the bonus is that they are also affordable. They point out features that make something worth buying instead of creating a “persona” for a brand.

Unfortunately, most of the brands that have started to do this, like I mentioned before, only create menswear. Even Outlier has stated that there hasn’t been strong enough market for women’s techwear and discontinued their women’s line as a result. I often wonder if it’s because women don’t know that techwear exists, or that men still dominate the landscape as far as outdoor adventures go, so there is no incentive to cater to women. But I’m confident that as we move forward, more women will catch on.

Obscure Brands that make Women’s Techwear

I have only purchased a couple jackets from Aether and have no experience with the other brands below, but feel free to browse to get an idea of what is out there.

Aether Apparel

Nau

Triple Aught Design

For further reading, look no further than this 5-part series by Dressed Down.