Wondering what to bring to Iceland? The country offers so many different kinds of activities, so you want to make sure you bring the right clothes and footwear with you. In addition, Iceland is an expensive country to travel around, so having a few extra provisions with you will save you a ton of money during your time here. Below is a list of what to pack for Iceland, including my Iceland packing lists for women and men.
What Kind of Suitcase to Bring?
The first thing you have to decide when packing for Iceland is what kind of suitcase you are going to bring. The longer I travel, the smaller my suitcases get because I am confident in my packing decisions. On my first trips to Iceland, I checked a big bag. These days, I can happily live for a month out of my 48L backpack (provided I do laundry in the sink or have access to laundry facilities).
For your main suitcase, you’ll want to decide whether to bring a roller suitcase or a backpack. This depends on a lot of factors. If you’re going to be primarily based in Reykjavik for a long period of time, then this decision matters less. However, for anyone who will be going to travel the Ring Road and sleeping in a new place every few nights, I highly recommend a backpack over a roller suitcase.
You also need to decide if you’re traveling carry-on only or checking a suitcase. Because there are so many budget flights to Iceland, you may be on a flight where a checked bag is not included. You can get both kinds of suitcases in versions small enough to travel as carry-on, but I also know backpackers whose backpacks are large enough that they must be checked. Remember that not every backpack is carry-on sized.
My personal preference is to use a carry-on sized backpack because I tend to take very long trips, and I like the freedom that comes with not having too much stuff with me. When moving between cities every few days, it’s nice to not have too much stuff to worry about when you’re going to be visiting multiple cities in a row. However, when I stayed primarily in Reykjavik and took a few day trips out of the city, having a larger suitcase with a ton of snacks in it was fine.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Deciding on a Suitcase
- Do you have private or shared accommodations?
- Are you staying in a hostel where your suitcase needs to fit into a small locker?
- What floor are you staying on? Is there an elevator? Are you sure?
- How many accommodation changes and transit days will be included in this trip?
- When you travel, do you tend to overpack and not use all your items?
My primary backpack is my Bergans Skarstind 48 which is similar to this Bergans backpack. This backpack is easy to wear, and the fact that it is taller than it is wide makes the distribution of weight along my torso easy to handle. This backpack is small enough to be a carry-on as long as I leave the top compartment empty. When I am not flying, I use this compartment and it adds about six inches of height to the bag.
For those unfamiliar with Bergans or who are Osprey diehards (which I used to be) then I would choose something similar to this Osprey Women’s pack. For men, I would choose something in the same size range (40-48 L).
If you’ve never backpacked with a real travel backpack, you may wonder what is different about it from a standard backpack or weekender bag. The main difference is that the weight is distributed so that it’s not a burden. Basically, you can put the same weight in all three types of bags, but the ergonomic design makes the backpacking bag easier and more pleasant to carry. Since Europe is a place where you’ll end up carrying your luggage for a long period of time on transit days, this can really save your shoulders, back, and neck from a ton of unnecessary pain. You can check prices and reviews here.
Roller Suitcase Recommendations
When I travel and check a bag, which I do from time to time, I opt for a larger roller suitcase. If you are going to bring a roller bag, I suggest getting a soft shell one that can squish. My personal roller suitcase is the awesome Osprey Sojourn.
I lived out of just this bag and a backpack for eight months, and I even took it on a multi-country bus trip last summer for six weeks through the Balkans and didn’t have any trouble.
If you’re going to be on a lot of public transportation and need a roller bag, you will want a suitcase that can handle some abuse without getting damaged. This bag has been crammed, pushed, squished, scratched, and jammed into the smallest and weirdest of cargo spaces and still looks and works great. You can check prices and reviews here.
What to Use During the Day?
Once you’ve arrived in Iceland, you’re going to want a reliable and safe day bag to carry around things like your camera and wallet. This bag is also important for transit days since it will carry the things you need access to while on the move. I have three primary day bags that I use depending on the trip.
Features to Look for in a Reliable Travel Day Bag
- Fashionable enough that the bag doesn’t scream “tourist” while in Reykjavik
- Safety features that protect you from the kinds of low-level crime targeted at tourist
- Room for the specific tech you’re bringing like a laptop, tablet, camera, etc.
- Comfortable to wear on long days sightseeing
- Small enough to fit under an airplane seat if your main bag is a carry-on
- Sized right for the kind of trip your taking
- Collapsible if necessary
- Durable enough for the kinds of activities you’ll be doing
Day Bag Recommendations
After two and a half years of full-time travel, I’ve gone through a few different styles of day bags. I use mine daily, so I’m always on the hunt for the best one to fit my needs. Here are my three favorite kinds of personal travel bags:
Option 1: Safety First & Technology Friendly
For the past six months, I’ve been using my new Pacsafe Citysafe laptop backpack as my primary travel day bag, and it has proven to be the best day bag I’ve ever had. It’s small enough to fit under the seat in front of me when flying or taking the bus.
Things I love about the Pacsafe Citysafe that make it a great bag to pack for Iceland:
- I can fit my camera comfortably
- It has interlocking zippers which are great to avoid pickpockets
- It has a pocket for your wallet and passport that has RFID protection so my credit cards can’t get scanned from afar.
- It has side pockets for carrying my own reusable water bottle or when I buy a soda. Drink prices in Iceland really add up!
- It’s big enough to use for groceries when I want to save money by shopping at the store. Restaurants in Iceland are pricey, and the best way to save money on food is to buy groceries
- It’s a sleek black bag, which is perfect for a fashionable city like Reykjavik.
You can check prices and reviews for the Pacsafe Citysafe here. Pacsafe also makes smaller bags that still have a ton of safety features to keep your belongings safe on the road. I especially like the Slim Crossbody if you want to find a small purse for your trip.
Option 2: Sleek and Collapsible
In a fit of a rage one day, I threw out a terrible day bag and bought my dream bag for full price in the Vienna airport. People might have thought I’d gone mad, but I was just sick of traveling with a day bag that didn’t work for me. That was the day I got my hands on my large Longchamp bag, and I absolutely love it! This bag rolls up completely, so I can store it away when necessary. However, it’s large enough to fit what I need to take out with me to explore a city for the day: wallet, camera, snacks, etc. It’s also durable! It might have been a bit pricey and a total whim, but I have never once regretted it.
I have used my Longchamp bag almost every day for two and a half years and it’s still going strong. This is also a great bag to roll up and bring just in case, whenever you want to have a more traditional-looking purse as opposed to a backpack. Because it’s collapsible, you can bring it on every trip and use it as needed. You can check prices and reviews here.
Option 3: Large and Functional
If you have a lot of outdoor activities planned, you might want something a little more rugged. When I need something more durable, I opt for a traditional backpack with a laptop slot. For this, I have this SwissGear Travel Laptop Backpack. It’s a great travel daypack because the laptop slot and the middle pocket is large enough to fit my camera and work as a camera bag. This bag is great for someone looking for a reliable bag that can fit everything they need on a smaller budget. You can check prices and reviews here.
How to Keep Your Bags Organized
When traveling around Iceland, you really need to keep your stuff organized. Whenever you have to open your bag in public, you need everything to be in its right place so you can get in and out quickly. In the cities, leaving your bag opens risks theft or accidentally losing something. Both situations have happened to me while traveling when I wasn’t keeping my stuff organized well. Trust me, it sucks!
Regardless of what kind of suitcase and day bag you go with, you’ll need smaller organizational bags to keep them in line. Here’s what I use on my trips:
- Packing Cubes: I take 1-2 large packing cubes for clothes and 1 medium packing cube for underwear, bras, swimsuits, and pajamas
- Small Cosmetic Bags: I have five small makeup bags that I use to keep different items together. Mine are organized into make-up and jewelry, wet toiletries, dry toiletries, medicine kit, and tech odds and ends.
- Laundry Bag: I use the one that came with my packing cubes.
- Coin Purse: Coins add up, especially in Iceland where you want to make every krona count.
- Canvas Tote Bag: Great for grocery shopping, quick errands, or lazy days.
- Ziplock Bags: These babies are clutch! I take 1-2 empty gallon ziplock bags and 3-5 empty small ziplock bags for random organizational emergencies. These seem to happen on every trip, and I’m always grateful to have them with me.
What to Wear in Iceland for Women
Here’s what women should pack for Iceland. When picking out your clothing, think about what activities you’re going to be doing. Are you going to be spending long nights out in Reykjavik partying with locals? Are you going to be hunting down the best waterfalls and outdoor hot spring? Relaxing at the Blue Lagoon? Enjoying long hikes in the Westfjords?
You should wear what you feel comfortable in, with breathable fabrics that hang-dry well. This list assumes you will be on the road for more than a week, and that you will hand-wash your clothes and line dry when you’re out of clothes. If you’re traveling for less than a week, simply bring fewer clothes.
What to Clothes to Pack for Iceland
Temperatures in Iceland are much colder than in the rest of Europe, but the weather works differently than you might think. I showed up in early October without gloves, and they were the first thing I bought. And because it was Iceland, they set me back a pretty penny. My friend Ashley was worse off – she forgot to bring a coat!
Average temperatures in the summer only reach the low 50’s Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celcius). By October, the temperature is already in the 30’s Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celcius). Further, travelers are outside much more often while on the road than back home, so you need to pack for it to feel much colder due to being outside in the weather for hours on end. Thus, I suggest bringing winter clothes for October through April. For May through September, you still want to bring clothing for cold weather, but you can get away with packing a normal jacket instead of a parka.
- 3-4 shirts or blouses
- 1 tank top
- 1 tee shirt
- 2-3 dresses (If you don’t wear dresses or skirts, then pack additional shirts and jeans to wear instead).
- 2-3 pairs of leggings that are lined with fleece (optional). I love wearing leggings while traveling because I can wear a cute dress but still be very comfortable, and they’re great for layering because Iceland is chilly in the early spring and late autumn. I also wore these or long johns under my jeans even in October.
- 1 pair of jeans
- 1 skirt (optional)
- 1 sweater, cardigan, or kimono for layering
- 1 pajama top
- 1 pajama bottoms (or use one of the leggings)
- 1-2 Swimsuits
- A Winter Coat: You need that can handle the cold like this North Face parka. It’s a bit of an investment, but you’ll be so happy to have it. In the summer, you can downgrade the parka to a normal jacket. Look for something waterproof.
- Thermal Layers: This ultra lightweight down layer is my new #packinggoals. I don’t own one, but my friend Allison does and she wore hers while we were stuck at a Serbian bus stop in the cold early morning. I was so jealous, and this is on my future packing lists for anywhere I go that’s cold. It’s great because you can wear it on its own when you need a quick layer of warmth, but you can also wear it under your coat when it’s really cold outside. This is great for Iceland year-round.
- Gloves: This was my biggest packing mistake. I didn’t realize I would need gloves in early October. Bring tech-friendly gloves like these.
- Winter Scarf: You want a thick knit scarf that you can pull up and cover your face when necessary in the winter. For summer, still bring a scarf but it can be thinner.
- Hat: A fleece-lined knit cap will keep you warm, even when the wind starts thrashing.
Shoes and Sandals
I travel with three pairs of shoes. When traveling in Iceland, I like to have two sturdy shoes good for exploring the cities on long days, and one pair of comfortable slip-on jellies or sandals for when I’m back in my room or apartment.
- 2 Pairs of Comfortable Closed-Toed Waterproof Shoes. Alternatives to waterproof shoes are boots like these or like these. Pack hiking shoes if you’re planning on hiking or doing outdoor adventure sports. Otherwise, any closed-toed waterproof shoes will work for Reykjavik and easy day trips like the Golden Circle and exploring Vik. At the end of everyday sightseeing, my feet were completely beaten up.
- 1 Pair of Extra Easy Slip-on Sandal or Flip-Flops for your hotel room or hostel. (I use these Croc Jellies because they work for hostel showers but are also wearable outside. I’m currently on pairs #2 and 3. I own them in blue and pink).
Underwear and Socks
- 7-8 pairs of underwear: I like to have enough for one week before having to do laundry, but you can bring more or less depending on your needs.
- 1-2 bras: If you’ll be doing a lot of hiking, you might want one of these to be a sports bra.
- 1-2 bralettes: this is something I added in this year, and I’m obsessed with them. They’re basically super comfortable like a lightweight sports bra. If you have larger breasts, and you want to be able to relax at your hotel or hostel without feeling like you’re dressed inappropriately, add a couple of bralettes to your suitcase.
- 7-8 pairs of warm wool socks. Combining walking tours, long days sightseeing, with using public transportation, and I find that I need the extra support, and therefore the extra socks.
Jewelry and Accessories
- 1-2 items of each kind of jewelry you prefer. For me, that’s a few pairs of earrings, one bracelet, my two rings, and a necklace.
- Sunglasses (regular or prescription if required). You’ll be outside in Iceland more than you expect.
- Hairpins, Bobby Pins, or Barretts (1-3 styles depending on your hair needs)
- Headbands or Hair Wraps (1-4 depending on your needs)
- Watch (optional)
What to Wear in Iceland for Men
Just like the women’s packing list, men will want to bundle up year-round.
Recap: Average temperatures in the summer only reach the low 50’s Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celcius). By October, the temperature is already in the 30’s Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celcius). Further, travelers are outside much more often while on the road than back home, so you need to pack for it to feel much colder due to being outside in the weather for hours on end. Thus, I suggest bringing winter clothes for October through April. For May through September, you still want to bring clothing for cold weather, but you can get away with a packing a normal jacket instead of a parka.
What to Clothes to Pack for Iceland
The type of clothes you bring will depend on the type of activities you plan to do. A basic list will include:
- 4-5 everyday shirts
- 1 collared shirt
- 3 undershirts
- 2 pairs of jeans
- 1 pair of wrinkle-free dress pants (if you want to do anything nice in Reykjavik)
- 1 light jacket that can handle rain
- 1 tee shirt and shorts for sleeping
- 1-2 pairs of swim trunks (optional depending on weather and plans)
- A Winter Coat: You need one that can handle the cold like this North Face parka. Prepare to spend a lot of time outdoors, since almost everything worth doing in Iceland will have you outside for at least part of the activity. If you’re traveling in summer, you can downgrade to a normal waterproof jacket combined with a base layer.
- Wool Baselayer: You’ll want an extra boost of warmth under your shirt as a wool baselayer.
- Gloves: I actually forgot to bring gloves on my first trip to Iceland, and I paid dearly for it in the form of having to buy overpriced gloves my first day. Grab some tech-friendly gloves like these.
- Winter Scarf: You want a thick knit scarf that you can pull up and cover your face when necessary. If going in the summer, you can downgrade to a thinner scarf.
- Hat: A fleece-lined knit cap will keep you warm, especially from the frigid winds.
Shoes and Sandals
- 2 Pairs of Comfortable Closed-Toed Waterproof Shoes (You should bring hiking boots if you’re planning on going hiking in Iceland).
- Extra Easy Slip-on Sandal or Flip-Flops (especially important for anyone staying in hostels).
Underwear & Socks
- 7-8 pairs of underwear
- 7-8 pairs of warm wool socks
Jewelry & Accessories
- Sunglasses (regular or prescription if required)
- Watch (optional)
- Any personal jewelry
Toiletries and Skincare
Not every one of these applies to every person, but here’s a general list of what I always take with me. Remember that if you’re flying carry-on only, you’ll need to bring any liquids in travel sized bottles that fit into a clear, ziplock bag. The limit for carry-on liquids is 3.4oz (100ml). Anything you don’t bring with you will cost so much more in Iceland, so don’t forget any of your basics.
Haircare & Bathing
- Travel-sized shampoo and conditioner. Some people swear by solid shampoo, but I just refill the same travel size bottles.
- Dry Shampoo for the days when you really, really don’t want to shower.
- Small hairbrush
- Travel-sized hair dryer with an Iceland plug or a voltage converter if you’re bringing a hair dryer from North America. Iceland uses the same outlets as continental Europe and is 220V
- Hair products specific to your hair type
- Shaving Cream (optional)
- Nair or Veet (for when I get lazy)
- Moisturizer (travel is brutal on your skin). A moisturizer with SPF is awesome but is not a substitute for sunscreen since you’ll be outside so much).
- Night Cream to help your skin recover. Seriously, Iceland’s weather is brutal on your skin.
- Body lotion
- Vaseline. Here’s why you should always pack vaseline!
- Makeup removing towelettes
- Contacts, contacts case, and solution (if needed)
- Glasses and prescription sunglasses (if needed)
- Full Sized Travel Towel. Most bloggers I know hate their microfibre travel towels, but I opted for a big, beautiful microfibre towel that’s perfect for the beach or a hostel. Seriously, no one loves their travel towel as much as I do.
- Tissues, Toilet Paper, or Kleenex
- Travel Sized Hand Sanitizer
- Nail File
- Nail Clippers
- Tweezers (2 pairs. One for my makeup kit and one for my toiletries kit).
- Laundry Detergent Powder (I like to have enough for 3-4 loads of laundry. If I’m traveling longer than this, I can always get more on the road).
- Something to deal with that special time of the month. If you have to deal with a period on the road, pack whatever you need depending on your preferences.
Over the counter medication from pharmacies is pretty easy to find in Iceland, so you don’t need a huge, all-disasters-covered style medicine kit. However, there are a few things you’ll want to have with you. A basic kit will include:
- Your prescriptions
- Anything you take weekly (for me this would be things like antacids).
- Any vitamins you take regularly.
- Your OTC pain medicine of choice.
- Bandaids (After accidentally stabbing my thumb with my own razor in the Lisbon airport and having to pretend like I wasn’t bleeding to death while eating a steak, I vow to never leave home without band-aids).
- Travel-sized Vaseline (Vaseline should be in every single person’s luggage for every single trip. Period). Yes, I listed this twice on this packing list. Vaseline is THAT important).
- If you’re flying transatlantic or anticipate jetlag or sleep issues, I love having melatonin with me on every trip.
Technology and Accessories
As a full-time travel blogger who also has two podcasts, my tech needs are out of control. Here’s the technology that I travel with:.
- Laptop (I use a MacBook Air)
- Laptop Charger
- Laptop Cover (I have a navy blue one similar to this)
- Smart Phone (I use a Samsung8, which I love. If you want to pick up a sim card while in Iceland, make sure you have an unlocked phone. Your cell company can unlock it ahead of your trip if it’s not already).
- Phone Cover (An OtterBox is basically like carrying your phone around in a pillow).
- Phone Charger (I used this phone charging cable)
- Backup Charging Bank
- DSLR or Camera (I use my Nikon D810)
- Spare Camera Battery (I use this spare Nikon Battery that goes with my camera)
- Camera Battery Charger (This is the one that goes with my Nikon)
- SD Cards (I recommend having a primary and a backup at a minimum. Don’t get stuck needing to buy a new one in Iceland).
- Dropbox Account for Backing Up Photos
- Two Universal Outlet Adapters with USB Ports. Iceland uses the same outlets as continental Europe. Remember that North American appliances will fry unless they can handle 220V. Check on each one before using! I’ve fried so many hair dryers (including one in Iceland)!
- Kindle Paperwhite for reading without having to haul around books
- Kindle Cover (Mine is like this one, but there are lots of options).
- DJI Osmo Cell Phone Gimbal for shooting video. (Not for everyone, obviously, but if you want to make videos on your trip, this gimbal changed my life).
- Your Passport & either quick access to a soft copy or a couple of hard copies. Make sure to take it with you to buy a sim card.
- Passport Holder
- Your Driver’s License if you plan on renting a car in Iceland and as a backup form of ID.
- Your Travel Insurance Policy Information: I never leave home without travel insurance. You just never know what kind of trouble you’ll run into on the road. I’ve had several broken phones, a nearly stolen wallet, car rental accidents, etc. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. I always get the higher level so that I have coverage for more of my technology in case anything gets lost or stolen. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’re going to be doing any outdoor activities in Iceland. Absolutely necessary for any trip, but especially in a country with so much great nature like Iceland. Have your travel insurance available in a soft copy, and forward your policy info to your primary emergency contact.
- Credit & ATM Cards (make sure to call your banks to let them know you’re traveling if they require it). Have either quick access to a soft copy or a couple of hard copies. Never travel with only one card or access to one account. I have two checking accounts and four credit card accounts. This way when things happen on the road (and they do), I don’t get stuck. You never know when your credit card company is going to flag your ATM withdrawal in a foreign country as suspicious and block your cards.
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for two years, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’re going to be traveling to Iceland so you can replace anything that might get stolen.
Books to Bring to Iceland
- The Lonely Planet Iceland guidebook or the Rick Steves Iceland guidebook for your trip. It can be kind of a pain to find the major guidebooks once you land, or you’ll find them overpriced. I always like to pick mine up ahead of time.
- The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland: Tips, tricks, and what the Icelanders really think of you is a great way to help you integrate into Iceland and be a good guest in a country that is overwhelmed by the number of visitors.
- Iceland: Land of the Sagas is one of the great Icelandic travelogues about the myths and history of the country.
Apps for Visiting Iceland
Have these loaded up on your smartphone before you get here to make your trip easier!
- Google Maps for navigating. Important for anyone using public transit or driving a rental car. Download maps for the areas you are visiting ahead of time so you can use the app even when you don’t have data.
- Skype (Great for calling to get your bank cards unblocked. Not that I have any experience with that…).
- Facebook Messenger (This is my main form of communication these days).
- Instagram (Iceland is pure Instagram bait).
- Adobe Lightroom for Desktop & Lightroom Mobile for your Smart Phone for photo editing. Lightroom Mobile is free, but Lightroom for desktop is paid.
- Snapseed for the photo editing features that Lightroom doesn’t have when on mobile, especially if you don’t get Lightroom desktop.
- iTunes, Podcast Addict, or other Podcatcher (Check out these travel podcasts I use for inspiration and learning about upcoming travel destinations)
- Dropbox Mobile for backing up cell phone photos before you leave. This is important in case your cell phone gets lost, broken, or stolen.
- The mobile apps for any airlines you’re using.
- TripIt for organizing flights, hotel accommodations, and tickets.
What to Pack for Staying in Hostels
Planning on staying in a hostel? This is a great option for Iceland since it helps keep costs down. These are the items you need to make your hostel stay pleasant, clean, and relatively quiet:
- Flip-flops or shower shoes: I mentioned this above, but it’s extra important if you’re in hostels where you’ll want to have your feet covered in the shower.
- Full Sized Travel Towel: This is the best travel towel in the world, and you’ll need it if you are staying in hostels where you have to bring your own towel.
- A lock: You’ll need this for your locker at most hostels.
- BYO Privacy: Bring a Sleep Mask and Earplugs if you’re a light sleeper to block out the other hostel guests.
What to Pack for Studying Abroad, Working Abroad, and Homestays
If you are going to be staying with someone or interacting with anyone in Iceland who could be considered as “hosting you,” it’s polite to bring a small present from home to give to as a gift to your hosts. Popular items for this type of gift would be something you can only get in your home country, for example, something with your home country’s flag on it or something made there. This doesn’t need to be extravagant, just a small token will suffice.
More about Traveling to Iceland
- Iceland Souvenir and Gift Guide
- Iceland’s Thingvellir (podcast episode)
- 5 Benefits of Driving in a Foreign Country
Have you traveled to Iceland or are you researching an upcoming trip and wondering what to pack? Leave your best Iceland packing tips and any questions below!
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