Iceland is on a lot of people’s bucket list, and it is for a very good reason. The waterfalls, jaw-dropping landscapes, and Icelandic Hotdogs make Iceland one of the most unique places to visit in the world! (Plus, where else other than The Land of Fire and Ice can you visit an active volcano and climb a glacier within the same day!)
If you decide to visit Iceland, it’s inevitable that you will need to rent a car. (It’s either that or join a tour.) Iceland does have regular flights and buses between towns; however, a car just is easier.
You will have the freedom to explore the roads you want (Be careful: You cannot offroad on F-Roads after mid-October on regular 4×4 vehicles.) And most importantly, will be able to spend the amount of time you want at each place.
Now, if you rent a vehicle, you can do it two different ways. #1. You can just rent a vehicle. Or #2. You can rent a vehicle and sleep in it.
Yes, #van life is a thing in Iceland.
This all being said, you all know how I have numerous packing lists for different countries on this website. When I started, this was the crux of the site.
However, I think Iceland is just one of those countries it’s extremely important to pack well for. I am not saying improper gear will completely ruin your trip; however, it will make it less pleasant.
Before I left London, I went shopping a lot to make sure I was properly prepared. I might have spent too little, as I completely forgot about a heavy, waterproof jacket. (Mine was just waterproof. So, instead I layered.) However, I did have to purchase waterproof boots (A MUST) and pants.
Alright, that’s enough about me. Let’s get to it.
For Iceland, it is required that your passport is valid for three months. However, this is a gray line. If you plan to continue your stay within other Schengen countries, you will need up to six months.
For passport page stamps, you will need to have at least two blank pages.
2. Passport Cover
Mainly to protect your passport when it rains. If you are hiking, I suggest something that is actually waterproof. (Not water resistant)
3. Proof of Onward Travel
In my experience, Iceland is not nearly as difficult to enter as the United States of America or Germany. However, there are a few things to note that will make traveling easier.
If you are selected for additional screening at the airport, you will either
A) show your bank account balances and this will act as proof of you being able to support yourself.
Something to consider about this strategy: If you plan on relying on your bank account balances, remember the cost of Iceland. In France, you will get away with having $6,000 in your bank account. In Iceland, you might be expected to have at least $10,000. It depends on the temperament of immigration control (and your own), but it’s very easy to spend $10,000 in 3 months in Iceland.
B) Have Proof of Onward Travel.
Proof of Onward Travel is something as simple as purchasing a Playa flight from Reykjavík to Berlin that will be in two months. Or you could show your itinerary too.
The EU is currently drafting and adopting new rules for Schengen-area countries. However, at this time, the 90/180 rule appears to be continuing.
Called the ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System), this new visa includes a background check, and it costs money every couple of years.
I recommend checking out https://www.etiasvisa.com for new information, as this program is still being implemented.
If you have any questions, tweet at me @worldembark and I will do my best to explain/help. (Or if your country is not part of the system, please message me, and I will help out to the best of my ability.)
On an Iceland-specific note: Iceland has also announced a digital nomad visa. I am still waiting to see this program implemented too, and will be describing the details in a post at a later time. However, please note that in order to take advantage of this, you are going to need an income of at least $8,000 monthly/$96,000 annually.
5. Pictures of Passport & Credit Cards (In an encrypted environment)
By all accounts, you should know that Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world. As one person I met said, “If they steal your car…. Where are they going to take it?”
However, I still think it’s important to take common-sense measures for peace-of-mind. One of these common-sense measures is keeping photos of information, such as your passport, in a secure and encrypted environment
Reminder: If your passport is stolen/lost, please contact your local embassy or consulate. Technically, passports are property of your home country’s government.
Another weird thing about Iceland. There are only 14 diplomatic missions, and three other representative offices. So, the closest mission might actually be in Oslo, London, Stockholm, or Copenhagen.
6. A Plan on How to Get Around
Unlike some countries, sadly, Iceland is not going to be a destination in which you can rely on public transportation. There are no trains, limited flying options (Iceland is so small that it’s not worth it to fly), so you are forced to figure out a way to get around… on your own.
For some, they decide to book a guided tour. Guided tours are quite popular in Iceland, and it makes for a great, relaxing vacation for some. However, you lose the flexibility in both the destinations you visit and the length of time you spend at each one.
However, if you’re like me, you have realized relatively quickly that the only way to visit Iceland properly is via hiring a vehicle/booking a car.
You can save a bit of money if you rent a manual transmission, and if you book far in advance. (60 days +)
If you plan on venturing into the highlands or onto an F-Road, it is legally required to have a 4×4 vehicle.
Check the road conditions in Iceland by clicking this link. (Updated in real-time)
7. An Itinerary and Booked Lodging
Much to the dismay of travelers everywhere, Iceland is not going to be a country that you can just “wing-it.” There will be limited lodging accommodations, so you will need to book that in advance if you plan on sleeping in hotels/guest lodging.
If you are participating in #vanlife in Iceland, you should know that wild camping is now illegal. So, plan which campsites you plan on staying at.
(Side Note: One night, I called a hotel and asked if I could sleep in their parking lot. It was $10, and they provided shower access after a guest checked-out. If all else fails, that may be an option for you. However, just call and double-check.)
8. A Paper Map
I hope that you don’t need this. However, it’s very likely that you will lose cell phone signal in Iceland. Because of that, you are going to need a paper map for directions.
Best Luggage Options in Iceland
9. Backpack or Suitcase
Your luggage options in Iceland will not matter… too much. (Not nearly as much as the clothing you take.)
You will either be living out of hotels or a van, so pick something that you can move with ease.
10. 3 Pair of Waterproof Pants or a Waterproof/Layer Combination
In this packing list, there is going to be one constant. I am going to suggest layers. And for your trip to Iceland, you are going to need waterproof pants. For me, this looked like purchasing a pair of ski pants, then wearing jeans underneath for warmth, and finally stockings underneath that. (Granted, I was visiting in late October.)
However, for most days in Iceland, you are going to wear pants. It has never exceeded 30 degrees celsius/ 90 degrees fahrenheit in recorded Icelandic history. (Yet)
But if there is one constant in Iceland, if you don’t like the weather, either wait 20 minutes or drive 20 miles. (Both are quite literal.)
11. Waterproof & Windproof Jacket
Sadly, an umbrella is not going to be worthwhile in Iceland. The wind is going to be horrible…. Up to 60 km/h or 37 miles per hour on a good day. We don’t need you to go full Mary Poppins on us!
Plus, it’s not really economical to take an umbrella up to a waterfall. It’s going to look weird.
Finally, the other reason you are going to need a jacket. It’s going to be chilly in the evening. Probably around 50-60 degrees in the summer.
12. 1 Pair of Shorts
You might want a pair of shorts to sleep-in. Otherwise, plan on leaving these at home.
Blue Lagoon, Sky Lagoon, Public Swimming Pools.
It’s safe to say that there will be plenty of swimming and bathing opportunities in Iceland. And although you will not want to go swimming in the ocean, you are going to need a swimsuit!
14. 5 T-Shirts or Tops
Something thick will be needed. Some people attest to wool sweaters, others suggest t-shirts and layers, but you are going to need at least one layer underneath your waterproof jacket.
Keep in mind… what does the drying time look like?
If you start bringing a lot of cotton, such as denim jeans, and wool, such as a wool sweater…. And you don’t have a way to dry your clothes…. It’s going to be a very cold and wet trip. (Slightly stinky, too.)
15. 6 Pair of Socks
One day in Iceland, I went through 3 pairs of socks. The first got wet at a waterfall, (and I was wearing waterproof boots!), so I changed into another pair of socks. But with my boots wet, those didn’t last too long. So, after visiting the dangerous beach at Vilk, I changed into my final pair of dry socks for the night at my campsite.
Socks can make a huge difference.
Clothing for Visiting Iceland in the Winter
Woof, this is where this list is going to change by quite a bit compared to some previous packing lists. (Think Mediterranean Countries)
Iceland is not going to be extremely cold compared to other countries at its latitude. (The Jet Stream keeps the temperatures relatively mild.)
However, there are going to be numerous other factors that are going to make packing for a winter wonderland trip to Iceland… difficult.
There is going to be the wind chill, occasional rain but mostly snow, a lack of sunlight in the 4-hour sunny days, and even just the lack of sunlight due to clouds. If you are walking outside, you know that this type of weather can be very dangerous.
- Because it’s both hot and cold. (Our bodies don’t handle fluctuating temperatures too well, actually.)
- Cold and wet is not a fun combination.
So, here is everything I wish I packed for my trip to Iceland.
Please note: The winter list also includes everything you will need for the shoulder season. (April – June & September – November) It’s better to be over-prepared.
16. 4 Pair of Waterproof Pants
Like mentioned above, you will need to pack waterproof pants. However, for a winter trip, you are going to need to be tactical. Pack pants that can be layered on top of other pants. (Note: You are going to be packing a base-layer beyond socks and underwear, too.)
I know I just said it isn’t cold. However, this is mainly due to constantly being exposed to the elements.
17. 1 or 2 waterproof and windproof jackets
A heavier, shell-based coat for the top layer, and a lighter, fleece option is a great two jacket combination that should reasonably be enough for everything that Iceland will throw at you. (No, literally. Iceland throws rocks and sand. If you are renting a car, you have been warned.)
18. 5 T-Shirts/Tops
As mentioned above, there are numerous options for tops that you can take. Some people will pack merino wool, other people use 100% wool, and others like me wear a combination of t-shirts, under-layer, flannel, and then a jacket.
Just because there is snow on the ground does not mean that the swimming pools will be closed! In fact, many of them are heated by geothermal methods. (Hence, the sulfur smell.)
20. 6 Pair of Socks
Always pack socks that go up to the ankle (if not the calf.) You can also pack socks and do the layer-scheme, although this may be a bit excessive if you pick the right shoes.
21. Under-Clothing Leggings & Tops
I highly recommend purchasing some under-layering clothing such as UnderArmour Cold Gear or 32 Degree. Make sure that you pick up moisture wicking.
It’s always better to be hot than cold.
22. Something to keep your head warm
Beanie, Ski Cap, Motorcycle Helmet.
Pick something to keep your head warm. Despite walking to school every day for 16 years, I never quite realized how much heat is held in your head.
Best Types of Shoes for Iceland
- Comfortable, Waterproof Hiking Boots
Don’t skimp here, and be sure to purchase a pair of waterproof boots. (Up to the ankle) There is a difference between waterproof and water-resistant. And if I had to guess, you are going to spend at least $120 for these boots at the store.
Please make sure to break your shoes in before your journey.
- Second Pair of Shoes
A second pair of shoes could become important, if something happens to the first pair. Or if you decide to explore cities like Reykjavík and don’t want to wear boots.
Either way, make sure both pairs of shoes are comfortable.
Extra Items Needed for Iceland
- Reusable Water Bottle & Filter
In Iceland, the water is drinkable. And if you are car-camping or participating in van life, there should be water spigots at most campsites. In my own vehicle, I also had a 5-gallon water hidden underneath the cabinets, which made avoiding the cold, Icelandic nights easier.
- Daypack/Backpack & Raincover
Sometimes, you will have to walk a short way to see a waterfall. Some waterfalls like Skogafoss and Selajnafoss are not this way; however, for something like the blue waterfall of Bruarfoss, it’s about a 3 kilometer hike.
By bringing a backpack or sling bag, you will be able to fit a small camera and maybe some snacks.
- Sunscreen & Chapstick
In Iceland in the summer, the sun never sets in June. So, it’s less about the UV index and more about overall exposure time. In all 4 seasons, the chapstick will help prevent chapped lips from the cold and wind.
- Camera & Camera Wrap
If you want me to show me your best photos from Iceland, tag me on Instagram. @worldembark is my handle.
If you are taking your camera up to a waterfall, either have a waterproof camera or some plan to keep the electronics protected.
Every place I visited accepted debit/credit cards. If you want, withdraw $5 or so for a souvenir. However, it’s not necessary.
- Travel Insurance & Car Insurance
In Iceland, you are going to want to purchase car insurance…. Everyone has a story why. For me, it involved being only 70 kilometers away from the dealership, a work vehicle coming towards me, and a piece of gravel severly cracking my windshield.
Then, I was another 100km away or so, and it happened ago. I was really glad that I purchased the extra insurance.
Oh yeah… and on my way to Kálfafell from Vik I had that problem with the vehicle not shifting into 6th gear.
Meanwhile, you are going to need travel insurance for liability insurance on the car. AND because of the high costs of healthcare in Iceland.
- Sim Card
I paid about 10 USD for a Vodafone Sim Card. I cannot remember the exact amount of data, but it was between 20-30 GB. I did not have the ability to call.
32. Microfiber Towel
Honestly, a few of these might be beneficial.
Backpacking Essentials for Iceland
I use the Peak Design 35 L Travel backpack. It’s water resistant, so I never had to put the rain cover on.
When it comes to backpacking, the most difficult item to replace is always your backpack.
34. Earplugs and Sleeping Mask
Essential items for a good night sleep in a hostel.
For those times you forget to put on sunscreen.
For those times when you don’t want to put on sunscreen.
Fun Fact: I didn’t put on sunscreen for a few years. I am now permanently
36. Sleeping Bag
My friend always carried a sleeping bag AND a tent through Albania, other Balkan countries, and Turkey. I would never do that. Very few hostels allow sleeping bags/bring your own bedding due to the possibility of unseen bugs.
37. Some Sort of Emergency blanket
This is probably not needed for its purpose, but you might need to repel some water at any point in your trip. (Think poncho)
38. Portable Charger
You will want a battery pack, also known as a portable charger, to keep you on the go.
39. More Pairs of Socks
Can never have too many. Especially if you are backpacking.
40. Travel Lock
I carry a few travel locks, and I recommend you do too. Even if it’s just for keeping your zippers together on your daypack.
Well, that’s about all I can think of. Hope this Iceland Packing List helped out!
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