If you’ve booked tickets to Iceland, planned out your whole itinerary, but have no idea what you need to pack to a land where unpredictable weather is the norm, then you’ve come to the right place. We were in the same boat as our trip quickly approached and I realized that there were not a lot of packing tips for Iceland in May. Spring in Iceland comes a bit later than in the Northeast, and while there was a heat wave in New York, we were freezing our butts off in Iceland. Average temperatures ranged from -2°C / 28°F to 11°C / 51°F with gale force winds and periods of rain or sleet on most days. Even though I checked the weather religiously the weeks leading up to the trip, nothing prepared me for the temperature fluctuations, variable weather patterns, and wind storms that could rip off your car door! This unpredictability makes it hard to know what to pack for Iceland.
Aside from the weather, there are many other factors to consider when packing for Iceland like the time of year, the itinerary, and how much luggage you can bring. If you’re like us, and traveled with a discount airline, you will want to pack light to limit the additional baggage fees. We were doing a 10 day road trip with lots of outdoor hiking activities between long stretches of driving. We were constantly on the move and changed accommodations almost every night. Here is a comprehensive list of all the things you should need to pack for an Icelandic road trip in the Spring.
We booked our flight to Iceland on a budget airline, WOW Air, when they had an unbeatable deal. The problem with budget airlines is that they charge extra for EVERYTHING. A checked-in bag is an additional $75 USD, even a carry-on is a whopping $60 USD extra. Our goal was to not over-pack so that we didn’t pay more fees than necessary.
- Luggage: Since we wanted to limit the additional costs, the two of us decided to share a suitcase for our 10 day trip, but we had to figure out a luggage that would fit ALL of our stuff. After much research, we decided to go with the 27” Riccione Spinner from Brics. This ultralight, slick and stylish suitcase fit all of our requirements. We managed to pack most of our clothes, shoes and toiletries in the luggage. Everything else like camera equipment, electronics and any left-over clothes went into into our personal bags.
- Personal Bag: Wow Air allows each person a personal item up to a maximum of 42x32x25cm/ 17x13x10in (10kg/22 lbs) that must fit under the seat in front of you. We brought a bag that managed to fit a lot while still meeting all the specifications.
- Daypack: I also packed a smaller backpack to carry my water, snacks and camera for my day to day adventures.
- Toiletry bag: A toiletry bag is useful to keep all my make-up, contact lens and hygiene products in one place.
I debated for a long time about whether or not to bring my heavy winter coat. Even after obsessively checking the weather multiple times the week leading up to the trip, I still had no idea what to do. Luckily, a friend who went to Iceland in March told me that her thermals were enough for most days. So instead of the heavy winter coat, I opted to bring my waterproof and windproof jackets, perfect for Iceland’s cold and wet climate. I also brought a light down jacket and vest to layer underneath the waterproof coat. The wind chill factor can make it feel even colder than the temperature suggests and the combination of jackets were more than adequate to keep me warm and dry.
- Weatherproof Rain Jacket: It rained pretty much every other day that we were there, so I was especially thankful that I brought a rain jacket. With the high winds, an umbrella is pretty much useless in Iceland. You’re going to want a jacket that is both wind and water resistant. I love my yellow jacket that sits just below the waist and has a hood. It’s great for providing a pop of color against the grey Icelandic landscape.
- Packable Down Jacket: I brought my light Patagonia down jacket that I use as a mid-layer under my waterproof shell/rain jacket. It’s not too bulky but works great to provide an extra layer of warmth.
- Down Vest: A vest is versatile because I can wear it underneath my rain jacket on colder days or over my flannel shirts when it’s warmer.
Layers, Layers, Layers
As I’ve mentioned before, the weather is unpredictable in Iceland at any time of the year, but especially in the Spring. The most important advice I can give you is to bring lots of layers so you can add on or strip off as needed.
- Thermal top and pants: Even in late May, the weather was still cold, so it was nice to have a light pair of thermals to wear underneath my sweaters and waterproof clothes. I wore my thermals for most of the trip and was really happy that I brought them along.
- Sweater: I love my cashmere sweaters because they are thin and light, but keep me so warm, especially when combined with the thermals. I brought along 4 sweaters and alternated between them for the duration of the trip.
- Layering tees: I brought a few for warmer days, but didn’t really get to wear them except to sleep in.
- Flannel or denim shirt: I packed a flannel shirt to layer under my vest, but a denim shirt would work just as well.
- Jeans: A pair of black denim can be versatile to wear around Reykjavik or while traveling.
- Leggings: I brought a few pairs of leggings including a pair of thermal and a cozy pair of fleece-lined reindeer-pattern leggings. I wore the thermals underneath my waterproof pants and they kept me warm on the cold and wet days.
- Waterproof pants: I bought these last minute before my trip, and boy was I glad I did. It rained a lot while we were in Iceland and they came in real handy. The pair I got was also fleece-lined which added an extra layer of warmth.
Even in May you’ll still need to bring a warm knit hat, scarf, gloves, and all other essentials to help keep you warm as you travel around Iceland.
- Warm Knit Hat: I couldn’t leave our car without my hats so I was especially grateful that I brought 3 hats on the trip. It seem excessive at the time of packing, but I actually wore all three, alternating between them to add colors and variety to my monotonous outfits.
- Warm Scarf: A large wool scarf that can double as a wrap is particularly useful to shield you from the intense wind.
- Gloves: It was so cold most days we were there, my fingers would have been stiff and frozen without gloves. So don’t forget to bring yours! Unfortunately I forgot mine but was able to borrow my sister’s.
- Socks: My boots are fleece-lined so I found that regular socks were more than adequate to keep me warm. But even with waterproof shoes, my socks sometimes got wet. It’s inevitable, so make sure you bring a few extra pairs.
- Sunglasses: For those rare sunny days.
Swimsuits & Towel
There are hundreds of geothermal springs and hot pools all around Iceland. Chances are, you’ll visit a few on your trip regardless of the time of year, so make sure to pack your swimsuit and towel.
- Swimsuits: I would suggesting bringing at least two swimsuits to alternate while you wait for one to dry.
- Microfiber Quick Drying Towel: You’ll have to bring your own towel to the hot springs, unless you go to the Blue Lagoon. I find that the microfiber quick drying towel is light, highly absorbent and dries a lot faster than the regular towels.
As mentioned before Iceland is wet and muddy, so the right footwear is especially important.
- Waterproof hiking boots: Having a good pair of waterproof hiking boots is a must in Iceland. I bought a pair of UGG Women’s Azaria Winter Boots for this trip that I absolutely love! The waterproof leather and wool insole were super comfortable and kept my feet warm and dry.
- Flip flops: A pair of flip flops is great for use in the public showers or at the hot springs.
- Walking shoes: I always bring my black Nike running shoes because they go with everything from tights to jeans. They are great to wear around Reykjavik or even on short hikes.
Other Useful Items
Here is catch-all list of other items that I found especially useful during our trip.
- Reusable Water Bottle: The tap water in Iceland tastes refreshing and pure, so why bother buying bottle water when you can bring a reusable bottle to fill up as you go and save some money.
- Sun Screen: I brought sunscreen hoping that I get a few sunny days. A week after we left, Iceland had a heatwave that was ‘scorching’ the country.
- Hiking Poles: I didn’t bring hiking poles, but my sister did and they really came in handy when we were trying to scale a steep hill on a rainy day. If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking on uneven terrain, consider bringing a pair of hiking poles.
- Eye Mask: In the land of the midnight sun where it never gets dark, a sleeping mask can be the difference between getting some much needed shut-eye or staying awake all night wondering why it’s still light out at 1am in the morning.
- Waterproof Case: I bought a cheap waterproof case for my phone to keep it dry when I go into the hot pools. I can take pictures while in the pool and not worry about dropping my phone in the water.
- Camera Gears: I brought my Canon DSLR, drone and Go-Pro to capture the beautiful, rugged landscape. Although, with the rain and high wind, we couldn’t really send up the drone too often.
- Adapter: Iceland uses the Europlug, which has the two round prongs. You’ll will need an adapter or a converter for your electronic devices.
- Power bank: If you are like me and on your phone constantly, a power bank will keep you fully charged on the road.
- Car charger: A car charger is useful for the long drives, especially if you need your phone for GPS and taking photos.
- Toiletries: Since we have limited space, I decided to buy my shampoo, conditioner and bodywash in Iceland. I found most of the brands I use at the local Bonus store.
- Snacks: Same with the toiletries, I prefer to buy my snacks locally instead of lugging them all the way from home. It also lets me try new snacks that are only available in Iceland.
- Cooler Bag and Ice Pack: Since eating out is so expensive in Iceland, you might consider cooking in to save some money. The cooler bag and ice pack will help keep your food fresh as you travel from place to place.
If you are staying at an Airbnb, check to see if they have a washer and dryer. You can limit some of the clothing you bring since you can do a load of laundry along the way.
By: Photos and article by Caitlin Nguyen. Read her full guide to Iceland on Life After 9to5