As the saying goes in Iceland if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. This goes for all seasons. What to Pack for Iceland in Winter?
(Article updated 1. November 2019)
How cold is it in Iceland in winter?
While Iceland’s name certainly lives up to its winter weather, you may be surprised that it is actually warmer than expected. In January, average temperatures hover just below freezing temperatures, 0°C (31°F). But dont forget to take the wind chill into account.
The reason it is not lower is because of the warm Gulf Stream current that flows around the island. These warmer gulf currents mixing with arctic currents are what create such unpredictable weather throughout the year. It is not unusual to see snow in October as well as April, although it rarely consistently remains on the ground. This is definitely something to think about when planning what to pack for Iceland. The fact is that weather and visibility anywhere in Iceland can change drastically within a few minutes.
We have wind like deserts have sand
The wind is really the most important factor to consider when dressing for winter in Iceland. Suitably, the Icelandic language includes an extensive vocabulary for describing its nuances. The wind is almost constantly blowing in Iceland so it should always be considered when deciding what to wear. It can make temperatures feel much colder when factoring in the wind chill, which often comes with heavy rain and snow. It is best to be prepared with many layers for all conditions.
As the saying goes in Iceland, there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. Another weather-related saying is: if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. This goes for all seasons.
Layers are the key word when dressing for an Icelandic winter. Ideally, a windproof and waterproof winter jacket and pants will insure a comfortable visit during all seasons. In winter, thermal base layers made of merino wool are a necessity, especially if you are in the outdoors for an extended period of time whether horseback riding, hiking, or whale watching.
Other wool layers such as a wool sweater, socks, scarf, and hat are also ideal. It is no surprise that wool garments have been a staple in Icelandic culture for centuries as it has the perfect capacities of insulation and breathability that are especially suitably for the climate. Not to mention, the ever-abundant Icelandic sheep that has been the perfect resource for surviving since Iceland became inhabited.
Don’t forget proper footwear
Footwear is not something to compromise when visiting Iceland in winter. Waterproof winter boots are ideal whether you are spending time only in cities or taking part in outdoor activities. Because of the fluctuating temperatures, it is common to have ice on sidewalks, which makes ice cleats that can attach to your outer shoe a great idea to keep you from slipping. It is also helpful when visiting waterfalls where the mist can create very slipper conditions on platforms and viewing areas.
And then you can always step inside
Because of Iceland’s geothermal activity, an abundant source of heat, Icelandic homes and interiors in general do not hold back on putting the radiator at full blast. For this reason, you should also, of course, pack casual indoor wear for dining and cultural events indoors. A tip for keeping things elegant even in the dead of winter is to bring your fancier shoes in your bag to your destination so you can leave your winter boots at the door.
- Wind and waterproof jacket
- Wind and waterproof pants
- Wool sweaters both warm and thin as well. Or fleeces - sweater
- Thin layer of wool underpants
- Woolen socks (ullarsokkar) are a must when packing for Iceland in winter. It is wise to pack several pairs of warm socks
- Wind and waterproof warm gloves
- Wind and waterproof warm hat
- Scarf to keep your neck warm
- You will need water-resistant winter boots in Iceland