If you’re planning to visit Iceland in winter, you need to plan your Iceland packing list beforehand as Iceland is expensive. We planned a visit to Iceland in winter on a budget. This is what we actually brought on our 10 day Iceland road trip in winter. If you’re wondering what to wear in Iceland in December and what the icelandic weather in December is like, keep reading for tips for what to pack for Iceland in winter.
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This is what we actually brought with us on our 10 day roadtrip in Iceland in December. Nobody sponsored our trip and this is a no-bs guide to packing for Iceland in winter. My goal is to have you prepared for your trip to Iceland in winter with the bare minimum of what you need and nothing more. (Save that money for awesome adventure tours in Iceland; you will need it.)
If you’re planning to visit Iceland in winter, you’re probably wondering: how much do I need to pack for Iceland in winter? Welp, it’s a lot as Iceland is expensive--and you’re going to be limited to buying clothes in Iceland if you forget something (which means at least double the price of what it is at home). BYO clothes and scroll to the bottom for a downloadable PDF of my packing list for iceland.
What is the weather in Iceland in December?
Iceland weather in December was not as cold as you expect. The average temperature in Iceland in December ranged in between 30 and 39 Fahrenheit (-1 to 4 degrees Celsius) although the wind chill makes it feel much colder. The wind chill can make it feel around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 Celsius). The wind chill is what got me every time, not the cold.
This is fairly representative of the weather in Iceland in winter although it may warm up a bit as spring draws closer.
What to wear in Iceland in winter
What to pack for Iceland wasn’t easy as I spent a while trying to figure out how we could save money. I ended up searching for these products at various retailers before finally finding them on sale. I really tried to minimize what I bought for this trip as Iceland was expensive, which mean that we probably smelled terrible most of the time as we alternated between two pairs of long-johns for two weeks while wearing the same jacket/pants over and over. Luckily, if you’re planning your road trip in Iceland in winter, you’ll not be around that many people.
If you already have clothes for skiing, you’re covered already, but until this trip, I never had proper winter clothing for iceland. I recommend looking for snowboarding attire if you’re planning on spending a substantial part of your trip not on a tour bus.
The Best coat for Iceland Winter: North Face Highanddry Triclimate Jacket
I spent a while antagonizing if I should spent more money on a good jacket for Iceland in December. I ended up picking what seemed like the best coat for Iceland’s winter as it meant that I could unzip one layer once we got back in the car. For me, getting a waterproof, windproof jacket that allowed me to take layers off depending on the temperature was really handy as I’ve been able to reuse this jacket in various temperatures, including while hiking in Kosovo in fall with just the shell. I am not usually one for name-brands, but I was very impressed by the quality of the North Face jacket I got.
A good jacket for winter in Iceland should remain warm even when wet (especially if you plan to go hiking in Iceland). I really loved the underlayer, which required that I only needed long-underwear underneath to stay warm. The hood allowed me to bundle up well enough that I didn’t require using a scarf. Despite wearing this jacket consistently for almost 2 weeks, it never smelled bad and I still am happy with my decision to splurge on this jacket. It is made for both men and women.
The Best Pants for Iceland in Winter: Columbia Bugaboo Pant
I spent hours reading reviews trying to figure out which pair would be the best pants for Iceland winter. I found the Columbia Bugaboo Pant to have great reviews. It was breathable despite being quite warm. The pants are waterproof and windproof, which is important as Iceland feels cold. Similarly, there’s a hidden part at the bottom to help you tuck them into your boots to ensure that snow doesn’t make its way into your pants. I barely felt like I needed long-johns underneath these.
Important note: my husband found a used ski jacket & pants set online if you're looking to save money by buying secondhand.
Socks & Underwear
I don’t have specific recommendations beyond saying that you should bring one pair of long socks and one pair of underwear for each day of the trip. I don’t believe it’s necessary to buy special socks or underwear for Iceland. (However, look how cute these socks are!)
Long-sleeve t-shirt and leggings
This was my default lounging clothes and pajamas once we’d get comfortable in our accommodations. Depending on the length of your Iceland trip, I think you could get away with just 2 pairs of leggings that you reuse. (Sometimes you need to look like a normal human being when encountering other people.)
We saw a lot of people trying this with sneakers, but when the snow seeps into your sneakers...the game is over. Prevent wet socks and get proper snow boots. If you’re planning on going ice climbing, you will need shoes with a hard toe to help you kick into the ice. Otherwise, you don’t need anything special although I recommend boots that are a bit taller (mid-calf) as the snow can be higher than you expect.
Given that there’s only a couple hours of daylight per day in winter, you’ll want a headlamp to help you see where you’re going. We ended up going on an evening hike up a nearby mountain with a Canadian couple we met in an attempt to see the Northern Lights (#fail). We ended up hiking to the top of the mountain before sliding down the ice on our butts. Jacob had put the car keys in his pocket...and in the morning, we realized that the car keys had gone missing while another layer of snow had formed overnight. The headlamps helped him search the mountain for the car keys, which he luckily found within an hour after digging up the snow underneath his foot (lucky guess).
Either way, it’s helpful to see the ice on the ground in front of you when you’re walking in the dark. I ended up buying the Black Diamond headlamp after reading good reviews about the features and because I use their products for my personal climbing equipment.
Crampons for your shoes
Iceland is full of ice in winter. I was very thankful to have my crampons with me as many of the sidewalks near the touristic attractions were frozen over--and the crampons allowed my husband and I to get close to the waterfalls without slipping. If you’re planning on doing ice climbing with a tour, they will give you crampons, so you don’t need crampons with a front spike.
I recommend buying crampons that aren't just chains, but a pair of crampons that has spikes, as they will give you better traction for long walks along the ice.
Caution: BE CAREFUL WHEN WALKING WITH CRAMPONS. It is very easy to tear your ski pants if you're not careful (like Jacob!), so you will need to learn now to walk in a way that minimizes two feet in front of each other.
I think one sweater is sufficient as some budget accommodations have less than ideal heating beyond it working. Icelanders have some beautiful sweaters (although they’re expensive to buy in Iceland). It seemed pretty cool to wear your sweater even going out in Reykjavik, so bring your nicest (and warmest) sweater.
If you have a lot of time before your trip, you can even learn how to make your own Icelandic sweater via a pattern kit.
At least two pairs of long-johns (long sleeve thermal shirt and legging type warm pants).
We both had two pairs of long-johns for almost two weeks in Iceland. We alternated between them every day and I’m pretty sure that we smelled terrible by the end of our ten day trip. If you want to smell better, get an extra pair. Although it's form-fitting, keep in mind that this goes under your clothes--and people will never see you in them, so you don't need to be a fitness model to wear thermals!
You can save money by getting a thermal set that includes both top & bottoms as you can sometimes get a lower price by buying them together.
My number one tip for what to wear in Iceland in December includes looking like a burglar, Bane, or a ninja. The wind made my ears and my nose feel so cold. I tried to put my scarf over my face, but it felt suffocating. As a result, you’ll want a facemask that includes breathing holes.
If you're traveling to Iceland in winter, I strongly recommend getting a face mask if you're prone to getting cold. You’ll look ridiculous in the photos, but a good facemask is the one thing that you should be including on your iceland packing list.
A Fleece Lined Hat
I had never bought a hat with a fleece lined interior before, but it changed my life on this trip. I am not kidding, it feels so good to have your head feel warm. If you can get a hat that covers your ears well, it will help a lot for dealing with the wind.
Gloves that allow you to use your electronics
It will be cold and I recommend having gloves with the tips if you intend on taking photos on your phone--otherwise your hand will freeze as you take off your gloves to use your camera/phone.
Offline Google Maps / GPS
If you’re a Google Maps affinito, you can download it offline on your phone to use for Ring Road, but use caution (and ask!) as some GPS recommended routes are closed in winter. Click for directions on how to use Google Maps Offline.
When buying a GPS or bringing a GPS to Iceland, make sure that it includes lifetime maps (as routes can change and you may want to add maps for a new place) and that it works for non-US locations. Many GPS units bought in the US and Canada do not include Europe by default. Before your trip, you’ll need to download maps for another location, which sometimes requires paying extra for the maps.
A good book about Iceland to entertain you
A lot of our budget accommodations in Iceland lacked fast wifi, which meant that the two books that we brought with us were essential.
If you're interested in learning about Iceland's culture and storytelling history, I recommend reading the Icelandic Sagas. For something more modern, I had a blast reading the (sometimes) hilarious books by Alda Sigmundsdottir about Iceland’s cultural traditions. For a good fictional book about Iceland in the past, I recommend Burial Rites for a glimpse into Iceland under Danish rule.
A killer playlist.
We ended up listening to a lot of Sigur Ros and Game of Thrones soundtrack songs.
An Iceland guidebook.
I always swear by Lonely Planet guidebooks and its recommendations were fantastic. We would just read it outloud as we would get tired of looping the same soundtrack.
Good Camera + Tripod + Extra Batteries
If you want to get the coveted image of the Northern Lights (if you’re lucky enough to see them), you’ll need a good DSLR and a tripod. Many people recommend extra camera batteries as the cold will drain your camera battery. For a low-level and affordable DSLR, I love the Nikon D3300, but most DSLRS should be capable of shooting the Northern Lights (check ahead if yours will be able to).
Bathing suit & Lightweight Towel
If you’re visiting Iceland in winter, the hot springs feel like magic. I was a bit concerned about the walk to the hot spring (run!), but after you’re in there for a while, you just feel warm and toasty, which makes getting out feel amazing. Just be warned that your bathing suit may smell terrible afterwards, so be sure to rinse it well afterwards. If you’re looking for a less touristy alternative to the Blue Lagoon, we recommend going to Myvatn Nature Baths.
You’ll need to pay extra for a towel, so bring your own towel if you want to save money!
Iceland uses European outlets, so be sure to bring a European converter if you’re not using European electronics.
When you’re going hiking for the day, you’ll want a portable water resistant backpack to carry your gear as Iceland is slippery. I saw a lot of people sliding in the ice--so I think having a backpack is good as you don't want to damage your camera if you fall. I had a close call with the path leading up to one of the waterfalls and ended up keeping my camera in a bag afterwards.
Depending on your trip, you may not have much opportunity to buy toiletries if you’ll be out in nature, so stock up ahead on soap, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash.
If you'll be spending more time in Reykjavik...
If you’ll be spending more time in Reykjavik, I recommend having some warm city-esque clothes. We only spent one night in Reykjavik, but I was able to wear my warm winter dress with thick tights with my snow boots (fashionable, I know).
Jeans. One pair is enough if you’re planning on spending some time in Reykjavik although I found it helpful to wear jeans that were a bit baggy, so I could put a pair of warm tights underneath my jeans for colder days.
One warm winter dress. Icelandic girls definitely have a chic, minimalistic, cool way of dressing. I felt fairly fashionable in a knitted dress that I brought with me.
Thermal Tights. If you’ll be in Reykjavik, you can look cute in a dress...or just wear your tights under your jeans.
Roadtrippers: Pack your own food!
If you’re doing a roadtrip in Iceland in winter, I recommend checking a suitcase for the incidentals and the food that you’ll need to carry as if you intend to go sightseeing during the limited daylight hours, you’ll have limited access to supermarkets and restaurants that will be open daytime. We brought a suitcase filled with basic cooking supplies and tupperware. We also carried a pot, a fork, and a spoon. It was very basic, but it ensured that we had enough food as many restaurants outside of major cities were closed after we were done sightseeing.
We prepared some rice/veggies, which we ate for multiple meals for 3 days. Additionally, we had multiple boxes of granola bars and many packets of soup to heat up. Most people we met during our winter road trip had also packed cooking supplies and food with them. The only people that we met that didn’t bring food with them ended up having to eat just hot dogs for most of their trip at gas stations until they found an open supermarket, so plan ahead carefully.
Thanks to the cold, we had meals for 3 days that were kept chilled in the car (kept in tupperware).
Thermos for keeping that gas station coffee warm
Iceland’s temperature in December is around freezing (although it feels colder), but you’ll be unexpectedly warm after hiking out in the snow for a bit. You still need to bring enough water although we filled ours from the tap.
I swear by my Nalgene bottles and they're guaranteed for life.
LOTS of Granola Bars
Soups & Beans
Iceland on a budget is not glamorous and we ate soup for 1 meal every day. Bring at least one soup per person and I strongly recommend trying the flavors out before you go...as we ended up with some terrible soup that we grabbed at the supermarket. I recommend getting a variety of soups as you will be tired of the same soups after you eat one every night for a week straight. (I never knew that I had so many feelings about soup.).
I’d also add some instant coffee or hot chocolate to this list as it just feels so good to have a warm beverage at the end of the day without paying Iceland prices for a hot chocolate.
Optional: Waterproof action camera
We went snorkeling in between North America and Europe and at that point, I paid an immense amount of money for a camera to borrow to take (crappy) photos through gloves that you wear with the wet suit. I also regretted not having my own waterproof/action camera when we did ice climbing as my DLSR camera felt too clunky/fragile to take out continuously as I was concerned about banging it up. The new GoPro HERO5 has special night vision settings, so they will come in handy if you’re planning on using it during your road trip.
Downloadable Iceland Packing List for Winter PDF!
Have you visited Iceland in winter? Anything else you'd recommend bringing?
I really tried to keep this true to what we brought. You don't need a crazy amount of stuff for Iceland--and honestly, Iceland is expensive. Save that cash for your own adventures!
Looking for more advice? We have plenty of Iceland with more real and practical tips that won't be sugarcoated.
Karen and Jacob. American expats and cat lovers from New York City and Kentucky who lived in Amsterdam.... Now in Paris with moving back to the Netherlands this month.
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