What to pack for traveling to Iceland this summer, according to locals

July 3, 2021, 3:00 PM UTC
Packing for a Nordic adventure can be tricky.
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Direct flights from the East Coast to Reykjavík, Iceland, only take about five hours, but landing in the Nordic country can feel like arriving on another planet—one with vast expanses of moss-carpeted, rocky terrain, black sand beaches, and, as of just this March, an active volcano.

It’s possible to explore some of the beautiful country—road-tripping the Golden Circle, floating in the Blue Lagoon’s hot, healing waters, and hiking Fagradalsfjall volcano’s trails of flowing lava—all in the span of a few days. But between the broad range of the country’s attractions and its mercurial weather, packing for a trip to Iceland can be tricky.

If you visit in the summer, when the sun shines for about 23 hours each day, remember to pack an eye mask (SRP: $40). If you want to capture the views of the ethereal Blue Lagoon without worrying about soaking your phone, pack a waterproof case (SRP: $6). For more advice on what else deserves space in your suitcase, from sunscreen to gloves (even in the summer!) read on for experts’ and locals’ best advice.

Reykjavík: an elevated view
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Hydrating skin care: Both the air travel and the country’s weather can be rough on skin, so Helga Árnadóttir, chief communications officer for the Retreat at Blue Lagoon suggests coming prepared with Blue Lagoon Rejuvenating Lip Balm (SRP: $34) and Blue Lagoon Hydrating Cream (SRP: $84). “The lip balm keeps your lips nourished on the flight, and the hydrating cream hydrates your face after the flight,” she says. “Both products are also great for traveling around Iceland, as the weather here can be a bit unpredictable and harsh on the skin.”

Iceland’s Blue Lagoon
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Layers: As the home of some of Europe’s largest glaciers and some of the world’s most active volcanoes, Iceland is known as the land of contrasts, and Michael Raucheisen, Icelandair communications manager for North America, points out that the forecast is no different. “The weather in Iceland is constantly changing so it is always best to be prepared for everything,” he says, adding that the trick is to bring layers. “It also gets very hot indoors due to the geothermal heat, so you’ll want to shed the rain gear and wool [and] make sure there is a casual shirt underneath.” Choose lightweight, moisture-wicking base layers, like REI’s long-sleeve crew top, (SRP: $40), and add a fleece and raincoat you can peel off as the day warms up.

The Skógafoss waterfall
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Raincoat: “There is an old saying in Iceland,” says Gísli Grímsson, the saltmaker behind Iceland’s flaky, 100% geothermal energy–produced Saltverk. “‘If you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes.’ The weather is ever-changing, moves fast, and frankly it rains a lot during our summer.” For this reason, Grímsson always packs a good raincoat like the Patagonia Hard Shell jacket (SRP: $149), fair trade–certified and made from recycled material. “It’s good to have one in your backpack for when you’re exploring our beautiful nature and it starts pouring.”

The northern lights
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Gloves: “You’ll need gloves…even in summer,” notes Ryan Connolly, co-owner of Hidden Iceland, a boutique travel company specializing in private and custom tours. “Summer can be quite warm for Iceland, but you still get the odd windy day so having something to keep the extremities covered will increase your happiness levels immeasurably.” He recommends Sealskinz gloves (SRP: $63) but adds, “anything that is water resistant works great.”

Hiking a lush and scenic trail along a lagoon.
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Hiking boots: With the Geysir geothermal area, Gullfoss waterfall, and the rocky cliffs and hiking trails of Þingvellir National Park all on the Golden Circle drive alone, it would be tough to properly visit Iceland without encountering some of the more rugged landscape. Icelandair’s Michael Raucheisen recommends, “Make sure you have warm socks and good [waterproof] hiking boots if you’re planning to explore the untouched terrain.” Sportiva Saber hiking boots (SRP: $169) come in men’s and women’s sizes and are lightweight enough to throw in your bag without breaking your back.

A row of turf houses
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Reusable water bottle: Icelandic water is naturally filtered through volcanic rock, making it some of the cleanest-tasting water on earth. It’s one reason Hidden Iceland’s Ryan Connolly suggests packing a reusable water bottle like one made by Nalgene, which he calls a guide favorite. “Every river and stream is made up of clean glacier water. It’s all drinkable and all refreshing,” he says. “Plus, we don’t like single-use plastic here.” Nalgene’s 32-ounce Sustain Bottle (SRP: $15) is made with 50% recycled material.

Icelandic horses in the wild
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Good socks: With average summertime temperatures in Reykjavík hovering around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and plenty of natural beauty to experience outdoors, of course you should pack plenty of clothing to keep you warm and dry. “But the first thing that hits my bag when I’m planning to travel in Iceland is socks—warm socks, especially made from wool and preferably knitted by an Icelandic grandmother,” says Kjartan Gíslason, founder and owner of Omnom, a bean-to-bar chocolate company in Reykjavík. If you don’t have access to an Icelandic grandmother, try the version from Bombas (SRP: $72), made with naturally moisture-wicking merino wool. And buy in bulk. “You’re likely going to need at least two pairs, especially if you are spending time outdoors, crossing small streams or when it is raining,” Gíslason says. “Needless to say, a pair of good hiking boots or trail sneakers are essential as well.”

At Iceland’s Blue Lagoon
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Sunscreen: “This one is controversial,” says Gíslason. “But if you do win the weather lottery, the sun can get you. If you’re walking around glaciers where the sun gets amplified tremendously, you’re always better off having a small bottle of an ecologically friendly sunscreen packed, just in case.” Try Kiehl’s Super Fluid Daily UV Defense with SPF 50 (SRP: $40) or Blue Lagoon Hydrating Cream (SRP: $90), which contains both electrolyte-rich seawater and SPF 30.

One of Iceland’s staple foods, the hot dog is affordable and delicious.
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Snacks: So many of Iceland’s best attractions are outdoors, and most require at least a little exertion. (See the aforementioned hikes to waterfalls and an active volcano.) Omnom’s Gíslason therefore suggests packing snacks for the journey. “Something simple and easily stored—a good chocolate bar with lots of energy,” he says, like the brand’s Superchocoberrybarleynibblynuttylicious (SRP: $9), with cranberries, salted almonds, puffed barley, and cacao nibs. You might be hiking in areas far away from any shops, so it’s always a good idea to have something for a quick bite. See you in Iceland this summer, and don’t forget the three S’s: socks, sunscreen, and snacks.

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