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Packing for Iceland in the Summer

A shorter post would be titled, “What I Didn’t Bring to Iceland.”

My dad always told me that when I travel, I should only ever bring what I can carry on my own back. (Note: my dad is awesome and would have carried my extra stuff for me if needed, but I think he was trying to teach me a useful habit.) To this day I still follow that rule, with the caveat that I am pretty darn strong and can carry quite a bit. But oh, how I do wish I were one of the cool kids who carry only the essentials on their backs in a backpack. Our trip to Iceland wasn’t going to be the trip where I tried to pare down though.

Before we left, I found plenty of information on what to pack for Iceland in the winter, but not as much help on what to bring in the summer. I learned that temperatures in August vary anywhere from 55-65 for the high to 45 as the low and that we could expect unpredictable precipitation. Plus, we planned a range of various activities in several regions, so I knew I’d need a little bit of everything.

That said, I think I did a decent job of packing and organizing the massive amount of stuff we brought, especially thanks to Eagle Creek packing cubes. I always use these to keep things neat in my suitcase, but usually I unpack everything upon arrival. This time the cubes made it super easy to stay organized on the road since we were in a different hotel each night and it wouldn’t make sense to completely unpack each time.

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The temperature for our trip in the last week of August ranged from 50-55 degrees as the high. Half of the days were cloudy, windy, and/or rainy, and the other days were sunny and lovely. Here’s what I packed for a week-long trip in August to the land of fire and ice:

  • 2 short-sleeve shirts (one I wore on the plane)
  • 3 long-sleeve shirts
  • 3 hoodies (two pullover, one zip-up that I wore on the plane)
  • 1 tank top (for sleeping)
  • yoga pants (worn on the plane – it was a red-eye flight so comfort won over fashion)
  • 2 pairs of hiking pants (one waterproof)
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • warm vest
  • waterproof jacket
  • waterproof hiking shoes
  • casual sneakers
  • wool hiking socks
  • undies and wool long underwear for layering
  • beanie hat (for warmth) and baseball hat (for sun)
  • gloves
  • swimsuit & flip-flops
  • sunglasses

After lugging it all to Iceland (this list doesn’t even include our camera gear and gadgets), at least I ended up wearing all of the clothes I brought except for the sweater and the waterproof pants. I brought the sweater for a nicer option at dinner, but just didn’t end up needing it because most of the places we ate were casual and we were surrounded by other hiking-boot-waterproof-jacket-wearing travelers. I would have worn the waterproof pants on the glacier hike since it was raining so much, but we didn’t end up going on the hike because it was raining so much. There wasn’t a day where we could wear just short-sleeve shirts, but I layered them under hoodies. On the chilliest day we truly did need wool base layers so I was happy to have them. Oh, and I didn’t wear the casual sneakers. I just wore my waterproof hiking shoes the whole time, and they were great.

Missing from my list? An outfit for enjoying the nightlife in Reykjavik. I was certainly curious about the party scene I heard so much about and wished we could have experienced it, but sensibility told me that we wouldn’t join the revelers on our first night (jet lag), and we wouldn’t give it a go our last night either after an exhausting week of exploring. So lame, I know, but I was right. We passed out each night by 11pm, and my understanding is that the partying doesn’t even start until well after Midnight. Next time!

The items I ended up using the most were: 1. my waterproof North Face Resolve jacket that kept me super dry and warm every single day; 2. comfortable and water-repellant Mountain Hardware Chockstone hiking pants; 3. super comfortable North Face Ultra Fast Pack GTX waterproof hiking shoes; and 4. a cute warm vest for layering from Athleta.

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I debated whether or not to bring a heavier jacket like my snowboarding coat since it’s waterproof, but in the end I figured that would be a little too warm for summer and I was right – it’s better just to do layers. One additional note about my hiking shoes – they were great for comfort and for waterproof-ness, but for our hike to the volcano I could have used just a tiny bit more ankle support. I also noticed that the sides got a little chewed up on that trail of loose rocks and in the lava fields. So whether or not you want to bring legit hiking boots is obviously up to the level of activity you’re doing and on what terrain. I knew we’d only be doing short hikes and didn’t want to carry a heavy pair of boots, so I figured I could get away with a shoe. No matter what though, go with waterproof.

Chris brought a similar mix: long sleeve shirts, a waterproof outer layer, waterproof hiking shoes, and water-resistant hiking pants. If you plan to do any lengthy outdoor activities or if you want to stand behind waterfalls, I highly recommend (broken record warning!) waterproof everything, not just water resistant.

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So in summary, August weather in Iceland really does require some warm layer options and definitely calls for, say it with me now, waterproof clothing! Think like an onion and go with layers that you can peel off as needed, making sure that your outer layers will keep you dry and protected from the wind. We didn’t always need the waterproof layers, but we sure appreciated them when the weather called for it.

Have you traveled to Iceland in the summer? If so, did I miss anything important on the list?

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