Packing for a summer trip to Iceland

It’s 46 degrees and raining in Vermont this morning, which reminds me of our trip to Iceland this summer! I know, it doesn’t sound too appealing, but the truth is that with the right gear, less than perfect weather does not have to be a game breaker for family travel. Prior to our trip to Iceland this past August, I spent a lot of time researching packing lists, weather forecasts, and recommendations from folks who had been there…and I must say, I nailed it! We had everything we needed, and very little we did not. So, for any of you considering a family trip to Iceland during the summer months, here’s some tips and a packing list to use as a guide.

  1. Layer Up. If you’re planning an active vacation in Iceland, dressing in layers is key. Pretty much every day began with a lightweight wicking layer, followed by either a mid-weight fleece or heavier down layer, and topped with a wind and water proof layer (jacket and pants). Even on sunny days, you’ll want this top layer– Iceland is incredibly windy!

    A windy stop en route to the Langjokull Glacier.
    A windy stop en route to the Langjokull Glacier.
  2. Wind and Water Proof Gear. This is probably the most important item on your packing list.  I brought a windproof/waterproof jacket from Gore Apparel ( Air Gore-Tex Active Jacket) that I wore every single day. I wore it touring around Reykjavic, mountain biking in Hveragerði, and hiking Landmannalaugar…and I’m wearing it today here in Vermont.  I’m in LOVE with this jacket! The beauty of Gore-Tex jackets is that they completely protect you from wind and rain without making you feel like you’re wearing in a plastic bag, which is especially key if you’re planning an active vacation. If you are going to invest in one good piece for your trip, make it a Gore-Tex jacket.
  3. Bathing Suit. Okay, this may seem very American of me, but we changed into our bathing suits to swim in the hot springs. Some Europeans did not, which was a cultural experience for the boys, and the Icelanders seem to prefer wearing their wool hiking tights in the water, which dry out quickly back on the trail, but we dutifully changed in and out of our bathing suits at least once a day. If you have a suit that’s comfortable enough to wear on the hike, like my favorite Catalina Top from Carve Designs, even better.

    Hanging out in a hot spring.
    Hanging out in a hot spring.
  4. Good hiking boots. If you’re planning to do any hiking, a good pair of hiking boots or sneakers is important, as the terrain is very loose and granular. Tennis shoes really won’t cut it, unless you’re planning to stick to sightseeing around the Golden Circle.
  5. Day pack with hydration system. Each of us, including the boys, carried our own day packs with water for the day. My husband and I carried packs large enough for lunch, water, and a change of clothing, and the boys each carried their own water, rain gear and a snack. Oh, and p.s., the tap water in Iceland is the best in the world– truly– so no need to buy bottled.

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    Hiking gear for Iceland.
  6. Compact towel. Swimming in the hot springs, under waterfalls, and even in the ocean were a huge part of our experience in Iceland, but you don’t want to hang around in a wet suit drying in the sun afterwards. Even when the water is warm, the air is windy and cool. A compact, quick drying towel comes in very handy.
  7. Hat and light gloves. Even in August, a wool hat is a good idea. We wore ours pretty much every day.
  8. One (or two) decent outfits. Reykjavic is a European feeling, cosmopolitan city, and I was glad to have packed a couple of nice tops and a cashmere scarf to wear with a pair of dark jeans. There are plenty of people walking around the city in their outdoor gear, but (as Vermonters) getting city-ed up a little bit was part of the expereince in Reykjavic. The boys each brought one nice shirt and a decent pair of pants.
  9. Trail snacks. If you have a picky eater, packing a few trail snacks is a good idea. The grocery stores in Iceland do not carry the same variety or brands that we’re accustomed to in the states. We brought a case of energy bars, nutella, and and a jar of peanut butter, which saved us on many occasions. Once you get out into the country, there isn’t much in the way of restaurants or markets. We packed a loaf of bread, peanut butter, nutella, and fresh fruit in the car pretty much every day.
  10. Candy. My friend Mara Gorman gave me this last tip and it is awesome! We’re not a big candy family, so pulling out a few unexpected bags of skittles during a long hike or drive was exactly the boost the kids needed. Skittles to the rescue!

For overnights or short trips, I usually let me kids pack for themselves, but I was not about to risk arriving in Iceland for a week with nothing other than a few pairs of athletic shorts. Here is the exact packing list I gave the boys.

Hopefully, if you’re reading this, it means you’re going to Iceland! Enjoy! It’s a magical place and one of the most wonderful and memorable family vacations we’ve taken.



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