Adventures in Iceland: Packing for Winter in Iceland

When I told people I was going to Iceland in January, most thought I was nuts. The immediate response was almost always, “But it will be so cold!” If anyone has seen the ’90s movie, D2: The Mighty Ducks, you will know that Iceland is green and Greenland is made out of ice. While that is not entirely true, it is true that Iceland is not nearly as frozen as you would think. Along the Gulf Stream, the winters are fairly mild considering it touches the Arctic Circle. In fact, winter in Iceland is not that dissimilar to winter in Philadelphia (where I live). This also allowed me to not spend a fortune on winter gear, as I already had the key pieces.

I spent a lot of time googling about what I needed to bring and a lot of it was not useful or they clearly had never spent anytime actually using the things they recommended. My number one need was what to wear on my feet. Many sites recommended a variety of snow boots, including the Sorel’s I already owned. Let me tell you, if I wore these in Iceland the whole time, I would have been miserable! They are not comfortable to walk long distances. They are awkward and bulky. While I did bring them, they were specifically to wear hunting the Northern Lights…where I would be relatively stationary and the middle of the night. Duck boots, like those you would find at L.L. Bean or Sperry’s, were also recommended. I own a pair of Sperry’s and while they are fine, also not comfortable to walk in long distances and do not keep your feet overly warm.

Fortunately, a co-worker had visited Iceland in February and I asked for her advice. She recommended Danners. I will preface they are not inexpensive. While there were options, I selected the Cascade and, yes, it is based on the Alpine style and that if Cheryl Strayed wore on her adventure (Wild, also worn by Reese Witherspoon in the film), they were good enough for me. I did not buy them directly from Danner but another outdoor site (pricing out various stores, I eventually used Backcountry). I used a email list sign up to get 25% off! They were still about $250, on par with the insulated L.L. Bean boots. I was still hesitant, but I knew that I would be doing more traveling in the winter (due to my school schedule) and my next trip was to New Zealand and Australia (where I’ll be doing a lot of hiking). So I splurged. I also bought the leather treatment pack and it’s worked great! I am so glad that I bought these. They were perfect! My Cascade’s were sturdy, kept my feet warm, and comfortable. I should have broken them in a bit more, but I didn’t have any blisters (an issue any time I travel) just a bit of soreness around the ankle. I love the boots and got a lot of compliments. I cannot wait to take them on all of my great adventures!

The rest of what a brought are pretty standard winter wear. Bring layers! I had some sweaters and a fleece (just in case, I didn’t use it). The local Icelanders recommend dressing in layers so that you can take off or put on when needed. I happened to be there during a really mild winter. While overcast, the weather was in the high 30s to lower 40s. Sometimes I didn’t even wear my hat or gloves. I have a North Face parka that I love and I highly recommend. It was a gift from my dad when I moved back north and it was meant for Iceland! Mine is over two years old, but is similar to this one. I bought some wool socks (and gifted a pair) from Amazon and they were well suited for my needs. I do recommend wearing a thin pair of cotton socks underneath, the wool tends to rub when wearing.

For walking around, I brought two bag options: a Madewell tote and a Hershel backpack. To wander around town, I LOVE my Madewell Zip-Top Transport Carryall. I have had it a year and take it everywhere. I did swap out the strap. The one that came with the bag has a raw underside and I quickly discovered that it caught on what I was wearing, particularly knit sweaters. I bought this strap from Amazon and it works great! It is big enough to throw my small camera bag in and walk around without looking too much like a tourist. For my more outdoorsy pursuits, I brought my Hershel backpack. I could keep my camera bag, bottle of water, and anything else I may need. It worked fine. However, I have a North Face back pack from college that I’m tempted to bring on my next trip, but I’ll keep you posted!

I have been a fan of Everlane before it was cool and bought their traveler wallet to use on this trip. It’s on par with the cost of most leather wallets, but I had a $50 credit (for a previous error on their part and a holiday credit for being a loyal customer…they really are great!). It has room for your passport, cards, cash, and coins. It works perfectly and I am still using it for my everyday life.

For the Blue Lagoon, I did bring an old swimsuit and a cheap rash guard. I was not attached and simply tossed them when I left. I also leave most of my toiletries. I brought a pair of old Levis jeans and two pairs of my favorite Levis skinny pants (so comfortable). I wore everything that I brought, which was a first! Icelandair’s package allowed me to check a bag, but I recommend doing this regardless. It’s winter, you’ll need stuff!

I didn’t buy very much while there, but I did buy an Icelandic wool sweater! I wore this when I went whale watching and hunting for the Northern Lights. Kept me nice and toasty!

For photography, I purchased a Lumix G7 4K. It was recommended by my brother, who is a photographer. It is very user friendly and a takes an excellent shot. I purchased it off Amazon and did a bundle. I also got an Amazon Store Card because it gave me $100, which brought my bundle down to less than it would cost for just the camera. The tripod worked great (although I wish it was taller, but I’m 5’10, so that is a me issue) and the additional memory cards are a nice addition. It also came with an extra battery and charger. The bag was perfect size to fit in my Madewell tote or Hershel backpack. I wasn’t a huge fan of the additional lenses, they are extenders and did appear to shift my photos. I have since gotten a telephoto lens and will be, at some point, purchasing a wide angle one. I also plan on getting a lens polarizer and additional UV filters, it will be a lot sunnier for my June trip down under! I also have an iPhone X and was able to take some pretty awesome shots with that, but more casual, wandering around type of things.

The only thing I wish I brought that I didn’t is a pair of sneakers. The weather was so mild that for a quick trip into town, I wish I could have just thrown on a pair of my trusty Stan Smith Adidas or my favorite pair of Vejas. Myy Cascades worked but hindsight!

I hope this helps and please share in insights you may have, I would love to hear from you! Remember, you can shop most of these on Amazon!

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