It’s difficult enough to figure out what to wear on your average Monday. But figuring out what to wear in Iceland is a a whole new challenge. Especially when you’re trying to figure out what to wear in Iceland in September — the shoulder season still clings to summer while creeping on to winter. The weather can range from the low 60s and plummet down to the low 30s at night (Fahrenheit).
These are the wardrobe essentials for a trip to the land of fire and ice, Iceland.
A Note about Layering
The key to any successful wardrobe for Iceland is layering and having options. As a Michigander, I learned long ago that there’s a difference between layering and layering smartly. Layering can be bulky and ineffective if you do it incorrectly. You want clothing that wicks sweat, insulates or traps heat, and repels wind. Make sure it’s done in that order too. Cotton is a definite no-no. You’re better off with one pair of thick Merino wool socks (SmartWool hiking socks are my favorite) than 5 layered pairs of fuzzy cotton socks.
These were my three standard questions when deciding what to pack:
- Will it keep me warm?
- Will it keep me dry?
- Can I comfortably move in it?
If layering were a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, quality would beat quantity any day.
Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.
Solid Hiking Boots
Invest in a good pair of hiking boots. Unless you intend to sit in a tour bus being toted around the country with minimal physical activity, your run-of-the-mill tennis shoes probably won’t cut it in Iceland. I purchased La Sportiva hiking boots from REI. Yes, the price tag hurts, but better to have pain in your wallet than pain in your feet. When you’re trekking across the sharp lava rocks you’ll be grateful for quality shoes. When purchasing hiking boots, you’ll want to get a size slightly larger than what you’d typically wear. This is to accommodate thicker socks and to give your big toe some space on steep descents.
Shoe Inserts (if needed)
I’m #blessed with high arches. Standing on my feet for more than a couple hours without the added support of inserts causes more discomfort and fatigue than any wanderer has time to deal with in Iceland. There are plenty of specialty shoe stores with machines that measure your arches. I’ve worn my inserts for years and will never travel anywhere without them. It’s like a foot bra. Be comfortable. Go invest in some inserts for extra support.
Long Johns & Thermal Leggings
In the ABC’s of layering, long johns and thermal leggings are your A. Here’s where your layering begins. My most favorite brand of warm clothing for layering is Cuddl Duds (like these climatesmart leggings ). Next, these SmartWool midweight bottoms.
Don’t leave home without rain pants! Even if it doesn’t rain, these pants are excellent for blocking the wind, going on boat tours, and climbing around misty waterfalls. As someone who is vertically challenged, I needed to splurge on Marmot rain pants to fit my short-girl stature — they have xs!
Warm Shirts & Sweaters
Once again, I love my Cuddl Duds, like this Cuddl Duds Fleecewear or a thinner layer like Smartwool. OR if you really want to blend in with the locals, go to a local wool shop and purchase a handmade lopapeysa. I guarantee you’ll be so warm that you won’t even use the next thing on the list.
Yes, that’s plural. I did indeed pack 3 different coats.
Don’t allow the fear of $10,000 in baggage fees stop you from packing multiple coats. If your heavier winter coat is down feather, it will roll up very tiny in your suitcase. If one coat is bulkier than the others, wear it on the plane. In the world of Iceland during shoulder season, one coat does not fit all weather.
Light Wind Breaker
It’s not raining, it’s not too cold, but it’s a bit windy and you’re about to get pretty warm while hiking. A winter coat would be way too hot and your heavy rain coat is just unnecessary. This light jacket is ideal for when you are indoors at museums too. Also, don’t start thinking you can use a wind breaker as a rain coat — trust me, I learned the hard way.
Heavy Rain Coat
It will probably rain. Even if it doesn’t, you’re going to get close enough to the waterfalls to need this. You want your rain coat to be substantial, not a flimsy saran wrap blanket. Purchase a rain coat that is lined for extra thickness and warmth. When it rains, it pours. My rain coat was a thickly lined, large shield from L.L. Bean.
Because Iceland. Let’s face it, it gets cold. Especially at night. I love my Patagonia Fiona Parka. It’s warm and it compresses tightly for easy packing. Sure, it’s an expensive brand, but worth the investment. Patagonia has a very generous return and repair policy if your Iceland adventure gets a little crazy. It’s length is ideal because it kept my thighs warm too.
Pro Tip: If you’re an REI member, attend one of their garage sales. This is how I purchased my Patagonia coat at a fraction of the original price.
The bond I forged with my Icelandic wool hat is one I’ll treasure for the rest of my winters. Sure I could have brought a random hat from home, but Icelanders know a thing or seven about being warm, which is why my first purchase in Reykjavik was at the Handknitting Association of Iceland (Handprjónasamband Islands). Purchase your hat here.
Bonus: Buy a matching lopapeysa too.
A bathing suit should be on every packing list. Even in Iceland. This country is known for it’s natural hot springs and geothermal swimming pools. Trust me, you’ll spend quite a bit of time in the water!
This isn’t a beach vacation, but you’ll still need sunglasses in Iceland. The sun is bright, especially when it reflects off the glaciers and snow.
Hope this helps you figure out what to wear in Iceland!
Don’t forget to pin it!
affiliate disclosure: Some of the links in this post may take you to Amazon to purchase some of these trusted products I mention in this post. It’s an affiliate link, which means if you purchase any of the items I list here, I get a small commission! Don’t worry though, it’s the same price whether you go through my blog or direct; I promise! Think of it as tipping your hat to me for putting together this list for you. :)