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What to pack and wear for Iceland in the Winter

The average temperature of Iceland during the winter is roughly 1.7 Celsius (35F), with January as the coldest month with it hitting 0°. Admittedly, that isn’t the coldest temperature ever, but when it’s combined with the bitterly strong wind and frequent rain or snow, it can turn the experience very unpleasant if you’re not prepared.

With the rapidly changing weather going from sun and no wind to ice flying at you horizontally, layering is the best solution. Whilst most of these items can be found in Iceland (and some we recommend you get there) buying the clothes now will be much cheaper than once you arrive. Read on to find how to stay warm and comfortable this winter!

Thermals: If you’re heading out, then you’ll want to wear thermals instead of jeans, because if your jeans get wet then they will stay cold and can grow dangerous in the wind. If you’re just walking around the city then jeans will probably be okay, but you can get some very nice thermals from the stores in Reykjavik.

Waterproof trousers: Like jeans, having only hiking trousers is okay for the city, but a pair of waterproof trousers become near essential once you go out into the elements. If you’re planning on chasing the Northern Lights make sure that you pack a pair.

Fleece: A warm layer to put on top is necessary, though we recommend the traditional Icelandic wool sweaters. Locally known as Lopapeysa, these sweaters can be found across Iceland, though if you want one genuinely made here then you might have to do some shopping around to find a bargain, but they then make an incredibly practical souvenir.

Warm waterproof coat: This can be thinner if your fleece layer is thick, and vice versa, but there are plenty of options for you. Most Icelandic people wear a parka, so there will be plenty of choices even once you get to Iceland. Whatever you wear, make sure that it is water and windproof!

Hat, Gloves & Scarf: Your extremities are likely to become the coldest parts of your body and can leak body heat very fast. Make sure that your hat covers your ears and is waterproof so you won’t get wet if it rains. You only need waterproof gloves if you’re planning on spending a lot of time in the snow, but they need to be windproof to really be effective.

Hand warmers: However, if you’re going to be outside for long or you’re more sensitive to the cold, hand and feet warmers are incredibly useful and can last for hours. You can find these in just about any outdoors shop. 

Woollen socks: Make sure that your socks are warm, especially if you are going to be out and walking around. Many people end up wearing two pairs of socks because the ones they have were not warm enough.

Walking boots: You may be able to get away with trainers on a decent day in the city, but with the icy roads and snow everywhere, we recommend shoes with a good grip. Even if you’re wearing hiking books you may need crampons to keep yourself from slipping.

Sunglasses: The sun is low in the sky during winter and the ground is icy and white, so will reflect the rest of the light back into your face, (Snow blindness is a real thing!) so make sure that you’re wearing sunglasses. We would also always recommend that you choose polarised sunglasses, as they drastically reduce winter glare. They’re also a necessary part of driving, and if you want more advice on driving in Iceland, look here.

Sunscreen & Moisturiser: In addition to the sun protection from the sunglasses, make sure that you’re protecting your skin as well. The sun is very strong in Iceland, especially when it rises or sets, so make sure that you’re taking care of your skin. You can also take care by bringing moisture. The cold wind can crack your lips and dry your skin out if you’re not careful. Trust us on this one.

Swimsuit & Towel: Despite the cold, a swimsuit is useful year-round, with the geothermal pools and hot springs like a warm hug during a cold day. There are the iconic ones like the Blue Lagoon, but there are also plenty of hidden ones that you might stumble across in your time there. They are one of the highlights of any trip, so bring a swimsuit and towel. You can rent a towel if necessary, but it tends to be much more expensive.